I had just finished having a neck and shoulder massage in my favorite Bangkok massage shop, and I was in the reception putting on my shoes and sipping on my complimentary herbal drink.
There were four people in reception that morning. I was making small talk with the friendly lady who owns the business and there were a couple of staff playing on their smartphones, waiting for customers with pre-booked appointments to arrive.
Angry and on edge
Just then the entrance door opened and a foreigner walked in. Probably European, possibly English, middle-aged, a little scruffy and unshaven, he enquired about the possibility of having a two-hour foot massage. He didn't bother with any greetings - either in Thai or English.
"How much for a two-hour foot massage?" he barked from an unsociable distance. He looked angry and on edge.
"I'm very sorry" said the owner - who speaks excellent English by the way - "but we don't have staff available right now unless you have booked an appointment"
The apology seemed to rile the foreigner and he began to look even angrier.
"That's not the question I asked you" he spat. "I just wanted to know how much it was for a fucking two-hour foot massage"
The owner of the shop looked scared; the two staff members looked petrified. As for me, I was just fascinated by this gentleman's behavior. I was about to finish my herbal drink and get going, but this looked well worth sticking around for.
"A foot massage is 200 baht an hour" said the owner in a low voice.
"But you haven't got anyone available anyway?" replied the foreigner.
"No I'm very sorry" said the owner.
"Fucking waste of time" - and with that, the foreigner stormed out of the shop, slamming the door behind him.
The four of us watched through the large plate glass window as he made his way down the street, muttering to himself and clenching and unclenching his fists. I swear he looked as though he would punch the first person who walked past him just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What just happened?
The ordeal was over. The four of us looked at each other, waiting for someone to break the silence. Eventually the three Thais started to chat amongst themselves and ask questions of their own. What was the farang's problem? What had we done wrong to make him so angry?
Time for me to practice my Thai. I tried to explain that the foreigner was not angry with this wonderful massage shop. He was probably angry with his environment or the situation that he has found himself in. I then tried to explain my ‘paradise lost' theory. I hope the Thai staff understood what I was getting at. I think they did.
A good friend of mine, who has incidentally lived in at least a dozen cities around the world, once said to me "there must be more bitter, disgruntled foreigners per square mile in places like Pattaya and Bangkok, than just about any other place on the planet"
I would totally agree with this. I'm no sociology student but I have my own theory. I call it the Paradise Lost Syndrome - and I'm sure a lot of foreigners suffer from it. In this country, I see them all over.
These are the foreigners who came to Thailand for a vacation - possibly several vacations. Wow! What a country. Everyone is smiling at me. Everyone wants to be my friend. And everything just seems so cheap. Suddenly, life in a small-time, backward-thinking European town epitomizes everything that's wrong with the world. That's it! - I'm moving to Thailand.
The one-man plumbing or roofing business gets sold and fond farewells are said to family and friends.
A new life abroad
For the first few months, perhaps even years, Thailand is everything the new expat expected it to be. But eventually the reality of the hour takes over. And when it hits, it hits hard.
The expat discovers that Thailand can drain your finances just like anywhere else in the world, especially if you only arrived with ‘survival money' in the first place.
Work becomes hard to find if the foreigner has no special skill set. Teaching English is always something to fall back on but there isn't enough hourly work to go round and it barely pays the bills. And as the foreigner gets older, he becomes less ‘marketable' in a country where appearance is everything.
It's then that Thailand becomes a paradise lost.
This is why I think we see so many vile, cruel and personal attacks on Thailand-based expat discussion forums, website comment sections and Facebook fan pages. Things are said on these platforms that I'm sure would never get said face-to-face.
They are often just outlets for anonymous keyboard warriors to vent their spleen and get rid of some of that suppressed anger.
I bet our friend from the massage shop went straight home and logged on to his favorite expat discussion forum before you could say "I've had it up to here with Thailand"