Someday you will find me / Caught beneath the landslide

Most­ly this blog — The Opin­ion­at­ed Din­er, not this post — is me think­ing aloud. Some­times it has obvi­ous shape and form, oth­er times I per­haps post before I should, and the sub­stance is thin. I’m not sure which of the afore this post is. It may not mat­ter so I’ll con­tin­ue…

Khun Santa

It was about 35 degrees cel­sius when the above pho­to was tak­en, in the cap­i­tal of one of this world’s largest Bud­dhist nations — albeit one that cel­e­brates Christ­mas far more imag­i­na­tive­ly (this set­ting is not part of that descrip­tor) and spec­tac­u­lar­ly than any so-called Chris­t­ian nation I’ve been to dur­ing the sea­son of good­will.

This is a tale of a jux­ta­po­si­tion as uncom­fort­able that image: In a fair­ly grey and char­ac­ter­less Bangkok through street (it takes you from Charoen Krung to Rama IV), Thanon Sura­wong, which runs par­al­lel to the major com­mer­cial thor­ough­fare of Thanon Silom, but has none of that wide boulevard’s hotels, banks, mar­kets (at least not at this end) com­merce or fas­ci­nat­ing dis­trac­tions (the 19th Cen­tu­ry Chi­nese ceme­tery and the large Hin­du Tem­ple are but two) sits the Neil­son Hays Library.

It’s less than a kilo­me­tre from the ugly flesh­pots of Pat­pong, which many vis­i­tors some­how think define Krung Thep – they love to hear and repeat sto­ries of the gang­sters, knives and threat that sup­pos­ed­ly lurks behind the gawdy doors — when in real­i­ty most­ly it’s a just a tourist dri­ven pit, a kind of Dis­ney World with pole danc­ing for the the gullible.

But back to the Library. It has one — a library that is — plus a cafe, and an art gallery (of sorts — more a wall in the cafe), which they claim has, and I quote:

one of the largest col­lec­tion of Eng­lish lan­guage titles in Bangkok. Offer­ing a wide vari­ety of con­tem­po­rary fic­tion and non-fic­tion, fresh books arrive every month. Check out our lat­est titles to see what’s new right now. We also stock an impres­sive array of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers.

Gosh. That’s real­ly good.

So good in fact, some­body rec­om­mend­ed we join it short­ly after we arrived in Bangkok. Yep: one of the largest col­lec­tion of Eng­lish lan­guage titles in Bangkok.

Aside of course from the 35 or so branch­es of Asia Books in the city also with their online cat­a­logue of half a mil­lion e‑books and their we-can-get-any­thing pol­i­cy, or the three branch­es of the extra­or­di­nary Kinoku­niya, the likes of which many native Eng­lish speak­ing cities don’t have (the Paragon branch is arguably bet­ter than Strand in NYC) and most espe­cial­ly New Zealand (where, yes we do have a hand­ful of very, very good indie book­shops but noth­ing like this).

Which is my point, or get­ting to it. The per­son who sug­gest­ed we join was a New Zealan­der, res­i­dent in Bangkok for well over a decade — but not. She, like so many com­pa­tri­ots and oth­er old Com­mon­wealth types (Cana­di­ans seem to be except­ed) have nev­er want­ed to. Be res­i­dent that is: they live in a house in the city for a vari­ety of rea­sons, most­ly work or spouse-work.

Next to the Neilsen Hays Library is the British Club. It’s where most­ly Brits, New Zealan­ders and Aus­tralians of a cer­tain type like to hang. There are Thais in there of course — some­body has to pour the drinks and park the cars.

On their web­site they say:

Often described as “an oasis in the heart of Bangkok”, the British Club Bangkok is the Social, Sports & Cul­tur­al Cen­tre for the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Com­mu­ni­ty in Bangkok.

Ahh… away from natives and all that spicy food and, well, Thai­land.

Indeed, the word Oasis repeats itself on the NHL site:

A major achieve­ment was the instal­la­tion of air-con­di­tion­ing in 1999! This has great­ly enhanced com­fort and the sense of oasis from the heat and traf­fic out­side.

Our asso­ciate (let’s call her a friend — her mum is a friend of my mum’s) sug­gest­ed that we join The British Club too. It’s an oasis. Not real­ly for locals. She talks of ‘locals’ often, as in “we don’t go to that mall, it’s for the locals”, or “we only buy import­ed fruit and vege, not the stuff grown by ‘locals’ ”. She explains that, despite the fact that she’s been in Thai­land for over a decade and her kids are both around a decade old, there is no need for either to learn Thai, as that’s only use­ful when inter­act­ing with ‘locals’.

And why would they?

Well, maybe when the New Zealand adults advance their par­tic­u­lar char­i­ty.

Because — and I am not josh­ing — my nation­al com­pa­tri­ots raise mon­ey and dis­trib­ute funds in Bangkok assigned to teach very poor Thai kids to play *rug­by*.

Because — and now I am mak­ing fun (because there is noth­ing else you can do when faced with such obscene con­de­scend­ing absur­di­ty, dri­ven by embed­ded West­ern self-impor­tance and delu­sion) nat­u­ral­ly phys­i­cal­ly small, like­ly under-nour­ished chil­dren from Klong Toey prob­a­bly need a game regard­ed in the king­dom as unskilled and thug­gish in their lives far more than edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties or infra­struc­ture — or com­put­ers — or health­care — or.…

That’ll sort you, young ‘local’.…… make a man of you!

Most­ly the dogs in Thai­land are not mad, but the ozone-deplet­ed mid­day-sun in the Great South­ern Land and its wee off-islands seems to have pen­e­trat­ed and fraz­zled parts of two of the last bas­tions of the empire.

These are pecu­liar peo­ple. But they, as in the New Zealand bit, come from a land where our kids are still pri­mar­i­ly taught Great Britain’s his­to­ry in Sec­ondary Schools, ignor­ing 170 years of dis­tance, and our geo­graph­ic posi­tion in the world, plus the per­cent­age of our youth for whom the 1832 Reform Act is less impor­tant than the 1858 Treaty of Tientsin in their make­up.

To be fair, the above are not absolute­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of New Zealan­ders abroad, or even close to it. Not all, or even most, New Zealan­ders, Aus­tralians and Eng­lish (I’m exclud­ing Irish, Welsh and Scots as from all of the above as pret­ty uni­form­ly they seem to be more inter­na­tion­al­ly robust, most­ly I guess since they’ve been bat­tered by over­lord­ing alien invaders for up to a mil­len­ni­um) live in that odd post-Raj world in Asia, but enough do to be able to say that it’s not easy to always hold your head up and hand over a black and sil­ver pass­port at immi­gra­tion.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Chris Waugh
December 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Ah, the ugly side of Expa­tria. Change a few place names and what you’ve described here could be just as accu­rate a por­tray­al of a sec­tion of Bei­jing expat soci­ety.

December 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm
– In reply to: Chris Waugh

The same could be said of 100 oth­er places I guess (Bali was far worse), but it still does­n’t make it any eas­i­er to live next to 🙂

George D
December 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Post­ed from a bar vis­it­ed only by malae and the occa­sion­al wealthy local…

You’re always going to sit some­where in between — you’re in some­one else’s coun­try — but even with a strong com­mand of Tetun and work­ing with ‘locals’ dai­ly, I still don’t see them much on the week­ends. I went around to my ‘local’ boss’s place today, gave him some gifts and we sat down and talked. The kind­ness extend­ed my way exceeds that which I’ve giv­en, in every way.

So, you reach a com­fort­able point, and then you don’t step past it. I can see how some­one start­ing with the wrong atti­tude, whose motives are fear and anx­i­ety, could eas­i­ly find it more and more dif­fi­cult to engage. None of which excus­es the fact that a small amount of self-reflec­tion would find them exam­in­ing their sit­u­a­tion and mak­ing efforts to rec­ti­fy it.

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