‘amid the alien corn’ and other matters

I believe every expat no matter where goes through a period of feeling ‘amid the alien corn’ and resorts to a little cynicism to cope. Now that i’ve been here four and a half months and consider myself a somewhat established farang i’ve begun to sum the place up. I’m not as cynical as the following suggests but there are many aspects of this city i find unpleasant.

politician: prating hypocrite, liar and thief

policeman: uniformed rep of organized crime, collector of extortion money, mafia bodyguard

government official: person who runs two Mercedes cars, a large house and a bevy of servants on 7,000 baht ($280) a month

business partner: prelude to personal bankruptcy

farang: general term for sucker, idiot, gull, buffoon, loud-mouthed oaf, boor and ostentatious pervert

Thai girlfriend: female, sometimes young, whose chief characteristics are avarice, a large
and demanding family and at least one Thai boyfriend. As a matter of principle, she’s
unfaithful to her farang lover with only one Thai man at a time.

taxi driver: bandit with licence

motorcyclist: street version of kamikazi pilot

truck driver: pill popper

motorist: optimist who enjoys the fond belief he can reach the office faster than a slow pedestrian

pedestrian: target

pedestrian crossing: focus on target

Patpong nightclub: watering hole where bored people of all five sexes mechanically
perform sexual routines calculated to convert a satyr to celibacy. No extra charge for
infecting, deafening and blinding clients with all known variants of social diseases

attempted suicide: accepting a drink from a stranger on a tour bus or in a hotel room

sex: principal aim of tourism

culture: principal stated aim of tourism

Despite all that, i’m happy and doing well. Work is demanding, i’ve never worked so hard for so little financial reward in my life but i’m not suffering any hardship or deprivation. In addition to work, there’s the Thai exam at the end of December and i’ve taken responsibility for the school newspaper and that’s a handful.

Have found a nice little place to have lunch each day. It’s just around the corner from the school and is called ‘Neil’s Tavern’. They do excellent sandwiches, savoury beef pies, chicken curry pies and mouthwatering cheesecake and apple tart. I have Thai food for dinner each night so i’m eating a balanced diet.

We now have a video club at school run by a Malaysian gentleman with the improbable name of McDonald. He has all the latest films in stock – high quality copies -and rents them three or four at a time for the ridiculously low rent of 15 baht (70 cents) a copy. I’ve just watched An Unremarkable Life with Patricia Neal and Shelley Winters; top-class.
Last week, i had two full days of parent-teacher conferences during which i met most of the parents of the kids i teach. It was an enlightening experience and what i thought would be a bore and a chore turned out to be enjoyable and rewarding. The parents brought me presents galore: ginseng tea, silk ties, cartons of imported cigarettes, bottles of booze and two Seiko world time touch sensor clocks. The kids are unbelievably well-mannered and they didn’t get their breeding from the wind or the weather, the parents are just as agreeable and show genuine interest in their children’s progress.

Rainy season is still with us and the water comes down by the bucketload every evening but it’s now easing off as we enter the cool season. Floods, however, are still a common sight throughout the city. One drawback of the rainy season is that my phone is out of action and has been for two weeks. The telecommunications people have to wait for the water to go down before they can repair the cables underground. Service, it’s promised, will resume sometime next week.
Very few tourists in evidence for the past months but i notice they’re beginning to arrive once more. By the middle of this month there won’t be a vacancy at any hotel and it’ll continue that way till April.
Lovely scene outside my local supermarket last night. Seven or eight little old ladies huddled and chattering were trying to work something out, where to go next or how to get there, when a mangy old dog that hangs around the doors of the supermarket strolled into their midst, cocked his leg in the direction of one of the little old ladies’ shopping bags and urinated all over it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then lay down at their feet and proceeded to lick his genitals, much to their horror and disgust and much to the delight of a group of Thai youngsters who stood watching the entire show.

Greg is safely out of Kuwait and back in Edinburgh. My Goan friends are out, too, and safely back home. No word of Patrick.

Have been to hear the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra twice in the past month. They’re quite good but i wish they could get hold of a few decent soloists to play major piano and violin concertos. On friday night, some aged Russian gentleman made a complete camel’s rectum – more wrong notes than right – of Beethoven’s 4th, my favourite Beethoven piano work. The Goethe Institute is holding a film festival this month featuring major German directors. The Bolshoi has come and gone; i didn’t go as the tickets were too pricey, $120 a seat.

Christmas holidays are from December 19th to January 8th, but since the Thai exam is on December 29th – inconsiderate of the Ministry of Education – i’ll have to spend most of the time here. I might go south for the New Year, possibly Songkhla or Hat Yai, as down there they welcome the New Year in style.

And finally, the new Head of Library (the job my friend, Flagg, turned down) is by most accounts a strange one. The kids say he’s snappy and rude but on the few occasions i’ve had dealings with him he’s been civil to me. His appearance and dress are ‘different’ i admit: he’s short and weedy and he sidles like a crab and has a faraway look in his eyes. Perhaps he’s dreaming of one day unearthing a lost Jane Austen manuscript. It’s how he dresses that makes you look twice and then look away – khaki shirt and khaki shorts (no, no pith helmet) and long white stockings that seem to grow out of a pair of worn red leather slip-ons i’m convinced he picked up at a rummage sale in the Vatican.

8 thoughts on “‘amid the alien corn’ and other matters

  1. John,
    Can’t resist sending you a paragraph from something I wrote in the 80’s after a month in Bangkok.

    Bangkok had turned on him like a pissed cobra. The city that for days had offered near total bliss of cheap pussy and drugs had changed overnight into a fifthly urban ghetto. He’d forgotten his compass that morning and became lost on the way back to his hotel amidst the stifling heat, traffic noise and sidewalks crammed with people spilling into streets jammed with cars trucks and motor scooters all pumping their black exhaust into the already polluted air. The canals listlessly carried a rank cargo of garbage to unknown destinations, or maybe it would just float there forever.

    Go to Wat Po and have a serious massage.

  2. You draw your readers in with your effortless, personal style. The writing though on mainly public issues is intimate and immediate and filled with wisdom and wit. That ‘rummage sale’ is the icing on an excellent cake. Great great read.

  3. Ah, those were the days. And not much has changed in Bangkok or anywhere else in the land of illusion. You summed it up in a nutshell.

  4. An Anglo-Saxon’s insight into a complex society where an ancient cultural coexists with a typical modern society as found in any global urban locale. You strolled through and shared your astute observations like virgin olive oil on leather shoe soles gliding across carnauba waxed sandalwood floors. I can read this dozes of times and will never fail to be entertained and culturally informed.

  5. I’ve read this twice since posted. I admit to a chuckle each time when I read “bandit with license.” Overall, though, your account fascinates me and further strengthens my appreciation of the simple, country life.

  6. Like “government official: person who runs two Mercedes cars, a large house and a bevy of servants on 7,000 baht ($280) a month” especially.

    If it were true, one would especially want such a good money manager as a government official, doing much with little – for the public.

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