Sunday, 8 April 2007
The Land of Similies
"Like a ritual, never-ending fire dance, a perpetual Full Moon Party..."
What’s it like living in Thailand, they all ask me. Thailand’s the Land of Smiles isn’t it?
Yes, it’s smiley okay, I reply, but that means you never know what’s going on under the surface… if there is anything under the surface. Is it all superficial illusion, seductive imagery like the ripples on a pond?
So why does an old farang come here like a fish out of water and what can he expect when he arrives in Thailand? Well, I was like a rolling stone, taking tentative steps like a virgin, for the very first time, expecting the unexpected.
What’s it all about then, this heady, romantic world and where’s it leading to? Nowhere of course I assured myself, but then after shyly holding out for a few years, the inevitable happened. ‘Met a girl crazy for me.’
But why and what’s she like anyway, they all asked me. Metaphor what?
After a few more years here, Thailand’s now all too familiar, but sometimes it’s still a roller-coaster, a fantasy world where the girls in MK Mart giggle and chat me up shamelessly, the sirens of the checkout. This just can’t be for real!
So is it like going to heaven then, living here, or is it purgatory? Are these Thai ladies ministering angels or are will they,like Dracula, sink their fangs into your wallet at the first opportunity?
There are constant reality checks living here, like the horror of applying for visas, when my precious internet refuses to work, or when I have to use sign language to tell the girl I urgently need some toilet paper. And it’s always, always as hot as hell.
It’s like a fantastic dream, a reverie, like floating on a soft cloud… though sometimes Thailand does drive you mad. You can’t read or understand a word they say and getting anything done is like swimming in treacle. Somehow, it’s like going back forty years because everything’s tortoise slow, but more positively, because they make you think you’re still a spring chicken.
It’s a bit like the sixties here, a kind of crazy world where everyone’s killing themselves to buy their new motor scooter, a Honda Dream or Suzuki Smash, the latest television or mobile phone. Credit flows like water before repossession hits like a juggernaut, but militant materialism brings happiness so they go for it at all costs.
The ship of state sometimes rolls violently but the steerage passengers sit back and take a tot of lao khao and ignore the shocks. For us farang, prices are low like years ago, so you can spend like a prince, though sometimes it all feels like an illusion, a charade... nothing’s substantial and everything’s impermanent, unsatisfactory, changeable.
For nothing in Thailand is ever what it seems. The admiral in the street is a bus driver, the prettiest girls and designer goods are fellas and fakes. It’s said that half the women in Bangkok are pros and half the men cons, that the Thais are the nicest people money can buy.
Thailand’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, like a mirage... though was it a real mirage or did I just imagine it?
It’s like nowhere else in the world… like a self-fulfilling fantasy, a shadow play, like a ritual never-ending fire dance, a perpetual, hedonistic Full Moon Party.
It truly is The Land of Similies.