Showing posts with label Expat Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Expat Life. Show all posts

Thailand, Forever New ...

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not speaking for myself but for the multitudes who “discover” Thailand each year.  The evangelical converts who wax lyrical about all things Thai, be they cultural, culinary, carnal, curious, creepy, climatic, or conversational as in learning to speak Thai, which I highly recommend.

Some of these new explorers, upon discovering the wonders of Thailand, are eager to convert or instruct others on the ins and outs of every imaginable aspect of all things Thai.  Blogs are one way of getting the message out.  There are some 250 Thai related blogs to be found on but one list, inaccurately named Top 100 Thailand Blogs.

Here you will discover a wide variety of styles and subject matter.  I fall into the category of narcissistic personal bloggers who write only of their own experiences and stick to original material and opinion.  Some focus on politics, travel, food, religion or nightlife.  Others repackage the news they scavenge from more legitimate news sources while adding their own editorial twist.  Some of my favorites are the professed puritans who write pages of prose boasting of their lack of interest in all things carnal while using every imaginable and lurid keyword, catch phrase and search word in their somewhat hollow denial.  Whether this duplicitous approach is intentional to attract page views or simply a sign of naiveté and inexperience is anyones guess.

For those in need of guidance, there are guide books telling you where to go, when to go, how to go and even why and how much.  There are instruction manuals on how to do almost anything from finding food, accommodation, transportation and companionship to things like driver’s licenses, visas, marriage and anything else you can think of.  Everyone seems to think they have something new or better to offer from the hoards of others doing the same thing.

Whether in their twenties or seventies it is fun to watch the new arrivals reinventing the wheel and announcing their new discoveries.  Even with all the new sources of information that were not available back when I first reached these shores, people continue to make many of the same mistakes and if anything seem to be even more naive than the intrepid unprepared explorers of the past.  Sadly those who need advice the most are often the least likely to take it I have found.

Clearly there are those who are suited to life as an expat or involvement in a cross-cultural relationship but it is equally apparent many are not adapted to such a life.  If you are a screwup at home, chances are you will be an even bigger one over here.  If you don’t know much about Thailand and can’t speak the language then it is all down to luck of the draw in your search for a partner.  A quick look around will confirm the world is not full of lucky people.  Luck would seem to be the exception, not the norm.

For those of you who have only recently discovered Thailand may I wish you good luck and enjoy the ride.  My only word of advice would be to learn the language if you plan to do more than holiday here from time to time.

Continued ...

Six weeks into my new running routine and it is anything but routine.  I’m all over the place with good days and bad.  Two days on and one day off, two days and two days, one day and one day, even tried three days on but it did more harm than good.  Moved up from three kilometers to five in the first four weeks but for now seem stuck at five kilometers and still have to walk up the steep hill about half way out.

When I run varies with the cloud cover and the setting of the sun.  The temperature has been inconsistent at best.  Some days are incredibly hot and still, while sometimes there is a refreshing breeze.  I have even run in the rain a few times.  You would expect to be stronger after a day off but some of my ugliest and most painful runs were after a rest day.

Of course there are other things going on like visitors from Hawaii, my birthday, our anniversary, parties, shopping, driving here and there, vehicle registrations, 90 day notification of residence, and more visitors coming next month from Bangkok.

The other day as we were heading out in a light rain to visit some friends, I noticed our neighbors field being planted.  Cool and overcast it was a perfect day for working in the fields and everyone was starting to break for lunch.  As I snapped pictures they asked if we had any spare papaya.  “Sure, and help yourself to some chillies while you are at it” was my reply.   By the time we returned they had finished for the day.  That wonderful planting day was followed by two days of rain which submerged the rice plants, however.  Fortunately today the water has gone down enough that the rice should survive.

Also noticed that with this post #28, I have matched what I did for the whole of last year.  That is not my reason for not posting recently, though.  I have written several pages of late, which I have not posted for various reasons.  As one might expect, inspiration often comes from local sources.  I try to keep things hypothetical but I have found that some individuals are a bit sensitive and read in more than is intended, so I find myself censoring my work before it gets to you.

No doubt my need to write will soon supersede my specious attempts to be nice and I will be back to my old tricks regardless of what others may read into my words.  With little to say today, I thought I might add a few pictures.  Another of my novel ideas ;-)
Mae Suai Dam

Mae Suai Reservoir

Mae Suai from the dam
Planting Rice

Lunch Time

Planting Rice in our Front Yard
Birthday Brunch at Favola

Meridien Pool and Grounds

Visitors from Hawaii
Running past the fields

Running Home

Running Pond Side and into the Sunset

What Price, Thailand? ...

There was unleashed in the mid-afternoon a cleansing torrent from the heavens that passed as abruptly as it arrived.  Added to the fields was a bit more standing water, there were by now only a few remaining puddles on the drive, and everything green seemed that much greener.  There we were the usual suspects, gathered in the usual place, at the usual time searching for those thoughts we had left unfinished just the other day.

Looking north today presented me with a different sensation.  A cool moist breeze kissed my cheeks as it seemed to draw in moister from the mountains to the east.  Stationary, seemingly locked to the topography, was an impenetrable wall of grey.  We were just far enough away from the mountains to remain dry but you could smell it and feel it in the air.

Though not colorful, the western sky was bright by contrast and accented by those dramatic fingers of light that on special occasions reach out from behind the clouds at sunset.  As my eyes followed those rays of light, my thoughts were drawn to the mark that Thailand tends to leave on all of us who venture here.  While some escape her seductive embrace, returning to what many call the real world, others are marked forever and pay a price be it large or small.

Like many men, I suppose I was touched by the women when I first stumbled upon Thailand in my early twenties.  The resulting rush of hormones, no doubt colored everything else about the place with brighter more vibrant hues.  I went through all the typical phases that one does.  Much of the time, that meant I felt very uncomfortable back in my country of birth.  That which others took for granted and saw as inevitable, I no longer considered even an option.  Career, marriage, children, debt, divorce, redundancy and depression were not in the cards for me.

I remember my mother coming to visit once.  We were in a small office purchasing tickets to Chiang Mai, so she could ride an elephant up there.  Everyone in the office was interacting with me.  Even then my Thai was good enough to get everyone involved and I was a bit of a novelty back in those days.  Upon leaving the office my mother remarked that she got it, why I liked it here.  You would need to be a celebrity back home to get that kind of attention while going about mundane errands she remarked.

Though some of the lessons I learned here were painful at the time, in balance Thailand has been kind to me.  I am a different person for having matured in this foreign land far from the path I had been expected to follow.  Whether through luck or resilience I have run the gauntlet and come out the other end undiminished and content with my lot in life.  I have even found things to embrace about where I came from, though I would not wish to live there again. 

There is a fluidity to life here that I have come to embrace.  One never knows for certain what tomorrow will bring.  Life’s ebb and flow brings forth new and unexpected encounters.  As one scene passes from view another unfolds before us with something new to see, feel or learn.  I know Thailand has left a mark on you, so how would you answer the question?  What price, Thailand?

Coffee, Conversation, Questions ...

After a morning ride on the Ninja, I used to find my way to the Doi Chaang coffee shop more often than not, until Starbucks opened at the new mall last month.  With the late opening times of the mall, Starbucks is not suited to the early risers but I seldom get into town before ten or eleven in the morning anyway these days.  Doi Chaang in the early morning had a core group of local farangs who one could visit with, but it tended to always be the same folks.  Depending on your mood, or your likes and dislikes, that could be either a good thing or perhaps a little annoying at times.

I have been meeting a broader range of people at the mall, not better, just different.  There are those I have known for sometime and bump into at the mall, though not necessarily in a coffee shop.  There are of course the coffee drinkers, like me, and many of them have been new acquaintances, both tourists and new arrivals to the area.  Where I was usually the one to make first contact before, recently the tables have been turned, and I find myself on the receiving end of other’s advances.  I assure you I am not complaining here.

I recently stumbled into an empty Starbucks, nestled my helmet into the comfortable armchair next to me and draped my jacket over that, before slumping unceremoniously into a chair myself.  Out came the phone to make my daily call to my father in Hawaii.  After that, and while in the process of texting a friend, someone said something to me, which at this point I can no longer recall the details of.  Familiar with this kind of approach, I bade him join me in one of the vacant armchairs across from me.

The text complete, I indicated there was one more item on my agenda before I would be free.  After calling my wife to let her know where I was, as is my custom, it was time to start a conversation with this interesting interloper.  He was polite enough to apologize for imposing upon my space and hospitality.  I in turn, assured him that it was only fitting payback, that someone should do to me, what I had done to so many others.  That seemed to set the tone for a frank and lighthearted discourse which at times trended toward the deep and philosophical.

Early on I realized I had neglected to order, so imposed upon one of the staff to bring my regular drink, so as not to break the flow of conversation.  In Starbuck-speak, that would be a ‘for here, grande, extra hot, cappuccino’, served in one of their nice mugs, not a paper cup.   Generally Starbucks is a self-service establishment but Thai service staff can be quite accommodating.  While I am not inclined to reveal the details of what we discussed, let us just say I had a very enjoyable time, and the length of that time, passed almost unnoticed.

I have a bad habit of glancing about during conversation, which caused me to spot one of my wife’s more attractive friends here in the Rai.  She went out of her way to come in and say hello briefly, in that very friendly way Thais have.  Big smiles, abundant pleasantries, bracketed by a delicate ‘wai’, or Thai greeting, at the beginning and end.  That reminds me, I bumped into two other old-timers and one of their wives, on the way in from the car park.  I suppose I could have lingered there, instead of rushing off to have my coffee, but I have had that conversation recently and would have missed the chance meeting with someone new.

Some of you are perhaps wondering what was so special about this day or this mystery person, and why I chose to write about this encounter, instead of this morning’s visit by the village headman, discussing something about the local temple.  The point is, it was not that special.  It was not a special day or event.  I never got his name.  We will surely never cross paths again.  It was just one of life’s more pleasant interludes, spontaneous, unscripted, fleeting, and yet memorable.  It was just the crisscross, happenstance nature of people and lives crossing paths on a particular day.  Not unlike a sunset that you will never see again but was still worth seeing.

Often we get caught up in the illusory pursuit of productivity and a purposeful existence.  Fortunately I am at a place in my life where I can live freeform and unstructured, free to enjoy simple unexpected encounters.  Then if the mood strikes me I am free to write about said nonevents.  Though it is implied that you are also free to not read what I write, it is hoped that you will and that you will get something from it.

Near the end of our conversation my blog did come up and I was asked who reads me.  I had to think about that one for just a moment.  I have asked on numerous occasions, why people read my blog but I don’t believe I have ever asked specifically, who is reading.  I have always assumed it is not the tourist but someone who has a relationship with or a connection to Thailand and is perhaps living elsewhere, using me as their Thailand fix, as it were.  Over time I have noticed a very strong readership within Thailand itself which has me in a quandary.  One would think, people who live here would have their own views on Thailand and would have less need or interest in reading about others who live here.  Perhaps my own bias is creeping into that opinion but it would be interesting to know.

So what do you say?  Who reads me?  Do you live in Thailand?  Are you new to the game or have you lived here for some time?  Did you once live in Thailand but now live elsewhere?  Are you married or in a relationship with a Thai?  Are you considering a relationship with either a Thai person or Thailand itself but have yet to make the move?  Have you visited or are you planning to visit?  Enquiring minds want to know.

Boredom and Living in a Thai Village...

I’m always a little suspicious of statistics but generally one can say that Thailand’s population is still primarily rural with something like two-thirds being classified that way.  It was more like three-quarters when I first arrived, if I remember correctly.  Many rural people spend a fair amount of time living and working in Bangkok but with one interesting caveat.  Most live in slums near the factories where they work, with others from the same region of the country.  Essentially they never leave the village.  They take it with them.  That no doubt, goes some way to explaining why they never really develop any big city sophistication or broadened world perspective.

Given the percentages, it is no wonder that the majority of farangs end up with village girls, but that is not the topic today, nor are the economic and cultural aspects that factor into that equation.  The topic is the boredom experienced by many a foreign male, upon the obligatory visits to their girlfriend’s home village.  I dare say very few men venture off into the sticks on their own and are usually dragged there, out of obligation.  Even after marriage, this obligation continues and must be dealt with in one way or another.

I believe there is a big difference between visiting a village and living in one, but more about that later.  Even after living in Bangkok for more than twenty years, I was still quite bored when I started visiting my wife’s village for more than a couple of days at a time.  No friends, no squash, no TV, no newspaper, no telephone, no internet, no toys and nothing I could call my own.  Eventually I started taking a Playstation with me and got quite good with Grand Turisimo.  Even though I spoke good Thai, the villagers did not.  They spoke their own dialect and communication was, and still is, difficult.  My wife was great but she was spread pretty thin with all of her family obligations, so I had to fend for myself much of the time.

Boredom as we all know is just one item on that classic list of symptoms of culture shock.  You remember, anxiety, boredom, homesickness, fatigue, depression, illness, impatience, disgust, and excessive eating, drinking and sleeping.  On your first visit, or in very brief doses, these symptoms may not present but many will experience some or all of these, given time.

As an interesting aside, we were doing our Songkran rounds of village elders and relatives the other day, a process that is still ongoing, with our village headman having his party only today.  At one house we spotted a young farang guy, sitting on those steep wooden stairs one must traverse to reach the second floor of a Thai village house.  In my normal, direct fashion, and looking for material for this post, I asked if he was bored being in the village. 

No, he said, refusing to stick to the script, but he had only been there three days and would be leaving the next day for Bangkok where he makes his living as a combatant and proponent of Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing.  He was probably enjoying a much needed break from training and had accompanied a couple of local boys he works, trains and lives with, as well as the young pregnant farang wife of one of these Thai boxers.  With it being all new, and with the goings on of Songkran, they seemed to have had a good time and were anything but bored.  Not sure I would have gotten the same answer from the heavily pregnant wife but I didn’t have the opportunity to ask.

My wife had been baking bread that day and thought they might appreciate a taste of the familiar, being so far from what they know.  So we made an extra trip home to collect the bread and some condiments.  Returning, this time we met the pregnant wife, who expressed her disappointment at having missed us earlier.  Unfortunately we were short on time, as we were late getting to another house where my wife had plans for dinner with her extended family. 

Delving deeper into the lives of these young people, would have been my preference, but my duty and obligation lay elsewhere.  My appearance not withstanding, I was not a pugilist in my early years, but still I could identify with the adventure of being so young and living in Thailand.  Living, training and working out of a boxing school, stable, camp, or whatever the nomenclature might be, really deserved more time to discuss than we had.  Would have been nice to stay around and see if they liked the bread, too, but there wasn’t sufficient time.

Back on topic, given my admission of boredom, one might ask why I chose to move to the village.  There were many factors in our decision, including age, length of our relationship, shared travel experiences overseas, desire for a different lifestyle and a change from city life, my parents moving into a retirement home, and a feeling that I needed to establish a homestead of my own, after a life of living in apartments and condos.  Since we already lived in Thailand there was not the overwhelming financial imperative of retiring to a cheaper local, where a limited pension would stretch that much further.

While everyone’s needs are different, they must nonetheless be addressed before making a move such a we did.  To some extent you are guessing at what you will need, because over time those needs may change.  It is important to get the basics sorted and have a good solid foundation upon which to build this new life.  Surely some can get by with less but let me give you an idea of what I needed, to help fend off boredom.

To start with I already had a strong and well establish relationship, honed by years of living and traveling together.  We both spoke each other’s language and had many shared interests as well as independent interests.  Accommodation, transportation, and communication, for us meant a purpose designed house, phone line and internet, western television and movies, a truck, a mountain bike and a couple of motorcycles.

We both developed or continued hobbies.  In my case there were outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, my motor bike, photography, our dogs and this blog.  Even with help, my wife is kept quite busy with village responsibilities, the house, the garden, baking, and cooking for me, four dogs and a cat.  She still finds time for exercise, reading, and keeping up with her friends around the world, through email and Facebook.

Personally I do not like having a schedule.  I may have a vague idea what I might like to do tomorrow, but I much prefer to see how I feel when I get up, and see what the weather looks like.  Having fixed times and places where I must be, feels too much like work to me.  That is exactly the point for others I suppose, who feel lost without the regimented structure of the work place and the tight time constraints dictated by artificial deadlines.  I suspect life in the village is easier for me, with my temperament.  Those who try to replicate the frenetic pace of city life or a high pressure work environment would surely find boredom harder to avoid.

Life in a village for some, is a nightmare of boredom and isolation, while for others it is an idyllic fantasy.  The truth is no doubt to be found somewhere in the middle range of these two extremes.  My belief is that being bored has more to do with the individual than it does the village.  It is often easier to blame the things around us than it is to make the effort to adjust.  I suppose this has been a longwinded VF way of saying, if you are bored it is probably your own doing and you should stop blaming those around you.  Then again what do I know?

Of course if you are not bored, then congratulations are in order, I applaud your accomplishment, and wish you continued happiness in life.

Songkran, Thai New Year ...

The twelfth, was as hot and polluted as I have seen it for some time.  Yesterday was overcast with a light rain in town, though not a drop was to be had where we live.  This morning was cool as we awoke to one of those thick pea-soup fogs of winter, that leaves the grass and all exposed surfaces covered in dew.  What will tomorrow hold, one wonders?  So far this year has been one of interesting and sometimes unfathomable weather anomalies.

If one could remove the heat and pollution that often prevails this time of year, the carnage on the roads, the excessive drunkenness and ensuing fights, the bad karaoke, and the aggravated nature of the water wars, one would be left with what I like about Songkran.

This is after all, one of the few times when families come together, other than weddings and funerals.  The population of our village swells, as all those who live and work elsewhere, travel vast distances to return home.  I was touched yesterday when my wife was reunited with one of her favorite cousins, whom she had not seen for years.  Tomorrow is arguably the best day, where the villagers walk from house to house, paying respect to the village elders in a gentle and moving representation of Songkran.

Yesterday, for the first time since moving to the Rai, we drove to town during Songkran.  We drove more slowly than usual, as we were wary of the many children lining the roadside, waiting to ambush every passing vehicle.  In the excitement of the hunt for victims, they often step into the road while looking in the opposite direction.  My occasional taps of the horn, to warn them of our presence, were sometimes returned as glares and profanities by the drunken teenage rabble in their midst.

We had no plans to go to town but received a call to say that our replacement iPhone was ready to be picked up.  I recently purchased an iPhone for my wife, which turned out to be a lemon, sadly.  I am after all an Apple fan and stockholder.  They were very good about replacing it for us and I was eager to get out of the house, so we made the drive to town.  We took with us one of my wife’s more comely young cousins.  Nineteen and nearly as tall as I am, she had yet to see the new mall, since returning home.

We parked out front and made the walk up the stairs.  While covering the open space in front of the mall and before entering, we perchance spotted friends sitting behind the, floor to ceiling storefront windows, of Starbucks.  At another table there were other farangs I had more recently met.  After introductions and a little polite conversation we all went our separate ways.  We picked up our phone, tried out our third restaurant, did some shopping, bumped into other friends and generally had a very pleasant day.

The mall is turning out to be something of a town square as well as a shopping Mecca.  Truly a welcome addition to our little town.  You do hear some complaining that it is expensive, but what I think they really mean, is that they can’t afford some of what is on offer.  The prices really are any different from other comparable stores in places like Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  Only time will tell how successful the shops will be.

Wishing you all, a safe and Happy Thai New Year.

The "farang-local" Difference in Perspective ...

Yesterday I took a break from the computer and opted instead to get out and about in the real world.  Refreshed from my day out on the bike, I began penning this piece, per BP’s request.  Half way through, I received a comment from another reader, dBD, a new convert to this space.  Those of you who know me better, will know that I do not use names or post things of an unnecessarily personal nature.  Hopefully, dBD will not be offended that I withheld his very personal comment and plea for help, and will consider this post as a reply.

I try my best not to tinker with whatever shade of glasses one might be wearing at the moment, be they rose colored or otherwise.  Some phases of cultural adjustment are best lingered over and indulged in, just as others are best moved through more quickly.  So without addressing the specifics of anyones personal situations, I will attempt to give you the Village Farang take on this whole farang-local perspective thing.

While it is our humanity that unites us, it is often our culture that divides us.  Some cling more steadfastly than others, to what they have been told is self evident, and may respond indignantly when confronted by those who do not share their belief system.  Some are burdened with a life focused on the material and their attempt to keep their heads above water from day to day.  Some have moved higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are focused on things as yet irrelevant to others.  Whether living in Thailand or just visiting, one is sure to encounter situations where you will be asking yourself, why they don’t get it.  Your interests and theirs may be miles apart no matter how hard you try to enlighten or impress upon them the superiority of your beliefs and intellect.  Be warned, this applies to both sides of the equation and they may be thinking the very same things about you.

Of course there are Thais who are well educated, well traveled, eat western food and are interested in many of the same things you are.  I dare say that the majority of farangs don’t run in these circles and find themselves mired in a different strata of Thai society.  As western as some Thais may appear, what lingers beneath the surface may not be what you expect.  With other Thais, the difference in perspective is more simply a difference in education, experience, money and a fear of venturing beyond ones station in life and the world in which one feels comfortable.

It is not that they have no interest in all things farang, rather they have no interest in anything, beyond their very small world and immediate needs.  For example our local villagers who have lived or worked in Bangkok or even overseas, typically have not ventured beyond their worker’s enclave and place of employment.  They feel uncomfortable with those who do not eat, speak and live the way they do, be they farangs or other Thais.  They do not strive to be more than they are, just to possess more than they do.  Does that really sound so unfamiliar?

Perhaps the question is not why they don’t get it or why their perceptions are so different but why one would expect or want things not to be so.  Is it perhaps that it makes us feel uncomfortable or question our own closely held beliefs?  The trick is to learn to live with the differences.  Allow others to be different without making judgement.  Allow them to live their own lives and make their own mistakes.  As you look around the world at the myriad of languages, cultures, beliefs, religions, values and interests, one flaw stands out as a part of our human nature.  In our steadfast belief that we are on the true path, we imply that all the other paths are lesser and somehow false or misguided.  Ask yourself how we can all be so right and so wrong all at the same time, at least in the eyes of others.

I understand there are those who feel it is their mission in life to take possession of and responsibility for the lives of others.  I suppose they serve a purpose but one suspects that they sometimes do more harm than good.  Sure if you feel compelled to intervene in the lives of others, do or say what you will, but understand you are doing it because of your own needs, not necessarily theirs.  No one likes to be told that their beliefs or values are wrong and that goes for countries as well as individuals.  Don’t be surprised if your well meaning gestures go unappreciated or are misunderstood.

As you can see, mine is a hands off approach.  At best I may stimulate some, to ask questions they might not otherwise have asked, or give them the courage to do something of their own choosing, which they were previously afraid to do.  Live life by example and don’t preach.  Help others to follow their own path, not yours.  Embrace difference and change even when it challenges what you have always believed to be self evident and true.  Find humor where you can, in the foibles of humanity.  Most importantly laugh at yourself from time to time, especially when you are taking yourself a bit too seriously.  Life is like the weather, not always sunny and clear, and those dark and rainy days, in the end, bring forth new growth.

Thus ends another of VF’s pontifications.

Has the Novelty Worn Off ?...

I read about a longterm resident of Thailand the other day, who finally gave it up and moved home.  Among other things, he said the novelty had worn off.  Sadly, he wasn’t clear whether he took his Thai wife with him or not, as that would alter ones view of what he said.

Anyway, it got me thinking about why people come here, why some stay and why some leave. Putting aside the obvious response, from many a midlife-crisis-male, there must be something other than girls.  Perhaps it is nothing more than a manifestation of the grass being greener. Maybe some are escaping or moving away from something, while others are seekers of something new. Of course each individual will claim that his circumstances are unique, and no doubt there is some justification for such beliefs, but surely there are some lessons to be learned by asking the question.

I have heard many elderly new arrivals to Thailand explain, how much better their new lives are compared to their old ones, back home.  They were ravaged both emotionally and financially by past relationships.  Their dating prospects were limited at best and their finances stretched.  Here they were spoiled for choice, with twenty-something year old girls expressing keen interest and stroking their egos.  In these cases the lack of communication and understanding is almost seductive.  Ones imagination can run rampant, projecting whatever motivation one wishes onto this exotic young creature draping herself over your revitalized body and spirit.

This could be no more than a novelty, and the comparisons being made are often to a perfect storm or a worst case scenario, in which any comparison is going to be favorable.  Grasping at anything better than the past, can lead to well documented problems in the future as that novelty wears off. True I have seen many of these desperate relationships last for a very long time, perhaps due to having children to support or an inability to imagine anything better.  Yes, I know that when it comes to affairs of the heart, all advice falls on deaf ears.  So even when we say nothing, it doesn’t mean there is no desire to say something.  We just think better of it.

Still, that word ‘novelty’ struck a cord with me.  It has been a long time since anything in Thailand struck me as particularly ‘novel.’  But, what must it be like for the newcomer?  Surely there must be some attraction to the novel, the new, the different, the fresh, the unusual and not just an economic fixation on the Baht exchange rate and how much further your pension will go.

Even if we all go through the ‘novelty’ phase, how long can one stay in a foreign land without moving on to something else?  I have been asked before, what it is about Thai culture that keeps me here.  That question struck me as odd and irrelevant at the time.  Now I can see how that might have been one of the novelty factors for that individual, going through the process of trying be more Thai or understand Thai ways.  Come to think of it I believe it was a woman asking that question.  Not exactly a question one would expect from a male reader, enveloped in a hormonal fog.

I liken this process of discovering Thailand, to entering a large cave where one sees a kaleidoscope of unique forms and textures that beckons one to venture further in.  Like a child looking up at the shapes in the clouds, individuals imagine different things in what they see.  As one ventures deeper into the cave, the light begins to fade, things can get very dark and it is easy to lose your way.  Some turn around and go back to whence they came.  Others venture on and perhaps find that the cave is not as dark and unknowable as they once thought, or it turns into a tunnel and one can venture out the other side.  On the other hand, we have all seen those poor souls who lost their way in the darkness, falling victim to the frailties and vulnerabilities of human nature, or those who gave up and went home completely defeated.

One novelty that I could see wearing off quickly would be the somewhat emasculating act of being securely tethered to the wife or girlfriend’s apron strings.  Being unable to navigate life here on your own must be stressful.  I used to wonder why foreign males would open themselves to scorn and ridicule on expat forums, by asking questions that showed how little they knew.  Of course it would be better to go to the source for information and not to depend on a forum, but what if you can’t speak the language or don’t know where to go?  What if your partner doesn’t have the skills or social graces to go get you the answer?  What if she gets the answer but doesn’t have the language skills to explain it to you?  What if, what if, what if...?

Okay, perhaps I am just rehashing an old topic here and should let it go.  It just struck me as odd that someone would use the novelty wearing off as an excuse to leave rather than as a reason to stay.  It doesn’t bode well for relationships or life in general, if we are stuck in the infatuation and novelty phase our whole lives.  It just seems to me, there is something more substantial on the other side of that first blush of newness and novelty.  Then again, maybe people really are that simple and that shallow.

Bike Ride and Potluck ...

There came a voice from on high.  It was heard to say, “Go ride young men, go ride.”  Sadly, there were no young men to heed the call, so the village elders of the Rai, did mount their many and varied beasts.  There were dirt-bikes, sport-bikes, and cruisers, from 150cc up to 1800cc.  A truly eclectic mix.  No mountain too high, no rut too deep, no trail too rough, no sand too loose, no pachyderm too large, no river too wide and no bridge too flimsy to stall the momentum of these intrepid adventurers.  Couples and singles, big bikes and small, all held their own on this lovely but hot adventure.  Oddly the day bore more resemblance to our Sunday Potluck than your typical biker’s melee, as we spent more time sitting around talking than actually riding.  In the end, however, we were lucky and no one came off or damaged their bikes.

Attending both events, the Potluck and Bike Ride, on consecutive days, I feel qualified to comment and eager to share pictures.  Being as spread out as we are here in the Rai, special effort must be summoned to gather the rank and file in one location.  A monthly Potluck picnic has been instigated for the more laid back and food motivated residents.  The reward being homemade dishes from various lands, often unattainable in our local restaurants or anywhere else for that matter.  It is a pleasant afternoon spent by a lake with a near equal share of Thais and Farangs. Primarily, Farang men and Thai wives but with the occasional Farang family or couple.  Seasonal residents and guests do make an appearance on occasion, as well.

The Chiang Rai Hash is another monthly venue aimed at the slightly more athletic, though in truth it is geared more to walking and talking, than it is to running.  Sorry no Hash pictures as we have not attended for quite some time.
Potluck

Potluck

Potluck Sala

Hot Springs.  First Stop on Bike Ride

Kok River at Hot Springs

Motorcycle Bridge

View from the Bridge

River view at our lunch break

My Dream Guest House for Lunch

Lunch Venue

Harley in the Forest 

Elephant Camp

Farang/Thai Couples...

Recently I have begun to feel constrained by the fact that I know too many people in the Rai.  This is my third attempt, in so many days, to pen this piece.  The first two attempts fell foul of the delete key.  Though pithy and topical, I felt that individuals we know might see themselves or others in my commentary and perhaps take offense.  Almost makes one long for the anonymity of the early days of this blog.  Let’s try again.

The other day we attended yet another gathering of Farang/Thai couples, in the guise of a friend’s birthday.  There have been an abundance of such gatherings over the last few months.  These events often end up being segregated affairs, with the men and women gathering in separate clusters, eating their separate foods and speaking their separate languages.

When things are going well, the men engage in witty banter, while on occasion pairing up to discuss topics of interest in a more serious and dedicated manner, all the while oblivious to what the women are getting up to.  The women, by contrast, often end up talking about us, as well as food and family.  I often join the women to say hello or introduce myself, lightheartedly stir the pot and perhaps catch a little juicy gossip.  What I am unable to ascertain for myself, will often be elaborated on by my wife, on the way home.  Sometimes, I think I should be spending my time with the women, as their conversations are often more entertaining than the testosterone laden banter of their menfolk.

The average farang male’s mythology is filled with tales of devious young wenches who scheme and pillage men’s hearts, souls and finances.  Of course many of those stories originate in the infamous nightlife of Thailand, and have some validity, but that is not the subject of this post.  It just strikes me that the casual observer will look at a western man with a bit of money, and surmise that the Thai wife or girlfriend has won the lottery and her only concern or need has been satisfied.

Often there is much more going on than what one sees at a glance.  Cross-cultural relationships take work.  They can be wonderfully complex and rewarding but they are not a walk in the park, for either party.  They are not for the naive or lazy.  Both parties are often fearful and suspicious of each other, and for good reason.  That reason being, their inability to read cross-culturally, their own shortcomings and the abundance of baggage they bring with them from their past lives and failures.  I am still an advocate of cross-cultural relationships but wish people would take more time to figure out what they are getting themselves into.

I know I have stated my belief in the past, that more often than not we get what we deserve in our relationships and that it is no one else's business.  Still, when people interact as couples in a relatively small community, one bad apple can upset the balance and harmony of the group.  Then is seems to become everyones business and conversation gets diverted in that direction more often than it should.  Understanding what they have to put up with, I find myself siding with the Thai women, more often than not.

I guess I’m suggesting that it is the woman who often puts much more into these cross-cultural relationships that the man does.  At least those living here in Thailand.  The woman is pressed between two conflicting cultural biases.  It is more prevalent that the man can’t eat the food, can’t speak the language, can’t understand what is going on around them and can’t help but make disparaging comments.  This is Thailand, after all.  Some even appear abusive in one form or another as they are demanding, impatient, intolerant, controlling, jealous and insecure, regardless of how much money they have.  No need to mention old, stubborn and unattractive.  What passes as communication in some of these relationships is absolutely frightening.  They would do better to hire a full time translator to arbitrate their feeble attempts at communication.

There are times when I am tempted to interject some insight or wisdom but then come to my senses, realizing that it would more likely make things worse for the party I would be attempting to help.  So we end up talking behind peoples backs, as we place bets on when and how their relationships will implode.  Besides there are very few couples who seem well matched, yet many of them survive the years despite the odds.  From the outside it can be hard to see what draws people together and even harder to see what sustains them over time.

And, my point is?  Don’t know that I have one, really.  I’m just a little frustrated with some recent goings-on and I’m using this space to vent those frustrations without hurting the innocent.  I feel better now, so time to spend some time with Cookie and my wife.  Thank you for your time and attention.

Happy New Year...

Happily I can say this has been a good year, filled with friends, adventure, travel, and toys.  Again I don’t much care for getting older, or the way I look in the family pictures, but as they say, “Think of the alternative.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas were more Farang affairs so the wife will be doing local tonight and putting on a spread to feed some of our neighbors.  I prefer to remain on the fringes of these events, with the excuse of taking care of the dogs.  Village dogs are quite put off by the explosive nature of the New Year festivities and will be cowering and looking for shelter wherever they can.  Not much I can do but offer moral support, but I like to show my concern.  Cookie may head for the closet or master bathroom in search of a little solitude.  Our outdoor dogs are harder pressed to find such a safe place to hold up.

As far as we are from the worst of it, there will still be a lot of noise out here in the field.  After an early meal I’m sure the majority of our guests will be off in search of something to wash down the meal and wash away all memory of the past year, if possible.  Sadly it will all return tomorrow, with the addition of a headache I fear.  Hopefully there will be no fights, injuries or deaths in the village tonight but I will be satisfied with no visits to the morgue.

By being more social and making the drive to town more often, the wife and I have both done very well in the search for friends in the Rai this year.  Usually it falls upon us to be the initiators and to do the followup, however.  A recent conversation with a good friend over coffee, touched on this perceived fact.  With as much delicacy and tact as he could muster, he tried to explain that our projected persona might not be the most inviting.

For those who perhaps struggle with life a bit more than we do, our contentment with our lot, may not be the most endearing of traits.  So according to him, my attempt at putting others at ease, by being overly relaxed and confident, may at times have the reverse effect.  Something to think about at least.  I’m not forgetting those of you, who in the past have also alluded to the possibility of my standards being a bit too elevated, for the comfort of many.  I do hear what you say, and keep it in the back on my mind.

In spite of all this, we have made many new friends this last year.  Living where we do simply means we need to put in a little more effort than some and I’m okay with that.  It does mean that I find myself spending less time with my virtual friends around the world on my blog.  I guess that is to be expected in the ever evolving path of ones existence, with payoffs and consequences at every turn.  Not sure what 2011 will hold for this space or for Village Farang.  I already have a Facebook page so no use going down that path here.  I’ve done the house, pontificated on my views, commented on things around me, shared pictures and maps.  Do I continue with more of the same or is there another path, yet unexplored?

As I ponder my future, may I wish you all the very best in the coming year.  In the very least, may you find contentment and joy with what you have and take the time to be thankful and appreciate the people in your lives.  Have a very Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas ...

What a beautiful Christmas Morning.  The temperature dropped again last night and this morning was crisp, clear and quite simply, beautiful.  Took the dogs for the usual stroll, enjoying the way they attack the fields and trail with such gusto.  Then I sat with cookie while she swam with her fish in the pond.  From the sala, my eyes drank in the grandeur of all that lay before me.  The water, mountains, fields and hypnotic synchrony of a flock of white birds against the brilliant blue sky.  Of course that was not the plan for this wondrous day.

Today was supposed to be a family outing with the highlight being a ride on an elephant, for those who had never found their way onto the back of the mighty pachyderm.  Superstition put an end to that plan, however.  Something went wrong with the morning rice preparation and someone else had a bad dream, so no way were they getting in a truck with us today.  Their loss, not mine.

Last night we had a lovely dinner with friends at Favola, in town, coming home a bit later than usual.  Just the day before my friend and I did another little run to Chiang Mai on our 650 Ninjas.  Heavy fog the day before and the day after, but on our run the weather was perfect for riding, almost cold in the morning and just a bit warm on the way home.  Perhaps I am getting used to the longer rides or have improved my riding technique.  The 500 kilometer roundtrip did not leave any residual numbness or aches as in the past.  Still, I am not what you would call a long distance rider.

We hosted a party at our home recently and attended one at a friend’s house.  Tomorrow our favorite houseguest is flying up from Bangkok for a few nights.  I love this time of year.  The kinder weather seems to be reflected in the behavior and hospitality of all who we encounter here in the Rai.  We have missed some events but there are more to come.  Perhaps we will make it to the Chiang Rai Flower Festival again this year.

As this year draws to a close, I see much to be grateful for.  On the top of my list, however, is my happy little family.
Family VF

Finding Friendly Farangs, Part II ...

I find it enlightening to look back on how things have unfolded over the last three years.  The first year was pretty much taken up by the construction of our house.  The second years was an extension of that, with moving in, finalizing the relocation from Bangkok, internal decor, garden and various other projects.  The list of hobbies and interests grew as I settled in.  Eventually, a greater curiosity about the local expat community began to surface.

Of course there were still Bangkok, Hawaii and internet friends, but lacking was the sense of companionship and intimacy that comes from having a best friend or the sense of community that develops when one casts a broader net, allowing for spontaneity and casual interaction.  Our trips to town are now brightened by chance encounters, friendly smiles and casual greetings.  Small things that mean a lot to me.  Some would find the constant press of people in the village, sufficient for their social needs.  My wife and I, unfortunately perhaps, have grown to want and expect more than what can be found in the village.

Thought I might share, briefly, what has worked for me, here in the Rai.  Keeping in mind my established status of lone-wolf and non-joiner by nature, I have found groups and organizations still have there function even if not a member.  I met a couple of friends and a few acquaintances by attending two Hash (HHH) events.  Not a fan of the whole Hash House Harriers thing, I still got what I wanted from it.  The same can be said of the Chiang Rai Expats Club.  The event itself is not that interesting but I have met a couple of interesting people there.  With just a few connections, a network begins to grow.  It is no longer uncommon to bump into people we know in BigC, Makro, various coffee shops, and even at the veterinarian. 

Not being a golfer or an elbow bender in the local bars, I cannot comment directly, but do know people who indulge in both, and claim to enjoy the company they find there.  There is a book club and art events but due to our distance from the city, we have yet to attend any late night events.  Well, there was one evening party recently at a friends house in town, but that was an exception as it included my birthday and his son’s.  Parents with young children will benefit from school activities and the friends their kids bring home.  I’m sure the religious could join churches and there are missionaries a many in these parts.  They figure the locals need saving, I guess.  I had best refrain from heading down that path, so moving on...

Most of my friends are aghast that I frequent the pages of Thai Visa, but they do have a Chiang Rai Sub Forum, through which I have met a few interesting and a few not so interesting members.  Not having previous experience with online forums I have approached it as a sociological experiment and a form of entertainment at times.  In spite of the nastiness that can surface in these online environments, I have witnessed people both giving and receiving help on many occasions.

Some old-timers, myself included, will warn against hanging out in certain places or with certain groups or types of individuals.  I have softened my position on that more recently, not for myself but for others.  Given the preponderance of men who discover Thailand late in life, burdened with failed marriages back home, meager pensions, and questionable choices in Thai partners, there is a good chance they will indeed have much more in common with the average punter in the bar than they would have with me.  For them, taking my advice or emulating my life choices, would no doubt bore them to tears.

My new and improved advice, would be to give it all a go, and formulate your own opinion about others and where you fit in.  There are no universally right or wrong answers in life, or in Thailand for that matter.  There is just what works for you.  My route has been a little bumpy at times, but it has suited me overall and I am burdened with few regrets.  I now have a best friend in the Rai, an ever growing network of acquaintances, expanding interests, and my wife once again has a visa for the States, after surrendering her Green Card a few years back.  Perhaps we will start to travel again, as our home base has been firmly established here in the Rai. 

I think we made the right choice moving here.

A Perfect Birthday Present (Ninja 650r) ...

Up and about at an earlier hour than is usual in our house.  All in preparation for my wife to drive me to the bus terminal.  My wife driving is unusual enough, even with me in the truck as copilot.  Today, however, she would be returning home without me.  That is something new.  Driving entirely alone was too much for her, so she brought her aunt to keep her company on the drive home.

Cloaked in riding gear, excitement and anticipation, I settled into my solitary seat by the window.  This after all, was the 24-seat green bus that runs between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, with two seats on the left side of the bus and one seat on the right.  The green bus has seen better days but is far roomier than the alternatives.  Earbuds soothed my soul with melodious tunes that seemed to magically emanate from deep in the center of my hairless head.  My eyes were treated to the wonderful panorama of village life and clear mountain views as my gaze was fixed on every detail of what lay on the other side of my morning, window on the world.

I found this experience unique in many ways.  First I was not driving, so was free to extend my gaze to whatever I wanted, for as long as I wanted.  I can’t recall the last time I took public transportation, so it all registered as oddly new.  Even the tourists were of a new and strange breed.  The couple sitting across the aisle from me was young, well dressed and decked out with iPhone, itinerary, (on Dusit Island Resort stationary), and a massive guide book with Thailand written in oversized letters across the top.

Backpackers, they were not.  It struck me, however, that they were not enjoying the view.  Their noses were buried in books, lists or gadgets.  Since what lay out side the window was not on some list, that needed checking off, it somehow seemed unworthy of a glance.  I found this very strange indeed.  Perhaps in the eyes of family and friends they were adventurers, out exploring the world and reporting back with pictures on Facebook.  To me they were simply missing the point of being in the moment and truly feeling or experiencing something new.

Living in such different worlds, I chose my view over any interaction with them.  Soon enough I was negotiating with a tuk-tuk driver to deliver me to my main destination.  Arriving at the Kawasaki dealer, the formalities of paperwork and the surrender of money, quickly ensued.  A friend of mine had ridden his bike over in the morning for a quick service and was waiting for my arrival in the comfort of his hotel room.

We met up for a purposeful break-in run on the ring roads around the city before returning to the shop for an oil and filter change.  The evening passed uneventfully, in terms of activities, but the company and conversation was stimulating and greatly appreciated.  A 6am start, had us heading home into a beautiful cloud mottled sunrise.  A true Kodak moment.

Eager to do right by my new Ninja 650r, and jonesing for my favorite caffeine fix, we made a couple of stops for cappuccino at conveniently located Amazon Coffee shops.  After one last stop, for breakfast in Chiang Rai, I was finally on my own and heading home.  Not sure how long this ear to ear smile will grace my otherwise uninteresting face but something tells me it is not going away anytime soon.

Oddly enough, I had always fancied myself cut more from the mold of a chopper or cruiser guy.  The Ninja 650 turned out to be more of a sport touring bike and strangely addictive.  Had my friend not insisted that I ride one his bikes, I would have remained blissfully ignorant.  At my age I’m not looking for track time and putting a knee down in the turns.  I do find this bike is uniquely suited to the amazing, twisty roads of Northern Thailand, however.  Quick, light, maneuverable and possessing an upright posture that I find more comfortable than a true sport-bike.  Far more comfortable than my Phantom which my wife had stipulated must be sold before I could get the Ninja.

With a new bike and an evenly matched riding companion, the months ahead can’t help but be filled with backroad adventure.  The goal being to have both me and the bike properly broken in and acclimated by the time the cool winter riding months are upon us.  Here is to enjoying life and keeping the shiny side up.



Helping Others, How Far Would You Go? ...

For many life is one miserable day after another.  A seemingly endless parade of catastrophic events.  Others seem to dance through life, suffering little more than the occasional bump or bruise.  Recently it was brought to the attention of the Chiang Rai community, that there are some unfortunate foreigners in our midst.  Of course that should not be news to anyone who has been around for a while.

A cry for help and sympathy from one distraught soul, trying to help a friend through a bad time in the hospital, was met by a strange mix of concern from some and unbridled distain from others.  After some heated debate, one brave peacemaker in our midst, took it upon himself to find out if the story was true or lived in the realm of imagination and fantasy.

Not only was the story true, but yet another unfortunate foreigner was discovered in the same overcrowded local hospital.  This is the hospital where our local villagers would go, as opposed to the two upmarket hospitals, frequented by many local expats.

Upon receiving a report on the individuals in question (both the teller and victim), one brave individual in the negative camp, summoned the courage to both apologize and visit the hospital.  Others maintained an eerie silence, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Clearly these events are not unusual.  One could, and I believe some do, make it their calling in life to look after the many foreigners who fall on bad times here in Thailand.  Visiting jails and hospitals, or even the local bars would surely provide an endless stream of even more desperate stories than the two gentlemen referred to above.  I’m not sure what it is about Thailand, that lends its self to so many sad tales of woe about unfortunate foreigners.  That is a discussion for another day, perhaps.

It is the variance in response to these situations that interests me.  The concern or sympathy is understandable but the hostility and distain begs a closer look.  While some might genuinely be mean spirited, others may simply have difficulty dealing with adversity or prefer to keep their distance.  I for one avoid bars and jails and find hospitals depressing places, along with retirement and nursing homes.  Except for dealing with my immediate family I would find it hard to spend time in such depressing places.

Some religions take the position that life is suffering and do a good business providing guidance to the multitudes, in their effort to escape said suffering.  I suspect there are relatively few of us who view life in a more positive light and who’s choices and opportunities have led them down an easier path.  I’m not at all sure how long I could maintain my outlook on life if I were mired in the tragedy of other’s lives.  I do admire those who can give of themselves and step into the lives of strangers, offering comfort and help in their time of need.

Sadly I seem to lack the capacity to step out of my comfort zone for anyone other than my wife and my parents.  That said, there runs under the surface, a theme of the savior or knight in shining armor, here in Thailand.  How else could one explain the multitude of odd couples that perpetuate here, with seemingly nothing in common.  Desperate young girls with the need to receive and desperate old men, with a savior complex, and the seemingly even more desperate need to give.

So when you hear these tragic stories that abound in Thailand, how do you respond?  Break into tears, hover around hospitals, turn a blind eye, say it serves them right, accuse the messenger of telling untruths or some more imaginative response?  Is your attitude toward desperate Thai women different from your attitude toward desperate foreigners who are down on their luck?  Would you help her but not him?

There is of course no correct answer here, just an acknowledgement of how we deal with such things.  I for one find myself a little numb after so many years in Thailand.  I deal through avoidance when I can, with the realization that I cannot realistically carry the burden of all those in need.  The dance of life, whether short or long, ends at the same place for everyone.  I’ll dance to the music I have been given and try my best to stick to that rhythm without disturbing the dance of others.  Perhaps you are a better person than I, willing to sacrifice your own wellbeing for the good of others?

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.

The Continuing Saga of Finding Friendly Farangs ...

On again, off again plans...the ever changing world I live in.  I thought about going to this ‘thing’.  Then there was talk of going orchid hunting in the forest.  Then there was talk of going shopping in town together, but skipping the ‘thing’.  Then at the last minute the forest outing was back on and I found myself alone driving to town, to do the shopping.
 Orchid Hunting In The Forest


Approaching town I notice the timing was perfect for attending the ‘thing’, but should I or shouldn’t I?  We have clearly established, I think, that I am not a group person.  Neither sheep nor shepherd shall I be, marching steadfastly to the beat of my own little drummer.  At the same time I am nosy and inquisitive, eager to form my opinions through firsthand experience, not through the biased pontifications of others.  Sometimes, to avoid getting set in ones ways, it is good to step out of ones comfort zone and do something one would normally avoid.

Still uncommitted I drove into the parking lot of a hotel that has seen better days.  Spotting a familiar couple, I lowered the window to say hello.  It was at that point I guess I committed, as I seemed to have no excuse not to.  Inside I was confronted with some of what I expected.  There were the usual suspects, in the form of Hashers.  One of them, being in exceptionally fine form, immediately began outing me as the Village Farang, to all within earshot.

Now I am in no way ashamed of my alter-ego, but my wife’s Thai sensibilities are not comfortable with some of the nastiness that inhabits the online world.  With respect for her wishes, I have established a policy of don’t ask don’t tell.  Anyway, seeking a quick escape from that group I spotted a likely retreat in the far back corner.  The sole occupant of that table was unknown to me which seemed a good thing and could be easily remedied, if I wished.

A little friendly banter ensued about ours being the misfits table and us sporting identical name-tags and things were off and running.  Noticing his car keys resting on the table I quipped that he must own that big ugly black thing parked next to my big ugly black thing.  Only afterward did we discover that I was indeed correct.  Same make and model but with slightly different modifications.  So as the vehicles found each other in the parking lot, the owners found each other at the corner table.

True to form the movers and shakers of this newly evolving group, were local businessmen.  Farangs with an appetite and avidity for microphones, as well as drumming up more business through organizational membership.  Nothing at all wrong with that, just an observation.  Of course being the contrarian that I sometimes am, I might be less inclined to frequent their establishments.  That is just me, though.

The day’s speaker was topical and of some interest to me.  After all he lords over my passport and my wife’s visa for my home country, at least in this region of Thailand.  I passed on the coffee, even though I had paid for it.  I wasn’t going to waste my caffeine quota on the nasty stuff.  Better to wait until I could get to one of my favorite cappuccinos.  When I mentioned the hotel venue to my wife there was an audible groan, but I can see the logic for a new organization, trying to get by with as little investment as possible.

So all considered it was a good morning and I had met someone new who I thoroughly enjoyed talking with.  Wasn’t even bored by the guest speaker.  However, having avoided any mention of the internet at all in our conversation, I was a little disheartened when my excessively exuberant friend found it necessary to come over at the end to out me, once again as Village Farang, complete with a warning that my new friend might find himself on the pages of my blog.  As if that would be a bad thing.  Not sure what motivates people to do things like that but I try to take it in stride.

I wait with bated breath to see if I will be making a repeat visit...

The Changing of Seasons ...

Gone is that fresh crisp chill, and occasional fog, of the early morning hours.  Though still pleasant enough, things are warming up, noticeably.  Gone too are our views of the mountains.  They are hidden behind the perennial pall of smoke and haze that permeates the region at this time of year.  Soon, I think very soon, I will find myself reluctant to head out on the mountain bike or motorcycle. 

There will be days when the urge will not be thwarted by temperature nor brown featureless vistas.  Those days will be fewer, however.  Though this winter was pleasant and punctuated by some memorable events, I am at least a little disappointed with myself.  I somehow feel the list of things I did not do, ended up much longer than the other list.  Well, perhaps next winter.

It is yet to be seen how the change of season will affect this strangely gregarious and more convivial nature, that has overtaken me of late.  Perhaps a phase.  Perhaps a measure of time and how long we have been living up here in the field.  Whatever the cause, I have been on a quest or hunt of sorts.  Visiting and corresponding with people we know, but also reaching out to strangers.

My wife’s Thai sensibilities leave her reluctant to talk to strangers.  You know, the whole family, village, school chums, fellow members, and introductions, thing.  Knowing how she feels, I refrain for the most part when in her presence, which is most of the time.  Yesterday at BigC, she turned her back for a moment and I got naughty.  Left guarding the heavily laden shopping basket I spied yet another farang nearby, faithfully performing the same valuable function.  Temporarily unleashed, I sprung into action and a conversation quickly ensued. 

Fortunately the timing was spot on, with my wife returning only shortly before the other guy’s wife joined us.  Introductions were made and then the wives were allowed to sort themselves out, while we continued our manly repartee.  The girls hit it off instantly and exchange phone numbers before the guys did.  My wife’s sister was with us but remained outside the circle, waiting for us.  She had a hard time understanding how we could have such a friendly and animated conversation with people we didn’t know.

I suppose there are a lot of reasons why foreigners snub each other while walking through the shopping center.  Surely not everyone is busy and pressed for time, however.  For me quite honestly, I think appearance and first impressions have something to do with it.  I know it is superficial of me but ugly, dirty, disheveled, or a dower expression are things I find hard to overlook.  On this occasion the guy looked slightly older but with an athletic appearance and a relaxed confident gait.  The wives were very close in age, maybe three years, and equally attractive. 

One does seem to notice more foreigners around these days, but they are few enough, that certain couples standout.  My wife later acknowledged that she had noticed this girl upstairs in the supermarket.  Finding her attractive and somewhat atypical for a farang wife.  Strangely she had not noticed that she was pregnant, however.  Hopefully we will all get together again, sometime.

Just the day before I was off on a bike ride and found myself enjoying a cappuccino and reading the Sunday paper, at the Doi Chang coffee shop.  On this occasion I struck up a conversation with quite an attractive young French girl.  As she entered looking somewhat lost, I noticed another guy sitting outside, light up when he saw her.  Perhaps she sensed his eagerness, but for whatever reason they did not make a connection.

We, however, ended up having an expansive wide-ranging conversation until I felt it was time for me to leave.  There is just something about an attractive face and personality that makes conversation so very easy.  Perhaps being happily married, and not on the prowl, makes me less threatening.  Then again they could just find me too old and fatherly.  Strange that, having never had the desire to be a father.  Anyway I have always been better with women than with men and it was a pleasant conversation.

After a little errand for my wife, I headed home along the river route and met yet another farang on the side of the road working in his yard.  Later I found my thoughts drifting to my past and how I have interacted with people.  A few things came to mind.  For example, I like low maintenance relationships.  There was a time in Bangkok when I was on TV, and later working at a five star hotel, where basically everyone knew me and I needed to make little or no effort socially.  Squash served a similar function later on.

In the Rai, with our location being somewhat isolated, I have reexamined groups and organizations as a way to meet people and found them lacking, so have struck out on my own.  Slowly I am finding that when I am in town, I either bump into someone I know or am able to meet someone new.  I return home with a feeling of satisfaction.  Something akin to a successful hunt.  My circle of acquaintances is expanding as is my enjoyment of our trips to town.  This is a good thing since I am notoriously bad at planning and making appointments.  I still prefer a spontaneous encounter.

So are you the type who sticks with family and a close, closed circle of friends?  Or are you going through a phase, like me, where you are making that first move and meeting new people?  How do you respond when a stranger says hello?