Posts Tagged ‘travel writing’

Robots scare the crap out of Stephen Hawking. “Humans are evolving so slowly that artificial intelligence will walk all over us”, he says. Personally, I’m more afraid of humans who switch their moral and ethical compass off when they leave for a ‘third world vacation’. Artificially enhanced intelligent robots of the future might be frightening in theory, but in practice human beings who conveniently forget to be human while on vacation do a lot more damage in the here and now. I don’t know about you…but I live in the present.

I was scouting competing travel video the other day and I wasn’t impressed. There’s a social algorithm popular with a certain alphabet demographic… that accessible hedonism is available at the end of every commercial flight, like unicorns are attracted rainbows,  that it is ‘a right and an entitlement’ to express oneself without morals or ethics in every imaginable way, while on vacation in the third world, where apparently…’everything goes’. Wow….I am not a person to be throwing ‘isms and ‘ists’ around…but the idea that ‘everything goes’ when you cross an international boundary’ is crazy weird.

One of the You Tube video’s I watched was a popular travel blog, plenty of views, with two passably blonde girls tittering excitedly about whether ‘ to go or no’. The topic du jour was whether watching a woman/girl pull razor blades out of her vagina in a Bangkok bar was a ‘go or no’. They enthusiastically doubled pumped one another to the affirmative…’GO’. OK… I’m choking back a little puke here… is it possible that two women can get excited about a razor blade vagina ‘show’ knowing the depths of depravity the performer must have plumbed to get to that state where pulling razor blades out of her vagina was her last option? Isn’t that on the moral level of ‘snuff porn’?

These were women talking…about another woman… having to pull razor blades out of her vagina..in order to make a living…for the sake of a few petulant, bored tourists amusement. How is it possible for anyone from any level of society to become so jaded and obvious awareness of the depravity they were watching…that they could laugh… not cry. It’s robotic…moral brain death…depraved to an nth degree of evil, it’s mind numbing. You shouldn’t be laughing when you see a woman have to sink to that level.

You should want to tell the bar owner to fuck himself with the business end of a garden rake and walk out..at the very least. Would you want that happening to any woman in ‘Your Town USA’? Why would you ‘rescue’ a dog at home and yet sit through a ‘show’ where a woman is pulling razor blades out of her vagina? Is it because the dog won’t bore you with his life story or need an education to find a better future ?

The depravity we see isn’t a ‘white/ brown’ thing. Tourists on holiday strictly for sex related purposes come in all colours and are of every nationality and social strata. They are equal opportunity exploiters. Today’s sicko social media is extolling us it’s OK to compete on experiences, where no limit of exploitation or depravity should hold us back from having ‘the best time ever’.

The travel video blogs are replete with solicitations to get the drunkest, the wildest…the most depraved regardless of the consequences to your moral being and the nasty crap you leave behind. Are today’s tourists just dehumanized robots on holiday, hyped by social media to ‘go one better’…to leave their humanity behind for the sake of a ‘good time’? Stephen Hawking has more immediate reasons to fear for the future of humanity.

robot holiday

robot holiday

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

What would happen if your city was invaded by an army of viagra crazed sexpat zombies. If as many gray haired pot bellied perverts arrived on your shores in comparable numbers to the current wave of refugee’s washing up on the beaches of Europe, wouldn’t it be cause for alarm? Because that is exactly what is happening in Thailand right now.

In recent years the numbers of sex tourists to Thailand has exploded exponentially. The arrivals curve has gone parabolic. You’d think this would be an issue of concern for the government, but so far there has been no reaction. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. I can’t state categorically that I am any kind of expert, or even have an opinion, on what is good or bad for the Thai government or it’s people. I’m sure if this was happening in my country it would considered a national catastrophe.

In the past, the pattern for sex tourists coming to Thailand was predictable and simple…the pervs would arrive, hidden among the hordes of average beach and culture seeking tourists, then slither to the flesh pots of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket to wallow in their disgrace….and then leave with as many STD’s as they could for the wives girlfriends and prostitutes to contract at home to spread among the local populations. I’m sorry to say that things have changed for the worse. Tourists are still coming in droves, but they’re leaving the perverts behind when they leave.

A demographic tidal wave of epic tsunami proportions has lifted a stinking tide of simultaneously retiring gray haired potbellied ‘Baby Boomer’ civil servants, and others of that generation; the jet fueled wave is breaking on the shores of Thailand, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of 55 to 65 year old flotsam and jetsam ‘men’ of the western world, high and dry, to rot on the humid streets of Thai cities. They have tax payer subsidized pensions to draw on. They want to stay and fuck and drink away their last deluded years, out of the moral trench they’ve dug for themselves.

These born again hedonists likely failed at everything in their personal lives, aside from union card status and the ability to wake up at the same time to make it to work every morning for forty years. Some have obviously thrown off the yoke of normalcy, which I assume may have included a similarly aged wife who no longer satisfies their fantasy. I doubt any children left behind are proud of Dad’s decision to throw Mom to the curb and take up with a twenty something village girl who speaks a total of fifteen words of Pigeon English. Yes, there are female sex tourists, but the numbers are minuscule by comparison.

These aging western sex tourists…who once left after two weeks of filthy frolic in the dark alleys of Bangkok’s skin pits, are choosing Thailand to retire. They’re not leaving any more. Instead they’re staying on in greater numbers than ever before. There has been an explosion of high rise condo towers purpose built to house this wave of perverts and the new love they’ve found in the arms of the mosquito bitten jungle honey who knows the location of every ATM along the neon streets of Sin City.

BTW, I’ve got a good view on all of all this. The area of East Bangkok I live in, is on the front lines of the new battle against aging with dignity, once far flung and bucolic has been invaded by elderly sex pat tourists zombies and their steely eyed gals. The sexpat disease is spreading through the western retiree population like AIDS and gays . Where once it was confined to two small streets in downtown Bangkok, and a few beach shacks along the coast, he pervs have put down roots.

My neighborhood was never that classy, but with the pervasive moving in and slithering of the ‘Perv Tribe’, the place has lost it’s poverty chic cache. This isn’t gentrification…it’s weird and twisted. I hate this invasion of losers, burn outs, rejects, flakes, wacko’s and perverts. I might have to move.

End of Part Five

I can't watch what I don't want to see

I can’t watch what I don’t want to see

Recently my wife Trisha and I reached an age and time where we could fully retire, and we had a choice to make. We could hunker down in our comfortable home in Vancouver Canada, spending the last of our working years commuting, playing golf on rainy weekends, upgrading our house and furnishings, leasing a new Cadillac to impress the neighbors, and occasionally cruising with people older than ourselves. Life in North America wasn’t ‘doing it’ for us anymore. We decided to swing for the fences and try to land a dream job in some exotic place.

We’ve done the backpacking thing and budget travel has become less fun than it used to be while we were younger. Our stamina and willingness to be less comfortable is wearing thin with age. We like our creature comforts and the society a better quality of accommodation affords.

We have been ‘living away’ much of the time over the past ten years. We didn’t feel guilty about it, our only son was off at University and didn’t need us around. ‘Plan A’ as we call it, describes a life of traveling for six months and then returning home to work on short term contract. Was it possible to make our dream a permanent reality? Plan A works great, but not working at all and living on the fringes of a far flung community as a tourist is neither stimulating or interesting to us…been there done that.

I should premise this post by saying that we spent decades raising a family, becoming financially secure, investing for income and upgrading our academic qualifications and skill sets. We were ‘done’…and money wasn’t the driving force behind every decision. The question became, “What do we do next to accomplish our goal?” We wanted to live an exciting and interesting life before we were forced by old age or ill health to stay home.

Our travel credentials are extensive, in our personal and professional lives we’ve traveled to every destination that suited us. By that I mean countries where it is safe for people like ourselves and offer the ‘mod-cons’ we feel we need to stay healthy. In spite of our interest in European culture, we decided that visiting museums and galleries couldn’t form the basis of our everyday lives, and the overall weather isn’t to our liking. Honestly, we find the cost of every day life in Europe excessively expensive. I guess growing up frugal makes you ask if your getting value for your money. Europe wasn’t answering all the questions. Europe is boring.

End of Part One

 a day in the life

a day in the life

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’

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

Last nights cathartic blowout was hard on people in Bangkok. Today is ‘the day after’ and I have seldom seen or heard the city in such a state of quiet. In the frenzied minutes rising towards midnight Bangkok became a carnival and a cacophony. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced an Asian New Year can imagine the ritual.

Just some background. Bangkok is a metropolis more than it is a city. It became a city. It was never designed to be a city. Bangkok is thousands of little villages that grew together over many hundreds of years. Each of these villages has a distinctiveness to it that escapes most foreign travelers. Families intermarry and stay within the confines of their traditional social group for generations. Events are organized around the community, by the community, with little input from the greater national or regional governments. Bangkokians are not the rugged individualists you might find in the United States.

The events that took place last night were the exact opposite of what one would expect in the west. Instead of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people crowding into a small area…like Time Square or Sydney Bridge, having taken public transit, and promised not to smoke or drink, while standing like docile little robots to watch a prearranged and choreographed fireworks display…Bangkok went wild in a distinctly disorganized way.

In the minutes before midnight, against a backdrop of constant sonorous chantings being broadcast from loudspeakers out of the many temples in the area, the sky erupted like a scattering of fireflies shaken off the branches of a banyan tree. The thousands of villages that make up the metropolitan area sent up thousands of individual fireworks and rockets into the air. It looked like the entire city had caught fire in the most brilliant way. The landscape was literally writhing with coloured flame and bursts of light. How fantastic, the spontaneity and chaos was majestic…like sparks and embers from a crackling fire flying dangerously into the sky.

There was no grand organized scheme, only the joy of twelve million people celebrating the coming of a new year. From the balcony of my hi-rise condo in East Bangkok I had a brilliant 270 degree view of a fairytale land landscape that could only be seen by someone who shared my vantage point. People on the ground could not have known how their thousands of small displays would merge into something so fantastic with the larger community.

There is a magical symbiosis when people join together without knowing they’re doing so, creating an uncommon beauty that few will share, but do so anyway in a spontaneous expression of national pride. Just freaking amazing people. One of the worlds unappreciated ‘wonders of the world’. I don’t have a bucket list of famous places to visit before I die. This is one of the most amazing sights on Earth to witness….if only because it’s so secretive, under appreciated by the common tourist and exists to be seen for only a few minutes a year.

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