On a whim i rode my motor scooter to Lamphun (pronounced Lampoon) a very nice small city twenty miles south of Chiang Mai. It’s not a suburb of Chiang Mai, it’s an ancient city in its own right and resembles Chiang Mai in that it has both a moat and an ancient wall that surrounds the center city. On my way home, I impulsively drove on a small highway headed north and came upon a show. The crowd of maybe a hundred was scattered about the large lot in front of a huge stage. There was a live orchestra of young people playing traditional Thai instruments, and the actors, who all seemed to be college age, were dressed up in Thai classical costumes. Sometimes the actors sang, sometimes they spoke more naturally. I don’t know what they were saying, but I thought it odd that audience members would approach the stage and hand them cash, which the actors would stop acting in order to lean over the footlights and accept. It reminded me of a Fellini movie I once saw, maybe La Strada, where live theater was still performed in small towns.
WHY ARE SO MANY MEN MY AGE CRAZY IN THE SAME WAY?
It’s not uncommon to run into ten lonely men a day around here, eating alone in restaurants, watching traffic whiz by as they nurse a beer and talk to no one. Younger people are all absorbed in their cell phones, but the older guys are simply on their own. They might have Thai wives or girlfriends, but if they do they probably can’t talk to them, as neither really speaks the others language, and besides, the men probably don’t have much to say.
Living in Thailand is pretty easy if you have a pension from a first-world country. The old guys from Northern Europe can buy big estates and large vehicles, as well as take their wives and girlfriends on expensive vacations. In my experience, they’re a little bit happier than the guys who are just scraping by, but not much. They still lack a real connection to a community, and they still face each day without much to do.
I’ve noticed that a lot of older guys have hearing loss, but they don’t care to do anything about it, as there isn’t much purpose in being able to hear if you aren’t able to communicate in the first place. One of my ideas for making money involves filling a suitcase with cheap hearing aids on my next trip back to the states. Everything imported is a little bit more expensive here than on Amazon, and there aren’t many hearing aid outlets here.
Why are there so many lonely older guys here? The foreign women I see are in groups, laughing, talking up a storm and still engaged, at least with each other. I don’t see nearly as many older ex-pat women here as men, for obvious reasons. The Thai women I observe are at least out and about, but the Thai men appearing in public are outnumbered by their sisters, daughters and wives ten to one. Maybe they’re home taking care of the kids, but I doubt it.
Is this lonely guy thing the product of bottle feeding or is it merely an expat thing?
When I was in my twenties, I would set off on long trips with not much more than a hundred dollars in my pocket. I had no credit card, and since debit cards and ATM’s hadn’t been invented yet, the cash in my billfold was all there was. Nothing really concerned me, as I floated along like Mr. Magoo, blindly avoiding mishaps without having the good sense to know how lucky I was. In all my years of hitchhiking and driving long distances across borders, nothing really bad ever happened. Sure, I stayed in some miserable hotels, but I picked them out because they were dirt cheap and I full of what I thought was “atmosphere.”
In 1972, I spent a month in Mexico on one-hundred and seventy-five dollars. I survived for five weeks in Europe in 1971 on three hundred dollars, and that included a few days in Paris. Back then, Europe was cheaper than the States. I stayed in hostels and bed and breakfasts, sometimes paying as little as three dollars a day for bed and board. One day I ate only candy bars and oranges, but usually hunger wasn’t even an issue. One night in Paris I slept in a parking garage.
As I look back somewhat astonished by my recklessness, I realize that the big difference between then and today lies in the fact that then my parents were still alive. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that if things got too bad, I could always call them (though International calls were very expensive) and they would find a way bail me out. Or try to. It never came to that, but I guess that’s how I justified my lack of fiduciary caution.
Who will come to my rescue now? Here, in Southeast Asia, six foreigners were recently executed for drug smuggling. These were young people who had thought to make a quick buck by bringing drugs to Bali. I’m sure if I had been in their position and so tempted, I might have been just as stupid. Again, luck was with me in my twenties. Surely, I had no more common sense than they, and was every bit the smug hipster as these lads who recently faced an Indonesian firing squad.
I remember once being pulled off a Mexican bus by soldiers and carefully searched for drugs. I didn’t have them, they didn’t plant any, and they let me go. Just lucky, I guess, because I didn’t have any reluctance to use drugs if they were freely offered. I was just too cheap to buy my own.
As we age, all the things we had taken for granted are removed, one by one, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but they all leave. Looks, health, mental quickness, natural talents…they’ve only been on loan even though we thought they were our birthright. Fortunately, some of us we weren’t totally reckless in our salad years and still have something left over to help us coast to the finish line.
I keep thinking “This hanging around third world countries is fine as long as I’ve got no real problems and some money in the bank, but what happens if I become infirm or broke?” Then places like Switzerland and Norway don’t seem so boring. I wonder what it takes to immigrate there?
Decrepit hippies are probably not high on their lists of potential permanent residents, but there are ways to sneak through the filters they’ve imposed. Note to self: remember to stash enough cash to hire a Norwegian immigration attorney when the shit finally hits the fan.
Nobody really knows what the future holds for them or anyone else, but we sure like to pretend we do, for what feels like sanity and hope is often just desperation and wishful thinking creating a dream world. In 2007, I remember reading business journalism praising the selling of collateralized mortgage debt and subprime mortgages. The rise in home values was a good thing until the moment it wasn’t. Those financial wizards were geniuses until the moment they were fools.
Nobody knows what’s going on and nobody’s in charge. It’s all a crap shoot, so we might as well enjoy the game because there are no guarantees regarding who’s going to win or even whether the other players will play by the rules. Those retired American orthodontists who buy beachfront properties in a banana republic may be rudely awakened one day by soldiers pounding on the front door of their McMansions. The officials and agents who smiled accepting money to purchase a retirement Xanadu may suddenly look away as the newly suntanned retirees are being deported at gunpoint.
The main reason I’m in Thailand is Thai massage. Sure, the cost of living is low here, but there are a few other delightful places I’ve visited with similar low-cost options. The food is better here than in most places I’ve visited, but after a while you can even get sick of eating Thai. Nope, it’s not money and it’s not food, it’s the massage that keeps me here.
There’s nothing like it anywhere else. It’s at such a high level here that with a little effort you can find multiple providers in any price range you find acceptable. Thai massage is so affordable here that even a slob like me on social security can afford three two-hour massages a week.
Receiving a good Thai massage is a more powerful and profound experience than most drug trips. Unlike drugs, there’s no hangover. Nothing to recuperate from.
It’s not just for foreigners. Thais dig Thai massage and men and women alike avail themselves of it. In touristic areas they offer oil massage because there’s a demand for it, but oil massage doesn’t hold a candle to Thai massage. Oil massage can also lend itself to the “happy ending,” so that fits with a tourist clientele as well. Plain old prostitution is alive and well here, and Thais in search of that don’t mess around with oil massage.
Thai massage is a highly developed and refined art form. Anyone who teaches it should be commended and handsomely rewarded.