Archive for March, 2009

Adaptation

March 29, 2009

As I was eating dinner tonight, I stopped eating for a moment and studied the scene around me. I was the only Westerner in sight, eating cheap Thai food from a street vendor, and weirdly enough, I felt completely at home.

I didn’t feel foreign or alienated, or like I was in Wonderland. I just felt like a normal person eating his dinner, and I smiled. For once, it didn’t seem like people were staring at me, or that I was the odd one out. It was just another daily routine, and it was no big deal.

It’s funny. Sometimes, I feel like a celebrity, walking down the street as every Thai person stares at me with wonderment. While other times, I feel like a total outcast, like people are purposefully ignoring me and turning the other way. I’m sure it’s all just in my head, but it’s hard not to think about it. It makes me wonder if actual celebrities feel the same way; that they just want to be treated like everyone else. Standing out and getting extra attention can be pretty cool, but it can also be daunting. It all depends on how you perceive it, I suppose.

The Man is King

March 27, 2009

A couple nights ago, I met an older Canadian man named Robert. At first glance, I seriously thought I was looking at Sean Connery’s twin brother. He had the same body type and facial appearance, was the same age, and had the same kind of tough, man’s man kind of attitude that Connery commonly portrayed in his movies. Even when he spoke to me at first, I thought he had a Scottish accent (but it was just my mind playing tricks on me).

Robert, like most Western men his age in Thailand, was retired and living the good life. He had a beautiful Thai wife, a big house, a nice ride, and was living like a king. And, just like the other older Western men in Thailand, Robert was a bit of a chauvinist.

Robert and I talked for maybe an hour about various subjects, ranging from politics, to women, to Thai beers, and he definitely made for some interesting company. He was also a bit drunk, so his inhibitions weren’t exactly intact, but he made sure to apologize for his impolite behavior. At one point, we were discussing the differences between the man’s role in Thailand, and the man’s role in the West.

“Here, the man is king,” he repeated distinctively. “None of that equal rights crap, eh?” he said as he took a swig.

“So it doesn’t disturb you at all to see an old, fat European man with a young, pretty Thai girl?” I replied.

“Well, the whole scene in Pattaya, I don’t agree with.” [Side note: Pattaya is infamous for having tons of sex tourism, and a lot of Nana couples—older Western men with younger Thai girls.]

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty disgusting… but if the relationship is mutual,” I shrugged my shoulders, “then who gives a shit, eh?” finished Robert, as we both laughed.

I could tell Robert had a good heart, but I still thought some of his opinions were a bit misguided. He had been living in Thailand for over five years now, so he was pretty used to the way things were around here. I, on the other hand, was still used to Western ideals.

“Gold-diggers are nothing new,” I said. “But they are looked down upon. It’s shameful.”

“As long as the man doesn’t mind, what’s wrong with a woman wanting to be with a man who can provide security?” he replied. “It’s just the way of life, a symbiotic relationship.”

I couldn’t disagree with his view, because it all comes down to personal opinion. But that didn’t mean I was going to adopt it as my own, anytime soon.

Later on, we migrated our conversation to the subject of being American. Being Canadian, he was familiar with American culture, but he was still an outsider.

“Americans are myopic,” he said. “It’s like they all have blinders on.”

“It’s the way we’re raised. It’s drilled into our heads that everywhere besides America is dangerous,” I replied.

“And that’s ridiculous! America is just as dangerous, or even more dangerous than most other countries,” he said.

And I agreed. It is ridiculous that most Americans are afraid to travel outside of their own country.

After some more talking, Robert eventually had to go, and we parted ways. Despite our differences, I still came out with a positive perspective, and definitely some new ideas to think about.

The Undercover Samurai

March 27, 2009

There’s this cozy little cafe that I like to go to for lunch, and one of the employees who works there is this middle-aged Asian man, who I swear must be a samurai.

He looks to be the right age and have the same body type as the stereotypical samurai, and he wears his jeans high up on his waist just like a Japanese martial artist. Just from the way he walks and interacts, I can tell that he is a well-disciplined person, and he has this genuine, complete calmness to him, that only a great master could possess.

My guess is that he came to Thailand after a battle went awry, and his village was in danger from the neighboring ninja clan, so he had to quickly flee to the nearest safe country. Now, he works at the local cafe, disguising himself in civilian clothing, and leaving his whole violent samurai past behind.

And man, does he make a good banana fruit shake.

Traveling Alone Part Two

March 25, 2009

I’ve been in Thailand for a little over a month now, and looking back on my trip from the beginning, I must say I find it pretty mind-blowing how much I have experienced already. Just a month ago, I had never really been anywhere on my own, or ever had to fend for myself for a prolonged period of time.

As time passes by, we rarely take the time to stop and think about what is actually happening in our lives. In other words, we rarely live in the moment. We usually just rush to school, speed to work, quickly finish our meals, etc. Before I left for Thailand, I always had this feeling that the whole idea of traveling to the other side of the world would eventually hit me hard, and strike some kind of emotional response within me; like having a word on the tip of your tongue, that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to remember. Well, that emotional response that I was waiting for has never come, and at this point, I don’t think it ever will.

I went in to this trip expecting the absolute best and worst from myself. I would take a second to pat myself on the back, but really, there is nothing I’ve done that I would consider too extraordinary. Anyone else could do what I’m doing, it’s just a matter of taking the first step. One Thai baht may only equal about 35 cents, but that definitely doesn’t mean Thailand is a run-down, dirty country to live in. I have found that, even with the language barrier, the people here are much kinder and way more accommodating than people back home, and that is exactly what Asia has that America lacks: an overall respect and appreciation for everyone else around you.

Since keeping face and keeping your temper controlled is such a big deal here, everyone is always respectful, even in bad situations. Just the other day, I came back to my room after eating lunch, and when I tried to unlock the door, the key would not work. It turned out that the lock in the door was broken, and I would have to wait two hours for a maintenance man to come fix it. Was I angry? Annoyed? Disappointed? Of course I was. I must have tried to open that door 20 times before reporting the problem. But did I furiously rush downstairs, point the key in the lady’s face, and yell obscenities at her? The thought went through my head, but no, I didn’t. I just laughed and shook my head for a second, then calmly went downstairs and explained the situation. The lady was extremely apologetic, and assured me she’d get it fixed as soon as possible. If I had exploited the situation, I doubt she would have been as quick with the turn-around.

During the two hours I was locked out of my room, I went around exploring the area some more, and eventually stumbled upon a school… with a full-sized basketball court! I was sure I would never find one anywhere, but lo and behold, there it was, screaming play with me! I was so surprised to see it, that I just stood there staring at it for a couple of seconds. I then made it my immediate goal to play basketball that day, so I asked around the school a little bit, and eventually got a reply of “Oh, basketball! 4:00!” from one of the teachers. I was locked out of my room at 2:00, and the lady said it would be done in two hours… so let’s see… that’s 4:00! Funny how the universe works.

Anyway, when I went back to my guest house at 4:00, my door had already been taken care of, so I was able to make it back to the school by about 4:30. I ended up playing basketball with some local Thai students (they looked to be high school-aged) for a couple hours, and had a great time.

Despite how crappy the world can be sometimes, I still think it works logically. I see it like this: the more you give, the more you get back. The more I smile, the more smiles I get back. The more students I teach, the more gratified I feel. It’s not about getting anything in return; it’s just about giving what you’ve got because, well, what else is there to do in this world?

I hope you’re all enjoying my entries! Expect a steady stream every week. I am working on another project at the moment as well, but I will make an effort to post every day or every other day. Also, I haven’t taken any pictures of Chiang Mai yet, but I plan on taking some very soon, possibly tomorrow. I will try to get some pictures of the school where I played basketball (for some visual references). Cya!

Traveling Alone Part One

March 22, 2009

In order to travel alone (especially long distances), you need to be the kind of person who knows how to make the best of your alone time. In my experiences, I haven’t had too much of a problem being alone a lot of the time because I know how to keep myself busy with personal projects, hobbies and activities.

Before I started traveling, and all throughout my life, I have considered myself to be a pretty independent individual. When I was a boy, I would keep myself busy by playing with building blocks and action figures. As an adult, my hobbies have gotten a bit more sophisticated, and now instead of having a battle royale with my Power Rangers, I am creating web sites, flash movies and computer games.

Luckily for me, I’m not very hard to please, and I don’t require much to stay happy, but for others, it may not be so easy. If you can find something you’re really interested in, whether it be Thai boxing or Thai cooking, you may just be able to get by without losing your mind by focusing on the things that make you happy.

When it comes to going out and socializing, it’s in your best interest to approach every situation with an open mind and a gracious smile. It can be tough (even for the most motivated, confident people) to get out of the hotel room and socialize, even if you really want to. If you can set simple goals for yourself like, “Tonight, I will go to a bar that I’ve never been to,” or “Today, I will check out the gym down the street,” it softens up your mind and doesn’t make it seem like so much of a hassle. Whenever you find yourself having thoughts like, “Man, I wish my friends were here,” it’s best to just take a deep breath, open up your guide book, and look for something new to do, rather than drowning in your sorrows all day long.