then this is the place! Actually, it’s quite a vibrant city, an extremely International city, with people from all over the world here for one reason or another. It’s just real spread out. Like really spread out. Like Oklahoma spread out. Imagine Phoenix or Las Vegas, but with lots of Indians and a few Arabs. There are probably fifty Indians, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis for every Arab in Dubai. Many more men than women. This is a place to come work, make money and then return home where the cost of living is much less. I guess that’s what I’m doing here, too!
In Thailand, women are everywhere. They’re more visible than men. I don’t know what the men are up to, maybe they’re home drinking or taking care of the kids, but women are highly visible. Here, men outnumber women ten to one. The metro train has a special car for women, and in that car, men are not allowed, though women can be in the men’s car. The bus has a special section for women. Quite often, women are veiled in public, and dressed in black from head to toe, with only a little window for the eyes. Sometimes that’s not even there, and they have to see through the fabric.
In Chiang Mai, I rode a motor scooter or bicycle to get around. Here, it’s like living in Texas. You have to drive or be driven everywhere. There is mass transit, but it only works for a small section of the city .Unfortunately, nothing in my life here corresponds to that section. So we’ll be buying a car as soon as we get a permanent residency visa.
Prices here are about the same as in the States for most things, which means they’re about three to five times higher than in Thailand.
So Thailand is a great place to live on social security retirement, and this might be a great place to live if you want to make money. I don’t know. Jury’s still out on that one.
We’ve relocated for a year’s gig in Dubai. I am no longer retired. Weird. I, who had assumed and even vowed never to work again, may be back in the higher education business for a while longer. It doesn’t seem real yet because I haven’t show up for work yet. I’m sitting in the lobby of our hotel, surrounded by Russian tourists. It just got cold up north, and the prospect of bright sun and blistering heat appeals to our Slavic brothers and sisters. The sisters are often striking, tall, blond, and racily dressed.
Here, there are 11 expatriates to every 1 emerati. Last night we went to a fancy shopping mall and the emerati stood out, the men in their immaculate white robes. Prices here are three times what they are in Thailand. Glad I’ll be employed in my time here.
The hardest part of all this is going to be the fact that I won’t be able to zip around on my scooter. There are no scooters here. It’s too hot to walk or ride a bike. I’m going to become taxi dependent. I hate taxis.
On the other hand, I probably won’t get injured in a traffic accident, and racing around Chiang Mai on my Cadillac of scooters, the Honda PCX150, it was only a matter of time before I would have ended up in the emergency room, conscious or not.
The interesting part about getting older is I have developed a faith in the inevitability of change. When I was younger, I was terrified of boredom. Now, I realize that from a larger perspective, nothing stays the same for long. That can be something you either dread or eagerly await. I choose the latter emotion.
It’s modeled after the old English system, which emphasized rote learning and passing many exams along the way. There is absolutely no emphasis on critical or creative thinking. Unfortunately, it produces graduates who have learned to game the system, because this over-emphasis on following the rules combines with the Thai philosophy of “be cool,” to make sure that everyone passes. Nobody has ever failed a college course in Thailand. You just keep taking the exam over and over again until you pass. So the real thing being mastered is not the subject matter, but the system. Learn the rules, play by the rules as much as you have to, and you’ll find your place in that system that gives you twenty-five paid government holidays and another twenty informal holidays a year. The pay is relatively low in most cases, but there are ways around that, too.
SEX IN THAILAND
Thailand has a reputation as a place where sex can be bought on any street corner. This reputation is largely deserved. Thai attitudes towards sex are refreshingly un-Puritanical. No one snickers about sex. It’s too important to the economy.
During the Viet-Nam war, the United States used Thailand as its regional rest and relaxation center. I don’t know if we seduced or converted them into providing this service, but from all accounts they were eager and willing to do so.
When polled, sixty-five percent of tourists list sex as their prime reason to visiting the Kingdom of Smiles.
Prostitution isn’t just confined to foreign men and Thai women. Ninety five percent of Thai men confess to using prostitutes. A similar confidential poll reveals that ninety-five percent of married Thai men admit to regularly being unfaithful, as to eight-five percent of Thai women. Sexual fidelity seems rare in the Kingdom.
Every Thai sex worker financially supports five other adults. That’s not counting the children that are being supported.
So even though there is no law in Thailand against prostitution, because it officially doesn’t exist (a very Thai way of looking at many problems) it would be insane for them to outlaw prostitution. To do so would simply encourage corruption by the police and plunge the economy into recession. There are official government efforts to discourage and reduce pedophilia. From what I read in the newspapers, most of that market has been taken up by Thailand’s poorer neighbor, Cambodia.
I’m not here to argue the pros and cons of prostitution, but just want to say that it’s refreshing to see how openly its practiced and how few people look down their noses at it or its practitioners. It’s a fact of life, and they seem to have accepted it with equanimity. The north-eastern province of Issan, which is highly agricultural and lacking in industry, is also densely populated. Most of the girls who practice in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai, come from Issan. The money they send home provides for parents and relatives who care for the children of these working women.
If you want a guide to how to avail yourself of this industry, there are plenty of guidebooks available on Amazon.
Know When to Fold ’em.
There comes a time when you have to decide to step away from the table and cash in your remaining chips. It’s always a difficult choice to make, because there’s that nagging doubt that says if you’d just hung in there a little bit longer, the odds would have turned in your favor. Asking for advice from friends never gets you anywhere, because somebody always knows somebody who did it this or that way and it either turned our wonderfully or horribly.
Now that I’m on the other side of the retirement decision, looking back I say “I wonder what took me so long?” Countries like Thailand, where I now live, make their retirement visa policies available to anyone over the age of fifty! It’s like being eligible to join the AARP. Not a high hurdle.
Of course, as with preparing to do anything you haven’t done before, it can be a little bit scary. Packing for a trip to a distant clime, how many articles of clothing will you really need? Do they have washing machines over there? What about underpants? Will they have my size?
Fact is, there’s hardly obstacle than won’t fall away or simply disappear once it has been squarely faced. And if it’s not working where you are, chances are it still won’t be working in three years. So cut your losses. Those people at the bank aren’t your friends. They really don’t value your business. They don’t even know who you are. Yes, some of the things you bought, especially real estate, aren’t worth what you paid for them. Yes, you’re going to lose money selling or giving it back to the bank. Pull the band-aid off quickly and get it over with. Don’t keep lifting the band-aid up long enough to pull on a few hairs and then chicken out.
You can’t spend your way out of debt. The longer you hang on in an unprofitable situation, the more it will cost you.
OK, so graffiti isn’t exactly a new concept, but underground artistic expression of any kind seems so rare in Thailand, that I was delighted to find a semi-demolished building tagged by some very adept artists. The building in question is near the campus of Chiang Mai University, and compared to the student works I’ve seen on display at the Chiang Mai University art museum, the street graffiti is full of life and promise.
In some of my posts, I’ve complained about the feudal nature of Thai society, about the corruption, cronyism, and boorish behavior of many prominent Thais, but I don’t want to give the impression that I think Thais are lazy. They’re not. Most work long hours. I frequently benefit from their services and then somehow assume because I have pieces of paper in my pocket that they value, I deserve this special treatment. I don’t. My relative affluence is merely an accident of birth. Sure, I’ve had menial jobs, but I knew they were only temporary.
It’s unbelievable how many crumbling temples and stupas there are in Chiang Mai. Just when you thought you’d seen them all you wander down a back alley and there are three more, looking every bit their five-hundred-year age. Think how many more guesthouses and massage parlors they could cram in the old city if only they exported some of these piles of old brick to a theme park on the edge of town!