Thai Sex


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

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.




The One That Got Away

When we were traveling in Viet Nam, we came across a statue factory near Danang. There, among the usual quasi-roman and greek nymphs and goddesses, was a life-sized, marble statue of Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese George Washington. When the manager saw me taking a picture of it, she assured me that it could be mine for only five thousand dollars, including shipping. Just think of it! I could have been not only the first kid on my block, but the first person I would have ever known who owned a life-sized marble statue of Uncle Ho! Oh well, if it’s such a good idea, I’m sure it will come around again, as all good ideas and opportunities do.

No Longer Looking For Excitement


More than excitement, most of us are looking for peace of mind and contentment. You don’t get those from having an amazing view, or from owning a lot of things. Many people who retire abroad, and purchase a house overlooking the ocean, want to sell that same house six months later. An ocean view does not bring contentment.

In the developed world, advertisers are always stressing the benefit of convenience offered by their products. The implied chain of causality guesses that somehow convenience will lead to more free time which will then lead to contentment. Don’t buy it; it’s not true. We’re not hungry for convenience, but we’re starving for meaning.

Meaning comes from real connections with other humans. If you’re sitting in your new house in a foreign clime, perched on a cliff overlooking a dramatic view and you have no local friends, you’re going to be one lonely person staring at a scene that long ago ceased to thrill you. For you to feel at home, there’s work to be done: overcoming language barriers, making an effort to know and be known, and all of that is sometimes inconvenient.

Of course, all this is easier if there is a substantial expatriate community with whom you can mix. But still, if your only friends are other expats, and you simply ignore the local populace, life will not be as rich as it was back where you came from. You may be comparatively richer because of the relative strength of the dollar, but if you don’t embrace the locals your life will be poorer.

So how do you rub shoulders with people who don’t speak English? You could teach English, even as a volunteer. You can simply visit with kids at an orphanage. Poor countries have huge orphanages. A few blocks from our house here in Chiang Mai, there is a health food restaurant that gets its food from an organic farm. They could always use a few extra hands on a working farm.

But no one will come knocking on your door. Here, in my adopted country, my phone rarely rings, and I don’t receive mail. The postman brings me my water and electric bills, and that’s it. Facebook and email are my lifelines to the outside world. I like to make fun of Facebook as much as anyone, but being a world apart from family and most of my friends, Facebook seems darn important to me.


Roosters crowing all day long

In our cities, in the name of modernization, we outlawed keeping chickens. So we buy our eggs at the supermarket. And most little kids don’t know where eggs come from. The older ones theoretically know they come from chickens, but they’re not really sure how it works. For a while I lived on an acreage in Iowa, and I raised chickens. I found the crowing of roosters to be comforting. I haven’t used an alarm clock in years. Here in Thailand, you don’t have to go far to find a rooster crowing, beginning about an hour before dawn and continuing throughout the daylight hours.

Ch Ch Ch Changes


It almost doesn’t matter where you live, as long as you’re living within your means so that you don’t have to worry about money. That concept is so broad and varied that it means something different to each person, so I won’t attempt to define it, but rather emphasize that it’s terribly important to a happy retirement. This is it. There’s not going to be any more money coming down the pike. Whatever you’ve saved and whatever is being direct deposited into your bank account is it.

Now that the emphasis is no longer on making money, or finding some way to abandon a sinking ship, all your focus goes back to you. What do you want to do with your time? Chances are you don’t know yet. That’s OK, in fact that’s to be expected. It will come to you if you give yourself room to find out who you are when you’re not frantically trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

And life, being life, will not always hand you roses, no matter where you are.  The challenges you get to face in this new place may be ones you haven’t had to face before. That’s good, or at least different. When you overcome or accept them, it will make for a better story to the folks back home.

For example, one very hot night in Leon, Nicaragua, I woke up with a strange pressure in my chest. I felt as if some invisible and powerful hand had grabbed by esophagus and wouldn’t let go. I naturally assumed the worst and dressed, went out on the street, and hailed a cab to take me to the nearest hospital.

Health care in Nicaragua is free. That’s the good news. The bad news is, the level of health care they endure is not something anyone who could afford to go to a private clinic would want to undergo. There were about thirty people sitting patiently in a cavernous waiting room lit by one bulb, waiting to see one doctor.

When I emerged out onto the street, the cab driver was waiting for me. “Private clinic?” he suggested. I nodded. Within minutes I found myself in a brightly lit, air-conditioned clinic, where a pretty nurse took my vital signs. The doctor said he would recommend that I allow them to admit me and wait for the specialist to come in the morning. They gave me an IV and I fell asleep in the polar opposite of my hotel room.

The next morning, after I’d had breakfast, the doctor gave me an EKG, using a battery operated machine that looked like it had arrived in a Care Package from the States. This young man had done his residency at Johns Hopkins, in the States, and spoke good English.

His questions were probing and revealed that I had taken Cipro, a powerful antibiotic earlier the day before, to counter a case of tourista, and one of the side effects of Cipro is acid reflux. The doctor figured this out. At my discharge, I had to pay the bill, which was just over a hundred dollars. After I got back to the States, where I had medical insurance, I had a cardiac stress test just to be sure. No problem, but even with insurance the stress test cost me $1,300.

So, like most problems, I could look at it two ways. One, I wasted a hundred dollars to find out there was nothing really wrong with me. Or two, I could celebrate the fact that my night in a Nicaraguan private clinic calmed my fears that I was having a heart attack.

You’re a foreigner in a country that has a much lower standard of living than your home country. Probably they don’t speak English. Those are the only two facts of which you need be constantly aware, and since those are incontestable, you don’t need to lose sleep over them. No matter what you think about your host country tonight as you prepare for bed, it’s still going to be exactly what it is tomorrow. So again, all the focus is on you. Who are you really, apart from that job that you no longer have? What do you want to do with this wonderful opportunity you’ve stumbled across, to live in a completely new way?

You might also find yourself inspired by some behavior or attitude shown by the locals that you envy. If only you could do as they do, you’d know a contentment that so far has eluded you, at least in your adult life. This may not be the case, but if it is, it would be a wonderful way to enjoy and learn something new, in these years when most people find themselves resigned to accepting decline.



A Game to Play in Retirement

What would happen if you had absolutely no plans for the day, but left the house anyway, determined to experience something new? The worst thing that could happen would be if something truly awful came about, the next worst thing would be if nothing at all happened and you simply drifed about, bored and listless. A certain amount of that is going to happen no matter what, but may quickly be overshadowed by some wonderful, surprisiing, totally unexpected events.

One thing I can absolutely predict is that nothing will happen if you don’t interact with other people. Scenery won’t reach out and grab you. You’ll have the make the effort to communicate with others.

When I was in my twenties, I used to go to Mexico a lot, because it was close and cheap. Back then I didn’t speak much Spanish, but I didn’t let that stop me from getting myself into some pretty surprising places and situations. I often had very little money, no credit or bank card, and still I managed to spend weeks drifting about.

Now I find that I’ve sort of entered into a second childhood, where I have no one to report to at the end of the day but myself. A day well-lived is one in which I was often surprised, sometimes delightfully, and I haven’t hurt anyone. That’s most of my days now.

Ho Hum

It’s Easy to Blame the Place

But chances are, you’re to blame if you’re not having fun. Enjoyment doesn’t come from outside. It’s a choice you make to let the outside in. More than a feeling, it’s an action. A decision.

Thailand has everything I need to enjoy myself, but sometimes I find that I’m not, because I’ve run out of ideas or energy. My fixed concepts have built a prison, and even though I’m holding the keys to my cell, I can’t find the energy to insert them in the lock and open the door. So I lie on my cot, moaning, waiting for something to change.

Real change will only happen if I extend myself and try something new, or decide to see the value in something I’ve already dismissed. Ho-hum, another massage. Another restaurant, big deal. Another beautiful, smiling person, another diligent tailor offering custom-made clothing. Where’s the nearest McDonalds?

Travel as a Drug

In light of all my travel and resultant spotty resume, I sometimes wonder if I need more stimulation than most people just to feel alive. I’m terrified of routine, or boredom, of having to endure what other people gladly do just to stay solvent. For some reason, I don’t feel like I should have to play by those rules. I don’t do boring or tedious.
But who does? The trick, of course, is to find everything interesting. That’s the ticket out of this false dilemma. The easily bored are the most boring of all.
Status, income, the attention or approval of others, don’t have the power to transform me for the better. They are fickle friends anyway, and can’t strike at the source of the problem because that’s not where they live, either. Try telling an anorexic woman that she’s not fat. See how far you get with that. You can’t modify a mental mechanism without knowing what it’s doing for you to begin with. Every thought pattern or habitual response is ultimately a coping mechanism, and you can’t expect to turn one off unless you have a substitute ready to insert in its place.
If I want to feel at home anywhere on this planet, I have to become a regular Joe. It finally occurs to me that imagining myself to be a savior or a genius or a uniquely qualified anything is delusion. Delusion is ultimately the most boring state of all!
So these realizations have brought me to Thailand, of all places, because I have the hunch that in some weird way I might be able to fit in. It’s not too much to imagine that people here might want to learn what I know and teach me what they know. From what I’ve experienced with Thai massage and Thai food, that’s a lot.
Most Thais I meet smile a lot, laugh easily, and don’t seem to need anti-depressants, while the Thai kids I’ve met have probably not yet been diagnosed with ADD. An absurd number of American adults are on an anti-depressant, and an even more shocking number of school children are either on Ritalin or Adderall. By the way, isn’t an adder a poisonous snake? Does that make Adderall the mother of all vipers?
Thais have their problems, sure, but one of them doesn’t seem to involve a conspiracy between the medical and pharmaceutical industries to ensnare them in a chemical straight jacket. Just that fact makes me optimistic that I might be able to find a place to fit in here.
On my last trip, I visited an orphanage and the neighboring Father Ray Foundation in Pattaya, the Las Vegas of Thailand. Pattaya has more than its share of street kids, runaways, unwanted babies, and these two organizations are doing something about it. I watched a video about the Father Ray Foundation’s programs (it’s on Youtube) and I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes. When I was there, I got to meet a six-year-old boy whose drunken parents had tossed him on a bonfire. Rescued by passers-by and brought to the Foundation, he was understandably freaked out. In shock. Big-time traumatized.
Instead of loading him up with therapy appointments and Paxil, they quickly put him into a new makeshift family with a surrogate mother and other orphans as brothers and sisters.

Of course in our country, we have been conditioned by our belief in popular psychology and the movies that promulgate those beliefs to cluck our tongues and say, “Maybe he seems OK now, but wait until he’s 18 and becomes a serial killer.” Then again, maybe not. I got the impression he had simply put it behind him, the way the Southeast Asian tsunami survivors had who explained to the flood of grief counselors we sent them that they saw no need to rehash a bad experience. Let it go. Move on. Thank you for coming all this way, but no, we don’t want to talk about it!
You can see the boy I’m talking about in the last shot of their video. He’s the one in the Superman T shirt, on the left, in the front row. The other kids are all hamming it up, and he hasn’t quite joined in yet, but you can see he’s thinking about smiling.
As it stands, my 401K could buy me a badly used mobile home, or a slightly better used RV. Those choices look grim to this aging boomer. So if I can open my horizons to health, pleasure, sanity, and free myself from the economic lash of poverty that would condemn me to spend my twilight years living in a van down by the river, it behooves me to jump at the chances offered by Thailand, Nicaragua, Argentina or Ecuador. Like the kid in the Superman shirt, I’m thinking about smiling, too.


Same Song, Different Lyrics

Some random notes about Thailand by a foreigner who’s lived here for almost a year.

Most Thais drive like old people do in the States. They drift slowly in whatever direction they want, whenever they want, without looking who’s coming behind them, or first signaling. They simply expect other drivers to watch out for them.

Girls riding on the backs of motor scooters ride side-saddle if they’re wearing a skirt. They never wear a helmet and dangle a flip flop or sandal from the lowest hanging foot, so that the heel of the shoe hangs only a millimeter from the asphalt. They often are absorbed in texting on their cell phone, and seem unaware of their surroundings. Dangerous, surely, but “cool.”

Traffic fatalities in Thailand involve motor bikes seventy percent of the time. Eighty percent of those fatalities could have been prevented if the rider(s) had been wearing a helmet.

Thais who have government jobs get 25 paid holidays a year. Many people take off two or three days before a holiday, so they can journey back to their home town. Banks are closed at least one day every other week for some sort of national holiday.

Thailand has the largest military for a country its size, and has the largest percentage of generals of any military in the world. If you hold an officer’s rank in the military, police or many other branches of civil service, you merit a personal driver and personal dresser, who accompany you on your daily visit to your branch’s private golf course.

Thai airways, the government-owned airline, offers free flights to many government employees. Their board of directors enjoy all sorts of special perks as well, including unlimited free baggage. At least that’s what the Executive Chairman of the Board and his wife enjoyed after an international flight, when they brought 40 bags with a total weight of 500 kilograms, which mysteriously bypassed customs and were delivered directly to Lost and Found.

Thais love uniforms and dressing up in them. Boy and Girl Scout uniforms are a big deal here. Everyone with a state job has a white jacket covered with medals and ribbons, which they wear to special events and to have their official portraits taken.

Thailand isn’t a third-world country, but it’s not exactly Switzerland, either. The ruling party uses the State’s resources to buy votes. The current Prime Minister is a proxy, the sister of her older brother who wields the real power. He was deposed by a military coupe a few years ago. He’s a troll, but she’s quite cute, and seems like a spokesperson for an airline, or high-end shopping mall.

He was found guilty of billions in fraud, so he fled the country, and is currently in self-imposed exile, circling the borders of Thailand like a coyote circling a campfire, his eyes glowing hungrily in the darkness. He has hopes to return home, but on his own terms.

All shaky democracies with relatively uneducated populations behave in this way. In Latin America, it’s de rigeur. Take Nicaragua, for example. Daniel Ortega, Sandanista Jefe Commandante and President for Life, uses state money to promote himself as the friend of the little guy. Since the vast majority of Nicaraguan little guys are illiterate, they are easily taken in by omnipresent huge posters of Ortega spouting revolutionary slogans. He’s immensely popular and nobody objects to the fact that he’s hijacked their nascent democracy. Well, the people who publish and read La Prensa, the thinking person’s newspaper do, but they’re way outnumbered. Most people read the other newspaper, the one that publishes full page spreads of busty young women with plenty of eye makeup and skimpy bikinis.

Dan’s buddies Hugo Chavez of Venezuala and Evo Morales of Bolivia subsidize commodity prices as a “gift” to the poor. That kind of gift is always paid down the line by somebody unlucky enough to get elected after the giver retired to Miami with as much of the nation’s treasury as he could steal.

Here, in Thailand, the masses are being fooled by two transparently absurd vote-buying schemes, one involving a free laptop for every grade-schooler, and the other a rice subsidy that promises to help poor rice farmers at the cost of one percent of GDP, but has only made rich growers even richer and severely distorted the commodities marketplace. The problem with these schemes is they discourage international investment, because no self-respecting international corporation wants to invest in a house of cards.

But the people who dream up these policies will be long gone by the time the bill comes due. They’ll be writing their memoirs, or having them ghost-written, lazing their days away on an island paradise, or in a Swiss Chateau.