Recently, there was a video making the rounds of the social networking sites. Its title, NEVER GO TO THAIILAND, with a subtitle of Worst Vacation Ever. The quality of the video is highly professional. A lot of people were choosing to comment without actually viewing the video – making incorrect assumptions, as we all do in life at times. Not surprising, given that we live in a society that has book reviews written by people who never actually read the book. Why let the small details of living a good life get in the way of our desired end result? The video is worth a look, if you have the time, if not, it’s okay.
The video title is tongue in cheek. The video itself is the antithesis of the title – at least for most people, I would hope. It shows all the many and varied good things about a country I have spent over half my time in, since 2001.
It got me thinking about why I like Thailand. Why I even love it, warts and all. And make no mistake, we are talking about one ugly, wart covered frog, living in a cracked, upside down coconut shell, in the dark, at times. Life may be a beach but in Thailand, murders happen on those beaches, rapes happen on those beaches, yachts are pirated and people are kidnapped not far from those beaches. Tsunami’s even happen on those beaches.
I’ve always believed, whether it is in business or in life, that little things matter. Little things add up to great sums over time.
A jug fills drop by drop.- Buddha
And just as a jug will indisputably fill one drop at a time our lives are filled up one moment at a time. The one common denominator we all share is that we know we are going to die. Unlike the happy and content dog that has no idea he’s being measured for a grave, we humans do. We know we may have a choice between ashes or Mahogany, small, medium or extra large containers but we will all die, one day.
I came to Thailand to die. I needed to be surprised. I wanted to be shocked. Bangkok is unpredictable and it delivers if you give it a chance. Even the small adventures are memorable. – Stirling Silliphant
The above quote by Oscar winning Hollywood television and screenplay writer, Stirling Silliphant, is from the excellent book by Jerry Hopkins titled, BANGKOK BABYLON -The Real Life Exploits of Bangkok’s Legendary Expatriates in the short story, THE OSCAR WINNER. If you want to look at one of the most impressive writing resumes, ever, go to Stirling Silliphants Wikipedia page. If Bangkok was good enough for Stirling, a man that could choose to live anywhere in the world, it sure seems like a great choice for this former Auburn, California boy. Among the advice one receives from reading Jerry Hopkin’s book is the following quote, which I have practiced as much as is practical: “When in Bangkok, do what your mama told you never to do – talk to a stranger.”
One of my favorite restaurants on the Gulf of Thailand is Deutsches Haus located on Soi 4 on Beach Road in Pattaya City. I’ve been eating there for 12 years. I’ve eaten there with my wife and daughter; I’ve eaten there many times with a friend and fellow tennis aficionado, whom past away of a heart attack at the age of 61, a few years ago now. The last time I saw him, before I went to his Buddhist funeral, was a breakfast we had at Deutsches Haus on the last day of a trip to see the Pattaya Women’s Tennis Tournament, among other things.
The waitress who works there is named Mook. She has served my food many times. Mook is not a stranger but she once was, until I began talking to her, as Jerry advises. Mook is skinny, appears shy, cross-eyed, makes about $8.00 a day plus tips and has one of the most beautiful smiles you will ever see. And her crossed eyes always sparkle when she does smile. I asked Mook yesterday what her name meant, because most Thai nick names have an English meaning. Nok meaning, bird and Ped meaning, duck as two examples. She just waved her hands, said, “No meaning, Mook may suay” the latter part translated to, Mook is not beautiful. I don’t concur with Mook, I think she is one of the beautiful souls that Henry Miller talks about in the foundational quote that inspired Thailand Footprint’s creation. If you can forget yourself long enough the Mook’s of the world are everywhere. I was told later by her waitress friend, Da that Mook may mean a small seashell, like those you would find in the sand at the beach. The grace, humility, positive attitude towards work and inner beauty of people like Mook is just one reason I love Thailand.
Yesterday I spoke with Mook about how someone snatched my gold chain off my neck at that very restaurant, two days ago – it was Mook’s day off and she wanted to hear all about the big story she had missed out on. So I told her: as I sat at my table alone, drinking coffee, somewhat preoccupied in thought, a man had aproached me and in the blink of an eye yanked off the gold chain I wore around my neck. A chain purchased for $100.00 in a Kalgoorlie, Australia gold shop after an 8 hour train ride from Perth, W.A., 12 years ago. It had great sentimental value as that purchase came just one day before I met my wife, Ratree, for the first time. I chased my assailant as quickly as I could, yelling, thief! Police! Repeatedly. The calls did not go unanswered. Four good Samaritans, three of whom are Thai motorcy taxi drivers, answered the calls. One of those three was a large, strong Thai man with five Buddhist amulets dangling on his chest. He was most responsible for pursuing, capturing and holding the man for the police that arrived shortly thereafter amid a gathering crowd.
One small, very Thai detail: this man who stole my gold chain was a cross-dressing katoey as they are known in Thailand. There are many. And some steal often. The amazing thing was, the transvestite thief could sense the jig was up as the police arrived so he tossed the gold chain on the restaurant floor and then pointed at it, pretending he had helped find it. It was a good ploy on his part as the man in brown that talked to me in English soon after said it would be difficult to press charges with the evidence not found on him. I was so relieved to regain my object of sentimentality that I was okay with that. They did take his picture, 5’8″ 150 lbs, red lipstick, real shoulder length black hair and common yellow house-dress. This is Thailand too. Did I mention the restaurant is located just 25 yards from the beach?
The view from Deutsches Haus restaurant on Beach Street …
As I recapped the story to Mook, which was still very fresh in my mind, she smiled the whole time and seemed genuinely happy, which made me happy to see that. Mook repeated in English several times, “You lucky. You very lucky.” On that point, I had to agree with Mook. I am lucky. Lucky to have lived for as many months and years in Thailand as I have. Lucky to have had so many small moments fill my jug. If I am really lucky, that jug is only 2/3 full.
Because I cannot think of a better place to fill the last third of life’s jug than Thailand. A country where lucky is defined as having a man wearing lipstick and a dress, snatch and break your cherished gold necklace. Stirling Silliphant got it right, “Even the small adventures are memorable.” Just another day of collecting seashells (and an occasional pearl, for the lucky) at the beach, in Thailand.
This post was also published at Chiang Mai City News on Valentines Day 2014 and may be seen there by clicking the above banner