Another Try in the Land of Smiles


I am a bit surprised to find myself in this country again. The six months I’d endured down in Pattaya had me at times certain I’d never return. I had grown weary of the nonexistent sidewalks, near-constant traffic, and marauding dogs. Nor did I appreciate the personal computers at the local internet cafe whose CPUs would go to their knees attempting to bring up Internet Explorer. And those damn public phones, which would either take your money and not work, or spray your money out onto the street and not work. At times it seemed to me that a monster tsunami like the one that hit Japan back in March would actually improve things in that city.

I also began to have troubles with the people, becoming visibly angry on a couple of occasions. One time was when I was exiting the Bangkok-to-Pattaya bus. I was politely standing in front of my aisle seat, waiting for a break in the line large enough to accommodate me and my backpack. My seat-mate, an elderly man who had been calm and relaxed the entire two hour trip, suddenly began acting as if the exodus was some kind of fire drill and began prodding me in the back. Not being someone who appreciates physical contact outside of the bedroom, I turned and growled at him. My annoyance easily transcended the language barrier as he took a cautious step back.

The bus nudging was simply a more egregious example of the impatience Thais sometimes exhibit when queuing up. Occasionally they will look for ways to butt in, especially in front of polite foreigners. Such places as a crowded 7-Eleven checkout line become mini-scrums; one cannot allow a gap of more than six inches to develop between themselves and the person in front or else they risk losing their place. One of my fantasies is for a Thai to try squeezing in front of me back in the U.S., whereupon I’d grab him (or her) by the shirt and shove them into the candy display.

Entertaining visions of violence against the natives is a sign one should consider at least a token getaway to avoid becoming an unwilling expert on the local penal system. In most second-tier countries — and especially Thailand — any altercations between a local and a foreigner will not go well for the latter. An American shouting at ladyboy who had tried to pickpocket him, for example, would likely end up getting scolded by the Thai police for causing an unpleasant scene.

It was therefore a given that, as the date for my return ticket approached, I’d be heading back to the U.S. The real question was whether I wanted another tour of duty in Thailand, or whether it was time to find a place back home to settle down in.

Seattle provided some blessed guidance in re-discovering my priorities. Within fifteen minutes after arriving downtown I got panhandled by one of the career homeless, whom I felt obliged to be polite to. While riding a Metro bus, I was forced to endure a loudmouth jerk in the back seat. (I suspect because he was black, everyone was too cowed to ask him to shut up.) To be sure, the Thais are not what one would call a docile and quiet race, but I never witnessed one making a spectacle of himself in public, possibly because it would be considered a loss of face. And yes, there are Thai street people haunting the Bangkok walkways begging for money. However, the locals seem able to completely ignore those unfortunates and not be wracked with guilt over it.

Another decisive factor in my eventual decision was the Pacific North-west late-April weather. One of the pleasures of being away from Seattle the entire winter is avoiding the damp dreariness. Yet after only a couple of allegedly springtime days back in the city, I found myself digging out my heavy coat as the raw wind prevented the temperature from breaking fifty degrees (10 C). If it wasn’t for the late sunsets, I’d have sworn it was February. 

These experiences helped put things into perspective. Which could I better tolerate: the cute Thai girl inserting her slender body in front of me at the convenience store, or having to listen to the rants of a scruffy Metro passenger? For the first week of May, do I want to be bundled up in a scarf and stocking cap, seeing my breath, or wearing a light t-shirt and shorts? With my Thai Retirement Visa still having some mileage on it, giving Thailand another shot didn’t sound like a bad proposition.

Two and a half weeks after greeting the Seattle springtime chill, I was on the plane back to Bangkok. New adventures now await.

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