OK, so for whatever reason, you’re back where you came from. Home in the Western country of your choice. (Or your spouse’s choice.) But then you start missing aspects of Thailand you hadn’t even thought about when you were living here. But gradually you notice they are missing from your life. Or else your friends notice you act in strange ways. In order to forewarn you, to make your transition as easy as possible, here they are: The top dozen things you’ll miss the most when you leave Thailand.
Broken Pavements – You’re back in London or New York or wherever, and your friends comment on how clumsy you are when you walk along a sidewalk and how you nearly trip and fall on every block. You know why but it’s hard to explain to people who have never been to Thailand, right? The reason is simple: because the pavements are too damn smooth. Your body’s trunk and leg muscles and your stride have become used to the upturned, broken, cracked, fissured pavements of Bangkok and it will take months for you to become accustomed to the smooth, level, horizontal pavements of Western cities. Meanwhile, behind your back your friends s****** and call you “The Stumbler.”
Smiles – They say the Thai smile is only a pleasantry and doesn’t really mean all that much. And, yet, once you’re back in a land where smiles are few and far between you realize how you took all those wonderful Thai smiles for granted. So you smile at strangers you pass in the street or at waitresses in restaurants and very quickly discover that you are regarded with great suspicion; that you may be some kind of nutcase. People do smile at you in the West: when you tip them or when you slip on a banana peel or when you approach a beautiful prostitute and get caught in a police sting. But, as for those gorgeous smiles you once took for granted, faggedaboudit!
Inactive Posts – As you have seen during your years living in the Land of Smiles, should an official do something wrong, or be caught with his hand in the till, he is simply “transferred to an inactive post.” And perhaps he is transferred “pending investigation.” But in time all will have been forgotten about the official and his alleged transgression and all will be well. Now, however, you are shocked and astonished to read in newspapers and see on television that in your country when officials are caught in the act of violating the public trust, they are actually tried and often punished! It seems like cruel and unusual punishment to you, a bit barbaric, in fact, and you express your opinion to your friends. Only to find you have few friends left as they now refer to you as “loopy.”
Rituals – You have spent years in Thailand and have gotten used to the fact that just about every human endeavor has rituals, be it thePalad khik ceremony in a bar or a brief wai to a spirit shrine as one passes by. Or, standing up for the Thai King’s anthem before the movie starts. Strange, isn’t it? You’re at a movie theater back in the West and your hands grip the armrests of your seat, waiting for the imminent beginning of the Thai King’s anthem but – it never comes on. But, as your head is still in the Land of Smiles, in your haste not to offend the Thais, you are fooled by the opening bars of an advertisement’s jingle and you do stand only to be fiercely denounced and damned by those sitting behind you as a “bloody arsehole.”
Palad Khik – You’re sitting in a British pub or in a bar on Santa Monica Boulevard in L.A. watching a boring game on their TV set and you know something is missing. And then it hits you. None of the girls is holding a long wooden phallic shaped object and banging it around the bar, the counter, the floor, etc., and dipping it in water and holding a garland over it. And none of the laughing, excited girls line up behind one another, legs apart, and throw the khik between their legs. In fact, none of the girls where you are now drinking are laughing or excited or seem the least bit interested in bringing in customers using that or any other method. In fact, there are no girls in your pub or bar – just middle-aged women who will clobber you if you call them “girls.” And, needless to say, none has called you a “hansum man.” You go back to watching the game on the bar’s TV and wonder why you ever left Thailand.
Paying more than locals – You can’t believe it at first. But back in the West, whenever you go to an attraction of any kind – indoor or outdoor – everyone pays the same price regardless of race, color, creed or nationality or visa status! It’s unbelievable. In fact, such an egalitarian policy makes you feel a bit guilty, doesn’t it? In Thailand, you were told again and again that you were expected to pay more than others and that there was nothing wrong with that policy. Finally, you assumed it must be true. And so, you stammer something to the ticket seller about having come from abroad after several years of living there and surely it would be only just if you should pay more than people who have never left the country. She assumes you’re some kind of freak hitting on her and warns you to f**k off or she’ll call the cops.
Settling traffic problems on the spot – As you’re driving down the road, you hear a siren and, sure enough, someone in a police car is ordering you to pull over. You do pull over and roll down the window. You had been meaning to fix that broken tail light but hadn’t got round to it. The officer sidles up to your window and asks for your license. You give him a big smile and slip him your license along with a ten-dollar bill. Alas, rather than a rapid conclusion to the event, he becomes upset and directs you to follow him to the station. The rest of the night is a bad dream and the proceedings are not pleasant. And you end up paying much more than ten dollars.
Difference in age groups – One of the strangest things you notice is that men and women walking around together seem to be paired off in roughly the same age group. You are used to seeing young women with long black hair walking with much older men with silvery hair, if any hair at all. Indeed, there was a time when you participated in such activity yourself. But now everyone seems to have paired off according to age bracket. Just one more bizarre Western custom you will have to gradually come to terms with.
Motorcycle taxis – No, it isn’t just the absence of motorcycle taxis buzzing around your car like flies that seems strange to you. There’s something else. You can’t shake the habit of very slowly, very cautiously opening your car door when you want to get out, because you are so used to motorcycle taxis zooming past. Friends don’t understand why you are so slow getting out of a car and behind your back call you: The Weirdo.
Pollution – Again and again you find yourself breathing too quickly or taking in huge gulps of air. After years in Bangkok, your lungs have become used to pollution and grime, and now suddenly, without warning, they have to try to deal with clean air. You visit a doctor who takes an X-ray and he tells you he’s never seen lungs so black. He states that the best way to avoid problems is to very gradually reduce the pollution about you as, compared to Bangkok, the air where you are living now is simply too clean; that you are shocking your system too quickly. When you ask him how you can get your lungs very gradually used to fresh air without overdoing it too fast, he suggests you take up smoking.
Dashing across the street – You and your friends approach a crosswalk. Cars stop and your friends walk across the street. You on the other hand run your ass off and reach the other side of the street, panting, heart pounding wildly, but safe. When your friends catch up with you they ask you what your problem is and remind you that the pedestrian has the right of way. The idea that a pedestrian has the right of way seems revolutionary to you if not downright asinine. Behind your back your friends (if you have any left) say you have your head so far up your ass you need a glass belly button to see out.
And now - the number one item you will miss the most when back in the West:
Women in the Men’s Room! - You’re in a shopping mall and you really need to go, don’t you? So you stroll into the men’s room, amble up to the urinal and take out Mr. Johnson. But nothing happens. And you can’t understand why. And then it hits you: There are no women in the men’s room!
Think about it: when was the last time in Thailand you walked into a men’s room and there was no woman inside cleaning up? Go to any hospital and you’re guaranteed to see a woman cleaning the men’s room or just leaving the men’s room to get more toilet paper or paper towels or just entering to clean the men’s room, or she’s just left the door open because the floor is drying.
Go to any movie theater, from the Emporium on down, and it’s the same thing: there is always a great comfort in knowing there is a woman in the men’s room. Go to any pub or bar, especially go go bar, and of course it is the same. Many of the bars have unisex bathrooms in any case and you have become used to standing at the urinals along one side of the room while, on the other side of the room, go go dancers stand in front of mirrors over sinks brushing their hair and putting on makeup. And in those go go bars that do have separate restrooms for men and women, the women’s room is too small to allow one shift of dancers to change, so some of the dancers can always be found changing in the men’s room.
And you have become so used to this that you now find it difficult if not impossible to take your whiz in a men’s room without the familiar and comforting presence of a woman. You mention this problem to your friends. You find you no longer have friends. You book your flight back to Bangkok. One way.