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!