There has been a lot of talk in the air recently about leaving Thailand. Rooster was propelled back to feelings experienced towards the end of 1987.
I had been living permanently in Thailand for about two and a half years and had, as a snooker playing friend of mine used to say, “got my wings”. I had had a reasonable job for all that time even if it had got a bit samey and prospects looked good. I had been very successful in learning to speak, read and write Thai though I had hit one of its plateaus that seemed hard to overcome. I had a nice flat and a small but interesting group of foreign friends all in similar boats.
I had played the field short time, longtime and longer than that time. A few Thai women had become girlfriends of several months’ duration before we amicably saw the faults in each other and went separate ways. Then I really fell for a woman who came from Ranong. It mattered not that she kept a gun under her bed as I intended to be faithful. Six months passed before things cooled and we had what I thought would be a temporary parting. Belatedly I found out that she had started a relationship with a British Embassy visa officer. And she announced to me, not surprisingly, she had got a visa and was off to London.
There was little point in crying over spilled som tam. I was still in love with Thailand – wasn’t I? – and there were plenty more sharks in the sea.
Trouble was this break-up got to me. What had I done wrong to lose out to this loser? How very dare a subaltern at the hateful British Embassy put one over on Rooster and, what’s worse put one over on my girl…OK, so he had much more money than me, represented stability and was more mature, likable and much more handsome……mere bagatelles. Instead of facing up to these undeniable facts about myself I did what any self-respecting Brit would do.
I started blaming Thailand.
The seed of the blame game soon became a sapling and by the end of the year as its leaves started to grow I had formulated a plan to quit Thailand by March. By that time I would have been in Bangkok for three years. But where to go?
That was easy. I loved India for a holiday, but to live, no thanks. Australia was great but that was “the West”. The UK?….don’t be silly. There was only one place where a die hard football fan with a spirit of adventure could possibly relocate to…..Brazil and Copacabana here I come!
With my trademark zeal I set about my task of emigrating to South America. Mindful that meeting women might be harder in Rio de Janiero than Sukhumvit – and I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese – I got a copy of London’s Loot newspaper and wrote to every Brazilian female pen friend in the classifieds.
Thirteen replied and I kept in multiple and regular contact via the snail mail of the time with six. After a brief sojourn in London to see Spurs and prepare myself for the shock I boarded a KLM flight via Amsterdam carrying everything I owned in six bags of various sizes flying one way to Rio.
At the airport to meet me – and smother me in rather embarrassing kisses (I’d got so used to the wai) – was the incredibly attractive daughter of a lawyer. Her two female friends each kissed me four times. It all seemed a bit too much after Thailand but hey, in for a cruzado in for a pound.
The next few days were a whirlwind of parties and extremely strange experiences. The lawyer’s daughter was always going to be just a friend and she was a great help. But when she advised me to take off my cheap watch when we went on the beach I knew something was up. Crime in Rio was rampant. I mean dozens of people seemed to be being murdered every day. All buses had a cop on them day or night to protect the public.
But that was not all. The country was experiencing hyperinflation. Supermarket prices would triple in a single day. The exchange rate varied accordingly but when going to the “cambio” you had to bargain UP for your money.
I stayed on Copacabana opposite the Roxy Cinema figuring that despite being unable to pronounce the name of my hotel any taxi driver would know that. Wrong! Pronouncing Roxy in Carioca Portuguese was about twenty times harder than getting Thai tones right.
After getting one British pound an hour for my first English teaching job it dawned on me. What have I done? This place is nuts. Why the hell did I leave Thailand? I couldn’t answer that except to accept that I had brought all my proverbial baggage with me. I was still Rooster and now the cock was no longer crowing. He was homesick for the coop and coups of Thailand.
I met a Brazilian woman who was a recovering cocaine addict who hated her country. All she wanted to do was get to Portugal. She mocked me for going on about Thailand and said I should bugger off back there. She was right. Next day I walked into the offices of airline Varig and within the week I was flying one way to Los Angeles then bound for Bangkok.
Back in Krung Thep felt wonderful. I persuaded by old friends to move to an upstairs flat so we could all live together and with the last few thousand baht I had in the world went out in Bangkok. On my first night – feeling buoyant and thrilled to be home – I met a woman I promised to marry and one that I actually did, with whom I later had two children.
The next Saturday we watched Wimbledon beat Liverpool in the famous FA Cup final of 1988. All seemed right with the world! I soon got my old job back and I resolved never to do such a crazy thing again as leave Thailand. I stuck to that.
Recent weeks have seen thread after thread on Thaivisa forum and its Facebook arm in which expats have started mulling over leaving Thailand. Many have said they don’t feel welcome anymore. The changing of the goalposts and what they see as onerous requirements are causing many to question if there is a place where the grass is greener.
Unlike my blip, no one seems to be contemplating leaving because of a romantic disappointment. Indeed many with Thai relationships of both temporary and long standing status point to that as a strong reason to stick it out and stay. No, it’s mostly about money.
On Monday Thaivisa announced the latest results of straw polls on the forum and Facebook. The forum suggested 7% are ready to pack their bags and 22% more said that the latest financial rule changes jeopardized their stay. Half the folks on Facebook claimed to be ready to go. That can be taken with a pinch of salt. More interesting was that 70% of respondents on the forum intended to stay.
The previous week’s thread on retirees having to keep 800,000 baht in the bank for several months was one of the most commented upon stories for years on Thaivisa. The story is not going away. Many of the threads go round in convoluted, spiraling and angst ridden twists; it’s a bit like watching Mrs Rooster’s mind at work.
All I can say is think very carefully before making a decision that you might regret. For all its faults Thailand remains a great place. A great place to be single. A great place to be married. A great place to raise kids. And a great place to retire. All you need to do is keep smiling at the nuttiness. If all else fails get some green tinted specs that make the grass appear a little fresher. And don’t panic – the Thais often do and say things they have no intention of continuing or sticking to. Call it part of the consultation process.
And remember; it’s often better not to blame the country you are in and look at yourself.
I have got mixed views on these straw polls. I am less concerned about the number of respondents (it was about 500 on the forum and 1,000 on Facebook) than the cross-section of people who bother to reply. For Thaivisa they keep the clicks rolling in.
Apropos, someone last week accused Rooster of writing a “click bait” review of the week. If I had wanted to do that I would have put the words, visa, letter, money, expat and sex in the same sentence….Incidentally, this week’s offering is the 150th Sunday column in a row.
As the week progressed news stories based on letters from expats to the “Your Say” section of The Nation appeared. Of course this is not news but two in particular stoked the forum fires white hot. One was a 90 year old British expat who claimed he was being forced out by the new financial rules. That thread went Thaivisa viral. Another was a Belgian who said Thai immigration drove him first to Saigon then to a suicide attempt.
These were not the only foreigners in the wars in Thailand. Another was a Brit with an Australian background who had barricaded himself into a flat in Phuket. An airbag was laid out by firemen amid fears he might jump. He seemed to be having problems with his rent. As a landlord myself you won’t be surprised to hear that I sided with the Thai owner whose family I exchanged messages with for two days.
They seemed dumbfounded by their errant tenant.
The forum curmudgeons slammed the daughter of the owner for suggesting not only that “farangs” get special treatment but her contention that if it was a Burmese they’d have been evicted on the spot.
Racist they screamed! Realist, I thought.
Also fighting a war – this time with 7/11 – was an American musician. A lady boy had pinched his card and managed to withdraw 13,000 baht in cash from “sewen”. Someone signed their name in Thai on the slip and it wasn’t even the “type two lady” only adding to the ‘mystery’. The forum laid into retail outlets who don’t check signatures against cards and Rooster felt glad that he doesn’t have any money – it was a week spent doing home improvements at Rooster Central.
Monday began with a swathe of stories affecting those modern day pariahs – smokers. Five meter exclusion zones around every building except the Thai Tobacco Monopoly came into force. Then despite being able to legally continue offering those smoke filled rooms from hell at airports, the AoT decided to scrap them.. Finally the TTM announced they were raising prices of the cheapest coffin nails to 93 baht a pack.
That took me back to paying 13 baht for Krong Thip in 1982!
It’s said that there is nothing worse than a reformed smoker – people who say that clearly haven’t met Rooster! I’d ban the whole shebang – tobacco is filthy and so yesterday.
Election fever started to make a bigger stand on the forum and in other news media. I picked up the Bangkok Post and it was about page 6 before I saw anything that didn’t have the work “Phak” (political party) in it or wasn’t an ad for some high end brand. What a yawn! Many old stalwarts were throwing their hats into the ring in an election that should contain increasing skulduggery as March 24th looms.
Bangkok is changing as a result firstly with the political hot air driving the smog away then secondly with all the billboards going up advertising the candidates. Parties were warned not to erect billboards that impede the passage of pedestrians on the streets of Bangkok. I’m more concerned with car drivers being unable to see motorcyclists. Buddha knows we could do without more carnage.
On the subject of which one of many titter-fests exploded on Friday when Japan’s MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) gave the Thais the thumbs up for improving safety on the roads. Bless! As many on the forum correctly pointed out, if the Thais can be ten-faced like Thotsakan the Japanese have created a whole culture around the habit that goes to the very center of who they are! And as Kenny Everett said – I mean that in the nicest possible way!
A Thai ministry spokesman pointed to less accidents on an isolated hill in Uttraradit since “Your Speed” signs went up in 2015. Then they all exchanged gifts of Chivas and Sake and got rat-arsed before driving home, I shouldn’t wonder.
Rooster’s editor sent me a Daily News story that said Thailand would henceforth be hot during the day. I blinked as the sweat rolled down my brow at 8 am then translated it word for word. It reminded me of the newbie’s first Thai joke. Thailand has two seasons, hot and very hot.
Someone decided that “Plaa Gat” (Siamese fighting fish) would now be a national symbol. All well and good, but it was news to me that these fish hunted in packs.
As in any self-respecting week the RTP featured prominently. In Kanchanaburi a postman claimed that a senior sergeant major shot him then charged him with murder. Don’t expect much to come from that CSD investigation as when the RTP (Rozzers That Pinch) investigate their own they seem even more blind than usual.
Bucking the trend down in Pattaya was the likable chief Pol Col Apichai Krobpetch (AK 47) who promised disciplinary measures against his own for failures in following established police protocols. This is a long winded way of saying something was “badly bungled”. A volunteer overstepped his authority by pulling a motorcyclist over who promptly started filming.
Meanwhile the recently junta-appointed mayor of QUOTES – the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard – stepped in to transfer several “tessakit” for trying to extort the massage ladies on Jomtien. Sontaya Kunplome seemed to be rivaling the wily Japanese with his “damage to Pattaya’s image” claims. The mayor has had a past that would make a checkered quilt look plain.
Up in Chiang Mai plod had a result. A hotel employee at Airport Resident who claimed three men had cut him and robbed the gaff of 30,000 was found to be being somewhat economical with the truth. There were no robbers, there was no getaway on a Honda Wave and not even any assault. The worker had cut himself then plundered reception and some offices stashing the loot in an upstairs locker. The deputy chief of provincial plod took the credit for solving the crime that many on the forum had rightly observed the day before looked decidedly dodgy.
And so to a few Rooster awards. The “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em Join ‘Em” award goes to the American who one minute was getting a slap from a cop and the next had become a volunteer on the force. Posters on Thaivisa’s Facebook arm called him every name under that hot sun that showed up this week.
The “Letting the Thai Side Down” award goes to the hospital security guard in Saraburi who pinched the wallet of a taxi driver having a heart attack in the car park though he was only marginally worse than plod who let him go. Welcome to the Year of the Pig…
Finally, the “Denial Award” I give whole-heartedly to Mrs Rooster. In a teary-eyed panic this week she said in the vernacular: “What’s happening to me? My eyesight is going”. I explained that this was commonplace for those who had passed forty.
“But I haven’t” she said. Knowing that she is 41 I smiled like the Japanese who taught me so well to hide my feelings.
And mused that she had a future in politics.