Saturday, 30 January 2010

Farang Kee Nok

Bird-shit foreigners are what the Thais call them. Who am I talking about?

Well that distinctive traveller come organic-hippy that can be fleshed out as students on gap years, ageing Europeans in pantaloons trying to 'find themselves' through an overpriced Buddha statue or just plain trampy tourists and bumbags with a penchant for dreadlocks and cheap hotel rooms without hot water.

Ever since Alex Garland ridiculed himself and other travelers in the 90s excellent social parody and dreadful film 'The Beach' Thailand has found itself innundated with what the Thais call Farang Kee Nok.

Thailand relies on the tourist Pound, Euro and occasionally Dollar just as much as any other third-world country but like any other poor place there seems to be a fair amount of piss-taking when it comes to this particular person who travels (nak tong teaow).

Why am I being so sniffy and derogatory? Well, maybe this type of tourist open themselves up to such ridicule and here's why:

Firstly, like many poor places, Thais are into clothes big time- apart from ageing peasants who probably don't have much time and money for clothing, most Thai people always dress pretty well- they certainly wouldn't think about dressing down for anything and observe this phenomenon from the other side of the world with mild curiosity. It seems a little bit, inappropriate and perhaps a bit condescending in a way that going round to your nan's looking a bit of a tramp on a Sunday might also once have seemed wrong too. Also these people are well-off and shouldn't be trying to act like a 21st century 'slummer' wandering the streets of poor places hoping to feel a bit less middle-class.

Secondly, an alternative lifestyle choice for two weeks or perhaps six months (if travelling through other parts of SEA) simply doesn't exist. The worthy way in which the traveller wanders around Bangkok being ripped off by unscrupulous Tuk Tuk drivers, tipping all the poor people and frustratingly driving up the economy for the rest of us, chatting with market traders as if they're somehow experiencing the real Bangkok, when really it's all very contrived and certainly not quite the 'experience' they think they're having. D and I have a few Thai friends and acquaintances now but the social connection is based on any other in England not some kind of idiotic curiosity in a pointy fingered 'Ooh look at this gnarled old-woman lets have our picture took' kind of way.

Thirdly, it's all such a sad well-trodden path metaphorically and literally. Ever since The Beatles embarrassed themselves in Rishikesh with Maharashi Mahesh Yogi in the 60s and other westerners attempted to find some sort of 'answers' in this part of the world following the excesses of the 60s, Vietnam etc there's been some sort of magnetic pull like that tractor beam on the Death Star in Star Wars and the way Muslims visit Mecca. The French especially and their obsession with Indo-China in the first part of the 20th century also seems to hold some sort of historical and cultural context despite the Frogs never being able to colonise Siam/Thailand and the British being content with Burma and what is now Malaysia.

The previously mentioned 'The Beach' seems to sum it up perfectly as the protagonist Richard realises that there are no answers in this corner of the world any more than there are in the rest of the universe and the answers to the meaning of life all reside in one's head. Not in some ancient set of ruins or eating club sandwhiches down the Khao San Road or any number of the crustified hell holes that beautiful islands like Kho Pan Ngan and Phuket have become. Maybe these people already realise what a cliche it all is- or so they should do if they have any brains- but still they come, which makes it even worse!

Thailand has certainly, in the past, developed a niche for itself as a destination for backpackers etc. Indeed some of my colleagues choosing to return 10 years later (again trying to relocate themselves back through space and time like Dr Who to that innocent state of post-graduation when they thought, perhaps rightly, they could take on the world or at least visit...) and various other 'bumbags' and drifters living legally and illegally for next to nothing still pepper this part of the world.
Thailand needs them but sometimes you can't help wondering if normal holidaymakers wouldn't be better off with an affordable decent country to visit that helps the economy of the real impoverished people of Thailand and not greedy touts and rip-off merchants happy to exploit mega-rich students (indeed normal fresh-faced students simply can't afford to backpack around here anymore with the economy 10 times what it was 10 years ago- or did they ever anyway- everyone I knew at 21 and later having to get a job asap in most cases and having to live in the real world) with their electronic books, iphones, blackberries and mini-laptops attempting to get away from it all...

Although rich, educated and in some cases mature, they're no better than yobbos in Benidorm or Toremelinos although these people should know better. Their ignorant attitude, readyto pretend that they're going to be humble while really getting ready to lord it over the 'little people' over this end of the world already starts on the plane coming over if the amount of arguments I've had with them in the toing and froing (with the backs of seats also!) we've done is anything to go by. Us permanent folk over here can't wait till they return back home to a boring job in a bank in Strasbourg or somewhere, de-plait their hair, have a wash and count up the remaining baht they have left after having been ripped-off, stolen from and made culturally bankrupt for two weeks or sadly months in some cases...
Wish you were here? wish they weren't...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Hanging out with new chums!

A quick trip to the zoo and a friendly orangutan takes a liking to J. He was so taken by him, he was even seen fondling his left nipple as we walked away (that's our furry friend, not J!).

Monday, 18 January 2010

Hua do ya love? The old folk!

Two weeks in to the new term and I realised that despite having had both half-term and end of term holidays, we had had no rest and seen no sunshine (there is heat, intense heat in Bangkok but no actual sunshine. The sun not only has its hat on but practically wears a burkha). There are a few beaches not far from Bangkok and when you have an after school club on a Friday, you want to go as near as possible. We decided on the seaside town of Hua Hin just south-west of Bangkok.

We left school at 4.30 and after travelling by bus from the nearest mini bus station, we arrived in Hua Hin just before 7.30. Unlike the islands in Thailand, being a coastal town, Hua Hin is not picturesque. This often, unfairly, gives it the reputation of being a bit grotty. It is, in fact, rather sweet. There is a long sandy beach, lots of good restaurants and bars and, if you are prepared to hop on a moped, there are lots of cute little hills and wats to see. There does appear to be, however, along with a very large Scandinavian population, a very large number of old folk. Very orange and sun-damaged elderly people. I can only assume that Hua Hin offers special rates for the over 60s and that life for geriatrics is a lot kinder, and probably gentler, than other coastal towns in Thailand. Not that I have anything against the aged, I was just rather taken aback by the sheer number of them.

We stayed at a very basic, but also very clean and cheap, guest house just a few minutes walk from the beach. We had air-con, hot water and tv (which played the 80's cartoon Mysterious Cities of Gold and Scooby Doo for about an hour and a half so I was happy) all for just under £14 a night. During the day on Saturday, we literally sat on the beach and chilled out. This, I have to say, was heavenly especially as I'm convinced we still had jet-lag until just a few days ago. J, in his quest for some colour, went a shade of red in a rather unusual pattern on his tummy. I now have the permanent outline of my bikini top stencilled on!

The sea isn't a gorgeous turquoise like it is on the islands, nor is it calm. It is so choppy that, at one point, I thought I'd lost my husband in the waves. He was actually just enjoying himself and not, in fact, drowning.

The next day, we hired some mopeds and had a nosey at the rest of the town. May I just add that, this time, we did have helmets and drove at a respectable speed. It does make you feel a little fearless though and within 10 minutes of arriving back in Bangkok, both me and J were on the back of ONE motorbike taxi speeding down the dual carriageway (this time without the helmets) back to our apartment. I have no idea what the Thais must have made of two big farangs (avec luggage and driver) on the back of one small moped. Anyway, I digress.

Hua Hin is quite small but if you've got a spare weekend, it is definitely worth a visit. It has a very quaint little railway and another of Thailand's monkey temples. These monkeys are clearly deranged and at one point around 30 monkeys charged at a woman and her young son because they thought they smelt food. A very scary sight and a very, very traumatised child.

I have it on video.

We had a really nice couple of days and, I think, we've decided that we'll try to spend as much time at the weekends outside of the city as possible.

Next week, seeing a Thai singing sensation (allegedly) back in the city of sin itself, Pattaya.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

So that's that then.

Christmas in England-where were the Christmas lights? Where were the houses with the 18 ft inflatable Santa lit up on the roof? Christmas appeared to be credit-crunched.

This didn't dampen the citizens of merry England's spirits and everyone had a gay old time. Thank you everyone for your hospitality (we have bigger bellies to prove it).

In the weeks leading up to the Christmas break, I think I was starting to go a little insane.

Not full 'gaga', you understand, but definitely reality was beginning to become a little distorted. What was real, what was important, what you really should be concerned about-it'd all started to get a bit, well, fudged. And I missed people. I mean really started missing them which only started to kick in those final few weeks before the holiday. I wanted to go home.

It is very difficult to explain (and often when you try, people think you are either plain weird or just bloody ungrateful as you are in an enjoyable job in the sun whilst they are often fed up in England) but living as an ex-pat can be quite difficult. You are in a country which isn't yours and you can't claim it to be (even if you love it) because you're only there temporarily. You are always battling at being understood, because of a language and cultural barrier. Yesterday, I found out that to eat with my fork is rude. I must eat with a spoon. I didn't realise that for the last 6 months, J and I looked like savages when out to eat! Finally, you live in a very, very, very small world.

When we were in England, we had family, friends that we'd met together, separately and at a variety of different work places. You had acquaintences you could meet down the pub and really good mates you could share you heart with. These special people in your life are all very different and do different things. In Thailand, our world is each other and the teachers we work with. We have met and are friends with some of the nicest people we could ever have met, but it can get very claustrophobic seeing the same faces, having the same conversations day in-day out.

Hence, why I started to go mad. After 3 weeks back in Blighty, both of us getting flu and living out of (my new and rather snazzy) travel bag, I can see that tiny things that at home I would have been able to shrug off or laugh about had been stressing me out. You blow things out of proportion because you lose perspective. A bit.

Anyway, after seeing all our friends and family, I felt calmed and happy but ultimately realised that I did not want to come back to England. Well, not yet.

I might have been suffering a little cabin fever but, actually, I remembered why I'd got so excited about Bangkok when we arrived with its noise and its vibrancy and why I'd been so desperate to leave England in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, and not to sound like some nationalist nutter, but I do still love England. I was made patently aware of this fact this Christmas. We have free healthcare, free education and support for those who cannot (or will not) support themselves. England is, despite the difficulties, a good country. That is why London is full of Australians and why most people who are born there don't leave.

But, life is easier and happier here in Thailand. Yes, you are far from home (missing your family and friends) but the sun and our job means we can actually have free time and have fun. Real fun rather than trying to wedge 'forced fun' in from Friday night to Sunday that we did when working in Wednesbury and Selly Oak-and that was only if we weren't too tired.

Therefore, we've come back home (yes, Thailand for now is definitely home) and embracing our life. In fact, I'm writing this in a bit of a fuzzy state after we stayed out till after 4am with friends who, as I said, are very good people.

Now all J and I have to do is remove the 'Christmas insulation' we put on in just a few weeks at home before we can contemplate flashing the flesh on the beach.

Thailand-sanuk maak.