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 01:12 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 04:12 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 03:12 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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