I was always taught that good judgment comes from experience and that experience comes from bad judgment. I therefore claim August in Bangkok as “Survivors Month”. It rains. Potential visitors are elsewhere chasing sun.
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Let’s be real. Bangkok is a Thai city with a few foreigners thrown in for flavor. Occasionally a few are thrown out when they’re out of favor, yet anyone who has ever been here, will know that its sentiments identify most with those who came here of their own volition, put whatever it was they had on the table and either sunk or swum, lied or strived or as is more often the case – all of the above.
As the country is moving faster than history, those who venture here find out very quickly who they are. And even faster, who they are not.
This city has an addictive quality that leaves few certainties intact. If you have a character, it will be enhanced; if you don’t, then the airport’s just up the road. This group of oddballs may be a ragtag league that doesn’t fit comfortably with expat sensibilities, but maybe that’s why I like it so much. It’s so weird, it’s practically an elite. It’s refreshingly resilient and individual and the bullshit is at least familiar and often amusing.
The generation who came here before the current crop of misfits certainly had to pay their dues, but I would say – despite their wisdom and bluster – that they had it much easier. For the survivor today, pessimism is a luxury that is an unaffordable. One has to stay sharp. I know I’m losing my edge when people asked to borrow money – because they’ve beaten me to the question.
How to deal with the reality of living here? Shall we call in the expert, or shall we just screw it up ourselves?
For some people, every problem is a calamity; it’s not a challenge, it’s a crisis with a party hat. Their needs never change – they are either urgent or desperate. Some even revert to counseling – but then I have always held that counseling is to personal problems what the Belgian army was to Hitler.
Other live at ease with the obscurity for which nature has designed them. There are many who cannot stand the heat, pollution and corruption. To them I would say, I refuse to treat my health as a diseases and corruption is fun if you’ve placed right. A friend perceptively remarked, “I can’t imagine living in Bangkok. But then I can’t imagine living anywhere else either”.
Sometime we are besieged by an opposing elite – from another direction and of a different character. It’s the annual visit from those who come from London, LA, Munich or Manchester. They bulge with obscene amounts of money, leave responsibility somewhere over the Himalayas, land in Thailand and then party with a vengeance. Their first day in Bangkok is a bit like the last day on the Titanic. Mayhem.
I was so broke when I arrived, I could hardly afford to walk home and I used to be envious of them. But then I’m used to poverty, as I come from a country that’s been broke for years.
Yet as things turned around me, I found the habits of the perennial visitors did not. Their first week usually chaos, and their last week is the first week in reverse. Their bonhomie can often be superficial and they tend to bring out the best in others, only to bring out the worst in themselves. They go to a bar, make two new friends and lose five old ones. Leaning over vodka-soaked counters, some talk about the chemistry between people – when what they really mean is, a similar taste in narcotics.
Then they tell us survivors how we should live and how little we are making – while they themselves leave a trail of mess, debts and broken hearts and go home.
There is a Japanese proverb:
First the man takes a drink,
Then the drink takes a drink,
And then the drink takes the man.
Resident survival skills are also far from perfect. I always thought I was surrounded by annoying characters called Simon ‘Can-you-lend-me-500-till-Friday’ Webster, until I discovered I was one of them. The pretence of an honest upward mobility came home when somebody approached me in a bar and said, “Is your name Bit?” and I replied, “No, I’m just breaking it in for a friend”.
So, if you wake up one morning and find yourself fishing for condoms in a klong and you really have lost the plot, don’t worry – there’ll be another one along in a minute.
A friend telephoned from New Jersey and said. “ what shall I bring?”
And I answered without hesitation:
“Money and a suitable state of mind”.
All that's in my mind, is those words we never say but always hear falling between the cracks.