When I was 20, I somehow managed to put together $10,000 and I headed off to see the world. Like many young Antipodeans, Europe was my destination and I spent months backpacking around, discovering a part of the world that I considered to be so different from home. I had a great time and wouldn't change it for the world. But what about if I had come to Thailand as a young, fresh faced 20 year old? Frankly, I would have totally lost the plot. Being somewhat green, Thailand would have chewed me up and spat me out.
After discovering Thailand, many of us fall in love with the country and it is few who do not entertain the idea of somehow moving their life to The Land Of Smiles. We examine the logistics of moving and the opportunity costs, but seldom do we look at ourselves to see if we are really ready for such a change. The lure of the country and the promised lifestyle is strong. But one must be careful for Thailand is very much the land of temptation, an enchanting land where all of the life's pleasures are readily available. Overdo it, and you could find yourself in all sorts of trouble. So, at what point in your life is the best time to move to Thailand? After all, the world is a changing place and Thailand is changing too. When is the best time to make the big move?
The key to a successful move is obviously in the preparation and planning. What will you do work wise? How are your finances? There is so much to work out. As Christopher Moore said in response to a question in an interview, "make no mistake about it, this is the Golden Age. It will never get any better anywhere in the world as it is for a foreigner living in Bangkok." But, are you ready emotionally? As much fun, as interesting and even as rewarding as life in Thailand can be, it is very different from home. It takes a certain tolerance to survive, and even to keep your sanity.
I doubt Thailand will be the same in ten years time as it is now. In some ways it will be better, in other ways worse. All I will say is this. It is a fantastic place to live and if you want to get a piece of the Bangkok expat experience, don't put it off forever. The world is a changing place…
Thinking really hard about it, one of the things that I like most about Thailand is that I never have that feeling of constantly waiting and looking forward to a particular time in the future. It may be as simple as waiting for the weekend, or it may be waiting for the next holiday to Thailand. Talking with many of the settled expats currently living in Thailand, few seldom gets these feelings. They are content with the simple pleasures of daily life in The Kingdom.
A reader responds to my piece in last week's column about food left sitting in the sun all day.
What's the story with that monstrosity opposite the World Trade Centre. A huge shopping centre that will dwarf the WTC, the sign on the outside promises everything from cinemas to hotels to zillions of shops and even an onsite brothel…ok, everything but the brothel. But the big question is will it ever get finished? At present it seems to be little more than the city's most expensive billboard support. Every time I walk past, there doesn't seem to be too much activity over that way.
The monstrosity opposite WTC. Will it ever be completed?
While all of our friends in the West think that we have girls beating a queue to our door to get involved with us, the reality is that Thai women are elusive creatures and it really doesn't matter what the girl's background or position in society is, she will likely be a hard fish to catch. The following two stories represent this well. Story #2 was received by email and has been edited to conceal identities. Thanks to PNB for allowing me to use these excerpts from his email here.
Story #1: A good friend of mine has been teaching in Thailand for a few years now, yet is still only his late 20's. He holds a good job, speaks good Thai, is well presented and Thai girls find his blond hair, blue eye look to be downright handsome. This fellow has had a few liaisons with several Thai Chinese girls, and in most cases, it was the girls who initially came on to him. Alas, all of these relationships ended before they really got going due to the impositions that the family placed on the girls whereby she has to be home no later than 8:00 PM, and in some cases, a lot earlier. The opportunity to spend much time with the girl alone seldom arose and when they did, any thoughts of pawing the girl needed to be put off until marriage. While my friend was patient, he was not prepared to wait months before he could actually take her out in the evening alone. Just the mention of an upper class girl gets him rolling his eyes.
After the baby was born, things turned sour and she returned to live with her parents, saying that the stress of raising the baby was too much for her to handle without support from her family. I didn't realise what was up until one night I was out with friends and you can imagine my surprise when we saw her back working in her old bar. I was shocked to realize that she had returned to life as a bargirl yet our daughter had just been born. Our child has since been sent upcountry to be looked after while my girlfriend now chases the more money than I was giving her.
My beautiful daughter is now somewhere in Korat being raised by extended family that I have never met nor do I care to. I have no way of finding her and no way of seeing her.
These girls might be family minded but this loyalty runs to the Thai members of their family and not to the new farang boyfriend or husband. It is just being plain stupid to get involved with these girls. In my case it has turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life. Part of me wants to leave the country as I feel increasing resentment against all Thais. Another part of me wants to stay so that I can be a part of my daughters life.
What's the common element in both of these stories? Loyalty to the family in one way or another can prevent the Thai / farang relationship from blossoming. As my friend in story #1 once cynically said, perhaps it is best to find a Thai girl without any family so one does not have to put up with all of the nonsense. But unfortunately, its not nonsense – its Thai culture, the Thai way and as guests in this country, whether we like it or not, we have to get used to this. Forging a successful relationship with a genuine Thai girl is probably a lot harder than doing so with a farang girl.
Looking back at story #2 made me wonder about the number of look kreungs (half Thai / half other, usually farang) that there are in Thailand. As the number of Westerners living in Thailand continues to grow, there will inevitably an increase in the number of such babies born. Is it possible that the genes in Thailand might start to slowly get a little mixed up?! Look kreungs are looked at by many Thais as being very good looking but there are some Thais who feel that these look kreungs are not real Thais. How will the ever increasing number of look kreungs find life in Thailand?
Venturing down to Nana Plaza, I found myself in Fantasia Bar for the first time in a month and suddenly realised why it was my favourite bar for a long time. Over 40 girls were dancing away in skimpy cut off denim shorts instead of the usual bikini. Wow, now is that a good look or what? Leaving a little more to the imagination makes the girls look oh so much more interesting. But I didn't know if I like the rumour that they have to shell out for their own uniform, around 1,000 baht for the shorts and boots set.
Work is slow on the construction of the new bar on the top
floor at Nana Plaza. Seems to have been little progress.
Watch your valuables closely when you are in Cowboy – or any other bar for that matter. The manager of a certain Cowboy establishment put down his wallet and mobile phone for a moment and someone scooped them up and took off with them. As soon as he realised that they had been taken, a couple of the off duty cops that hang around Cowboy were notified and they stood outside patting down all customers as they left, looking for the stolen pieces. But no doubt by the time the cops had been alerted, the thief was well clear of Cowboy. One must be especially careful with mobiles as with the steep prices for mobiles in the Kingdom, there is quite a trade in stolen models.
The key to unlocking the mystery of Thailand is language. As our ability to understand and use the language grows, so to does our understanding of the Thailand and the Thai people. Funnily enough, not that many folks make the effort to study the language formally, many preferring to learn the language using a long haired, sleeping dictionary. Without formal study, most folks never really get that good a grip of the language. In the Bangkok Post on Friday was a small piece that Jentana Language and Associates has some free (YES, FREE!) places on an upcoming course. Places on the course are offered free so that the new teachers get a bit of practice with real students, before they get to teach paying students. The free course consists of 20 X 90 minute lessons. This is a great deal and well worth following up on.
Last year, a couple of young females working at the BBC came out to Bangkok to research a piece on the farang orientated Bangkok nightlife scene that would be part of a Louis Theroux fronted series. Once out here, these two pleasant ladies met a number of people in the nightlife scene but they couldn't find enough people who were willing to go in front of the camera so they switched the focus of the show to marriage agencies and the Brits that used them. They did a good job and it didn't have the usual Western media BS that we associate with such Bangkok nightlife exposes. Not quite hot on the BBC heels, Granada Television are currently doing research for a documentary on Patpong. Not the whole nightlife industry, just Patpong. Like the BBC show, there also seems to be a Western female in charge. It'll be interesting to see if the show gets the green light and they come out here to film it.
While many expats grumble about the connection speed of the 'net in Thailand, I seldom have any problems and consistently get a fast, stable connection. (The trick here is to pay a little extra and go for one of the more expensive ISPs!) If you're looking for ADSL access, there is a store in Siam Discovery Center that seems to be the sales department for a company offering fast net access. The prices are rather steep, but with a bit of luck they'll come down in time.
Lots of colour, fantasy and crazy effects but a bit weak on the story are what I have read about "The Mummy Returns" which opened in Bangers on Friday. They say that the story might not be great but I'll still go along and have a look, if only because I quite liked the first one. It looks as though I won't be the only person going along to see it as at Major Cineplex at Ekamai, five of the eight screens have this very movie on. Now what can we deduce from this? Thais love movies with lots of pretty special effects! Ever see art house style movies in Thailand? No special effects, no commercial release.
Many folks are eagerly awaiting the release of Dean Barrret's "Thailand: Land Of Beautiful Women" book which is due for release in Bangkok around the end of this month. Printed on 160 GSM paper, it will be a very high quality 160 page full colour photo book divided into two. The first half is on the good girls of the Kingdom, highway sweepers, construction workers, secretaries, Rose Garden stars, college students, etc., and the second half is on the "better" girls i.e. go-go dancers, bargirls, dominatrixes, ladyboys, men in the scene including Trink and Shrimp. The price will be $US 17.95 or about 795 baht. Considering that the average price of a trade paperback novel in the US is around $US 12.95, that isn't bad. For the US release, add another four or five weeks before copies get into the States and up on Amazon.com etc.
Dutch Mill make some decent dairy products, notably their yoghurts which are fairly good. But to my taste, their milk is absolutely dire. For a few days this week my morning medicinal coffee tasted dreadful and for a moment, I thought someone had stolen the good coffee and replaced it with Nescafe. Then I noticed that the brand of milk that I'd bought was different from the usual. Dutch Mill. Great if you like malt flavoured coffee, otherwise it may be worth giving a miss.
A reader sent this amusing piece. What the hell is deal with the size of the napkins. Christ, they are not big enough to wipe your dick off with. I guess he should be thankful that the establishment even had any napkins. Some restaurants are frugal to the point of allocating no more than two napkins per customer at the table and requests for more often get a bemused look. But if you look closely at the napkins, you'll find that in many of the establishments, they don't actually supply napkins as such but instead supply toilet paper with each piece having been manually torn off from the roll and folded over in two….and presumably that's why there is never any toilet paper where you really need it – in the toilet!
Another frustrating slice of life in Thailand for a bunch of American teachers at a school in the capital. They have been working hard for the last year, doing their bit to educate the kids of Thailand while taking home a tax free salary – as the law says they can for their first two years in Thailand. This group of teachers submitted all of their paperwork to renew all of their work permits and were rejected on the basis that they had been working here already and that they must submit a tax declaration form from the previous year. No tax declaration = no new work permit! Don't ya love it! All the teachers of other nationalities had no problems…
The Thais seem to have a bit of an adversity towards maintaining things. While a lot of money often goes into the development of a project, once that project has been completed, the project is often forgotten about and as natural wear and tear occur, the completed project may die before its time. This is particularly relevant for anyone thinking of purchasing a car as one really needs to have the vehicle thoroughly inspected before parting with their hard earned. Oil is seldom changed, rather topped up. A car with close to 100,000 km may still have all of the original oil, air and fuel filters. Interested in buying a house or an apartment? Don't be surprised if when you turn up to view it that it needs repairs and work done. I never did know the word for maintenance in Thai – maybe there isn't one?
The neon light at Pharaohs beer bar in Nana Plaza has died. Will
it be forever dead like the main sign out at the front of NEP?
After "I love you", "the check is in the post" and "no, I won't come in your mouth", "I fell" is probably the world's fourth biggest lie. A regular on many of the Thailand internet discussion groups and message boards including Lonely Planet and ASFO, Robert White was cremated in Bangkok this week. The word on the street is that he fell, hitting his head on the corner of his bed which caused a fatal injury. With quite a number of suspicious deaths of farangs in Thailand, Robert's demise has had all of the conspiracy theorists gossiping like mad. But you've got to admit, "he fell" doesn't sound that likely… What was Robert really up to and perhaps more precisely, who did he piss off?
At least Robert had a bunch of caring friends who took him on a final tour of Nana Plaza on Friday night. The urn containing Robert's ashes was given a final tour of Nana, to allow him to say goodbye to all of his old friends. Will your friends take you around Nana for a final look when its time to say goodbye?
Your Bangkok commentator,