Posts Tagged ‘society’

Ask any ex-pat professional and they’ve got a story about the ex co-worker who had a sudden uncharacteristic thermonuclear meltdown while on a foreign posting, and either left in an unannounced mysterious huff or had to be physically extracted due to ‘a situation’. There’s no telling who might go ballistic over some trivial event while in Shanghai, Bangkok or Riyadh. It’s as predictable as vulcanism. The clashing of civilizations is too great for certain personalities. In the traveling world, business or otherwise, is well described as ‘culture shock’.

Relocating to a foreign country, where language, extremes in weather, officialdom, expectations, going to the bathroom, the cuisine, walking down the street, banking, post offices, shopping, and social interaction are often the opposite of normal in ones home country can either be stressful…or entertaining, depending on personality. In some cases, you’ll either love…or hate your new home, and either might have consequences….for better or worse. You can usually tell who’s heading for a short stay by how much that person bitches and kvetches about local conditions. Some people adapt and thrive, others…not so much.

This is part of the reason there is always a significant ‘turnover’ in satellite offices. Human resource officers go to great lengths to attract and vet the right people for these postings, but there’s no way of telling how an individual will adapt to the local conditions. It isn’t always possible to attract the right skill set from the finite pool of experienced ex pats willing to relocate, in spite of offering lucrative compensation packages, signing bonuses, relocation allowances and RSU’s in a low tax country.

In spite of all that vetting, despite the beneficial financial offerings, newbie hirelings still bail in surprising numbers after short periods of time. It comes down to the effects of #culturetainment….you either like a challenge…or you don’t. In the case of foreign government workers and NGO assignments, these people are often fit into a compound type environment where they live entirely separate lives from the local population. To my observation this often leads to a neocolonialist attitude where the ex pats become entrenched in a game of ‘us and them’. In that case I have to ask, “Why leave home at all if you’re going to live in a sterilized bubble?”

#Culturetainment, as I call it, is to develop the right frame of mind to enjoy your new home, and find the good, rather than the bad, in the culture you have decided to co-exist with . The world as we know has gone western, or haven’t you noticed? No one traveling on business lives in a grass hut surrounded by half naked servants. The economic miracle of the past forty years has brought millions of people, in countries like Thailand where I reside, into the modern age.

Without exception it is possible to live a very satisfactory lifestyle here in the ‘third world’, often with more mod-cons than we have in the west. Thailand for example has embraced technology and provides internet services far in advance of those offered in Canada, my home country, at far lower price points. There are more fast food franchises than ever before. I’ll fess up and freely admit to making the KFC soft ice cream cone part of  every day.

Yes, the street life scene can seem a little weird at times. Society isn’t as stratified here as in a western city. You’ll get everything, across the spectrum, on any city sidewalk. There always seems to be a million people around you, and you have to get used to the idea that personal space rules are not in effect. Sensory stimulation is on overload, it’s never quiet, there’s always so much going on. Asians use loud music to block out the traffic noise. Trish and I appreciate the excitement, versus the sedate predictability of a western city.

I can guarantee you’ll feel alive in an environment like this, and when you’ve had enough, you can always go back to your modern little high rise apartment and stream Netflix. But…to go ‘ballistic’ because the ‘foods too spicy’ or some other excuse, don’t be absurd. Enjoy the free #culturetainment’ and remember, you can sleep when your dead.

sleep when you're dead

sleep when you’re dead

Living in Thailand and visiting as a tourist are two completely different experiences. Culture shock is a very real issue for people from the west who come to live in Thailand. Many people are fooled by the postcard modernity of Thailand when they visit as tourists. When they use that delusion to base their decision to move here for work or retirement, only to find that the fiction and the reality are worlds apart, some of these people freak out. Anyone who comes to Thailand expecting constant efficiency, fluidity, similarity, consistency, workability, on time, on budget… total honesty, return policies, generosity or fair treatment …or the rule of law…( hahahahahaha on the last one) or any other western concept are in for a surprise.

Thailand has adopted western features without developing any supporting western infrastructure to support them. What drives many westerners crazy is that the modern facade of Thailand makes it appear like everything is going to function properly….except it doesn’t. Everything from going to the bathroom to banking, to meal times and transporting yourself around the city are skewed in such a way to vary ones habitual understanding ever so slightly…and every once in a while you’ll see an unbalanced foreigner standing on a street corner , a bank, a post office line or restaurant screaming because they’ve let the frustrations get to them. At the other extreme you have foreigners who try to overcompensate by becoming overtly Thai in dress and mannerisms….and appear as if they’ve had a psychotic episode when the pajama pants are out of place and ritualized gestures are used incorrectly.

Carl Jung called this effect of an third world culture on the psyche of a western individual ‘Tropo’. It’s more or less describing what happens when the white man goes crazy in the jungle. Firstly…Thailand is not a modern country…it is not a modern society. Thais have adopted a western appearance in the span of one generation, they do not understand half the things they import…but they love anything western or modern…because it’s western, even if it’s spelled wrong or has no useful application in Thailand…..like furry parka’s worn only in the mall. Thai’s want to look progressive..but they are more conservative than you can imagine.

Thai’s are not a modern people, they are a tribal society dependent on a traditional hierarchy to guide their every move. Thai’s don’t think independently…nor do they want to. The Thai’s revolving door experiment with democracy should give you an insight into Thai’s appreciation of what democracy entails. Democracy is western..ergo it’s modern…. so Thai’s adopt it…and spell it wrong..but when it comes to ‘one man one vote’…no way! Secondly..remember that you are a ‘farang’…a foreigner and Thai’s have been taught by example to treat you with disdain.

Mistreating foreigners is a national past time. It makes the Thai’s feel better about themselves because they have a huge self image issue with low self esteem. It’s also because they perceive westerners as having wealth…while they are ‘poor’…that the west is modern..while they are third world bumpkins…which is hogwash. This drives westerners really crazy…it’s the basic dishonesty of all Thai-Foreigner relationships on every level. Thailand..aka..The Land of Smiles….is also the duplicity and backstabbing capital of the world.

Usually people who don’t like you will tell you so or simply not deal with you….not so the Thai. They will lie to your face as long as they think they can take you for something..even to the point of granting sexual favors…which Thai’s view as no more significant than blowing their noses.. Thai’s smiling…is always phony…and while attempting to take whatever they can from you with guile….they smile. Thais learn from example to overcharge and mistreat foreigners.The government overcharges foreign guest as much as two and three times the going rate for every service and fee. The Thai see this and emulate the governments own actions. We call it ‘getting ripped off’. Farang is a word used to show contempt by the way…not a nice thing.

If you come here, remember why you came here. You come here to get away from where you came from. In the west the predictability and boredom is what drives people into cascading fits of depression. You come to Thailand to experience a lively chaotic atmosphere…don’t confuse the two. You can’t let the Thai way get you down. Instead accept Thailand as if it were a night at the circus….with lot’s of thrills and spills….but don’t take it seriously. Smile at the unexpected…laugh at the many surprises, disappointments and misdirection. Thailand is a gong show…enjoy it. Don’t come to the circus if you don’t like clowns. IMG_0076-Optimized

What a world of contradictions we live in. My own self administered paradox is incomprehensible, even to me sometimes. “How can you live like that?” an engineer we met in Dallas asked in astonishment when Trish and I  explained that we hadn’t been ‘home’ more than a few weeks in the preceding few years. In fact we’d lived in the Hyatt Las Colinas in Dallas for almost three years running when we bumped into him at the poolside BBQ one afternoon.

He’d just bought a house in his native country, the Slovak Republic, it was his goal to have security and a sanctuary. The mindset of our engineering friend is common, it just isn’t for us. “I don’t know”, I replied. “Things just have a way of working out”….and they really have. Our recent and free week long stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap Cambodia is an example of how ‘things’ can ‘work out’ if you’re organized and travel savvy.

Some people envy us, they covet what we have, but have no understanding of how we came to be the nomads we are. I wouldn’t describe what we have done as sacrifice, we just want different things. As a friend of mine once quipped, “You have to be very organized to be as lazy as I am”. That sums up our lifestyle succinctly, though not entirely accurately.

Trish and I have foregone many things. We don’t have a long term mortgage, own a boat or a car lease. We haven’t renovated the house and stuffed it with material goods. We have never been consumers of ‘stuff’, instead we collect experiences. Our life is personalized, we do only what we choose, and yet we have achieved a level of success by enjoying the banquet and the open bar, but never eating the worm.

I haven’t felt like writing since I wrapped up my last novel. That two year experience was arduous, and I’m not feeling the energy to do that again any time soon. My daily life is consumed with personal thoughts about today and tomorrow, but nothing too far down the line. I feel like I’ve done enough scheduling to last quite some time.

Planning the next act of travel is my only obsession these days. I have fantasies and dreams that don’t include security or pride of place. I don’t work anymore, and with retirement I have allowed myself to exercise a degree of ‘I don’t give a shit’, that I haven’t allowed reign in the past twenty five years or so since becoming a husband and father. Getting older is somewhat like being a teenager again, feckless and cynically disorganized.

I just got back from a trip to Cambodia. I was less impressed by the poverty than I used to be. I looked for happy photographs instead of images of misery and neglect. Trisha and I fed the children beggars instead of artfully ignoring them as many tourists do. I saw far too many people working way too hard at ‘getting everything done’ as they grow closer to the end. The simple facts of life lay strewn on the sidewalks and gutters like cast off flowers . I saw  tell tale signs of utter exhaustion, fear and desperation, disconnected people, no where near the completion of their guide book inspired ‘bucket list’. I seek no such frustrations.

When I was young(er) I  left ‘home’ to travel. My passions took me away for so long that I became disassociated from everything and everyone I’d  ever known. After years away I returned a stranger to family and friends who’d moved on. I remember the impression that the streets of New Delhi were more familiar than those I returned to.

Today I live in Bangkok Thailand, occasionally struck by emotions of longing and separation. Returning to BKK from Cambodia was a homecoming to familiar territory.  I walk around my neighborhood and realize I know everyone, everyone knows me. People noticed I was gone. My favorite soup stall vendor, Khun Fa, remembers what I like, it’s endearing.

I’ve lost the familiarity with what was once my home, once again I will have to start over in Canada, where communities change rapidly with new immigration endlessly churning the population and neighbors last for minutes until they’re replaced with someone elses great expectations. I have no idea what to expect if and when I return. Here in Bangkok, people reside in the same area for generations in giant family units, and give life a sense of continuity. That’s how things are going, I’m floating from one day to the next, unwinding myself. The end of the road for a happily homeless traveler has no stop signs. Fringelords

Trisha and I collect memories, not possessions. I blame this on my addiction to travel and to her enabling me…and now me her…because she’s the driving force these days. I make a good travel companion. I love to sit and watch life roll by. Neither of us has any interest in homemaking, decorating, automobiles and the like. We own a house but haven’t spent more than an occasional  few weeks there in the past few years.

We must be getting good at what we do. Our perch in a Bangkok hi-rise is pretty comfortable. Amenities are easier to find than they used to be. The internet has set us free free in so many ways. We can work, study, invest, pay our son’s tuition…watch Netflix USA movies at night and our favorite international news and radio channels all online, without skipping a beat. The only differance we experience from place to place is the time zone.

Right now, I’ve got ‘KHYI 95.3 The Range’ streaming ‘Red Dirt Texas Music’  through external stereo speakers. Red Dirt  sounds good in Thailand, the lyrics are often magical. I have a bank next door that accepts every plastic card I carry. The ATM’s work as well as anywhere. The exception is that the cost of living is so much more reasonable here in Thailand that I don’t visit a bank as often as I would in Canada.

We occasionally talk about ‘what we should do today’…and mostly come to the same conclusion…we’re already there. I have a great view of Bangkok from a distance. The swimming pool below my balcony is where we spend most days. Swimming is the perfect exercise for body and mind. You can swim in the rain, under the stars, watching monsoon thunderheads race by. Listening to thunder pounding down in the distance like an artillery barrage is provocative. When life is this perfect…why seek change?

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Our little perch in Bangkok is surrounded by a wide green space. I can smell the Gulf of Thailand on the morning breeze. The rising sun resembles an expanding supernova. Bird song and Soi Dogs are the melody of this neighborhood. 7 AM and already 90 degrees F. I hung our towels out last night and they haven’t dried. Humidity during this late monsoon month is well over 100%. What a shock to have transitioned so completely from Dallas in such a short time. We were away two years and it feels like we never left. This is the anniversary of my 40th year of coming to Thailand.

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The entire network of air traffic headed south came to a halt on Friday. Dallas Fort Worth in particular was hit by a massive early season ice storm. This is so unusual in Texas that the emergency administrations panicked and stuck their collective heads in the sand. The feeder airports like Vancouver, where we got stuck, can fly, but they have no destination to fly to, and that has caused thousands to be stranded in the airports overnight. Travelers are hard hit because airlines don’t give hotel vouchers for weather related delays. Hence there were thousands of people forced to sleep in the airports overnight….4000 in Dallas-Fort Worth alone.

Our being stranded in Vancouver for two extra days gives me a chance to get a good look at the city again. I can’t believe how miserable people really are here. There is no Christmas cheer. Say ‘Merry Christmas’ and you’re more likely to get a growling response about how crappy someones life is…or how much they want to get out. The cities famous road rage is whacked. There is zero courtesy on the roads. A simple drive to the grocery store yields people of all ages, races and attributes shouting at each other, honking, cutting one another off, failing to yield. If this was a sole indicator of peoples attitudes in a city then Vancouver deserves the reputation of ‘Road Rage Capital of the World‘…..what a bunch of assholes…seriously.

We’ve learned not to tell people we’re from somewhere nice. The mention that you’re heading out and you’ll instantly see the face of a Vancouverites turn sour. people seem genuinely angry if you have someplace better to go. I’ve been watching the local television stations for the past few days and I’m thinking that people here are being programmed to be as miserable as they are. There are two glaring aspects to the television offerings…one is the numbing number of murders, rapes, incidents of violence, police shooting citizens and getting off scot free 100% of the the time.

Everyone talks of how they neither trust the police or government and of how they’ve lost their faith in receiving justice, about fatal accidents, home invasion robberies, desperate families, starving children, poverty, grasping, needy, jealous, envious, rat and cockroach populations, breakout of maggots, bedbug infestations, polluting the harbour with raw sewage, arrogant civil servants telling people they’re stupid…things like that…there are no good news stories. A constant diet of these kinds of negative stories could be part of the problem. People might begin to see that they are being attacked from every side. With bad news inundating you from all sides, every day, I’d expect a person would come to expect a miserable outcome from every day activities. People get absolutely furious if you tell them their $45 dollar holiday turkey costs $12 in the USA. No one except the elite civil service has enough money to live at all well here…and everyone is furious that food and clothing in the US is a third the price….but ask why and the same people say “Its the high wages we pay government workers’.

The other prominent aspect of the news barrage is covetousness at it’s most raw. The television stations rotates possessions, hate fueled political diatribe, lottery wins, media stars with multimillion dollar salaries, expensive homes and the like that must have the effect of making people feel like inadequate losers. Together it is this characteristic which is most prominent in Vancouver’s population. People present themselves as mean, greedy, grasping, jealous, envious, burdened with dislike for the people around them and generally hate  for life outside themselves.

Another thing that is obvious is the failure of the multicultural experiment. You see ethnicities aligned against each other…there is no assimilation towards the greater good. Each ethnicity is distinctly separate…in isolated race ghetto’s, each with their own media, that appears to race bait one another without any blow-back from the administration….as if the separation exists on purpose. You’ll get the impression that a sanctioned state of apartheid exists is regulated by the government.

Poverty is increasing in Vancouver. The facade of middle income sanctuary is a myth. There is a thin layer of richly paid civil servants wrapped around a miserable rotting core. Child poverty is at it’s highest in Vancouver. Seniors are starving due to the high cost of living. Young families are the fastest growing segment of Food Bank clients. People who live in million dollar houses are sending their children to school hungry. 85% of income goes to pay mortgages. Credit debt is now the highest in the world with a debt/income ratio at 180% of disposable income. Those luxury goods advertised on TV are driving people into fits of dissonance. When people see that their civil servants being paid like international elites, four and five times what an average worker makes…of course it results in road rage and general incivility.

I have to laugh at the constant advertisements that describe Vancouver as ‘the best place on earth’. Thats something you’ll never hear on the streets of this city. Every one I’ve talked to wants to get the hell out….myself included.