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Bangkok has become larger than it’s reputation. Everything you can imagine happening happens in this mega city at the speed and frequency of an eye blink. How many monikers does this town carry…let’s see. ‘The Big Smoke’…The Big Mango’, ‘Sin City’…’The Hip Kingdom’. There are probably others…but I don’t hang out in ‘that’ part of town.

The infrastructure build out of the past ten years is starting to rival and surpass many western capitals. The construction is on an insane trajectory. It ain’t the quiet little ‘Asian Secret’ some people still come seeking. And by the way, what are we to make of those tourists who still show up wearing matching ‘jungle wear’ outfits? Man, talk about a time warp. Seriously people, you ain’t on safari… or anybodies ‘Bwana’ in Asia.

This city is sizzling with mod-cons, the likes of which are a first time experience to many of the Europeans who stumble out of a Finland wilderness or Canadian backwater. The fact that Bangkok has an attractive architectural history, amazing beaches and fascinating Buddhist culture is just ‘the cherry on top’ to suck 30 million tourists a year into the country.

But, as my friends often remind me…”Don’t be complacent about the dangers”. It has, in fact, become far more dangerous to travel in Thailand. The crime statistics are higher than ever, many tourists and travelers bring it on themselves. As a casual observer of the ‘Darkside’ I have definatley noticed the pattern and timing of a majority of crimes against tourists.

Aside from horrible occurrence of road related deaths on weekends and holidays, the worst time to be out anywhere in Thailand ( but especially Pattaya, Bangkok or Phuket) is between 1:30 am and 5:30 am ….when the majority of people on the streets are drunk or those hunting drunks. Simple robbery has many times turned to murder, it’s nothing personal, many Thai’s and related peoples don’t manage violent behavior very well, it’s new to them. Many times the robbers are desperate sex workers and villagers who’ve come to see the big city lights and get the first look at foreigners who seem to drip with a wealth they have never seen .

My advice…’stay out of the infamous wild bar scene’. You’ll say, “What fun is that?” I’ll say, “What’s your life worth?” And people…you simply can’t believe the insane behavior of the ‘Farang’ crowd. Anyone living here will tell you that foreigners are more dangerous than the Thai’s. So , if you want to have a great time in Thailand, stay away from area’s where the greatest numbers of tourists hang out. Tourists attract criminals of all kinds…..there are many criminals pretending to be tourists and hiding among the crowds. That’s where you find the most sleaze and crime.

Street crime is not the norm, but the frequency of people being robbed in isolated places, like the beach, or a historic park is growing. Being robbed by a sex worker is almost a given…these people are not your friends. Sex workers are steeped in the anecdotal tactics of the ‘ladies and gentlemen’ who have gone before them. Even the youngest sex worker can drug and rob you if you slip into complacency for even a second when alone with her/him.

Famously, the airport taxi into the city has been many unfortunate tourists introduction to crime in Thailand. Those guys are sharks…and you should always into that relationship with your eye’s open. Never agree to having the meter turned off in exchange for a flat rate. Try to use some common sense and don’t get into the first cab you see. The idea of ‘queuing’ by cabs is only done in Europe.

Here you want to check the cab and it’s driver very carefully and if ‘number six’ is the only one that doesn’t look like a crackhead…you walk past the rest. But…that’s no guarantee. I only use ‘Uber’…or ‘GrabCar’…you can download either app free after buying a data card from ‘True Mobile’ or any of the other kiosks at the terminal. You won’t regret getting better service if you do. I won’t explain how either system works…just sayin’…that they do good work. So many new arrivals get robbed by taxi driver’s that it’s worth paying attention to.

More to come…just not today.

happy days

happy days

Thailand tourism and it’s Asian allure rides on the coattails of a reputation that burned out a long time ago. What once a fascinating kaleidoscope of pristine beaches and welcoming people is now a ghetto of polluted overcrowding by a deluge of alcoholic barbarian euro trash and a local population with a nasty drive to rip off tourists without hesitation.

I drew the line with the on-set of road rage becoming common place, that was never so obvious as it is today, then there’s the homeless Hungarian beggars who litter Khao San Road and the legions of drunk western perverts who arrived like a tsunami on a demographic wave of simultaneous retirement. Don’t get me started on the subject of foreign thugs who’ve settled in tourist ghetto’s like Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Chiang Mai and pretty much everywhere else.

The Land of Smiles has degenerated into a rude festering fistula with few redeeming qualities. Like so many countries which were once considered beautiful and have now ‘gone toilet’, it’s time to reconsider Thailand as a destination. Personally I think the degeneration is bad karma coming around from allowing the sex trade to flourish as it has and inviting the worlds worst to revel.

Selling your daughters into blow job parlours to service drunken foreigners, instead of providing funding for technical colleges was never an idea that would end well….it hasn’t. The ‘bad vibes’ have infected the entirety of Thailand and continue to drag the country into an abyss.

aliens have not been a good influence on this place

aliens have not been a good influence on this place

Maybe you thought that internet dating sites are for lonely farmers hoping to meet someone of similar interests and lifestyle or religious expectations or main street persons looking to hook up? There are garden variety hook up and dating sites like Lava Life or E Harmony. There are gender and sex preference specific sites like ‘Grinder’ for sex among the LGBT community or race/religion baiting sites like ‘Black People Meet’ and ‘Halal Muslim Dating’. These pale by comparison to the hundreds of dating sites that introduce older western males to poverty stricken women in the third world.

The internet has opened a cornucopia of opportunity for western perverts seeking sex with minors and desperate women in countries where laws are written to be ignored. Open any net page on the subject of ‘Meet Thai Girls for Love and Marriage’ and you soon see the dark side. A great many of the ‘girls’ look underage. Solicitations are from hardened pimps and prostitutes selling sex to sex tourists. That’s not to say that 100% of the ‘Asian Girl’ dating sites are geared towards perversion, they’re not. But the proliferation of sex ads for available underage children has exploded in recent years. These days the internet has created opportunities for ‘sex by appointment’.

I’m cynical I know, and perhaps a bit jaded…I admit to have stayed in Asia a little too long for my own good. But, I’m reminded of a lunatics parade when I see the men involved as passing images for my simple amusement, young to elderly, being directed through the streets, bars, supermarkets and jewellery shops by whores obviously as adept at hustling fools as a pickpocket working a crowd of drunks.

These western loons have all spent months and even years trolling the internet sites offering titillating come-on’s from Asian Women advertisements. The ‘girl’ they’ve picked have arranged to meet them at their hotel upon arrival and within minutes the fantasy begins. A guy who’s so socially incompetent that he’s never held a girls hand at home, is suddenly pelvis deep and taking pictures of a whore who’s had practice by the thousand.

As far back as the 1960’s knowing journalists like Bernard Trink, columnist for the Bangkok Post, was warning farang rubes not to fall for the skilled professional guile of  bar girls, but these fools never learn. Within 24 hours he’s in love, convinced ‘she’s the one’, ready to take her to the passport office for a visa visit home and calling his mother to tell her of his ‘luck’….while she’s emptying his bank account.

Those of us in the know sit back laughing, from the air conditioned confines of a sidewalk coffee bar and watch the ridiculous parade of sun burned yokels, fat, sloppy drunk, little white legs sticking out, newly in love. Down the sidewalk they go, hand in hand, he’s glowing, cock walking and suddenly handsome, hand in hand with a glowering jungle honey squeezed into a new pair of ‘Daisy Dukes’ ready to fight anyone who comes between her and his wallet. If you’ve looked into a hunting whores eyes …you’ll know what I mean. These girls have a stare that would frighten a stalking tiger.

What’s hilarious is the profane ignorance of the ‘love drunk punk’. He pretends not to see the whore roll her eyes when a local shouts and points out his pasty bloated belly, bald head and bandy legs sticking out of ‘board shorts’ the whore insisted made him look young. She’s counting the days until this buffoon is gone and she’s able to take his money back to her village to do the necessary repairs on the family shack before the coming monsoon.

Many have school fee’s due for their children and a new scooter to buy for their husband. In many cases the whore will leave enough with a brother to keep her father pleasantly drunk until she returns…ever the doting daughter. Next time I’ll write about the lives of many of the retired men from the west, who’ve come to Thailand to marry whores and ‘settle down’.

el viejo

el viejo

Two thumbs up from us to the folks at #Air B&B for inventing a service that has freed us from restrictive, expensive hotels and greedy landlords. Another thing I like is where many of the properties are located….away from the sterile tourist frenzy environment of downtown cores. In the past there was no choice, there was hotels or nothing. Traditional hostels aren’t much better, always located near some transportation hub where tourists congregate like flies.

The experience of travel has improved with break out technologies like Air B&B. I don’t want to stay where T-shirts all seem to carry the same message…”Hi, I’m boring”. I like the fact that Air B&B properties are primarily located in average neighborhoods where travelers can rub shoulders with ordinary people. With Air B&B you are dealing with average people. The process is much more flexible. In my experience the owner of the suite you’ll occupy is more of a host.

As opposed to short term rentals where a landlord or property manager won’t supply anything except a bare bones flat…and you’ll be responsible to hook up your own electricity, internet and TV…plus buy all the sheets, pillows, dishes etc that you’ll need for your stay…the Air B&B comes with everything included…nice…very convenient.

Unlike hotels, the Air B&B flats are competitively priced and always come with full kitchens. Unlike property managed condo’s there is no restrictive “last month, first month and two month security deposit” to pay before you move in. BTW….good luck getting those security deposits back from a landlord or property manager. I know dozens of people who have fought without success to get their money back. Some have lost thousands of dollars. I’ve had a property manager try to rip me off in the same way…I fought to get the money back….very unpleasant experience…which I don’t want to ever repeat. With Air B&B there’s none of that.

In addition…it’s all paid on Visa….it’s guaranteed…you get travel points or cash back…depending on your card. We always take the travel points option….they add up fast this way. I know I’m paying a bit of an upfront premium by going Air B&B when long term rental would be 20% cheaper. But…I sign no contracts, no leases, no deposits, pay only for the time I’m using the flat, have every thing supplied….so….it’s up to you. I like the ‘no stress option’ of having nothing hanging over my head and no monthly bills to pay, sign up for…or be responsible for.

We ‘LIKE’ Air B&B for the freedom and no stress aspects of the service.

feeling free with Air B&B

feeling free with Air B&B

Twenty year old travelers’ coming to Bangkok in 2015 can’t imagine a time before guidebooks, when there were no tourist hotels, beach resorts and not one local speaking English. There was no internet, no smart phones, one long distance call box at the main post office on Charoen Krung Road, a single lonely American clerk in the American Express Office, and telex for emergencies. From the 1920’s well into the 1960’s there were few English voices to be heard in Bangkok.

The only foreigners in town were found at the bar of the Oriental Hotel on the banks of the dirt red Chaophraya River, pool side at the grotty Malaysia Hotel on Rama IV Road where war corespondents and political spies hung out during the Vietnam War, or the deeply depressing Mississippi Queen bar on Patpong Road where disabled veterans retold stories about the time “they’d fallen out of a helicopter”. There were no newspapers or western television by satellite. If you’d made it to Thailand, you were the type of person who’d worked hard at escaping to the fringes of the civilized world.

Into this void was born the now defunct Bangkok World newspaper, precursor to the modern Bangkok Post, once South East Asia’s only English language newspaper. In the mid 1960’s a young columnist named Bernard Trink arrived in Bangkok and took up the task of chronicling the night life that grew like a cancer out of the train wreck of Vietnam and with it the deluge of war crazed soldiers and dissolute bureaucrats. The sex scene in Vietnam, where flesh was traded for a day away from poverty, was transported to Thailand with the NGO’s and political wonks.

For travelers like myself Bernard Trink was a prince and a fountain of information. In his columns he disparaged the perversions he saw among those of the ‘farang’ community. He took it upon himself to expose the seedier side of foreigners, which had given rise to child prostitution. Trink championed women’s rights when he witnessed the degradation of poor country women forced into prostitution through poverty or force. Trink made famous the now infamous expression…”TIT”…..’This is Thailand’. A phrase oft used when no rationale explanation can be found for what goes on here in the Land of Smiles.

Bernard Trink was like a friend to isolated travelers of the time. His voice was distinct and many times the only voice in written English that could be found. Often western magazines could only be found after being left behind by airline crews on layover. Bernard Trink and his Nite Owl column was the definitive ‘Guide to Bangkok’ a decade before guide books would be invented.

End of Part One

life could be a lot worse

life could be a lot worse

I was talking with my buddy ‘Aow’ in a clothing market up the street from my Bangkok condo. He sells jeans and t-shirts from a stall alongside hundreds of other vendors. Aow and his wife ‘Kid’ have been friends and neighbors for twenty years, where we have lived, on and off, in this tiny Thai suburb of Bangkok. These are closely knit communities, where families of a clan or particular Baan, Tambon or village, have lived together, and intermarried, even fought bloody battles together for various political causes, over generations. Bangkok is made up of thousands of these invisible villages. Outsiders are not accepted out of hand. Foreigners stick out like a sore thumb.

We helped Aow and Kid arrange their first family vacation, by booking their flights and hotel on-line, with my wife’s laptop, while sitting in a modern KFC franchise, to a resort in Thailand’s southern island of Phuket. They’d heard so much about tourism and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They’d never flown on an aircraft before, their three kids were thrilled. To afford a vacation meant success, a step into the modern era, it was a proud moment, and made Aow and Kid local celebrities. We were ‘acceptable farang’.

Because there is little direct contact between foreigners and average Thai people, they look at us through the lens of a narrow stereotype based on sensational stories passed through by the media. ‘Farang’ ( foreigners) are known to do tasteless, strange and often unseemly things according to the media. Thai people in these outlaying area’s, outside Bangkok, treat foreigners with reservation, temerity, and suspicion.

Contact between Thai and Foreigner is limited to persons working in the tourism industry. Most Thai happily will spend a lifetime without meeting an outsider and never learn more than a few words of English.

What is a ‘farang’? Why is the word used as a derogatory pejorative these days? The colloquialism is the distillation of a Thai accent, describing the original white travelers from France, who were the first foreigners to present themselves to the court of the King. ‘Francia’, pronounced as ‘Falangset’…(Falancia) and shortened by slang to ‘Farang’.

The lingua franca was applied to describe every foreigner who came in later years, whether British, Dutch or Portuguese. All foreigners are now collectively known as ‘farang’. In recent years it is a term spit out by the Thai people rather than spoken. Thailand was never colonized by foreign powers and the Thai have always looked down their noses at those who were over run.

What is the difference between ‘acceptable farang’ and ‘falang spit spit spit’? Ask any Thai and they will tell you. When Aow and I had become close enough to have an informal honest, personal conversation he asked me, timidly…if I had ever been to ‘Patpong Road’, the notorious red light district.

I replied honestly, “Yes, but not for over forty years”. I told him that when I had first come to Bangkok as a young man on business in the early 1970’s there were only two bars on Patpong Rd, in use by American soldiers, deep cover spooks and diplomatic workers, on R&R from the Vietnam War. The now notoriously mob controlled Pattaya Beach was a dusty village beside a minor naval base for shallow-draft American ships patrolling for communists and smugglers along the coastline of Cambodia. I told him how I had ‘discovered’ a pristine Phuket before a single hotel had been built.

Aow was obviously relieved, that the trust he’d placed in his judgement to accept me as a friend and sponsor into his community wasn’t misplaced. I told him that I would never take my wife or family any where near a place like that. “Yes” he said. “That’s what I think”.

Aow nodded in agreement. “We don’t go there”, he spoke of the red light tourist areas that had sprung up after battle crazed soldiers refused to leave ‘exotic’ South East Asia for the bleak perilous streets of Detroit and Chicago. I understood Aow’s comment to be a general statement, true of all Thai people he knew. Nice Thai people just don’t visit the human toilets that grew out of infamy and corruption to shocking notoriety.

Today, the area of downtown Bangkok, between Soi Nana and Asok, which represent the worst of the human spirit, isn’t overtly recognized by any decent Thai. They block it out and don’t recognize the existence of such places. Thai people who reside for work or business in towns like Pattaya and Phuket will not admit to living there. The mere mention of these places is an embarrassment to polite Thai people.

But, whether by road or transit through these bleak tourist ghetto’s you’ll see sidewalks crowded with ‘farang…spit spit spit’, stumbling out of go go bars with desperate prostitutes, vomiting in the neon lit gutters, passed out in the darkened alleys, biker gang members from global crime groups, wearing full regalia, marking territory. You’ll see the most disreputable scum in the world, Caucasian, Arab, Asian, all within spitting distance, as if tiny cracks in the gates of hell had opened and the devil was showing his bum to the world.

Yesterday, in the Central Park of Bangkok’s version of Manhattan…Lumpini Park, my wife and I were listening to the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra playing The William Tell Overture in the band shell as part of an annual concert season. We were surrounded by Thai families, living the modern moral life most Thai enjoy.

During a break we were approached by a group of timid students, asking our permission for a video interview, as part of a project for the business course they were taking. We agreed of course.”We so happy you can speak to us”, one of the youngsters said. “We’ve been walking for an hour and couldn’t find a single foreigner willing to talk to us”.

Our interview was extensive. The kids were very happy to finally speak to foreigners who could teach them honestly about world affairs. They had stereotyped outsiders into a narrow range as we had expected, and they were delighted to turn the subject away from a focus on ‘Thailand’s Developing Nation Status’ and dependence on tourism.

Our perspective on Thailand had changed over forty years based on observation of the  visionary development that has taken place over the years we had been ‘in-country’ . This was the Thailand they could be proud of. As if on cue, the six o’clock chime from Lumpini’s famous clock tower rang out and from speakers set throughout the park the national anthem rang out. Every one stood up, the joggers stopped running..in silent respect for the nation.

The kids were knowledgeable about how many kinds of Eskimo’s there were in Canada and how Thailand also hosted many indigenous peoples. Of course, our polite conversation didn’t enter the ugly territory of the vice and corruption existing a mile away.

“We don’t go there”, the Thai will say of the tired prospects of the tourist who comes for vice. There are ‘Falang spit spit spit’…and ‘Farang’ who are part of Thailand’s accepting culture. The old Thailand is obviously behind them, the kids were on track to a better future…they are hungry for knowledge and communication with the outside world. The biggest problem said one ‘was a lack of English teachers outside Bangkok’.

I left the children with a word of advice, much the same as any parent would anywhere in the world. “Be careful who you talk to”. But… I suspected these kids were well aware of the pitfalls of dealing with certain ‘Farang’…as they were media savvy and modern, and had read all about the sordid behavior of some visitors. The fact that my wife and I are mature as well as being a couple was a signal they could feel comfortable approaching us.

The Thai are too polite to mention such things in conversation…but it isn’t if anyone isn’t aware of the sex tourist industry as being problematic and distasteful, let alone out of place in the modern age of this rapidly evolving Asian Tiger nation… within the vision these children see as the inheritance we will leave behind.

 'El Rey'

‘El Rey’

I just arrived back in Thailand and the season is already changing. I know what’s ahead when the Songkran Monsoon begins. I cringe at the thought of months of prickly heat powder and wet sheets soaked in copious perspiration at night.  Thai people celebrate the beginning of the rice planting season, but I know they’ll be as miserable as I over the coming months. Rainy season is also mosquito season…arrgghh!.

“It’s happening too fast”, I think. I’m writing with a towel on the desk, otherwise beading armpit sweat runs down and would likely flood my keyboard. I don’t remember Thailand being this hot so early in the year, but people tend to suppress bad memories instead of reminding themselves that it’s the same every year. I don’t look what temperature it is… it’s really freaking hot. A passing storm poured down overnight and cleared the air but the humidity is outrageous….like steam rising from a boiling kettle.

I have just received a permanent resident visa, good until I’m not welcome in the kingdom anymore. This is the fortieth anniversary of my first visit to Thailand and I’ve never been sure of my status….aside from being officially ‘farang’. Did I do the right thing? Will I be able to wear a shirt with sleeves and long pants anytime over the next eight months?

I passed a fellow on the BTS train platform this morning looking as if he’d showered in his suit. No one ever really acclimates to this heat…even the most demure of Thai’s sweat like dogs when they think you’re not looking.

“Take your jacket off fool”, I wanted to suggest, knowing by his actions that he was a newbie to the tropics and he’d either learn to adapt or die. My sweat glands will continue to gush like an artesian well for hours because I run on a treadmill every morning in an air conditioned fitness room overlooking a turquoise swimming pool I find too cold to use.

So many once famous people are dying on the front pages. I run as if I’m running away from a rampant pandemic affecting people my age. The society page obituary is now a daily occurrence, a rolling commentary of who used to be famous and influential. The media is discreet and respectful, saying these passing stars have died from ‘complications’. That diagnosis worries me…I’ve lived a very complicated life….am I next?

Personally I’ve never known anyone who’s died…aside from my parents whom I didn’t really know. They died within months of each other and it makes me glad that I married  a young woman who’s nervous energy keeps me young. Maybe it’s a good thing I’ve never made many casual friends. It’s saved me from attending any funerals. I’m OK with that. So what do I do? I move back to Thailand. Does that make any sense? I might have died of boredom if I’d stayed in Canada.

At 61 I had a choice to make, continue living the vagabond lifestyle of international travel and bird flipping irreverence or…lease a yellow Cadillac and take up golf…waiting for grandchildren to appear. My choice was the former, it could be the death of me, but I doubt it. I feel more alive here than anywhere I know. Thailand is a second home. Let’s see where this takes us…shall we. I have lot’s more to complain about. Thailand is my last resort.