Showing posts with label Cross Cultural Relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cross Cultural Relationships. Show all posts

Finding the Real Thailand ...

You will often hear foreigners discussing the ‘Real Thailand’ and how they have somehow discovered something that other foreigners are not privy to.  Kind of a one-upmanship between two or more relative newcomers, usually.  Of course the whole notion of a real Thailand, as opposed to an unreal one, is really quite silly.  The only context in which I would consider the discussion of reality, would be in reference to our funny online names (like Village Farang) and our virtual lives and identities.  Life itself on the other hand, whether good or bad, is very real.

So what is VF on about now, you ask?  As usual, a simple enough question led me to imagine where that question was coming from, in terms of experience and understanding.  One thing led to another, and it got me thinking how foreigners live and interact with Thais and Thailand and where some of the frustrations and more critical judgements might come from.

Please excuse my generalizing, but I can’t fairly list and include every subgroup of foreigner in the space allowed.  So generally, lets say most foreigners begin their Thai experience, dealing with a very small segment of Thai society.  You know, the Thais who make their living by feeding, housing, transporting, entertaining and catering to the various quirks and idiosyncratic needs of visitors to this fair land.  As a side-note, I might mention that despite what some of us might think, we are not the be-all and end-all of the Thai economy.  The vast majority of Thais do business with other Thais and have relatively little interest in our strange goings-on.

So for example, lets say you meet a girl in a bar and go to her village with the idea of meeting ‘real’ Thais.  You are still dealing with people who’s primary interest in foreigners is financial, whether you stay in the family home or a guesthouse.  That is because social mobility is extremely difficult in Thai society and if one is from a particular region, with a particular skin tone and facial structure, and speaks a particular dialect, then there is little chance of marrying into a more affluent Thai family in Bangkok, for example.  A foreigner can, however, provide a shortcut to obtaining the better things in life, for those who Thailand itself would deny.

Not speaking Thai is also an extreme handicap as you are limited in your dealings, to those we have already mentioned, who’s livelihood is derived from us.  Even if you get married your source of knowledge, experience and information is being filtered before you receive it, if you can’t speak Thai.  That often leaves you living and seeking entertainment and services, from those very same entry level Thais.

If working, regardless of your position, you will be surrounded by those who treat you accordingly.  All interactions will be bracketed by your position, relative to others.  If retired, perhaps teaching can start exposure to a different element of Thai society.  Still those who study English, lets say, are usually motivated by a desire to get a higher paying job.  Getting language ‘credentials’ is often the goal, not really learning the language. 

Getting to know Thai teachers, might start you on a path of knowing people with similar interests, as you are both teachers.  Therein lies the key, I think.  If you can join a Thai group, club or organization of people with similar interests, like photography, motorbikes, sports, etc., then you will have stepped away from those who are only being nice to you because it is their job to or in their best interest financially.

Not that one segment of Thai society is anymore real than any other, but getting stuck in that entry level environment has its drawbacks.  I liken it to entering the foyer of a nice house and remaining there indefinitely.  As nice as that room might be, you are missing out on what the rest of the house may have to offer.  Even longtime visitors who have been here many times, or are even married to a Thai but living overseas, are often not as well prepared for their life in Thailand as they may think they are.

I know people who tell me that they are quite happy not speaking Thai and living in touristy areas.  Perhaps it frees them from self analysis and any need to adapt or change.  It does beg the question of how long one can live in an environment that evolved around the needs of short term visitors, however.  When the novelty wears off, where does that leave you?  I don’t know of course and would suspect it varies greatly from individual to individual.  It is a question, which I wonder how many people ask themselves.

On a completely different subject, I was motivated by several individuals who recently went through my entire archives.  Not having done so myself for quite sometime, I started rereading my early work.  Starting with the book form, I have made it through the first 8 or 9 chapters.  I found myself reeling from the vast number of mistakes I uncovered.  I have corrected what I found so far but have yet to move on to the actual blog format where I will have to make the same corrections and no doubt many more.

Other than mistakes, I felt that much of what I had intended to impart to my readers had not made it to the page.  The cerebral nature of writing leaves much of what you intend to say, floating in some lost space between thought and deed.  While I endeavor to do better, I’m sure my shortcomings will continue to surface and I appreciate the fact that so many of you continue to return and so graciously overlook my often clumsy attempts to express what dwells in the deep dark reaches of my mind.

Adjusting to Village Life ...

Recently there was a thread on a Thailand forum about the difficulties of adjusting to village life in Thailand.  For some it was not easy but doable.  For others it seems, it was something verging on the impossible.  It struck me that some of those who suffered the most had no chance from the very beginning.  If you start off by scraping the bottom of the social barrel to find a partner and then proceed to try living among the poorest of the poor in a remote rural location...well I think you can start to see where that might lead.  That scenario would hardly be possible for the vast majority of big city Thais, let alone a foreigner.

It would surely take a different sort of “farang animal” to go all “National Geographic” and live a primitive existence devoid of all western amenities, comforts and conveniences.  Throw-in an inability to understand or talk to anyone and things can turn ugly and the bottom of a bottle can seem like the only way out.

Some suffer under the delusion that village life will be super cheap.  While fixed overhead is lower than in the city, startup costs to feather you nest and make life bearable can be a little pricy.  I had lived in Thailand long enough to know in advance what I would need to make the move to a village.  Perhaps not the same for everyone but something that needs to be dealt with honestly and well in advance.

For example, I knew I would need a dwelling much different from the typical village shack and at a reasonable distance from the standard noises, smells and hubbub of village life.  Other necessities included a good truck, motorcycle, mountain-bike, hiking shoes, camera and dogs.  In the house I needed air-conditioning and a bug-free environment.  Telephone, internet, the best computer I could afford, True Vision for western TV/News and some hobbies to exercise the body and the mind.

Keeping in mind that I speak Thai, communication is still less than satisfying with most of the villagers.  They for the most part do not speak Thai, only speaking their local country dialect and many are functionally illiterate.  Privacy, security, alcohol and debt are major problems and you have to have a plan for dealing with them.

If you get everything right it can be quite nice.  I have a Bangkok friend who argues how easy life is for him in the city.  He can catch a taxi to the Sky-train and go to this place for one thing and then to another place for something else.  I laugh and say, “That is not easy.”  Easy is sitting on the sofa, watching a movie you downloaded from the internet, on the big-screen TV, and your lovely wife brings you those very same things without lifting a finger.  Use technology and a couple of villagers to do the grunt work and go on a well planned shopping run once a week and easy-peasy you have time for fun and adventure.

Depending on your needs and where you live, finding companionship other than your wife, can be a struggle at first but over time usually works out.  I find the transient nature of expat relations in Thailand has hardened me to the fact that people come and go in ones life.  Each life-change is merely one more in a long list of changes over the years, that have mostly worked out for the best.  It is not for everyone but village life can be good.

So if you are dreaming of retiring to a village, do your homework.  Spend time there at different times of year.  Learn to speak the language and pray that your partner has your best interests in mind at all times.  If you can’t count on your partner, then all is lost before you begin.  Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, so plan carefully.  Dreaming the dream is one thing but living the dream is a very different animal.

Cross-Cultural Relationships...Answer to a Question

To Jonathan Krone,

Normally I would send you in search of the plentiful literature published on this topic, but coming from a “cross-cultural expert and professional,” I am intrigued that you are asking me to clarify.  With my muse having taken leave of late, perhaps on the day, this will have to suffice as motivation to write.

“So how do Thai express affection?”  On the surface that question would appear simple enough.  With Thailand’s world renowned reputation as a destination for sex tourism, some might assume they are a highly sexual and affectionate people.  Traditionally, however, any public display of affection is frowned upon.  With the notable exception of Bangkok and some tourist destinations, that tradition continues today.  Villagers by necessity are very subtile and creative, in the signals of interest they send to one another.  Right now, looking out my window, are some thirty villagers involved in harvesting our neighbor’s rice.  No doubt there will be stolen glances, teasing remarks, intentional bumps and the sharing of food, going on as a subtext to the job at hand. 

Other than me and my wife, one will never see villagers here, holding hands, hugging or kissing.  Even when they go off to Bangkok for work, it is difficult to overcome their internalized reluctance to display affection.  Bangkok is, however, where many romances are begun or nurtured, away from the prying eyes of the village.  The younger generation is changing but not all approve of that change.  Around here, if two young people are found to have had sex, there will either be a forced marriage or the boys family will have to pay a fine to appease the girls parents and exonerate her reputation.  At the same time the family may not blink an eye if she went off to work in the nightlight, yet sent money home for the family.  Unable to touch in public their humor is at times, however, quite raunchy.  Such are the contradictions of Thai life.  Pragmatic, with nothing being definitively black or white.

I met my wife in Bangkok so we were free of village constraints, yet it was our time in Hawaii that helped her to modify her beliefs and behavior.  Observing people wearing almost nothing in public, all age groups showing affection and touching and nobody paying any attention was an eye opener, for her.  Being me, a little shock therapy is always fun.  I remember grabbing my wife on a walk through the park.  After a groping and passionate kiss, I held her close and asked her to look around.  No one was gawking at us and there were no disapproving looks.  We were all but invisible to others and as this began to sink in, she kissed me back.

My wife was open to change and responded on a deep emotional level to social touching, from my parents and the friends she made along the way.  I am not a scientist making a proclamation of the universality, or necessity, of human touch.  People who touch more, are not necessarily better or kinder people.  It did, however, make a difference in my wife’s life and development, as a more open and caring person.  It is heart-wrenching to think that someone with such a capacity for caring and warmth, was denied that within her own family. 

I would like to take credit, for all that my wife has become, but that would be silly.  At best all I have done is provide reinforcement and a safe environment in which she could explore the world and find herself.  As a work in progress, together we continue to work through some of the residual cultural fears than cling tenaciously to her subconscious.  But then again, who among us has no issues at all?  I just know that I am a very lucky man, that she puts up with me, while I get to witness her growth and exploration of life.

I might reiterate at this time, that we have a rather unique lifestyle here, which is not focused on integration into the cultural norm.  My wife participates in customs that she enjoys or appear beneficial to others, while not making our own lives uncomfortable or disavowing our own values.  If it entails loud drunkenness that often deteriorates into violence, then some way is found to meet our obligations with a minimum of participation.  Many customs that are seen by most as obligatory, like the big wedding or housewarming party, have been avoided by us.  In that regard we are not the best example of cross-cultural integration.  We could be seen as providing an alternative lifestyle model that others may or may not approve of.

I seem to have wondered off topic here, which is not unusual for me.  I am hopeful that Mr. Krone, as a cross-cultural expert, will be able to extract or extrapolate answers to his questions from my muddled reply.

Cross-Cultural Relationships ...

Of late, my posts have trended toward the tame and even pretty.  So perhaps it is time to get controversial and take on a touchy subject.  How does one shed a rational light on something so personal and often discussed in such emotionally charged language?

In an ideal world it shouldn’t matter what others think.  People being what they are, however, tend to comment shamelessly and impose their views on others.  Ranging from idle gossip to hateful prejudice, it is not always possible to avoid or ignore.  From farangs, one often hears the proverbial questions about why young Thai women choose old, fat, balding Western men.  From Thais it is more apt to be about why farang men like such dark, unattractive, unsophisticated, low class women.  As with most things it all depends on ones perspective which is affected by personal bias and cultural reference.

Some label Thai women, gold-diggers who are only out for the money.  We have all heard the horror stories of men who lost everything in a naive bid to buy love.  On the other extreme, are those who have some fanciful notion that Asian women are somehow uniquely feminine, domestic and docile.  Good luck with that one.  There are a goodly number of very successful relationships that dwell in the middle ground.  Founded on love, respect, understanding and shared interests, a good relationship is only made richer by differences where bad ones are only made worse.

I understand that no matter what one says, people always have a long, well prepared dissertation about how their situation is different and unique.  The acknowledged uniqueness of each relationship is, however, framed by cultural stereotypes and constraints.  There is a history and often scars, that individuals bring with them.  In addition, Farang-Thai relationships will often evolve differently based on location.  His country or hers, big city or village, it all makes a difference.  Appearances are all important in how you are viewed and treated by others.  The perceived simplicity of a different culture, often belies the complex undercurrents lurking below the surface, when you enter a cross-cultural relationship.

On the long drive to town or sitting at our dining room table taking in the views, the wife and I have discussed this subject from time to time.  After spending time with other women she readily acknowledges that, at least in our village, a large percentage of women are fixated on money.  She doubts that they hold or even comprehend her notions of love, romance and a caring relationship.  This is irrespective of the Farang question.  If a man has little or no money, in general they want nothing to do with him.  The one exception being, if he is particularly diligent and hardworking.  They will stay with a man who is doing his best to provide for his family, even if they are not comfortable or well off.  Those perceived as slackers or layabouts, are kicked to the curb unceremoniously.

I don’t imagine there are many cultures, where we admire women who choose the poorest or least productive men available.  Yet when they are pragmatic and look for someone who can provide for them and their extended family, which is the norm in Thailand, they are labeled as only out for the money.  It hardly seems fair to hold such double standards or to think it is all directed toward fleecing the foreigner.

After a failed relationship and perhaps a child or two to care for, some women take to prostitution.  That is a very broad and all inclusive term that includes a multitude of subgroups that I will not go into at this time.  Sitting on the floor in a hovel, with a crying child, the realities of the profession are overshadowed by the image of some neighbor wearing nice clothes and living in a big house with no financial worries.  No longer a virgin, what difference does it make if I sell it for the good of my family, is a common argument.  Only a small percentage of women are able to bring themselves to act on this rational.  An even smaller percentage gravitate toward Western men, with most seeking out other Asian men, with less perceived stigma.  My wife was surprised to hear from a village woman, that she had been approached to go “work” in the nightlife.  The procurer’s line was that Malaysian men prefer older women in their forties.  The realities of the situation seemed to escape her as all she could think about was the money.  I think my wife managed to talk her out of it but who knows.

Going back to the Vietnam era, there is a long standing stereotype of Isaan women and Western men, as the US military was based in that area.  Fair or not it has become a firmly entrenched cultural stereotype.  I have even known farangs who would not consider dating or marrying Isaan women simply because they didn’t want to be tarred with that label.  They saw it as detrimental to their career or social standing with clients and friends.  That was completely irrespective of the girl’s actual socioeconomic status.  Interestingly one of the pluses of choosing some Western men, is their naiveté in regard to Thai culture, prejudices and values.  Also, their often loudly declared lack of interest in what other people think, especially the locals.

In general men seem rather clueless about women so it is no big surprise that they can get it so very wrong in a potentially mine filled, cross-cultural relationship.  They often think one grand gesture will suffice to prove their love for all time.  Not realizing they are simply setting a precedent by which all future gestures will be ranked.  It is never a one time item checked off a list as, “completed”.  Women have a different perspective from men on this.  Throughout a relationship they thrive on the knowledge that they are desirable, appreciated and sought after by their man.  That does not require grand gestures but rather regular or frequent ones.  Small thoughtful gifts, acts or even comments are often all that is needed to reassure the heart.

Rural Thai families are often, economical at best, in their display of affection for loved ones.  Romantic love, as portrayed in the movies, is not the norm in village life.  Living as they do, in such close quarters, affection or romance is often limited, quiet and brief, in an attempt to keep it hidden from prying eyes.  As with my own wife, hugs and kisses, were not something she experienced from her own parents.  Thankfully, physical warmth and affection is something that she has grown to value and now gives freely, to friends and family.  Unfortunately some women cling to what they have known and find it difficult to find that kinder gentler person that lives within.

While some Western men are able to get away with blatant disregard for the local culture they somehow don’t draw a correlation to how they are treated in return.  Though I prefer to understand things in depth, I can see the appeal of not knowing and not having to deal with that knowledge.  Brings to mind the notion of, ignorance is bliss.  Knowing and understanding what the locals are all about does not mean one has to be, just like them.  As they say, knowledge is power.  Maybe not the power to change things, but the power to navigate the waters more smoothly and efficiently.

Clearly there is no simple formula for a successful cross-cultural relationship, and no one answer for the whys and hows of choosing a partner wisely.  On some level I think we deserve what we get and typically would do the same things and make the same choices again and again.  There are always signs but seldom the ability to read them.  In the end it come down to the choices we make and how well we deal with what follows.

Dealing with The System (an example) ...

Awakened by a gentle or sometime urgent call of nature, often around the hour of six in the morning.  One of us will walk to the kitchen to turn off the street lights, which are left on throughout the night for the benefit of our neighbors, who have no municipal street lighting.  The main beneficiaries are the immediate neighbors, including our housekeeper and our gardener.  I suppose it also eases the way for those who travel to the deeper, darker recesses of Soi 2.  Residents of another nearby lane requested that we put in a light for them.  Explaining that their location, not being on our land, was beyond our purview, we did offer to buy the light if they would install it and pay for the electricity.  We have heard nothing since, as I suppose it wasn’t important enough for them to invest their own time or money.

Returning to today’s story.  After the lights have been extinguished, we normally go back to bed for another hour or two.  Today, however, was different.  We needed to be on the road before eight thirty, so immediately launched into our morning routines, minus the lounging in bed ritual.  Roughly on schedule, we dawned our helmets and mounted our recently purchased scooter and headed off in pursuit of our motorcycle driving licenses.  On a previous occasion we had stopped by to inquire as to exactly what they required.  I have found over the years, that depending on third party or hearsay information, can lead to unnecessary difficulties.  Best to go to the source. 

In this instance, recent pictures were required, as well as a trip to a hospital and the boarder immigration office, to obtain the specified paperwork.  As is often the case, one must choose between the nearest or the easiest location.  Only occasionally, are they one in the same.  For example I prefer the longer trip to Mae Sai, over the nearer Chiang Kong immigration office.  The nearest hospital worked out fine, though it did take a rather long time.  We chose the closer location of Thoeng over the main licensing office in Chiang Rai.  I suppose if one didn’t speak Thai, the Chiang Rai office might be easier.

I was of course the only foreigner as nearly twenty of us prepared for our daylong ordeal.  First there was testing of reflexes, depth perception, peripheral vision, and color blindness.  Followed shortly thereafter by two hours of orientation videos and lectures, on driving regulations and traffic signage.  After a lunch break we all returned for our computerized written test.  This was the one and only thing that had the option of being in English.  Everything else was in Thai.  Even with a heavy Northern accent at times, it was still in Thai and not the local dialect, so I had no difficulty understanding.  If one passes the test with 23 out of 30 correct answers, the driving test is next. 

The test is not rocket science but is done at very slow speed.  Something I had not practiced.  One must first mount a narrow plank and traverse the entire length without falling off or touching your feet to the ground.  This, alas, was my downfall.  The remarkable balance that I once possessed as a youth, seems to have deserted me in my advancing years.  I found the explanation for this part of the test interesting, indeed.  It was asserted that one needs this skill, to squeeze between the sometimes very long lines of vehicles waiting at a stoplight, especially during rush-hour in a big city.  Back home that maneuver would get you a ticket, but we are in Thailand after all.

In short I failed my driving test and was told to return in three days for another try.  Oddly enough my wife was allowed to pass her test, even though her skills on the road leave something to be desired.  For the next two days I practiced my super slow driving skills.  It became clear that there was something about the anticipation of falling off that plank, that completely unnerved me.  Not feeling confident at all, we headed back for my retest.  Sure enough I fell off again and was told to go sit down and wait for what I guessed might be, one more try.  After an appropriate passage of time I was called over and my paperwork was returned with the words, “number three.”  Now, I interpreted that to mean, come back for “try number three” at a later date.  My wife realized, however, that he had actually meant to send me to “counter number three” for payment.  He simply didn’t wish to acknowledge, before the other applicants, that he was letting me pass.

You might ask why I am writing about this.  Or, perhaps why I put myself through all this to begin with.  Back in 1982 when I got my first private vehicle drivers license in Thailand, I did what was the common practice at the time.  I found a way around the rules.  That is a common convention and mindset for expats.  Visa runs, dummy corporations and various other techniques are used to circumvent restrictive bureaucratic regulations.  Foreigners often take on a defensive posture, assuming that the locals are “out to get them.”  I suppose this was written as an example, to show that with time, patients and a pleasant demeanor our host country will often, or at least sometimes, go out of its way to be accommodating.  Presentation is often more important than substance.  It is not what you do, but how you do it.  It is not what you know, but who you know.  As Thailand modernizes, some of this form over substance will diminish but old habits and customs die slowly, so will no doubt linger on for sometime to come.

I know a lot of foreigners, who never bother with this kind of thing and prefer to buy their way out of problems as they arise.  I find these new hard plastic licenses work well as a form of identification in the provinces, however.  Often people are not equipped to deal with a passport in a foreign language.  Any kind of a local ID is much preferred.  So in the end I guess I put myself through this short term inconvenience, for a long term benefit of not needing to look over my shoulder and a convenient local ID.  Then again, perhaps there was just a perverse desire, on my part, to see what normal people have to go through.  Either way what’s done is done and now, on to the next thing.

Thai Culture (a different view) ...

Recently my wife has shown more interest in the computer and becoming more proficient using it.  She finds my computer a little intimidating so asked me to setup the laptop for her use, with internet access through a wifi link.  I believe her main concern, is somehow messing up the main computer and not a need for privacy.  After all, we have never had any secrets between us.  We use Apple Mail to compile all our various email addresses into one place.  From both computers we have access to all the same stuff and share the same internet connection.

I’m sure there are some who would be appalled by this openness and lack of privacy.  For us it is simply the way our world works.  So, why am I mentioning this?  I suppose it is to answer questions that will arise when you read the next sentence.

I was reading over an email my wife wrote to a dear friend yesterday.  Her insights and comments got me thinking about Farangs and the way we sometimes see Thai culture.  Being a Farang in Thailand is vastly different from being a Thai in Thailand.  Much has been written in other venues, of how some Farangs feel they are slighted or disadvantaged, by the Thai system.  My predilection is to explore the advantages of being a foreigner in this foreign land. 

My wife’s words reminded me that we (foreigners) take for granted our ability to discuss things openly and disagree on a wide variety of subjects and topics.  We need not be unnecessarily concerned with the other’s social class, title, age or seniority, unlike a Thai.  We don’t concern ourselves with what is “appropriate behavior”.  We are not paralyzed by our fear of what others will think of us or say about us.  We are not afraid to defend ourselves when we feel wronged.  Many things that we take for granted would be unimaginable for a Thai, at least within the confines of their own culture.  That is why some Thais, and in particular my wife, have a difficult time readjusting.  Being placed back into the Thai “box”, after having developed a taste for a more Western style of communication, can be quite distressing.

She finds it extremely difficult to find other Thai women who are interested in, or indeed capable, of interacting on a level that she now considers necessary for a close interpersonal relationship.  One is not lonely here in a classic sense, as one is always surrounded by others.  There is a nonstop flow of food and conversation that belies the overwhelming constraints imposed by the local culture.  Not feeling free to express yourself and having to wear a mask can leave one feeling quite lonely, however.  On the surface things appear much more civil than they sometimes do in the West, but much is repressed and there are limited outlets for what boils below the surface.

There is a temptation as a foreigner, to downplay or dismiss the importance of these social constraints.  We naively urge the Thais in our lives to disregard or pay no attention to the pressures they feel.  Even when transplanted to another culture, however, it can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for a Thai to disregard these deeply internalized restrictions. 

It appears to me, that one can make the argument that it is not Thai Culture, per say, that we find so enticing as foreigners.  It is the unique freedom we are granted within this society, to be free of and unfettered by what it means to be Thai.  We are free to do, say and act in ways that are not possible for Thais.  We hold a unique place in Thai society.  At once both reviled and revered.  We are granted an elevated status, while at the same time, much less is expected of us.  We are forgiven our indiscretions and bestowed with an image of wealth, status and sophistication that is often in error and unrelated to the facts.  We are allowed, and sometimes even induced, to a deluded vision of ourselves.  An elevated sense of superiority and self-worth, is not uncommon among the expat community. 

I am making no judgements as to the rightness or wrongness of all this.  Merely making observations of the world I know and live in, which may be quite different from what others “know.”  I think it is fair to say I have been exposed to more of Thailand than most, over the years.  Granted, it may lack relevance to those who find themselves confined to a limited subgroup of the expat community.  Others, I’m sure, will have similar views and observations.  One thing that is certain, is that there is no one single Thailand or Farang relationship with it.  When asked about Thailand most of my answers are necessarily prefaced by ... “it all depends.”

A Normal Day of... “this & that” ...

The stage was set.  A theater in the round of sorts.  This was no stage surrounded by an audience, rather the audience (me) surrounded by a stage.  A table was placed on the freshly cut grass, in the cooling shade of the house.  Around the table, were placed lawn chairs, and upon it was placed a feast.  As the players gathered I took my seat, as is my custom, some distance from the table.  From this vantage the stage envelops me and the action at the table becomes but part of the overall scene.  The smell of cut grass, the dogs doing their best to entertain, birds flying in formation, the deep blues and whites of the daytime sky changing to the pastel pallet of dusk as the sun slips behind the mountains.

My wife and the housekeeper prepared food for the workers.  The gardener left early, needing to care for her granddaughter.  Our contractor and his workers had spent the day finishing the roof on our sala and were ready for food and beer.  My perch was far enough away to be on my own but close enough to overhear and ask a question from time to time.  Watching them drink with such enthusiasm, I asked if anyone had modified their drinking habits after what happened to one of their coworkers. 

He had fallen into an alcohol induced coma, was presumed beyond help and removed from the machines keeping him alive.  His family readied to take him home, as is the custom, to prepare his body for three days of viewing and the eventual cremation.  They had declined the offer to have him injected with preservatives, fortunately.  For as they left the hospital, he miraculously came back to life.  As it turns out, it is not much of a life, for he has suffered permanent brain damage and is unable to talk or care for himself. 

The workers laughed and drank more deeply.  The contractor offered some insight, however.  He explained that when bad things befall others, it registers as a simple matter of fact.  Such-n-such, happened, to so-n-so, and that is all.  There is no real empathy, projection or relating of consequences to their own lives.  It was merely something that happen to someone else.  It reminds me of findings that suggest adolescent brains are not developed to the point where they can understand and foresee the consequences of their actions.  Sadly adolescence seems to be dragging on longer and longer, these days.

About this time the two lads, who had scoured our land with weed whackers during the day, arrived to join the festivities.  One, the village headman’s son, made an effort to impress the farang.  Pointing out that there is a waterfall that should be visited and he could show me.  I had to sheepishly reply that I had most recently been there just two days prior, on my own.  My wife explained that there is hardly a trail, river, valley or mountain top that I have yet to explore in our area, whether by truck, scooter, mountain bike or foot.

As the others ate, drank and made merry, thoughts of the day’s events replayed in my mind.  Today had been a shopping day.  Coffee beans and bread for me, lunch and groceries for the two of us and the plant nursery for my wife, to acquire another truck load of exotic plants for the house.  Another couple of stops to fill the truck with diesel and buy fresh produce at an outdoor market.  Then a leisurely drive home.

Earlier, someone with more traditional color sensibilities than mine had commented, online, about the correctness of using certain colors on blogs.  That got me thinking about my own color pallet.  I seem to remember going black long before it became popular.  I dressed in black to prowl the night till dawn.  I dressed in black to play squash (heresy for the traditionalist).  I wear black micro fibber when I bestride my mountain bike.  Our truck is black, our scooter is black, the granite kitchen countertop is black, the slate patios are black, the windows are black, the built in furniture in the TV room is black, backpack, duffles...well, you get the idea.  To appease my wife’s more varied color pallet I have made wardrobe adjustments and concessions.  Fortunately we both like black, setoff by white and color accents.  We do have light colored floors, walls and ceiling with colorful furnishings.

This got me considering the difficulties of expats whose biases are too firmly entrenched.  If one pisses into the prevailing winds of your host country, the results can be quite unpleasant.  If one insists things be done a certain way, your way, resentment and anger is soon to follow.  I am bored to death with all those, This is Thailand, anecdotes.  All those questions about how much things cost, seem so naive.  Sadly I must acknowledge there is a large market for that kind of thing.

Perhaps I made a mistake in relenting to an interview for a site called expat interviews.  I am in favor of people striking out, into the unknown, and discovering themselves as they discover the world.  I fear most readers, simply want to be told how to do things and how much it costs.  Where is the fun, adventure or discovery in that?  There are just too many variable to give people a price list and these days prices change weekly, if not daily.  To give examples of what I pay is not helpful for I doubt a tourist or newbie would be able to obtain the same price, even at the same place.  Then again, if but one new regular reader happens upon my blog through that site, I will feel as though it was an effort worth making.

Reminders ...

Just the other day I was reminded of something.  One of the village girls, with her Bangkok boyfriend, is in the process of building a new house, much as we did last year.  Watching a well-to-do, big city Thai, doing what we did is an interesting study.  He is able to call on family, friends, and long established business and social connections, unlike most foreigners.  The ability to network, local style, is a definite advantage.  In the village, people often use the same networking technique but with a much different outcome.  They are limited to a much smaller and less sophisticated pool of contacts.  I will be interested to see how his results vary from mine, if at all

We have met on several occasions.  First time was up at the dam.  I had walked there and they had driven.  Even then the flow of our conversation was distinctly, non-village.  During our most recent encounter, in his front yard, conversation again flowed easily.  Of course there was the talk of house construction which eventually diverged into motorcycles as I was trying out our new scooter.  He has friends in the BMW camp and I have a friend in the Harley camp.  We also talked dogs, as he was given two beautiful Golden Retriever puppies, by a friend in Bangkok, and moved them here.  After they get there shots we may arrange a play date for our dogs, as we have done with the manager of the rubber-wood plantation and his GR puppy. 

Apparently, I am rambling and have yet to get to the point of this writing.  I was reminded by all this, of the vast spectrum, of Thai society and social class.  I have observed that far too often, foreigners, enter into their relationship with Thailand through a very narrow door and remain confined to a very small room.  Obviously it is impractical for the majority of individuals to do as I have done.  To spend twenty plus years developing their own unique relationship with Thailand.  To have a distinct, individual identity separate from any connection to one particular Thai family.  Only then settling down with a partner into a much more balanced relationship.

Whether associating with the dregs of Thai society or the educated and well-heeled elite, marrying into a Thai family with no language or cultural background makes things more difficult than they need be.  It seem, also, to lead to a lot of negative stereotyping and generalizing, about “Thais”, by foreigners.  Often but not always, foreigners are exposed to the poorest, least educated and least sophisticated of Thai society.  You stand little chance of being introduced to a broad spectrum of social classes by a Thai partner.  Even if, they are working or middle class, Bangkok Thais.  Class consciousness remains strong and there is an understandable reluctance to venture outside of the group they identify with and are accepted by.

As lovely as my wife is, she could never have introduced me to the people I have introduce her to.  As an unfettered young foreigner I was able to cross all social lines, in time.  Then, by virtue of my own standing in Thai society and long-term relationships, my wife has been able to slip the bonds of her village upbringing.  To mingle with and befriend those with whom there would have been a mutual reluctance.  Remembering those early encounters still brings a smile to my face.  Me pointing out someone of note as we dined in a restaurant.  Her being embarrassed and admonishing me not to bother, people like that.  Followed by those individuals seeing me and coming over to our table to say hello.  It happened on overseas flights, in hotel lobbies, restaurants and health clubs until she got quite used to it. 

The point being, that with a broader exposure to all things Thai and less emphasis on one limited group, I can’t help but believe there would be fewer of the shockingly narrow minded bloggers and forum junkies generalizing and complaining about Thailand and Thai people.  To me, those rants say more about the raconteur than the people they scandalize and denigrate.  It is unfair and disingenuous to make sweeping generalizations with little if any knowledge.  Perhaps it is just one of those, more unpleasant aspects, of human nature.  That we so enjoy making fun of those who are different or that we do not understand, is sad.  Technologically we move forward in leaps and bounds but as human beings we seem to have stopped our evolutionary development.

Life’s Little Lies ...

When we are little they tell us we are special.  It takes a while, but soon enough, we discover that we are not.  (Even if few acknowledge the fact.)  “You can be anything you want to be.”  Another lie.  “You deserve only the best life has to offer.”  Ah, but how are you going to pay for it?  “You are destined for great things and were put on this planet for a unique purpose.”  So there used to be 3 billion of these “destinies” when I arrived.  Now there are nearly 7 billion and counting?  Each one put on this Earth to fulfill some greater purpose?  It all starts to sound a bit like Santa, delivering presents to every little girl and boy, in one night.

Is it any wonder then, that we find people in the West, with such inflated expectations and sense of entitlement?  Everyone with so much and yet whining about not having enough.  I suppose it is human nature to want more.  That desire pushes us to move, ever forward.  Never to be content with what we have.  A consequence of not knowing when to stop, however, is the wanton destruction of our environment, our resources and sometimes our own lives.

Some believe that escaping into another culture will resolve all issues in their life.  Another one of those misnomers.  What one reads about a culture’s beliefs, values and structures are often on the theoretical side, bearing little resemblance to the drudgery of daily existence.

Transplanted into their new world, what was once shiny and new, becomes glaringly annoying.  The whiner resurfaces to point out all the garish discrepancies between their lofty expectations and what they see now as ludicrous or loathsome about their new home.  Therein are born a multitude of articles and websites and blogs about the oddities and quirks of Thais and Thailand.  Dire warnings ensue about the hazards that lurk below the surface and anecdotal evidence of the horrors that await the innocent.  If it happened to him, it will most likely happen to you, as well.

With a constant upwelling of newcomers discovering Thailand, there is an unlimited pool of innocent, naive and sometime desperate individuals who will believe almost anything they read.  Sure, the food and language are different.  One has to learn the rules of the game, as well.  I would suggest, however, finding your own path and relying less on the advice and warnings of others.  So you make some mistakes along the way.  Who doesn’t?  We learn more from our mistakes, so a life void of them, certainly falls short of its potential.  A little caution is a good thing but if you expect bad things to happen, then that is often what you will find.

Thailand has been good to me, as I’m sure it has been to others.  I would have missed so much had I not found myself in this amazing place.  You may not find that it makes you into a new person, but you may just find that it allows you to be yourself, for a change.

Relationships ...

Relationships are complicated and disparate, with the scope of dissimilarity assuring there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success or harmony. Cross cultural relationships add multiple layers of complexity. Whose cultural values and beliefs will dominate when choices are required? How much knowledge and experience do the parties possess about each other?

With limited understanding and invalid assumptions, the decision making process becomes flawed and perhaps, in some cases, doomed to failure. Unable to communicate properly, one is often left with guessing or what I fear happens most, projecting. One assumes the other is thinking or saying what you want them to. It is often felt, that not knowing is better and simplifies things. “Ignorance is bliss” is the correct reference, I believe.

One could argue that many a man, drawn to Thailand, is on the rebound from a breakup, going through that midlife thing, or lacks experience with the opposite sex. It makes sense to me that one exercise more caution under such circumstances. But then again, just because we have a brain, doesn’t mean we always use it. Testosterone drives men to compete for the female prize, and if he has it, shower gifts and money on anyone who may have influence over the outcome of the game.

Women are often driven to “test” a man and get what they can, before he looses interest or the game is over. If one looks at divorce statistics, it is clear many bad choices are being made. Thailand aficionados will have knowledge of the many horror stories which abound in the expat community. Some seem to deserve what they get, while others are perhaps, simply unlucky.

The time to get things right is in the beginning, however. If loneliness and desperation, lead one to leap into the abyss, then the choice has already been made and the consequence could be horrific. I sympathize with those who find themselves in difficult relationships. One must, however, take a fair share of the responsibility for being there to begin with.

Lets assume a modicum of mutual attraction and compatibility. Being able to speak each other’s language would be beneficial but is often not present. Some form of long term commitment (from both parties) would be nice, other than simply proclaiming everlasting love. Often it appears that the only thing people are clearly committed to is the eventual end of the relationship. The sad reality being that the majority of relationships, do indeed end.

I witness people espousing the virtues of time spent apart. Of open or long-distance relationships. Of blowing up and making up. Venting ones anger and storming off in an infantile rage. Counting on flowers, I’m sorry and make-up sex, to push the “reset” button. I am not, however, an advocate of “time outs” or “space” or fighting and making up.

Conflict and confrontation which leads to angry words or violence, is never productive in my opinion. It leaves scares on a relationship that may never completely heal. It is no excuse to say, “That’s just me” or “I can’t help it”. Our higher brain functions are there for a purpose, so why not use them. Choose your actions and words wisely. Nurture your partner, don’t put them down or demean them. This cannot be one-sided, either, at least not for any length of time. Inevitably, relationships are like Velcro, in that both sides are needed, in order for it to function properly.

I’m a firm believer that you treat your partner better than anyone else and expect the same in return. They are after all, or should be, the most important person in your life. If your partner is not your best friend and the person you go to for companionship or when life gets rough, then life is lacking much of the comfort, joy and pleasure it could have. I’m here as a witness, that it can indeed work, but there are many caveats.

Simply closing ones eyes does not mean problems disappear. On a daily basis, ones partner should be made to feel special, wanted, appreciated, understood, protected and sheltered. Never take for granted that they know how you feel or what you need. Don’t “test” or speak in code. Be clear about what you want to say and then say it with compassion and understanding. Saying nice things not only make others feel good but reinforces those feeling inside you, as well. Just as we are what we eat, we are also what we think. Thinking negatively about others does not make things better.

For those who have already begun the journey. Be it long-term relationship, marriage, or perhaps family, I wish you the best of luck. For those standing on the precipice, please take your time and think things through. Will “both” of your lives be enriched by moving forward? Are you focused on what you are leaving behind, or what you want in the future? What are you loosing or gaining? Is what you have, right here, right now, enough? Do you accept each other, for who you really are? Do you really know who you are as individuals? If not, how do you ever expect things to workout?

Fear ...

So what is it, that you fear?

When I mount my trusty steed, tricked out with protection from the sun, water, camera, and cellphone, my thoughts are of adventure, exercise, fresh air, great views, peace and solitude, and time for reflection. At times my grit it tested by a particularly steep and rugged uphill gradient. I must then find a balance, between the thrill of the subsequent downhill and a desire to return home uninjured.

Some locals stare in disbelief, others smile or giggle as villagers do. Those who know my name, ask where I’m off to. I wave and point as I whisk by at speed, unaware of the conversation that follows. Aren’t my relatives afraid for me and my safety? Judgement is questioned and fears enumerated.

At times it seems that my neighbors live in a constant state of fear. There are numerous fears born of superstition. Fears of weather, animals and the natural environment. Fears that others will have more or get to something before they do, like fruit, fish, mushrooms and anything else that can be harvested from the forest, including trees.

Their fear of theft, when there are so few strangers about, suggests that deep in their hearts they covet their neighbors possessions and would make off with them, given the chance. They fear being different and not being accepted. They fear anything new. They fear loneliness and isolation. They fear old age without children. The list is so extensive as to give one pause and wonder if they do not fear life itself.

One would like to think, that in the developed world, with greater knowledge, education and sophistication there would be less fear. One would be wrong, however, as many elevate the measure and degree of fear to an art form. Much of it having little or nothing to do with our daily lives and the struggle to move from this day to the next.

Fear is often used by the powerful to control the weak. Be it nations, governments, politicians, military, law enforcement, religions, schools, institutions, communities and even families and parents, fear is used to keep people in their place. When one is taught to fear and constantly reminded of what one cannot do, it becomes difficult to embrace what can be done, what is possible and to have hope. Life becomes a burden instead of a joy.

Ironically, the fear that is meant to control us, leads some to seek a release or a total loss of control and fear. Sometimes to be found in drugs or alcohol or total abandon on the highways or some combination of these elements. As a family we are once again witness to the resulting aftermath. My wife’s mother, aunt and uncle from her father’s side, have made the long sad journey to Rayong from Chiang Rai. My wife’s 17 year old cousin, yet to begin her adult life, was lost to family and friends. Yet another victim of road carnage and the notorious two wheeled death machine, the motorcycle. Too often fear does not extend to real dangers. How can it, when we are taught to fear our own shadows? When fear is overused, at some point, doesn’t it lose its effectiveness?

To paraphrase, perhaps my only fear, is fear itself. Perhaps I fear a life lived in fear. A life devoid of passion, joy, beauty, love and adventure is perhaps worthy of fear.

So what is it, that you fear?

Cultural Variety ...

One sees, one hears, one feels, one experiences...then categorizes, generalizes, extrapolates and forms a belief about the way things are and the way things work. Surely this has worked in our favor over the millennia. Saving us from threats and dangers that could have jeopardized our survival along the way. As with all things there is another side, however. This tendency sometimes stunts our growth and once an opinion is formed it can be quite difficult to unlearn or deprogram.

Such is the case with cultural, racial and ethnic biases. It is simple mental laziness that encourages us to put large swaths of human kind into convenient groups or categories. Though hardly of any earth shattering significance, Thailand has suffered its share of being painted with a single brush and a limited color pallet. To avoid such generalizations, I will try to relate a personal story, that may or may not, resemble others experiences. A brief vignette of my wife’s exposure to the West.

By the time the wife and I first ventured to my homeland we had been together for something in the order of three years. Two years of cohabitation before a year of marriage. Green Card in hand, concerns tended more toward food, language, weather and culture. Food turned out to be a nonissue as was the weather. Though lacking a little confidence, language was not a major hurtle, as I could help fill in the gaps as her learning progressed. At that point my Thai was still much better than her English as I had been using it much longer. Strangely we have now slipped into a pattern of me speaking English with her, as she responds in Thai. That is another story, however.

There was a palpable sense of loneliness, for her, on those first few trips. I had to be all things to her, and our love notwithstanding, it wasn’t really healthy to be that dependent. In hindsight, this should not have been unexpected. Up to that point in her life she had probably not spent more than a few moments alone during any one day, let alone months at a time.

As painful and difficult as it was at times, she grew tremendously during that period and ventured down a path of self-discovery. She discovered to her surprise that she had no idea who she was or what she really wanted in life, so went about finding “herself.” Typically that is not the kind of thing one discovers in a noisy crowded environment always reacting to the things around us, without any control.

In contrast to the loneliness, she was stuck by the amount of physical contact people indulged in. Though uncomfortable at first she soon grew to appreciate hugs and affection among friends. She hugged my parents and her friends with regularity but to this day can’t seem to break that barrier with her own family. Perhaps it is difficult to break old patterns or maybe there is a fear that it would be misinterpreted or rejected.

She was impressed by the more gentle tone of conversation. The candid expression of feelings and ideas among family and friends. Those are things she has come to respect and embrace now, in her own life. Village life can be hard and sometimes the style of communication reflects that severity.

Her newly evolved self is often in a state of limbo, between two cultures. It is not about one culture being better than another. It is about finding ones own place in the world. So we make our own world, together. We end up picking and choosing the building blocks of our lives and placing them on the firm foundation of love and respect.

Answering, the best I can ...

1) Was living as a retiree in Thailand the best option or the best financial option?
2) Did you ever consider living outside of Thailand with your Thai wife?
3) Do you have a "Plan B" in case things go wrong here?
4) Do you have any travel plans? Does your wife agree with them, if so, or like mine, she says I travel I stay home.
(just incase all the other questions are easy ones. :-) ).

I love questions. They give me the opportunity to expand and clarify who I am, while shining a light on who my readers are and where they are in their life journeys.

The answer to the “or” in number 1 is probably “yes”, since finances are a major part of the “best option”. For several years we spent six months at a time in the US. It was a bit too stressful to spend six months in Hawaii so we would break it up with a month long drive around the western states. We ranged as far east as Denver and from Southern California and Arizona, up to the Canadian boarder, where we crossed over in both Montana and Washington.

While dropping in on friends and family, we racking up an impressive list of State and National Parks, and found a few states and cities that held promise as a place to settle. My wife would have found it difficult to live there without working, however, as she needs a more active social life than I. On the other hand, I did not relish the thought of sitting around while she was off at work.

Over time it became apparent that what we liked most, was being on holiday there. There were also family obligations and the time we needed to spend in Hawaii. Financially it became clear that startup costs, even to try living some place for a year and do the things we like doing, would be prohibitive.

Living in our present location is the best of both worlds, so to speak. I have the remoteness I seek, while she has an active social life surrounded by people she knows. Eventually with the reduced fixed overhead of living here, we will hopefully be able to do more traveling. At least that was the plan before the days of looming 200 dollar oil prices. Gee, it looks like I have included an answer to number 2 already.

As for number 3 and the escape plan, this is the first time in my life where I am completely committed and must answer “no”. It is hard to make things work when you have one foot out the door, expecting things to go wrong. I suppose there was a time when I considered getting one of those small camper vans, not a big RV, and roaming the back roads of my homeland, if things didn’t workout in Thailand. That would be a lot more costly these days and I am getting older and less physical, so at some point that option would fade to a memory.

It looks like I have already touched on question number 4, as well. We love traveling even though my wife has a mild fear of flying. Alaska, New Zealand, and parts of Europe are high on the list but most of our travel now, is taken up with mandatory trips to Hawaii. My wife has a friend in New Zealand, who plans to visit us soon, so that might be first on our list when we get things sorted out with the house.

The same person as above, made the following observation:

“VillageFarang doesn't really fall into the retired expat category.  In any Western country, after a residency of more than 30 years he'd be hardly noticeable amongst the locals.  Fluent in language, conversant in local custom, he still remains an outsider here.”

On the surface this would appear insightful and difficult to refute. Granted, I only fall into the “retired expat” category due to a few technicalities. I don’t work, I’m old enough, and I am a foreigner. The rest of it is not quite so clear cut.

In my 30+ years I have gone through pretty much every phase imaginable. Importantly I spent a number of years in the “total immersion” phase. There were years where I spoke nary a word of my native tongue. I treated Thai culture and society as a game of conquest. Upon mastering each new level of the game, I would look at things from my new vantage point, and set my sights on the next goal. I just wanted to see how far I could go. I came up just shy of the top, but I got quite close to Moms, na Ayuthayas, Khun Yings, generals, business tycoons, government ministers, celebrities, a Miss Thailand finalist, and even some of the nightlife’s dark influential characters.

Some commented that I was at least 80% Thai and only my appearance belied my origins. Sitting with Thai friends in a hotel lobby or restaurant, individuals in the crowd were targeted for gossip. Their family names were illuminated along with all the skeletons in their closet. I was privy to things that are normally hidden, from all but the inner circle of Thais with particular family names. I have kept the confidences but have wondered if some may have regretted telling me quite so much.

Eventually I felt constrained by the code of conduct that was paramount in these social circles. I started to rediscover my “farangness” one might say. No doubt age played a part, as well a boredom and familiarity with things that had, at one time, seemed foreign and unattainable. I began visiting home more often. Brief visits at first but after finding squash it became easier to plug in anywhere. That became my life for several years. I could be at home wherever there was a squash court. During that time I found my wife and found I preferred to live in a world of my own making, rather than in someone else's.

I could go on, but the point is that the line “he still remains an outsider here” is not entirely accurate. You see I actually was inside for a time. Admittedly, not at the same level as some of the, old Western or European family names, that have been here for generations, but inside non the less.

I really want to thank you for the question, however! Writing this has reminded me of things that I had almost forgotten. Between the few words that found their way to the page, were endless recollections and an emotional trip down memory lane. I hardly recognized myself. One of my best and worst traits has always been my ability to move on. I have been very bad about staying in touch or holding on to the past. My focus is always now or tomorrow. What’s gone, is gone. This has been both a blessing and a curse at different times in my life, though a significant factor in my ability to survive.

An Answer to a Question ...

I am interested in what a 'normal' day in the north entails for you and how you manage to mix your own philosophies and beliefs with those of your wife to form a harmonious balance that does not leave either party feeling lesser, for want of a better word.

I notice how very few farangs, from all continents, can truly let go of their past lifestyles, and excesses, to live a more fulfilling, yet to some extent humble existence, with their Thai partners, yet you seem to have done so with what appears to be a great ease!

My wife, the little vixen, had a short answer for you. She said, just tell him you are lazy and I do everything for you, so you can live anywhere, with “great ease.”

Seriously, there is more than one question in there, so let me pull out some things and answer them separately. As for the philosophies and beliefs part, that is pretty simple for us. Though I can understand how that simplicity might not be “easy” for everyone. Neither of us is evangelical, about what we believe or don’t believe. That’s it. In other words we are not trying to convert or shove something down each other’s throats.

Our beliefs are not so fragile or insecure as to be threatened by others beliefs. We are able to joke about our differences and she understands that the only things that can raise my hackles are things that causes her too much grief or anxiety. That extends even to family. She is my first priority and for me a happy wife makes for a happy life. We also stress that we are a team and don’t fight each other. We take on the rest of the world, together.

As for the lifestyles question. It has been incremental. Remember, I wasn’t even 21 when I discovered Thailand. Back then I was only interested in one thing and all the comparisons were in Thailand’s favor. I hadn’t done anything yet, so there really wasn’t much for me to “let go of.” The same, probably can’t be said, for someone coming here in their 40s, 50s or 60s.

Now for the “normal” day thing. Keep in mind, there is no truly “normal” day for us, my age, location and the wife’s assessment that I am lazy. The day starts slowly, between five and six in the morning. One of us, and there is no rule about who, will get up and turn off the streetlights, go to the bathroom and take a look out the windows to see where the dogs are and check on the weather and any activity out in the fields. Then it is back to bed for a while. I said things start slowly.

I have been known to get up and take the dogs to the dam on a cold foggy winter morning but these days I am more apt to do it later in the day. More often than not my wife gets up first, if she has a project she wants to get started on or wants to go to the market for something. For now, she is still spending way too much time on the house and yard but there is hope that will change, when things get a little more settled.

My wife likes to shower first thing but I wait until after breakfast. I usually start off by opening all the window and blinds to let in the fresh morning air. I plug in the computer and let it warm up while I grind the beans for my morning brew. Breakfast is a quiet affair and we both make our own. We take in the view and talk about what is on the plate for the day. After eating I check out the internet, emails and watch the international new on TV. Then its time for a shower followed by the daily call to my parents.

If we are not heading into town (54 kilometers) for anything, them my wife is already working on lunch after having cleaned most of the house. Often we have people working on some project so she might eat with them or go over to eat with her mother. I don’t eat lunch, so don’t join in. What I do in the afternoon depends on the weather and what help my wife might request. Which could be almost anything. Sometimes I write. I have several photographic or video projects that I could work on if nothing else takes precedence. Those kinds of things are very time consuming and the day passes quickly.

If my wife gets tired and needs a midday nap, I join her for some quiet time. We take turns during the day, checking on the progress of the workers and playing with the dogs. Late afternoons are often taken up with, gardening and watering the plants. I enjoy watching the sunset as I sit by the pond feeding the fish.

You never really know who might stop by and there is always something going on in the village, like weddings, funerals, and a multitude of village calendar events. Our front canal is full of water these days so the neighbors are usually out there fishing. I’m sure they have scarfed up every last fish but they are still out there everyday enjoying the water, anyway.

Dinner comes early. My wife does the cooking and I eat whatever she feeds me. She is not a great cook by I always tell how good the food is, often before I have even tasted it. Just another of our playful exchanges. I help dry and put away the dishes but not much more. We might watch a TV show or a DVD while stretching and perhaps giving each other a massage, or take a shower or bath together.

There is no fixed routine with us but life revolves generally around our relationship, the house, the dogs and our families (hers’ here and mine on the phone or online) and a few friends. The sun and moon, the weather, the natural rhythms of sleep, grooming, exercise and sustenance, seem to dictate the pace of our lives. Not some artificial number on a digital clock. Not everyone can move at this pace but since my laziness has already been determined, you might say I find it both easy and natural.

We are really quite laid back and my cynical side is vented here in these pages. I exercise my demons here so that my wife only sees the angel in me (with horns on occasions).

The New Norm or Our Tangled Webs ...

A hush has fallen over my immediate surroundings. Ah, the peaceful quiet serenity, or perhaps the lonely anguished recriminations. Same story, different perspectives. Our more industrious neighbors have gone off to Chiang Mai or elsewhere to supplement their farming income by selling dumplings or working construction jobs. My wife’s immediate family, all but her mother, have jumped ship as well. The sister took her ten year old to Bangkok in an attempt to show that she is capable of raising her own daughter, despite all evidence to the contrary. Also, in a spiteful tiff, the brother sent his wife to fetch the nine month old, a couple of days ago. It will be interesting to see how long this chapter drags on before the page is turned, on my wife’s family drama.

It seems, the more my wife does, in her efforts to “help” her family, the more resentful they become. It is not beneath them to receive handouts but heaven forbid the inclusion of any, preconditions or expectations. Of course the ultimate insult is to perhaps point out how much one has already done, in a vain effort to help siblings to have a better life. We are not fixated on this subject but the wife and I do have to revisit the topics of, wasted effort and lost causes, from time to time.

Perhaps unsympathetically, I point out that her family quite possibly doesn’t want what she wants for them. There is also a fair amount of guilt on her part, I believe, for having such a good life. It is hard for her to enjoy all her blessings when her family is struggling. Admirable as that might be, it is perhaps a bit naive to assume they aspire to the same things in life that she does. Intellectually, I believe she understands but her heart still feels what it feels.

Having grown up in university towns, and being the spawn of academic parents, I led a somewhat sheltered life early on. Life in Thailand has broadened the scope of my life experience and vision, while only occasionally ravaging my emotions. I have grown to accept the good and the bad that comes with life. Perhaps one day my wife will be more content with her lot in life and more accepting of the inequity she sees around her.

It became painfully clear to me, over time, that the vast majority of people in this world do little more than eat, sleep, reproduce and die. The only universal “truth” that has made itself apparent, is that all things come to an ignominious end. Be it plants, animals, people, planets or suns it all comes to the same inevitable denouement. We are an elite group, playing with our computers and making up things to worry about. Even my wife’s family is better off than most when viewed on a broader canvas. So I’m not too worried and know that this is not the final chapter in her family drama.

As is my style, there is no detail about who said what to whom. I find that kind of petty gossip rather demeaning for both the teller and the listener. Selfishly I’m glad that my wife will have more time for herself, and me of course. To start with she is on the floor, next to me, having a long overdue massage as I sit at the computer. With my massage complete, I think I shall linger here, basking in the pleasure of her presence, for just a bit longer. At the moment there truly is no place else I would rather be.

The Visitors ...

Everyone was up early today. Bathing, packing, eating, getting organized and saying goodbyes. After stuffing all the bags and ten people into the van our guests were off, on a very, very long drive home. It had been an interesting couple of days and a successful test of how our house would handle a large group of visitors. We had expected them to stay longer and I believe they really wanted to, but plans have a way of changing, just like the weather.

The weather had been very hot leading up to their arrival but turned overcast and cooler for the duration of their stay. Wish I could say I had something to do with that, but alas, they no doubt brought the weather with them. We didn’t have nearly enough time to do justice to the sights of Chiang Rai but we did work in an early morning hike to the dam, a waterfall, some mountains and some time in the village. The high point was just being able to spend time eating and visiting with old friends and meeting their extended Isaan family. I won the bet, when our friend showed up with a van full of girls. His wife brought three sisters and five kids. They were remarkably well behaved considering the range in age and interests. I’m quite sure it would have been more difficult with little boys or men in the mix.

We put our friends up in western style, in the guest room by the pond, while the extended family made themselves at home in a big room off of the kitchen, where we normally play ping pong or my wife does yoga to a video. To accommodate feeding twelve people we moved the dinning table off to the side, where the two farang “kings” could sit on their thrones and dine in comfort. In the newly formed open space, mats were spread and food was arranged, so that everyone could reach their favorites. With five women to share the work load and five ravenous, but well mannered little girls, to liven things up, everyone had a good time and nobody had to work too hard.

Some might be disapproving of the guys not joining in the festivities on the floor. In our defense, however, my friend had been on the road for days. He did all the driving, navigating and organizing while having only his wife to speak English with. So a little farang food and conversation was not entirely out of line. In my book the guy has the patience of a saint. You would never catch me planning a trip like that. Though everything went well, selfishly, I would have preferred having our friends to ourselves for a week or two. Perhaps their next visit will consist of four grownups doing more grownup things.

The two of us are a study in the difference between an old timer like me, who has lived here forever, and a guy who doesn’t live here, but has a very long term relationship with Thailand through his wife and her extended family. He is never here for any length of time so moves at a pace which I am unable to maintain. Trying to include everyone, and do and see everything, in a very limited time window, is a major dividing line between resident and visitor. In the end we have more in common than not and are far removed from the elbow benders and barstool warmers that lust after everything that moves or breaths. Memories of that life are so faded as to be unrecognizable from our present vantage points. As word spreads, no doubt other friends will want to “see for themselves” and they will be a welcome change of pace in our otherwise remote and quiet existence.

Home is where? ...

They say, home is where the heart is, but is anything ever that simple? I’m quite sure there is no single equation that covers all people through every stage of their lives. At different times we seek and need different things. There is, however, a standard warning from old Thailand dinosaurs like myself, that moving to Thailand will not fix your life for you. Whatever your problems, wherever you are, wherever you go, they will most likely accompany you on your journey. They are constant companions through life’s adventures. We are who we are, forever repeating the same mistakes, making the same choices and whining about why this always happens to me.

That said, “place or location” can have a major impact, on your ability to realize your potential for happiness in this life. No, I am not being contradictory or convoluted in my thought process here. Think of yourself as a business venture of some sort. If you’re a bad idea from the get go, then location won’t help much. If you’re a good idea in a bad location, again you have little hope of success. Now find just the right place, where people might be willing to buy, whatever it is you are selling, and magic can happen.

This is not, a one size fits all for all time, formula. One’s needs change over time. When I was young, freedom and adventure were utmost on my agenda. I had no interest in family or commitment or home. Go, see, do and jettison anything that slowed my travels or hindered my mobility. As I have gotten older, and my family has begun to fade, my needs have changed. Of course I am happiest in the presence of my loving wife but the “house” has created a relaxed environment in which to enjoy each others company. The “place” has made a difference.

My recent trip to Hawaii was anything but a return to my “home”, that it once was. If you have dreams of living to a venerable old age, try living in a retirement home for a week. It may change your mind. Being with my parents in that environment did not help to make it feel like “home.” The sights, sounds, smells and food could not be hidden by the otherwise beautiful surroundings. As a stomach flu spread, the dining room was closed and all public activities were cancelled for several days. This made an already depressing environment all the more morbid and confining. Even though my heart is with my aging parents, I was most certainly not at “home” with them, in their new accommodation.

So before, I guess, my parents and their home were my de-facto safe place, which gave me the freedom to roam unencumbered. But, my father’s increasing frailty and my mother not knowing who I am much of the time, does not make one feel all safe, warm and fuzzy. It feels like that sense of home has been ripped from me, forever. Now I am trying to build my own home, complete with land, house, wife and her family, in my adopted country. All in anticipation of that day, when there is no one above me on the family tree.

And yes, after thirty some years, I know that I made the right move by coming to Thailand. I was too young for it to have fixed anything in my life but it was a very good fit for me. It allowed me to become who I am today and live a life unimaginable if I had stayed in my country of birth. For some, Thailand will be the biggest mistake they ever make. Others, however, will feel a sense of release. There will be a freedom to grow into your own skin and realize potential. Don’t ask me, however, which one you will be. That is entirely up to you to discover, but wouldn’t you rather know, than spend your life wondering?

More Q & A ...

Hope you don't mind the inclusion of an action shot from my active social life.

Well, where to begin, with so many topics to choose from?

First I refuse to be drawn into semantic word games. There is far too much of that in the forums and it is always a downhill path.

I loved that really polite, roundabout way of asking me “How Much”? As noted, figures run to the extremes. It is just such a personal and individualized subject, that in spite of its obvious importance to all of us, I refuse to comment on money and how much. I liken it to asking about the specifics of one’s private parts. There is simply no polite, discrete way to inquire about the size, shape, appearance, smell and pubic array of someone else’s partner, for example. Sorry, money is important, as is sex, but you will just have to figure out that one, all by yourself.

As for the question about why I “retired” at the tender young age of 53, perhaps I shouldn’t correct you by informing you that the actual age was more like 40. That is apt to raise even more questions than it answers. I am unable to make any grandiose claims of being a self-made man. I always hated work and everything about it, but that is a very long, drawn out philosophical debate, better suited for another time. I can say that I have always been very, very disciplined and in control of my finances. A fair amount of luck has lead me to where I am now, however.

DAGO, what can I say? From what I have seen, there isn’t anything you can learn from me. You are doing just fine. I feel a kinship and truly enjoy having you along for the ride. I hope you stick around.

Finally we arrive at the winning question of the day. “Who is this woman that has changed your life?” Thanks JK for giving me the opening to discuss one of my favorite subjects. Specifically my wife and more generally, women.

I read the question to my wife and asked her if perhaps I should say that I had made or created her. Her response was typical. “Tell them I couldn’t change you “at all” and you changed me “a lot” (note: long drawn out pronunciation).” Perhaps it is semantics but I wouldn’t say I really changed her. I simply used my advanced age and extensive experience to manipulate her into finding her own potential. Understand, I have friends that bristle at the notion of game playing or manipulation. I find their arguments more than a bit naive. Life is difficult enough without limiting ones arsenal of tools and techniques to achieve a successful conclusion. Why should I not take advantage of all I have learned over the years, from all the various women I have known?

Born the oldest of three siblings, in a then remote and very poor Northern Thai Village. Born to a singularly simple mother, both illiterate and unintelligent. Her father epitomized all that I find disdainful about my own sex. Had he been born in my country, to more money and had a different family name, he could have been elected President. As it was, his attempts to be elected village headman were to no avail. I doubt even his own family voted for him.

I would suspect that being the oldest child and having that responsibility laid upon her slender shoulders, molded her character to some extent. Uniquely, she is a self described chameleon, capable of adapting and blending in to almost any situation, social or cultural group.

I recognized elements of her life that had been lacking and went about creating a fertile environment that would nurture her neglected potential. It took some time and trial and error before she began to find out who she was. Reminiscent of the movie Runaway Bride where she had to compare egg recipes to determine what she “really” liked. She is still a work in progress and struggles with some control issues. But then again, I have enough control for both of us. That is part of the synergism of our relationship. We are better together than separate. We compliment rather than compete. I am the rock that brings stability and she is the water that comforts and envelops me, as well as the air I breath.

Experience had taught me to be guarded and elusive. She released a kinder gentler me, capable of feeling and more importantly, showing those feelings, at least to her. On a more practical level we both had a checklist of things that we knew from experience were deal-breakers in a relationship. I had tired of the following scenario.

Somtam, gossip, gambling, shopping, somtam, alcohol, superstition, no can’t do that, no don’t like that, somtam, Thai soap operas, one baht comic books, celebrity gossip, no interest in anything new, somtam, no hobbies, no interests other than food, shopping and money, untrusting and untrustworthy, petty, competitive, jealous, and even more somtam.

Sure she is Thai, so still likes some of that stuff (somtam) but she reads books in English (Da Vinci Code for example). She went skydiving and hiked with me in amazing places. She has foreign girlfriends not just Thai. She is trusting and never goes through my stuff. She eats and enjoys many different cuisines though sadly she is not a great cook. Not for want of trying, however. I eat and praise what she feeds me while she chides me for my dishonesty. We tease each other mercilessly at times. We, however, never loose sight of the big picture and as she says, “Even when I hate you, I still love you.”

I believe her list included things like no alcohol, smoking, gambling, wife beating, philandering, no all night soccer matches on TV, ample time for showering her with attention, a touch of arrogance, a strong physical attraction and basically not to be anything like her father. Fortunately we share the same flaw or age issues. Neither of us are attracted to members of the opposite sex who are in the same age group. That definitely works to our mutual advantage.

I admire the courage of those who trustingly dive headfirst into uncharted waters. That is far beyond my capacity. I revel in diversity and complexity and view the world from my own skewed perspective. Perhaps I have raised more questions for you than I have answered on this day but I strive more to stir the pot and improve the flavor of life than to put a period at the end of a sentence or a dollar sign to anything.

Thailand 101 ...

The sky is gray. A cool breeze from the North brings a slight chill to the house. My favorite Pied Harrier  patrols his domain, performing nap of the earth aerobatics with his usual grace and aplomb. The little Kingfisher, with his hummingbird hues of emerald green and muted saffron, looks content with a beak full of minnow, just scooped from the pond. The dogs frolic in the fields and the pungent aroma of garlic wafts in from the kitchen. My lover and I are satisfied and the world could hardly be any more sublime.

Yet here I am taking a brief moment to remind you of things I’m sure you already know and were covered in depth in Thailand 101. Visiting here, be it two weeks or two months, is like a 100 meter sprint. Living here, by comparison, is like an ultra marathon. One cannot typically maintain the pace of expenditure or conquest indefinitely over the long haul. Some learn this quickly and make a smooth transition from visitor to resident. Others crash and burn in a brilliant pyrotechnic display.

While some venture to this land with no loftier ambition than to live the life of a village peasant, others have grander dreams of conquest. They have the notion that they possess greater intellect and skills, thus putting them way ahead of the locals. They sometimes forget the locals own the playing field and make the rules, as it is the world over. Some things are indeed cheaper here but many things are not. Startup costs for setting up a life here can be high depending on the kind of life you want to lead.

Condo costs could well run you in the neighborhood of two to three thousand dollars per square meter, if that is where your taste lies. There are decent places for half that but as the new kid your chance of finding out about bank auctions or liquidations and gaining access to those properties is slim at best. Cars are another example of paying more for less. Where it is not held against you as a visitor, not to have transportation, it can be a limiting factor when trying to move up the quality ladder on your route to grander conquests.

The things we love about a vacation destination sometimes vanish when we move there. Sometimes the beautiful flower we lust after wilts that more readily when we pluck it from the vine instead leaving it to grow wild and flourish. Not that all will be lost but things will be different and much will depend on the individual players and what they bring to the table.

Though it may not sound like it, I am a great believer in the pursuit of “life” over the pursuit of money and possessions. It is just that I also believe in a little anticipatory forethought. Even the most adventurous kayaker, scouts the rapids ahead before attempting to run them and wears a protective floatation device of some sort. By all means “go for it and live to the fullest” but be smart about it too.

I really love reading the comments of those who bother to write. Be they brief or lengthy, they are appreciated greatly and add profoundly to this work.

Not Again ...

When I hear someone say they are, or want, to marry a Thai girl, they are, or want, to move to Thailand, an alarm goes off in my head and part of me wants to scream, “Not Again...Not Another One!” Then the less cynical part of me says shut up and let them find out on their own. Who knows, they may just get lucky.

Statistically the odds are against you even in your own backyard, so does it really matter if someone gets a bad case of the grass being greener and strikes out for a foreign land? After all don’t we learn more from our mistakes than our successes? Isn’t it better to play and lose, than to have never played at all? What would life be, if everything was a sure bet and we always knew the outcome in advance?

So instead of being the naysayer today, I say go for it. When things go belly up, which statistically speaking they most likely will, just tell yourself “I’m one step closer to enlightenment.” In the very least it will be one more mistake you will know, not to make, in the future.

Yeah, I know I’m being a smart-ass, know-it-all but how do you think I got this way? Sure I have a great life and a great wife, but again how do you think I got here? I’ve got twenty long grueling years of mistakes and adventures in Thailand which preceded these last ten years of joyful bliss. You know what all that taught me? It taught me enough to know that I just got lucky. That the right girl found me at the right time. Another time and place and I would not have been ready to grasp this opportunity. I wouldn’t have had the skills necessary to make this work. I had to go through all that other stuff to become who I am today. And it is not enough to just experience life. One has to learn from it.

Someone asked “Why ask Why?” to which I can only say that my mind is never satisfied with “What? Where? When?”. I get bored hearing what happened and want to know why it happened. I’m only superficially interested in what you feel. I am far more interested in why you feel that way. What are the underlying reasons or motivations? For example I seldom base my actions on the “Rules” but rather on what I perceive to be, the reasons for the rules being set forth to begin with. I’m sure for many, if not most, it must sound very tedious. But that is what it is like to be me. It is not about the nice house or the amazing young wife. It is not about where I live (which country, village or house). It is about how I live, the choices I make and about understanding why I am, who I am.

So I can look at that guy in the mirror and say, “I know who you are.” Honestly, how well acquainted are you with the person in your mirror?