You know I went through Bangkok 12 years ago when me and my then girlfriend were travelling. Meant to see the sights but ended up drunk most nights and then it was time to catch our flight, down to the islands. It was great to see, a great place to be you know, you really are very lucky. Very lucky indeed. So exciting your life must be, to live in a land of ancient, mystical, mystery.
I’m sat in a pub in my hometown and a friend of a friend has sat down and started to expound his views on my choice of locale to work.
Man, you must be living the dream, out partying every weekend, Bangkok it just seems to have the complete scene. I can see it now, the tuk tuks and songtaews, the som tam and the beer Laos and not forgetting the girls with the know how, know what I mean? Endless cycle of street food and dancing until to cops take you downtown. Am I right?
I grip my pint harder. There is pain. I try to think of ways to explain that actually mate it’s not really like that and whilst yes, there are exotic things I live in a house with my wife, my son, a guitar and two cats; like any other man in his thirties who is slowly getting fat and as a matter of fact, I have to be in bed early because I am not travelling, I am an expat.
And the people! So friendly (he opines), always smiling, that charming, disarming smile. Happy to serve you, Is what I’m saying, it seems like all the time they’re just playing. What’s that bow with the hands, the one that lets you know you’ve come to a foreign land.
Why’s it called that? Get it? Huh huh huh.
By this point my glass could crack so tight is my grip on it, stonily I take another sip, run my tongue over my teeth and purse my lips. My friend looks pleadingly, silently needing me to cut this guy some slack. But, too late, my irritation has gone too far, like the straw placed upon the camel’s back, words start priming, set verbiage to attack, and as the vitriol comes thick and fast there’s just a few things I’d like to say to this massive and ignorant arse.
Sorry (I start slowly not wanting to confuse someone for whom thoughtfulness is placed so lowly), you appear to be thinking of Disneyland, a hotel or a zoo. Thai people are as friendly as the people of the next country and the next one too. But they are people, not amusements and anyway, that’s a stereotype that’s only partially true. See how friendly they are when you try to leave a bar without paying the tab. You’ll find yourself pinned to the wall whilst a Thai man who is, by all reasonable standards, unstereotypically tall will take everything you own. I’ve begun to see more than the smile and the wai, the shrug and the mai pen rai, the taxi drivers who are scarily high. You know how I learnt that? Because I am not travelling, I am an expat.
Do you know what I do most weekends? I don’t go out raving until half past four, I don’t pass out on a random girl’s floor, I don’t hang out with a gaggle of whores call me such a bore but I take my child swimming and go to the shops, I talk with my wife about life and very, very occasionally I wake up to the sound of gentle waves washing over tropical shores. I wish we did that more. But we can’t just throw our worldly possessions in a back pack, chuck all our desires into an oversized rucksack, because I am not travelling, I am an expat.
The difference is that a tourist tours. Sees the highlights as he or she scores another place name off an itinerary and in the moment encapsulates a mood and a feeling that remains unrestrained by the mundane factors such as having to buy onions or pay the bills.
And whilst those things you saw do exist – the girls, the dancing, the naked chicks – no one goes there every week for the same reason every Londoner doesn’t go to Spearmint Rhino when they fancy a drink.
But in a way I do live the dream. I have, as I’ve already mentioned, a wife and a son, a job, a car and a house. I live in Bangkok it’s true, but the thing that actually really excites me is the food. Not partying with a girl – formally a dude – who happens to be nude. Sometimes it’s hard to explain the difference when caught in vicarious reminiscence, but it remains an undeniable, concrete-cast fact – I am not travelling, I am an expat.