Likable Thailand


SO WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY?

Not working doesn’t mean hanging around with nothing to do. OK, it does sometimes, but unless you’re physically ill or addicted to television, moping around the house sucks no matter where you are.

If you are energetic and gifted with an active mind, you’ll come up with plenty to do. For example, I take Thai lessons for six hours a week. Piano lessons take up only an hour a week, but practice takes up about eight hours a week. Getting massaged takes about six hours a week, and eating out about the same. All that stacks up to almost forty hours a week. Gee, this retirement can be hard work, almost a full time job!

Talking to other expatriates is a lot of fun. Whether they’re retired or working, you’ll have more in common with them than you will with most locals. Here in Thailand, it’s common for Western men of a certain age to marry much younger local women. These men often seem surprised that they got not just the girl, but her entire extended family. Thais put great stock in family, so don’t marry a Thai girl unless you’re prepared to take on some extended familial responsibilities.

I’m sure the same holds true in Nicaragua, or any emerging economy. If a beautiful daughter marries a man who is, by local standards, rich, he’s going to be the one they call in an emergency. Don’t pretend that one away.

But the rewards of having an “in” into the culture could be great. Think of all the people with whom you can practice your new-found language skills. Unlike the haughty french waiters of these people will be delighted by your attempts to speak their tongue. And if you treat them with respect and love, they will return it.

The biggest problem facing most ex pats and most retirees is loneliness. Money has a way of insulating you from your surroundings. The retired millionaire can go to South America or Southeast Asia and build a mansion surrounded by a security fence, hire maids, cooks and groundskeepers, and still die of loneliness. We non-millionaires are, in a way, lucky. We’re forced to rub shoulders with the common folk, and in doing so, inculcate ourselves into their culture. You can still hide away in your house and watch HBO satellite TV if you want, but that’s not why you traveled halfway across the world, is it?

THAILAND

I appreciate Thailand for many reasons, but in order of preference those are:

THE FOOD

After I’d been here six months I noticed that my waist had dropped four inches. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in thirty years. I can swim farther and faster than I’ve ever been able to. My sixty-second birthday approaches next month. I credit the food.

Thai food is simple, wholesome, natural and cheap. Compared to Thai food, Chinese cooking is greasy and over-sweetened. American food seems like a recipe for obesity. Live here for a while and then fly back to America. You’ll be shocked by how fat everyone is. No wonder airlines have imposed weight limits on passengers.

Thais eat on the street a lot. Most Thai family restaurants are open air affairs, often improvised on the sidewalk. Don’t worry about sanitation. The food is as wholesome as it would be in a proper restaurant. The only drawback is lack of air conditioning and the ambient noise. After you’ve been here a while, you’ll get used to that. A bowl of soup that’s a meal will cost you about a dollar, as will a plate of rice with a meat or seafood sauce on the side.

Oddly enough, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried have a big presence here. Eating American fast food is easily two or three times as expensive as eating Thai, but the perceived status of eating at a heavily promoted international franchise seems to make it worth it for many Thais. Donuts are now becoming popular in Thailand, as well. Dunkin’ Donuts has a growing presence. Weight loss franchises are on the rise. Go figure.

MASSAGE

Thai massage is a great gift to the planet. It’s sort of like enforced yoga. You get put in these somewhat unpleasant positions by a skillful massage therapist, and when it’s all over, you feel like something important happened. It’s not the least bit sexual. There is no “happy ending.” If you want one of those, get an oil massage from a sexy girl who calls to you from her perch in front of the parlor, usually located in the nightclub district of a tourist area.

You don’t get naked for a Thai massage, instead you put on these funky little pajamas they supply, most of which are too small of foreigners. If you can choose which person who’s going to give you the massage, find the oldest, homeliest woman they have on the staff. She will have been at it the longest, and will not be skating by on her looks. She doesn’t have to appear the be strong to do a good job, as much of it involves her using her elbows and feet, leveraging the weight of her body. Even a tiny woman can exert a lot of pressure that way.

Lately, I’ve been choosing the 90 minute option, which usually costs about nine dollars, including a dollar tip. By now, I’ve probably had hundreds of Thai massages, and I think I’ve only received three or four disappointing ones, and even those were not without value.

The trick to really digging the experience is to let your mind float along with the massage, following her touch as closely as you can, but while not falling asleep. You can slide right up to the border of dreamland, but don’t fall in. If you think you’re so tired you might fall asleep, save your money and wait until you’re more awake.

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself remembering episodes from the past that you haven’t thought of in a long time. This probably has something to do with the notion that memory is somehow stored in muscles, or maybe in the nerve ganglia along the spine. How else could your hands remember where to go when you play the piano?

A good Thai massage is energizing and relaxing at the same time, and definitely so mind-altering that you may have a hard time walking home. It’s not just money well spent on entertainment, it’s actually good for you. When you find someone you really enjoy and trust, that’s a great thing. It’s worth trying lots of different places in order to find the right person.

THE PEOPLE

Perhaps thanks to their Buddhist culture, Thais are very gentle. They are also fun-loving (perhaps to a fault) and don’t follow rules very well. Try driving in Thailand, and you’ll figure out that nobody is following any rules, but people seem to forgive each other a thousand offenses that would cause a driver in the States to stop his car and challenge someone to a fight.

There is a tendency among Westerners to find this behavior in men to be wimpy or effeminate, but it’s not. It’s simply not macho. I’m sure when Thais get drunk and pick fights they’re just as obnoxious as we are, but when they’re not acting that way, they’re awfully sweet to each other.

By the way, if you do drive, especially a motorcycle, forget about the notion of right of way. You have no right of way. You are a person attempting to get somewhere in a cloud of others, and the only way you’re going to survive is by thinking cooperatively. Nobody owes you an apology for anything they choose to do, and if you even entertain the thought that they do for half a second, that half a second might cost you your safety. You can’t react instantly if you’re spending valuable half-seconds judging others. So yes, you will see things that make you want post a video online, but even that thought will jeopardize your safety.

THE CLIMATE

Its gets hot, really hot in April. Bangkok is pretty hot and muggy three quarters of the year. Up in Chiang Mai, it’s fresh and bracing from November to January. Then it gets smokey in February and March. When the rainy season begins, days are warm and nights are tolerably cool. I imagine at sea level, it’s usually pretty hot all the time.

The rainy season is the big variance. Starting in May, rain is the prominent feature, cooling things down after the April furnace. It rains a whole lot sometimes, and I was here prior to the flooding in November of 2011 finding myself impressed by the sheer volume of water that fell from the skies.

Thais who aren’t rich don’t use air conditioning much. They’re used to the warm temperatures. People who live in Bangkok and can afford it are pretty much hooked on air conditioning, but it’s too expensive for most people in most places to operate an air conditioner the way we do in places like Florida, Texas and Arizona.


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