#385

March 4, 2017

Matthew,

I just got home and decided to hold off eating lunch until I got this written down. I’m a little unnerved after seeing a moped accident only twenty minutes ago while I was walking home from my favorite vegetarian restaurant. It was another one of those moments where it’s hard to know what happened, because there wasn’t really a collision. From what I can tell, it was just overconfidence combined with inexperience that caused it, though I’m sure it didn’t help that there were three people piled onto one of these tiny machines.

From what I could tell, it seemed like the boy driving was trying to dodge a woman who was parked on the side of the road and had just opened her door. Her expression was that of annoyance, though there was definite concern. I’m not sure if the concern was for the people, however, or for herself and the loss of face, but I do know she seemed like she wanted nothing to do with the situation.

The kids were almost run over, too, by a truck. It was a fiasco, and it really shook me up. I kept walking, annoyed by what I was sure to be another one of those incidents that was caused by puerile disregard, but then one of the girls began crying and it really got to me. I had to look. She was clutching her shoulder and sobbing loudly, while flock of bystanders dumbly hovered around, uncertain of what to do.

I hardened my heart and pressed onward. Truth be told, I wanted to kneel next to the girl and hold her hand until the ambulance arrived, but I talked myself out of the sympathy that was attempting to take over. It’s hard to explain this struggle, but I will briefly attempt to, if not only to absolve myself of this coldness that I think you and my friends know is not typical of me.

First, everyone is always in a hurry. Even on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, people with disposable income are all moving at unsafe speeds to get somewhere. Second, mopeds are dangerous. These stupid things are everywhere, and for some reason nobody seems to comprehend that they were not designed for long-distance street driving. Third, there are no traffic rules. People squeeze these stupid little idiot-bikes everywhere they will fit, and it is just dangerous.

I just don’t understand what goes on around me. The Thai are some of the most unconcerned people I have ever seen when it comes to safety. It blows my mind, the overall absence of fear. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time feeling sorry for people when this happens. You can only take so much crap and observe so much stupidity before you start to kinda say Ok, prick, you get what you deserve. You think I haven’t tried? They can’t be told anything. I hate it for them, because I can still hear the sobbing in my mind and it is still messing with me, but at the same time I wish they would take that next step and understand that rules and laws keep us safe.

I don’t like this mix of emotions. I need to watch some cartoons or something.

Pete

#358

May 12, 2016

Matthew,

I haven’t talked much about Thailand these past two years or so, and I certainly haven’t talked very much about my job. The truth is that I really can’t make heads or tails of anything out here. I am halfway to my third year, and what little traction I have achieved is laced with so much paranoia. It is all I can do to simply hold still, let my back account slowly heal, and let my body slowly heal as well through diet and exercise.

But what is it like living here? Let me try to illustrate in a soul-crushingly hilarious way.

*****

Imagine you go to Little Caesar’s for one of their famous five-dollar pizzas. You point to the delicious pizza, which is hot and ready. The woman smiles and nods and retrieves your pizza.

“That’ll be six dollars,” she says.

“But wait,” you say, “the sign says five dollars.”

“Yes, but this one is six,” she replies, still smiling, albeit nervously.

“Well, I wanted a five dollar pizza,” you argue, trying to keep your cool.

“But I have already retrieved this one. It is on the counter, and you have agreed to buy it.” Her smile is starting to make you angry.

Then you notice that all activity has ceased. You notice that customer and employee alike are staring at you in terror. The woman is still smiling, but it is clear by this point that she wants you to simply give her six dollars and get out. You don’t know it yet, but you have completely messed up. If you ever see any of those people again, they will tell everyone in the room what an unreasonable piece of crap you are. It will have such a profound ripple effect that you may have to start buying your supplies on a completely different side of town.

*****

Imagine that you are at the gym. You see a young man on a standard bench getting ready to do bench presses. To your surprise, he lays back, lifts one foot in the air, and proceeds to do quarter to third repetitions quickly and furiously, all the while his neck is raised and his upper back isn’t even touching the bench. You look around to see what all of the other employees are doing. You see that several of them notice him, including a few that you presume to be personal trainers judging by what they are wearing. By this point, you’re a little worried, because the young man on the bench is performing what is arguably the most unsafe exercise in the history of public gyms.

So you go over to him. You say, “Hey, man, hop up for a second and let me show you the right way. What you’re doing is unsafe, and you can really hurt yourself. Here is the standard way.”

You perform a correct bench press. The young man smiles and nods in what you suspect but truly hope is not a patronizing manner. He gestures to the bench, so you get up. He lies down, and follows your method.

But you notice something. Everybody in the gym is now staring at you, some quite angrily. The young man stupidly mimics your movements with an idiotic grin, but you realize too late that you have screwed up. You’re not supposed to correct anybody. You’ve made this guy lose face, and now you are a savage and a piece of crap. You may as well pack it up and find a new gym, because by tomorrow the word will have spread to a hundred people what a piece of crap you are, and they will always treat you with disdain while maintaining an infuriatingly mocking level of decor and politeness.

Even worse, you notice in one of the gym’s mirrors that as soon as you turned your back on the young man, he has returned to his idiotic manner of bench-pressing.

*****

Imagine being in a country that has to approve your departure. You literally can’t leave until they let you, and you will be subject to a monetary shakedown if you simply quit your job and try to leave.

Imagine having to pay extra for everything you do because you are a wealthy, fat American who is here to ruin everyone’s life.

Imagine being stuck in a van on a visa run with half a dozen drunk and violent Turks and Russians, all the while tearing down a road with a thousand potholes, no safety rails, and a deep trench in place of a median, all at speeds in excess of a hundred miles an hour.

Imagine being antagonized by people just because they know if you react they can call fifteen of their buddies to kick the crap out of you and then everyone within four square miles of the incident will tell the cops that the affray was your fault.

Imagine having to defecate in a hole without any toilet paper.

*****

And what is is like to work where I work?

Imagine you are standing at the front of the classroom, when all of a sudden one of your students takes his pants off. He doesn’t remove anything else, he doesn’t gyrate or gesture, he simply removes his pants and returns to the assignment you have given him. You wait for a few minutes, and knowing what you know about the culture, you know that nobody is going to say anything. However, your instincts are too strong, and you finally speak up.

“Hey, put your pants back on,” you say, with only a hint of an edge in your tone.

But the student simply shakes his head.

“Put your pants back on NOW,” you insist. By this point, the same thing is happening once again. Everyone is staring at you in horror, and all working has ceased. Class ends on a sour note, and thirty minutes later, your boss calls you into his office.

“You can’t do what you just did,” your boss explains with a hint of impatience.

“The kid took his pants off! You know that is inappropriate!”

“Yes, I do,” you boss agrees calmly, “but you made that kid lose face. This is simply a part of the culture, so you’re going to have to learn to ignore certain things.”

“BUT THE KID TOOK HIS PANTS OFF IN CLASS!!!”

“I’m going to have to write you up for this incident,” your boss explains with a look of sad regret. “In the future, please take care not to make another student lose face like that.”

*****

Imagine being pelted with rocks by a group of [nationality redacted] teachers. One day, you’ve finally had enough and you tell one of them angrily to chill out. Once again, you find yourself summoned to the boss’s office.

“I’m going to have to write you up for shouting. You don’t do that with this culture.”

“But they were throwing ROCKS AT ME!” you shout.

“Yes, I know,” your boss calmly explains, “and I’ll look into it. In the meantime, I’m going to have to write you up. In the future, just let them hit you with the rocks until they get bored.”

*****

Imagine an administrator who willfully withholds deadlines, comes to you after the deadline to tell you that you have missed it, then merrily skips down to their office to write a letter to the director about what an irresponsible turd you are.

Imagine a building full of kids who literally come and go as they please and you are not allowed to discipline them or give them a failing grade in spite of the fact that they have failed all of your tests and have not submitted a single assignment.

Imagine a kid calling you a bad word and then reporting it to the principal, only for the principal to smile and nod stupidly.

Imagine that you have tolerated all of the aforementioned nonsense with as much grace and aplomb as your demeanor and instincts allow, and then finally one day you say to yourself that you honestly don’t care if anybody in that building lives or dies.

*****

There is a lot less hyperbole in what I have said than you might imagine. However, every job and every situation has its highs and lows. Whether or not I would be having a similar time at a job in America is hard to say, because the last real job I had was with the Army ten years ago.

And on that note, I want you to know that I am well aware of all the things I had to change. Between my spending habits, my drug habits, my eating habits, and my overall day-to-day decisions, my life needed to be taken completely apart and reassembled. I have voiced this on numerous occasions, and my position remains the same.

Much has improved. I have a little bit of money now. I have a much better diet. My exercise routine has much more focus and purpose. Furthermore, in spite of all the crap that I endure on almost a daily basis, I am managing to grow a little every day. This experience has been taxing, trying, and maddening, but I see the big picture here. I don’t believe that I would be in a better position if I opted to stay where I was.

In fact, I can’t really entertain a positive outcome whatsoever, because staying where I was would mean staying who I was.

When you know that trust is tenuous and you know that people are gunning for your kneecaps at your job, it can make you bitter. It can make you edgy. It can make you mean. It can make getting out of bed a decidedly arduous ordeal. But there has to come a point where you are honest with yourself. Where else would you be? Would things be any different if you continued down that road? This is the edge that I have over the people who insist on remaining the same. I may not have the slightest clue where this road will lead, but I have a crucial advantage:

I want to change.

Sometimes it requires a rather brutal proving ground to initiate this desire. I will no longer ignore the truth of this. I’m still at the stage where repeating these things is absolutely necessary, however. I’m new to being a new person. I’m new to the mindset of taking the path of least resistance. Although I am over two years into this intensive set of practices, it is all quite unfamiliar territory.

And there is genuine beauty here in Thailand. Truly. My girlfriend is amazing, and this is still an exciting experience. I won’t deny that there are things I very much enjoy. I am torn on the idea of ever leaving just because of the food and the wonderfully exciting atmosphere of the open markets. My life is not without its perks, trust me. My domicile is clean and spacious. I have food and coffee. My girlfriend is not a depressed white woman who has lost count of how many partners she has had. Certain people are quite amiable and polite to me as well. Life is still good. In fact, in some ways my life is better than it has ever been.

But there is nothing at this time that I can do to change any of the negative things in my life (and there are plenty), except how I respond. I’m entering my third year at this school knowing for a fact that nobody has changed, and getting myself in the right mindset is not so simple. These people (and I mean everyone, Thai and foreigner alike) are like lab mice. Some of the bad ones have been fired, and some of them reassigned, yet I can see that they are still mechanically and absent mindedly pushing the button with their little noses and waiting for the cheese. It is more than a little depressing to see people my age and older who are simply unwilling to change.

Because that is the worst part about living in Thailand. People don’t come here to change like I did. People don’t come here to think about their lives. They come here to stay the same. They come here to underachieve. They come here for easy access. They come here to find a place to do as little as possible and never be chastened for being selfish and stupid. So for a person who is focused, serious, and trying hard to be public-minded, you can find yourself hopelessly frustrated doing something simple, like going to a print shop to make copies, or even ordering a cup of coffee. Stuff can go so wrong so quickly, and often times you will never know what happened. Just be happy that there are fifty coffee shops and places to make copies. The only thing that is truly predictable here is that somebody somewhere is going to mess up what you are doing, no matter how passive you are or how reasonable your request is. I hate to be so blunt like that, but it has been long enough for me to move this phenomenon into the category of absolute truism.

So there is the challenge. No matter how passive I am this year, it’s only a matter of time before a student does something stupid and disrespectful. No matter how hard I work, somebody somewhere is going to complain. And when it comes time once again for administrative help, such as taxes, immigration, or entering my grades, somebody somewhere is going to either put my request at the bottom of the stack, pass the buck, ignore me, or grudgingly help me and behave the entire time like I have just asked them to remove one of their kidneys and give it to me. I’m not being cynical. This is reality.

So I just have to do my best to not say anything. This is my biggest challenge to date. Biting my tongue is going to be hard. However, there is one thing I know for certain: people are rotten here because they know they can get away with it. People are rotten here because this is a culture where confrontation is a greater misdeed than whatever misdeed sparked the confrontation. Even when I am perfectly polite and one hundred percent correct, I lose for saying something. This is why I keep coming up short.

This will be my greatest challenge. This will be my biggest test to date. There is a voice inside of me saying that I know I will screw up, but this time I really want to come out on top. It’s no longer about establishing some kind of image as a good teacher. It’s no longer about trying to repair or make up for past mistakes. No, this is about proving that I can survive under crappy conditions and still manage to set things right in my own life. This is about proving that I can run in to a hot spot under heavy fire and still manage to save a few of the kids from turning out to be complete worthless pieces of crap. I will not let them strip me of my desire to change, and I will not let them alter my outlook.

So, having finally grown bored with talking about myself, I figure this is a good place to close and get on with my day.

Khop Khun Krap,

Pete

Forced Interaction at Mega Bangna

Sasi and I were at the mall today. We were at the New Balance store and I was trying on a pair of shoes, when out of the corner of my eye I can see a white dude and his Thai wife eyeing the store from just outside. My heart dropped a little when they entered. The man was talking loudly, and he looked like he was trying his best to be seen and heard.

The white guy was visibly impatient. There was only one sales associate at that time, and he was helping me when the white dude came in.  But the white guy kept trying to get the sales associate’s attention. I wondered to myself if he was being a dick or if he was truly just self-centered and dumb. Regardless, the guy retreated to the front of the store after unsuccessfully engaging the sales associate.

The sales associate helped me with two different pairs of shoes. I took them to the counter. The sales associate started trying to tell me about how many points I had on my One Card. I told him to use all my points, so he got on the phone to try and set up the transaction. Up came the white guy holding out one of the model shoes from the display rack. The sales associate rested the phone on his shoulder and proceeded to fetch the box for the impatient man. Apparently satisfied, the white guy sauntered back over to the front of the store to try on the shoes.

Oh my goodness THANK YOU LORD.

I thought for a minute he was going to try and talk to me. Please don’t talk to me, sir.

But just as I had turned to face the sales associate and put this annoying situation behind me, the white dude spoke:

“So those are the ones you’re going with?” he asked gruffly. I turned, and he motioned to the new pair of shoes I was wearing out of the store.

I offered him a short answer, and then turned to the counter. The sales associate told Sasi something about my points not being accepted, and then asked if I wanted to try again. I figured he got something wrong because he was distracted by this impatient white dude, so I declined. Even if that was not the case, I was just ready to go.

The sales associate began to calculate my total when the white dude walked up to the counter and faced me.

“So what do you think about all these hearings?”

Son of a bitch.

I gave short answers once again, trying my best not to even be partisan on the matter. He said something about MSNBC, so I figured there was a chance he wasn’t a member of a radical faction. Still, I wanted to leave. I don’t care what you think. You’re rude. You’re pushy. You’re not gonna get your way with me. You’re not gonna force me into shooting the shit with you because you’re lonely.

But the trap had been set.

His Thai wife started chatting up Sasi like they were old roommates. Every time I turned to see if we could get out of there, Sasi would tell me something else about the couple.

Hey, these guys are from Chonburi! Chonburi, cool. Yeah, I used to work in that city.

So then I turned to face the white dude again.

“Yeah it’s all going down hill.” Word, man. It is. Holy effing shit it completely is. And I totally did not expect you to say those exact words, either.

I turned to see where Sasi was in her interaction.

She works close to where I work. Wow. Small world, yo. Can we leave?

I turned to the white dude again.

“I’m originally from Canada. Just living off my retirement.” He hinted as being a roadie for bands. He tried to repeat it in different ways when it didn’t get the reaction he was looking for. But I wasn’t biting. I don’t give a crap what bands you carried speakers for. My shoes have been purchased. You’re a penis. Keep your stories.

I turned to Sasi, and my exact greatest fear was realized.

I nearly burst a blood vessel in one of my eyes when saw it. Sasi was smiling at me so sweetly, too. I gasped in horror, however, as I watched the gals pull out their phones. I saw Sasi firing up the trusty Line Application, where she would be adding yet another person to her list of people she will never see again.

I turned back to the guy, who was talking with a female sales associate who had just come in. Perfect. He’s distracted. Now let’s get out.

But the guy’s wife wanted to talk to me about writing a book. Alright, Sasi, that’s two strikes for you. I had to stumble through conversation with the Thai wife. It was annoying.

Can we go now?

Nope. We had to do the one thing that destroys a clean break: we exchanged names.

The dude had a weird name, too. It matched his blandness and the dumbness of his face. I think it was something like Clertch. Clert? Gortch? It was something weird like that.

AND THEN… we did the OTHER thing I didn’t want to do: We made an empty promise to visit if we are ever in town.

Yeah, lady. I want to drink your husband’s shitty beer and listen to his stories while he shows me autographed shit I will never, ever care about. He probably has a hunting bow collection or something equally masculine and stupid. I also want to see your dumb little Pomeranians who yap every time one of us makes a sudden movement. We have so much in common.

But then, the transmission was finally broken. I don’t know how the break was finally made, but I made it little secret that I was more than ready to go. I dashed out of the store, my frustration now forgotten in the face of this second chance at life.

As we rounded the corner and certainly out of earshot of the couple, I finally just blurted it out:

“Holy shit those people sucked!”

Sasi just laughed about it, but I was pissed for a few minutes afterwards. Those guys made us do the whole friggin’ dance, too. The trap was so well executed.

Which was a little weird, by the way, because the man tried to come off as an Alpha to a store clerk who was way too young to be even remotely receptive to this behavior. After he tried more than once to talk with me, it was clear the dude really did want to have a chat. He looked socially needy. It was kinda sad.

But I just don’t care. There is no rule that says we have to chat you up. We’re not going to find common ground. You know what it takes just to get to this damn mall. You know we must have other shit to do.

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that. I could go into the reasons I don’t like expats and these kinds of couples, but just like earlier the point is moot. I just hate that we were so effectively flanked like that. It was some stone cold bullshit.