A diverse day in paradise
Beggars, food courts, communication problems, cancelled classes and disagreeable customer service
Just another day - another morning, another commute, another birthday and I'm on my way to teach at Speech Perfect at the Mall, Bang Kae in Bangkok. Just as I do every day - with the exception of public holidays and the odd coordinately scheduled trip.
As a matter of fact, I was accosted by a beggar this morning, wearing shabby clothes, motioning one hand towards his mouth while rubbing his stomach with his other hand. I stopped, looked at him and said, "Hiu mark mai?" enquiring if he was very hungry. He started to nod his head frantically as one who had had his message understood. The paradox of the fact that I was speaking to him in his own language while he mimed was completely lost on him. I then said, "Kao jai loa," stating the fact that I understood and walked off.
Foreigners in Thailand, are genuinely thought to have more money than sense and I thoroughly resent anyone using sign language to communicate with me. That person obviously takes me for an imbecile but expects I'm in a position to feed him. Take a hike!
In order to get to the BTS (Bangkok Sky Train) - I have to take a motorcycle taxi. There's at least one in every other soi or small road and almost one on every corner. They are rarely ever from anywhere other than the Northeast, an Issarn country boy who as well as two-wheeled vehicles and Issarn girls - loves 'to ride' - the Michael out of every passerby.
Once I'm seated on his bike, his style is non-verbal communication, actions speak louder than words. Wearing a crash-helmet and an orange skeet-jacket while I as his passenger am completely unprotected. He takes full advantage of this - strumming the spectrum of my emotions - by riding part of the way one-handed, abruptly swinging the bike to one side and then to the other to avoid any imaginary objects. Then opening up on the straight while I try to hang on to the back of the seat as he casually chats on his mobile to a friend or family member.
As a culmination he stops half on half off the main road, I stagger off the back trying to regain my bearings in order to quickly move out of the way of any oncoming traffic. I go to pay, he doesn't have the right change, I find it, he looks disappointed. He snatches the fare and tares off without a by your leave.
Next, I board a train. Approximately 15 brief BTS minutes later I exit - and take a short walk across a convenient connecting bridge at my destination, The Mall. Here I'm lifted up to the third floor by a lift exiting out again and striding to the first on the left of the number one branch in the most distinguished language center chain in the entire country.
As it happens Speech Perfect isn't any different from any other institute of instruction - except that we have the most pristine window frontage, the best interior designed decor - alongside the fact that our classroom furnishings are undeniably unsurpassed. Plus in our fifteen minute regulated breaks - we are offered either freshly made sandwiches or segments of fresh fruit alongside chilled refreshments. Each and every attribute and requirement of a well-heeled prospective Thai student, parents or guardian of one - are seeking in an educational institution.
The first class of the day is a young lad who wants to take his IELTS next month; 9am to 12pm. I shall be putting him through his paces with various prospected questions. Correcting him on his grammar and pronunciation while extending his higher level vocabulary.
Three hours later - that was surprisingly painless, a nice enough boy, polite and friendly - unexpectedly eager to learn. I'm ready for lunch now - a two-hour break before I have to return. I fancy something plain and non-oily today and as it is my happy birthday I'm going to purchase a new pair of footwear.
The mall has a huge selection of footwear, every range, brand, design, and breadth of quality. I am forty-six today so I'm looking for comfort more than style. "Dai ka dai," you're welcome. The attractive young shop-in-shop assistant has spied a middle-aged foreigner who she believes is ready to jump any Thai woman that moves - she feels sure she's in for some easy sales commission. She gives me a smarmy little smirk and comes waltzing across laying on a "Sa Wadee Ka," female Thai greeting with a trowel.
She couldn't be more supercilious if she tried and she's going for broke - my skin is subjectively crawling off the back of my neck. She informs, "Wi ha bic si for yu," we have big sizes for you - I tell her my size and basic requirements in fluent Thai. She responds by grinning and closing her eyes at the same time stating, "I no s-speak anglit geng," I am not smart at speaking English. Well, I would've never guessed! She's completely innocent of the fact that she's nurturing a most horrible case of halitosis even though she's presumably just consumed half a plate full of som tam, spicy papaya salad. I feel the urge to ask her if a soi dog had messed in her mouth, then recalling her limited linguistic capabilities I thought I'd spare myself her reply. I decide to come back on another day - if my luck has changed - on this charming girl's day off.
Unto the Thai Food forecourt, I descend from the third to the ground floor. What delights are here to tempt me, not a great deal I suspect, the novelty of Thai cuisine soon wore off - since migrating here to start a new life. After firstly having been made redundant from the job I loved, I was a genetics researcher at the Cambridge Science Park. Secondly, having been divorced after sixteen years of wedded bliss by the wife that I adored - it matters not! Ours is not to reason why ours is but to do or die. If you believe that you are a romantic and a pathetic optimist - welcome to the club. Enough of my past perfect and back to my present simple.
The person who serves the chicken and rice is waiting with his usual surly countenance.
I order, "Kor kao mun gai mai ao nang ao tangwah lagor nahm" having exemplified the fact that I want chicken without skin and rice with cucumber and soup.
He points to the rice and says, "YOU rice!"
Then pointing to the chicken he says, "YOU shicken!" then he plates them!
Next holding a slice of cucumber above his head with a pair of thongs - he waits for me to either accept or decline.
Now he's holding a ladle of hot watery soup above an empty bowl - he waits impatiently for my prompt response.
Finally, just in case he hasn't already succeeded in jarring me right off, he holds up a splayed hand to indicate the charge - fifty baht.
This wouldn't be quite so bad if it wasn't for the actuality that he's been serving me chicken, rice, cucumber, and watery soup at least once a week for the past four years.
In amazing Thailand, some Thais try to emote others into committing what is seen as a serious loss of face; such as being heard to raise your voice in a public place or having been seen to be angered. The logic here appears to stem from that a large part of Buddhist philosophy is that you should retain a state of peace and harmony at all times. On the other hand, who truly knows where its origins lie or how it all began.
Fact is, for a native working in a service industry, often being spoken down to, occasionally belittled and always poorly paid by fellow countrymen and women. Having been repressed by his or her own culture, having to bite their tongues and keep smiling in the face of adversity. A foreigner represents a most welcoming opportunity to release some pent-up acidic anxiety.
Replenished and recharged! One must go to buy provisions at the Mall's impressive international supermarket, which increases its prices on an all too regular basis. I gather a basket full of wares and head for the checkout point. The stout and sturdy cashier on seeing me turn up the corners of her mouth and begins to slowly nod her head as one who has spied a passing buffalo. After she has run my rations by the till's scanner - I stand to wait, watching, with my wallet at hand. Then in her native tongue - I ask her, "Nee toa lia carp," How much? She does not reply, she indicates the charge on the cash till with her hand. I tell her, that my eyesight isn't good while apologizing for this fact, "kor tort carp shat mai dee." With both her hands spread out to convey that she doesn't know what to do.
Her dilemma is that she cannot speak English and she will not speak Thai - in her mind if she did it would amount to a serious loss of face. "CanI-elp-yoou?" a forty-something maternal looking do-gooder standing behind, having heard and seen everything that has taken place. Then asks the cashier "Nee toa lia ka," How much? The cashier instantaneously replies, "Nueng pan sahm loh hahsip jet baht," one thousand three hundred and fifty-seven baht. I repeat, "Neung pan sahm loh hahsip jet." Now counting out the money to the exact amount, placing it near the till turn back to the despondent do-gooder - thank her very much and walk away with a self-assured smile.
These skilled emoters appear to be acting in all innocence to the unfamiliarized or even pitied for their simplicity by the imperceptive. Of course, these emoters are often made to become the emoted. Perhaps, by a foreigner who has come to recognize the signs and has learned to speak Thai adequately enough - in order to win - in these ubiquitous passive-aggressive mind games.
On my return to the school, I am informed by the manageress khun Bun, a small in stature be-speckle blue trouser-suited Chinese-Thai women in her late fifties that my 2pm to 5pm, afternoon class have canceled on the day - COD. This means I can retreat to my humble abode and still be fully compensated - one of the few bonuses of being an EFL educator in a cram school in Thailand.
"Goodbye, Khun David," dutifully "See you tomorrow, Ka!"
"Goodbye, Khun Bun," likewise "Thank you very much, Krup," theatrically "Yes, once more unto the bridge, tomorrow."
"Take care, Khun David," patronizingly.
"You too, Khun Bun," with knobs on.
Thai people are generally highly sensitive to their own social position and to that of others around them - as foreigners in the land of the scowls we are advised to do likewise. Nonetheless, in my experience, the respect that is shown for a position is purely superficial. For instance, a manager is waied to, kowtowed, bowed down to - up to the exact point when they are demoted, then subsequently cold-shouldered or at best blanked.
Case verification, Khun Bun, our branch manager - she would have me hung drawn and quartered for the price of a Starbuck's coffee and I wouldn't piddle on her under normal circumstances if she were on fire!
This evening I'm going to devour steak and kidney pudding, homemade chips and peas, followed by lemon meringue, all washed down with a fine bottle of red wine. Farang, or foreign food is top of the creature comforts' list of a long-term expat. I shall not be dining alone, some friends - Diwl and Boat will be joining me. A lovely young couple I've known for some time - former students. They enjoy trying traditional British dishes, I suspect they are anglophiles at heart.
Tomorrow, I shall go to teach, go-to-shoppin and I'm so looking forward to a trip to Samui island at the end of this year with my cohabiting Thai co-teacher and fiancee, saintly and patient Pat. Who is at present caring for her mother many miles away in Nong Kai as she has recently been involved in a relatively minor accident.
A short rewind from the Mall's vast department store to the polished concreted modern mass transport human dispenser. The sky train is still relatively quiet so I manage to get a seat, on my return to Yanawa where I am located. By the next stop, all the seats are taken - I only ever surrender my place to heavily pregnant women, octogenarians and of course the blind. Sure enough, a visually impaired small brown-skinned bearlike young woman who couldn't prevent herself from smiling was guided by a train guard onto the carriage in which I was residing. Quick to leap to my feet I gain the honor of escorting one of God's gentler creatures - an absolute sunbeam - a shining example to us all - to where I had been sitting
15 minutes being spent - I have now vacated the elevated electric locomotive - the mid-afternoon sun is still fierce as I amble along the public pavement approaching the makeshift unruly stand of soi rodeos or manic motorbike transporters - over the way the local temple - I cannot resist in taking a quick glance at its placid sermonic facade. As I do so, more than one worshiper among a group immediately begins to nip their noses while glaring directly at myself - as if I were a prowling skunk - Pepe La Poo that's me!
I'm no less than 50 meters from where they are standing and even if I were caked in pig slurry, they wouldn't get so much as a whiff from here. This form of behavior truly disturbs my equilibrium nevertheless only temporally. The irony of the contradiction that a number of the congregation are racially abusing me while supposedly worshiping the Lord Buddha at the same moment - doesn't appear to cross their twisted minds.
Thailand is a greenish and fertile land with an accommodating and moderate tropical climate, rugged shrub bedded mountains, sanded trodden populated beaches, a glorious volume of spectacular wildlife, a vast variety of palatable food, a refreshing range of beverages and many, many well-natured appealing friendly likable natives.
So, why? Oh, why do some Thais perversely take the greatest of pleasure in metaphorically tearing the legs off a Keko - a miniature harmless house lizard? We shall never allow the despicable band - the undeserving minority - to obscure us to the goodness that unequivocally prevails!
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You are obviously a keen observer of human behavior, and for me you are also an astute interpreter of character.
I very much liked your comments, they are much appreciated.
Further, I believe you have been conveying the right persona and approach during your frequent visits to Thailand.
May you and your wife continue to travel here safely and amicably for a long time to come.
By Richard, Bang Na (6th February 2019)
With a Thai Wife and having spent a fair amount of time in the Land of Smiles over the past 13 years, for business and family, I enjoyed your story. Yes, I have seen the (perhaps racism is a little strong), let’s call it disdain, many Thais can display to falang. And the often unfairness and irrationality of everyday life.
I just try to keep in mind that Thailand rarely attracts the best in Western visitors (the sexpats, the drunks, the pedos, con men and the rest), and perhaps I can understand some of the feelings. I add to this the fact that I come from and individualistic and egalitarian (more or less) society, but am visiting literally a feudal and superstitous culture, dominated by hierarchy and face, which I agree causes some strange behavior. Not to mention the sense of inadequacy that many try to compensate for.
I just try to wear a thick skin, carry an evil smile, look for the best in people (sometimes finding it) and keeping the phone number of my highly connected friends in case trouble finds me (it hasn’t yet). I have seen the repressed anger that boils beneath the surface, but just behave politely, avoid drunk Thais and late night venues, and keep my head on a swivel. So far, so good. And have met some very nice people. And have ignored and forgotten a boatload of others.
I remind myself that Thais make up 1% of the World’s population, and aren’t really terribly important in the grand scheme of things, even if they think they live in the Center if the Universe.
By Perter, San Francisco (27th January 2019)
Wow, you really do have a victimization complex.
Do you want everyone to feel sorry for you because you were born in a wealthy county, voluntarily moved to a foreign country, got a job that required little more than having a basic understanding of your native language and have experienced an occasional perceived slight (seems more like misunderstandings than intended slights) from shop keepers?
Ok, you might see yourself as a victim, but you haven’t won my sympathy.
By Jack, At Home (1st November 2018)
I wondered lonely as a cloud - if I would have received the same comments if I'd have written a first person narrative about a black African male teacher living in London having the same experiences as this character; Mr.David.
For instance, in a supermarket; perhaps Sainsbury's where a white British cashier pretended that she couldn't understand his fluent English while another white British woman standing directly behind asked him in Afrikaners if she could help him.
Having given it thought, I suggest that the comments would have been altogether different. That they'd have probably supported as well as sympathized with the African and some commentators would have possibly apologized to him for the behavior of their fellow British citizens. Just as any number of Thai people have occasionally apologized to me over the past sixteen and half years for the inscrutable amount of racial abuse I have suffered; though be it mild in form. These apologies go a long way with me, yet never quite make up for the behavior of the abuses.
It is my firm belief that in denying that racism exists whether through embarrassment, ignorance or fear, you are blatantly condoning and encouraging the act of racism itself.
Please acknowledge the fact that the rules of society are broken with the inappropriate behavior of just one person and don't allow that person to be yourself.
And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.
By Richard, Bangkok (26th October 2018)
I asked if this was satire?
Ok, but I didn't find your spreading simplistic and negative stereotypes "funny."
Satire only works when it is based on a kennel of truth, which I did not find in your piece. Satire works best as entertainment when it is based on a good natured ribbing or exposing the harmless follies of people, when it is based on hateful and negative stereotypes it usually doesn’t work so well.
I suspected you were trying to be entertaining, but I think this attempt fell flat.
Maybe others “enjoyed” your message, but having had Thai people in my family for over 50 years, I just found it offensive and not the least bit entertaining. Oh well, I will get over it.
Better luck with your next attempt (But don't quit your day job just yet).
By Jack, Here and there (11th October 2018)
Jack the hat or not,
Oh dear, what can the matter be?
Perhaps it's time you invested in a new pair of specs or maybe you've bin wearing a hat that was at least two sizes too big even for your head while reading.
The main things you're missing are that I'm the writer, the character in the story's name is David and the fact that it is a fictional story.
Again possibly, you skipped a good many paragraphs and imagined what you would have liked to have read before you made your comments.
You wrote that it would be interesting to know why I wrote a rant against Thailand and Thai people; I most certainly did not.
Still, I thought I wrote a satirical story suggesting some explanations for the nonsensical obstinate behavior of a minority that many of us are subjected to on an all too frequent basis - by people not unlike yourself.
Although, with hindsight, I think I may have inadvertently written it so that you might have something to do in your free time.
"The Devil makes work for idle hands Mr.Jack, one should always endeavor to stay occupied."
By Richard, Bangkok (11th October 2018)
Thank you for a very colorful and well-written story. I felt much the same way about Bangkok, so I spent more time traveling both the north and south of the country. I found once out of the big city, folks were generally friendlier.
What strikes me the most are your tales about your Thai language ability being ignored. Your observation about the rude release of anxiety hits it perfectly. So much of human effort is expended belittling others to improve one's own self-esteem.
This certainly isn't unique to Thailand. You can find bitter, repressed people in every country. In my own home USA, I hear almost half the population is on prescription pills to dull the pain of their lives.
You have wonderful writing, and I wish you success as you build your new life. Cheers =)
By Hesse Bentura, Phuket (11th October 2018)
Strange to say the least.
You write a piece that is extremely negative about your job and environment and then are upset when criticized about your negativity and now claim you actually enjoy your life and job.
Seems pretty inconsistent, oh well, I guess most of us are a bit inconsistent at times.
I doubt you are any more observant than average, but seem to see the worst in people (if we believe what you wrote initially). I could not really relate to all the negativity you see in your daily life,
It would be interesting to find out why you decided to write a "rant" against Thailand and Thais using every possible negative and simplistic stereotype if in fact you love the country and its people,
By Jack, On the road (10th October 2018)
Teacher David's response.
Dear one and all,
Firstly, I would just like to say thank you for all of your comments - that's part of the interest in writing to hear what others make of your scribblings.
Although, I am a little saddened as I think some of you have been a little overzealous in your criticisms of me, by accentuating the negatives while completely ignoring the positives.
After all, I love my job at Speech Perfect even though I would be the first to admit it is neither well paid nor highly regarded. I wonder how many people could sincerely say the same, yet I'm sure many of you would be surprised to know that the vast majority of EFL teachers I have encountered in Thailand do in actual fact love teaching.
Moreover, I am in a happy, mutually caring and loving relationship with my partner, precious Pat. We have been a couple for just over two years, though we've only been living together for the past eight months as we are perhaps slightly too conventional for our own good.
Nonetheless, we enjoy a civilized social life with our numerous friends, most of whom are Thai.
Furthermore, being subjected to racism has never been a mainstay of my life. I am merely an astute observer of human nature, this is neither a blessing nor a curse. Allow me to explain, as a child there was a short period of my life when I was bullied by my peers. Ask virtually any psychologist and they will tell you that when a person has been a victim of abuse, he/she will always maintain the habit of constantly accessing others. I pride myself on being able to spot a 'jai dam,' a black-hearted person within thirty meters - in spite of this I am occasionally pleasantly surprised.
Last, of all an aged sagacious Holocaust survivor once told me that there were only three types of people in the World. Those who can see something for themselves, those who can see it having had it explained to them, and those who can't see it at all.
I have never forgotten my grandmother's words and treasure them to this day.
As David Thai lady I to feel sad very. I not wish to be impolite but who you persons to tell my heart to leave Thai. You not Thai people I think - you have no government power!
He alway take people as he found them - he do not judge first. He treat as he is treat. You think this not fair?
Mr. Jack, we not know you but you not only say bad thing you try make another's turn away from we. You know ( Mr Gary)
One thing last, my country do not have monopoly for racist - also there some in your county! I know - I have go to UK and Australia.
He not know I write - Please no tell he! Also he worry now maybe he lose him job at Speech Perfect.
By Richard, Bangkok (9th October 2018)
Good story but could use some competent proofreading. Don't rely on some half bright yank wanker to sort you out on something like this mate.
By Lee Lepper, Bkk for the moment (9th October 2018)
"have enough sense to either accept it or change it."
Are you suggesting to try to change the behavior of over 70 million Thai people?
Good luck with that mission.
By Jack, About (9th October 2018)
If you don't like to be mistreated then leave.
What an asinine thing to say.
If you don't like some thing ,have enough sense to either accept it or change it.
Don't settle for rude behavior.
Stop being polite when it is not being reciprocated. Yes , you live in a foreign country , but you don't have to stand for abuse.
By Bob Johnson, Bangkok (8th October 2018)
I've been visiting LOS around 3 times per year for 1-2 months, for the past 9 years. I was cured a long time ago of jumping to conclusions with my Western indoctrinated brain, the 2 guiding principles given to me being Mai Pen Rai and Mai Kit Mak....it's changed my thinking by 180 degrees on Thailand , but also at home. I wish I'd started coming here earlier....
By Pedro, Perth, Australia. (8th October 2018)
Nothing ever changes and nothing ever will?
In my 20 years in the country I have seen so many changes, some things I thought would never change have (Not always in the way I had hoped for).
If you didn't see any changes in any country over an 11 year period you were not paying attention.
By Jack, Here and there (8th October 2018)
I am not sure how to take the article, was it satire?
While I have an occasional bad day, I really couldn't "relate" to the negative perception presented.
I hope this was an attempt to be entertaining and not how you actually see your life in Bangkok.
By Jack, Here and there (8th October 2018)
Dude, you have serious issues. Go back home man.
By Berns, Thailand (7th October 2018)
I am a long term resident of Thailand and I have spent many afternoons in bars listening to Farang ex pats complain and belittle our Thai hosts. I always wondered why they just don't go home.
I am not psychic so I have no idea what Thai people think of me but when a Thai helps me with language or any difficulties I tend to say thank you and not disparage their kind intentions by referring to them as a 'do gooder'.
I always keep in mind that this is not my country and I am a ' guest' here.
Of course i have had some not very positive dealings with Thais over the years but I have also had negative interactions with aggressive and angry farangs. I have found that if my intentions appear 'pure' then people are usually supportive.' Do we not reap what we sow, maybe it's just me. I treat all people with respect and 95 percent of the time my respect is reciprocated. When I feel spite and anger towards my Thai hosts then I will know that it just might be time to go home.
By John, Bangkok (6th October 2018)
Hey Richard, as obviously you are eloquent in your English the fact remains you are in Thailand. I did an 11 year stint. Nothing changed and nothing will. Good luck.
By Gary Thomas Walling, Back in the UK. (6th October 2018)
You have a way with words and paint the picture I know so well. You bring such subtle points out so eloquently.
Sadly it seems many of those you encounter are like zombies. Doing their life sentence paid peanuts too.
the taxi - my wife had her head smashed and could have died...
the relative - always one in an accident somewhere
the chicken rice and cucumber soup... the one I saw though had chicken hanging for hours in the sun with flies blowing it...
etc. these are archetypes you have written into a poem that summarise the day in the life.
By John, Australia (3rd October 2018)