One thing that has both concerned and fascinated me over the years has been the marked lack of ex-pat community spirit in Bangkok.
Is there anywhere on earth where there exists a more vicious and spiteful rumor mill? where there is such a petty 'every man for himself' attitude? and where you can find yourself walking nonchalantly in a city surburb and be stared at with contempt by a fellow countryman.
This all sounds very dramatic and perhaps I'm approaching it from the wrong angle, but this 'be suspicious of your fellow man' way of thinking is definitely out there. I wondered if it existed in other SE Asian cities - Ho Chi Minh, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong?
Did other Bangkok long-termers agree with me?
You'll overhear one man tell another that a new law is coming into existence that requires all foreigners to report to immigration on the last day of the month. You'll see advice on discussion forums warning people not to go to this place or that place, or cross the Cambodian border at your peril, because you'll be shot on sight.
99% of it is absolute crap, but people take it on board and do unhealthy amounts of worrying. Why do we feel the need to spread negative rumor and gossip and treat our TEFL brethren with such disdain?
Keen to see if others shared my views, I threw up the topic on a Thailand discussion forum. Here is a selection of the responses.
Smiley had the following to say about his own little corner of China.
"I'm in China right now, in a city named Cheng du, and I have to say it's somewhat the same here.
It seems, more often than not, that encounters with a fellow "laowai" (apparently the most polite word for foreign devil in the Chinese language) tend to be less than warm.
I have yet to extract a return nod or smile from any laowai that I have encountered. I'm at a loss as to why and I have a degree in psychology. Although I may have missed the "SE Asian ex-pat behavioral analysis" class.
Correct me if I'm wrong but it would be my understanding that the majority of long-stay foreigners you meet in all of SEA would be teachers and it would stand to reason that teachers, qualified or not are going to be people with at least no aversion to helping their fellow man, and one would think they are the kind of people who actually enjoy it.
So in a nutshell this is what leaves me wanting for some plausible explanation as to why they treat each other so suspiciously"
Shaggy is also an expat living in China.
"I live in Shanghai supposedly the most 'cosmopolitan' of Chinese cities. There are thousands of Laowai's here. This is the way it works - if I see another foreigner we might politely nod at each other, sometimes say hello or ignore each other. It depends which part of the city you're in. If I'm in the boonies I nod and say hello - If I'm in downtown Shanghai I ignore 'em"
Eltel, like me, is confused by the whole atmosphere within the Bangkok ex-pat community.
I don't know what it is. It must be not wanting any competition whether for jobs or women.
In all my years here, I've never had any serious altercations with Thai guys; it's always been with fellow Western ex-pats.
The older ones tend to be the worst. "You looking at my 'ho?" type of thing. Being a 'teacher' doesn't help. After being in front of a class for a few months and getting far more 'respect' than they ever got back home, many English teachers let it go to their heads and suddenly start to think that their shit don't smell.
Then being called 'hansum', whether by their students or bargirls, condescending arrogance quickly worms it's way into their personality.
Sero offers an interesting analysis.
"Does it stem from insecurity ? Perhaps if someone from a class-ridden society that has felt put-upon for most of their life comes to Thailand and acquires status as 'The Farang' they then fear the loss of that?
As an expat in Spain you are of little interest to the locals and can derive little benefit from it. Up-country teachers in Thailand speak of being treated like kings.
So : low self-esteem, insecurity, fear of loss of the only social standing the person has ever had. And perhaps, just perhaps, a little residual sexual guilt ? If the hostility of the farang is born of insecurity then what is its source ?
Is it the subconscious knowledge that he is living a lie ? That Khun Ajarn, looked up to by (and therefore able to look down on) Thais, is unworthy of this respect ? And he knows it.
Is it the fear you will see behind his carefully constructed facade ? Where the Thais see a professional man to be admired you might see a drunken slutmeister ?
Of course you may see nothing of the sort. But if the hostile farang has repressed this miserable self-image then your presence may trigger its recall.
So, in short, its the return of the repressed. They left the West to escape the way they felt about themselves. And the presence of other falangs acts as an uncomfortable reminder.
Marko adds his two cents.
If we're talking (mainly) about blokes, then the whole Thailand "playground-full of bewdiful laydeez" thing plays a big role.
Blokes without (many) women from their native country around creates a slightly more primal beefy world, which seems to flush primal beefy social skills to the surface. ie. acting like a complete tit.
There's a kind of second psychological skin that ex-pats seem to have to develop to protect them in their newly-chosen 'homeworld'. I reckon this kind of slowly replaces what was originally underneath, so they're over-defensive towards strangers of their "own kind".
Jon chips in to say that leopards don't change their spots.
"There are plenty of similar obnoxious people these expats have left behind in their own countries, and, rather than being changed by Bangkok I reckon most were like this before they arrived.
I think it's to do with Bangkok attracting more than its fair share of mostly male losers, failures, criminals, sleazebags and other pondlife, running away from a past they'd rather forget, to a life they wouldn't tell mummy about, so that they present a higher proportion in the resident population than they would in most other places.
And farangs know that, so they either fear or don't trust other farangs that they don't know well.
Anyone with common sense, drive, reliability and presentability can make a modest success of themselves in Thailand, as it isn't that hard to shine like a jewel amongst this pile of human waste"
Cortezcortez considers Bangkok a paradise compared to what he left behind.
This is basic chimpanzee self-preservation instinct. Trust only those from your group.
However, unlike chimps we do have the ability to recognise that some strangers may be alright, and thus the group expands.
Whilst there is a general 'Oi!' mentality about in places, I've personally found Bangkok more enjoyable than home because you can meet a lot of people here from all over the world, many of who become good friends.
Back home, the number of new friends acquired in say, one year, is pretty close to zero, although my home is rather different than Bangkok in size and diversity.
Merlin nods in agreement.
I agree with the wise words of Eltel, Sero and others who point to a version of the 'imposter syndrome' at work in the surface hostility.
White Boy is all hopped up on this new and improved version of themselves courtesy of the ever-flattering Thais, and he knows that a careful look at them will reveal the sad truth behind the visage.
There's also a dose of "hey, you, get off of my cloud" going on too. This is supposed to be a far away and exotic place - a Xanadu of sorts - that must retain some cachet.
Meeting other expats who have clued into the benefits of living here sort of diminishes the cleverness of our unfriendly white boy.
Eltel re-enters the arena and states that we could be blowing things out of proportion.
I think the whole 'expat pondlife' argument is overblown and partially the result of certain expats putting down their own kind in order to gain some kind of superiority.
It's very easy to denigrate the 'septic', the 'Brit', the 'Aussie' etc. as losers or failures simply because they have chosen to live and work outside their home country and to make one feel a little better about oneself.
I've made more friends on the Bangkok - Butterworth visa-run train than in all my years in the UK. There's always a few dickheads but they come in all nationalities.
It's just that Brits and Yanks make up the vast majority of expats. I'd say 90% plus of expats I've come into contact with in Thailand are thoroughly decent chaps (even English teachers!).
Yes, a few here are running away from something or have something to hide but I believe they make up a very small percentage of the total expat population here.
What about Smitty? He considers it a city thing.
I'm from a large city in the US, and I traveled quite a bit there prior to coming here. I've lived and worked in several states and I can say for a fact that behavior is different in larger cities than smaller ones,(at least in the US) and that seems to be true for LOS as well.
I lived in Khon Kaen for about three months when I arrived this trip, and both the 'feel' of the city and the way the average Thai responded to me was slightly warmer than here in Bangkok, while most of the farangs there were just as stand-offish as most here.
On the other hand, when walking down the street, it's hard to stop and make instant friends. Meeting someone in a pub, where both of you are seated and relaxed, sipping a brew, is far more conducive to conversation than passing on the street.
The same person who may give you what you perceive as a suspicious look may be quite friendly if you get a few minutes to chat with them. Keep in mind that everyone's facial expressions are subject to YOUR interpretations (or mis-interpretations).
One of the teachers at my school is dark-visaged, and somewhat of a serious guy. Comes from being an ex-diving instructor, where mistakes mean death, not a poor grade on a paper. When he looks serious or is working, people assume him to be pissed off just because he isn't smiling. But he is one of the warmest and friendliest people I've met here.
That said, I may be different. When I'm out, I TRY to make eye-contact with expats, because I view each as a potential friend, with whom I can at least communicate more easily than with the Thai folks I meet.
Quite a few are as described here, aloof and suspicious. However, (a plug here) I went to O'Leary's pub a few months ago for the open stage sessions they hold on Sunday night, and I found everyone to be quite friendly and enjoyable. Brits, Aussies, Irish, Yanks, Kiwis, everyone was there for the music,the beer and the food. No one minded that it was my first night there, all were cool.
As a final shot though, I wonder about all those who denounce the city as being full of "losers n' lowlifes"....if ya try, ya can find them everywhere.