I Learned Something About My Burmese Friend Yesterday…

I have a friend from Northern Burma, his mother was from Nepal, his dad, in the military in Burma before he died of drinking too much.

I’ll call him Mick, he seems like a Mick to me as much as he seems like his other name. Mick is 28 and has lived in Thailand for the past 8 years doing various construction jobs when and were he could. He stayed in Bangkok for a while and then moved south for the past couple of years where I’ve been lucky to know him.

He doesn’t work in construction anymore with the other Burmese in the area, he found himself a new job that pays pretty well (9-15,000 THB per month) depending whether it’s Thailand’s tourist ‘high-season’ or not. Mick is a funny guy, he listens well, and more importantly – the guy has hundreds of stories that are just fascinating to me, about his life in Burma before coming to Thailand.

Yesterday we ate apples as he told me about what was going on in the workplace where he works with four Thai guys, three of which he has known for more than 3 years…

One of the guys was new to Mick – but not new to the job. He’d been there years before, and had long since quit and done other jobs. Some weeks ago he returned and wanted to get right back into the job like he was before.

Problem was, Mick was now doing part of this guy’s old job. Let’s call the new Thai guy, Dick, because, as you’ll see in a minute – Dick was a serious dick, and he and Mick were at odds constantly.

Dick wanted Mick out of the business. He wanted his old job back just the way he had it before, and he wanted Mick the hell out. It started with some short disagreements and arguments between the two. Dick would tell Mick things the way Dick wanted them done – which went against how Mick was taught by the owner – uhh, lets call the owner “Mack” as in “Mack Daddy”.

Eventually it became too much and Mick started to directly disagree with Dick and to do it his own way. They had many talks with Mack about it – and Mack didn’t care one way or the other. He told them to just resolve their differences and quit bothering him. Mack loved Dick because Dick could do some crucial parts of the job – and was happy to have him back. Mack loved Mick because Mick worked his ass off and was VERY friendly to customers and other co-workers alike. Mack wanted them both to stay and get over it.

Dick wasn’t OK with that and ramped it up by saying, throughout the day, something like…

“Oh, your wife, she’s not pretty, but I’d give her about 200 baht to fuck her… She’d probably give me change though.”

Mick boiled inside, he told me. But, Mick wanted, more than anything – to continue to work at that job because otherwise he’d be making 3,000 baht per month as a construction worker like the rest of his Burmese friends. Mick realized at the first signs of a problem with Dick that he’d have to keep hold of his emotions for as long as necessary.

After the offer of cash for his wife, Mick told Dick that it wasn’t nice to say such things and that he would never say anything bad about Dick’s wife or family. Mick asked Dick to leave his family out of their discussions.

Now, at this point – I don’t know about you… but, for myself I’d give a warning and make it real clear to Dick that the next time the words “your wife” came out of Dick’s mouth my fingers were going to be wrist deep in his eye sockets.

Dick listened to what Mick told him, then quickly said,

“I’ll give her 250 baht, that’s IT, and she better give it to me 3 times for that much money!”

Mick was able to keep his cool over it – repeatedly. It has happened daily for weeks, and is still going on. Mick told me that he went from fuming, to being able to rationalize that he was winning the game – the more that Dick was a dick to him.

Dick then started, during arguments with Mick to fake like he was going to punch Mick in the face, holding back just inches from connecting. He was trying desperately to get Mick to fight him. This is almost comical, considering Mick fought often back in Burma with police and military from the time he was 15 years old and working in the ruby and gold mines. Someone cheated Mick out of some money in Burma that was worth about 800 Thai baht… for months Mick could do nothing because the guy disappeared. Then Mick saw him at the table after he played soccer with his friends – they were eating and laughing…

Mick walked over calmly, and then grabbed the guy by the throat, pulled him up out of his chair and punched him in the face with his right hand as hard as he could swing for a half-dozen times or so, before anybody at the table even knew what was happening.

Mick fought the other 3 guys as well – and everybody was hurting by the end of it – including Mick of course.

I have no doubt, that Mick could either destroy dick, or just hurt him really bad.

It’s escalating all the time… just yesterday Mick told me that Dick grabbed him by the throat and threatened to punch him – Mick also grabbed the smaller Dick by the throat and squeezed it like he’d pop his head off. The boss saw it – and broke it up. See, Mick isn’t going to get hurt physically over it. If Dick hits him – I think it’s “game-on”.

But, it’s amazing to me that even up until now – Mick has never given in and let his anger get the best of him. He needs the money to support his wife and kids, and mother in Burma. He’ll do almost anything to keep that up – even take abuse from a big dick like Dick.

How many of us could do that?

Count me out.

Words Thais Cannot Say in English

Here are some words that I’ve tried to teach Thais to say – and for the most part, they cannot say them correctly.

My friend Steve said his wife cannot say “squirrel”.

The or anything with ‘th’.

She – or anything with ‘sh’.

Six, sixth, or any ordinal number.

Skin – my wife says Skeeen.

You got any?

Thai Lack of Responsibility

I could write a whole chapter for a book on this topic with the experiences I’ve had over the years with Thais. If you have stayed in Thailand or visited for any length of time, you have probably seen it too.

The most recent event, and the one that prompted this post came yesterday…

I had dropped off a new snake the week before – a deadly, and rare snake for this area, with some Thai friends that also keep venomous snakes. I didn’t have a good place to keep this new snake, and I trusted that these guys would take care of it for a few days until I was able to take it myself for a week and get some video of feedings.

So, I put it in a cage with about 3 other innocuous snakes – none big enough to bother my snake, and none small enough to be eaten by my snake. It’s a big cage and more than adequate for the small number of snakes that were in the cage.

I returned a few days later to find a king cobra in the same cage as my snake. King cobras eat other snakes. I explained to my friend – this wasn’t a good arrangement. He insisted it was fine. There were other snakes in the cage that the cobra would eat first before risking anything with my snake – also deadly to the cobra if bitten, but with a slight chance it could actually inflict damage to the king cobra.

I didn’t like the arrangement – but, my snake was under a rock, hiding and my friend insisted it was safe. I told my friend I’d come back the next day and pickup my snake. He assured me that the king cobra would not eat my snake. I wanted to believe him – thinking – he must know what the hell he’s talking about.

I returned 2 days later – having been unable to return the following day.

My snake was gone.

There were no openings in the cage – the snake could not have got out.

All the other snakes were still in the cage – including the king cobra.

Result – king cobra ate my snake.

So, I was bummed yesterday, and even more so because my friend showed no sense of responsibility at all. No remorse. And, least of all – no “Sorry about that…”

Thais so rarely say “I’m sorry.”

My wife doesn’t do it. My Thai friends – after having just destroyed my ping pong paddle, or 800 baht badminton racquet, or camera, or anything else… never even offer… “Sorry about that…”

That kind of sucks. I don’t expect it to change… it just sucks from my perspective because I go way out of my way to make it “right” if I break or lose someone’s things. There is a feeling of responsibility among farangs to do so – don’t you think so?

Thais just don’t have it. They don’t feel it I guess. Their culture taught them that “shit happens”. Karma, fate, whatever – it happens. Wasn’t my friend’s fault the king cobra ate my snake. There were 9 other cages my snake could have gone into – or that the king cobra could have been placed into and it would have been safe… but, no.

Thais have this tendency to do whatever the hell they want, and whatever results, results, they don’t get upset about it or feel any responsibility for what results – it’s as if they have no “me” sometimes. While this is the Buddhist ideal, hardly anyone in the country even meditates… none of my friends do. My wife doesn’t. It isn’t a lack of me – induced by Buddhist practice…

What is it then?

No idea… I just live with it. Yesterday was pretty much the last time I’ll ever trust a Thai with anything of value – even people I know very well. My friends knew how important that snake was… they had never even SEEN one themselves… and to be reckless with it – just doesn’t add up in my head.

Another thing that is hard to understand…

Over the years – I’ve been the reason for tens of thousands of baht going into their pockets… I never ask them for any favors at all… and this one time, I say – can you take care of my snake for a few days for me – until I get a good cage?

Sure, sure… yes, we can…

And they fook me over…

Such is life in Thailand.

Anybody else see it that way?

Thailand ODD Photos Series (Part 6: Thai People Sleep ANYWHERE!)


In Koh Samui I came up over a hill at a resort that sprawled across a lot of land and there was this Thai worker sleeping on the street! Actually, I wasn’t fast enough with the camera and there are 3 or 4 people to the side of me that were sleeping there but had stood up too quickly!


This Dhamma talk at Buddhist Temple, Suan Mokkh in Chaiya was just a little bit boring. They play Buddhadassa’s old dhamma talks over a loud speaker and it’s quite a relaxing activity.


Don’t know how this got in there – this kid is sleeping – but only his mind is asleep, body fully awake. This was at an English Camp a while back. I forget what they were doing.


Your Thai employees WILL be sleeping on the job – and it’s OK. Mai pen rai. Not a big deal. This was a pizza place I liked a lot.

Thailand ODD Photo Series Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Shama Kern has some AWESOME photos of Thai people sleeping strange places. Don’t miss the two guys on a motorbike sleeping. The guy on left is falling off the thing – hilarious. Thai People Sleep Anywhere.

..
.

Thai People Don’t WORRY. At All. Nothing. They Just Don’t.

I noticed something over the years and I might have mentioned it in a line or two in this blog before, but I’ve never written a post about it.

In 1996 I was with my then-wife’s family in Gibson City, Illinois. My father-in-law to be was Thai, having grown up in Thailand. He was Theravadin Buddhist and when he wasn’t saving people’s lives on the operating table at the local hospital he was holding meditation classes for thos that had an interest in it. His name is Somchai Supawanich. He’s a wonderful man that I remember fondly…

He was also a man of few words… but I remember one thing he said that I didn’t understand at the time, but that goes very well with this topic today.

He said that “Americans worry a lot about things… about the future. I think it’s part of the American culture to worry. It’s expected.”

I thought hard about that, and agreed with him on some level since I knew American’s spend their entire lives either in the future or the past and are rarely present for any real interactions with other people. We are a society that is too worried about the past and the future and it’s possible repercussions on us… mentally, emotionally, physically.

But, as I agreed with him I also thought – it couldn’t be any other way. Isn’t everyone in the world worrying about the future? I was sure they were – and yet I had no real experience that backed that up. Until spending time here in Thailand.

You know what? Thai people just DON’T worry about anything.

My girlfriend in 2.5 years has never told me ONE time that she was worried about something.

NEVER.

Anyone have a similar experience? I’m sure all expats here must have noticed this and if you haven’t you can start noticing today and see if it holds true.

I think it’s so surreal… but you know what? I’ve dropped about 4 levels from what I used to worry about too. If nobody is talking about what they worry about – what can I worry about? Why should I?

I wonder what the rate of neurosis is here in Thailand. Virtually non-existent I would think…

Anyone with me?

Thai – Farang Friends, Do we ever really KNOW each other?

There was a guy student of mine that was of Chinese
descent when I was teaching in Ubon. He had graduated
from a great school in Bangkok, and his father had a
construction business in Ubon so he returned after he
graduated to take an engineering position with the
company.

Smart guy. Worldly Thai guy, considering that most,
even the educated Thais' I would never consider
"worldly".  This guy had been around to many different
countries over the past 10 years both with and without
his family. Some of his friends were rather wealthy too
so they all went to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Taiwan,
China, Australia, and many other spots they could
hang loose and see how others' lived.

We got along pretty well and he was always asking me
to go out with him to different bars.  I did go a few times
and he taught me a lot about Thai social interaction
that was great to know.  The do's and dont's of  interacting
with Thai men and women and what is the norm… so,
from that aspect it was a great learning experience.

As it turns out, after about 9 times of going out and doing
things I realized that the guy says one thing and does the
opposite. Not a real reliable person, nor truthful in my
understanding of things. So I stopped going out with him.
I realized when I did that I never really understood the guy
much at all.  Maybe not AT ALL.  We laughed, we had a
good time – on the surface. But I wonder if anything he
told me was true, or if it was all a fabrication to build
"face".

I'm still not sure.

Anyway…  kind of the point of the notecard is that Thai
people with money, with prestige, with a life here they are
not much interested in same-sex visitors. They may
play the role a bit… they might have some interest but
their interest might not be in sharing a piece of them-
selves… their feelings, their TRUE feelings. Social
interaction between me and all Thais' seems to be more
of a social dance… they are very aware of what they are
revealing about themselves. They don't let you see the
dirty side of things. They only present the cleanest
image.

I wonder if they are that way with each other too.  I have
heard my girlfriend talk about negative things that were
affecting her – to her closest friends. But, never everything.
She reserves that. Not for me – just to hold inside hereself
I guess. I don't think it ever comes out.

She never cries… she never really seems sad or bored. To
me she might appear bored – but it is because I THINK she
MUST be bored without something to do for a long time.
But, she's not. She's quite OK with it…

So, this notecard is just another comment on the state of
farangs and Thai relationships. It's a shallow state of
friendship and maybe of love.  Shallow from what I consider
to be meaningful…

If a Thai person appears really interested in you and shows
a LOT of interest or gets excited about seeing you – I think
maybe it's because of the money factor. In some or most
cases I would guess this.

Those with money don't really associate with foreigners.
They don't care. They don't see us as an ATM because they
likely have as much or more money than we do.  They kind
of ignore us.

It's strange to notice…

I guess since I'm currently ranked LOW on the "connected"
scale of social prestige here in Thailand I see this.  Yes,
there are many Thais' with money that will associate with
farangs with money. Don't get me wrong. But, since overall
most Thais' don't have money. Most Thais' are very curious
about and want to have interaction with – foreigners.

Am I crazy or is someone else seeing this?

Thai Culture: Thai People Sleep ANYWHERE!

Thai man sleeping on the street
I don’t really have a problem with this, it’s actually quite funny. I have seen more people sleep in the strangest places, than ever before in my life.

Thai people can really fall asleep just about anywhere. I’ve posted a couple examples on this page… then a link to a news story that happened recently, months after this post was originally posted.

In the first there is a man sleeping on the road. No, he didn’t just have an accident nor is he in a drunken stupor and fell down and knocked his hat off. He’s sleeping on a road at a resort on the island of Ko Samui. My girlfriend and I were just riding around this ultra-nice resort (for Samui) and we crested a hill and nearly ran into about 6 people laying down on the road… I wasn’t quick enough to think fast enough to tell my girlfriend to HURRY, GET THE CAMERA, but that would have been the ultimate photo to explain what I’m talking about.

This one we were ready for… around the next bend and over the next hill crest we see this guy and she snapped this photo like a champ!

In the photo below there is a boy in my Mathyom 3 English (Math) class that has fallen asleep DURING my exam! It happened quickly, one second he was awake and struggling with it (or struggling against falling asleep), and by the time I had turned around he was out cold.

Thai student sleeping during exam

There were more kids trying to sleep in my class than is reasonable. Yeah, it’s a boring class – MATH IS BORING. I livened it up sometimes with some shenanigans – but, overall it’s boring as hell, I gotta admit.
At least science class might have a tiny PIECE of something one might get interested in. Math – uhm, nope. Unless I WAS INTERESTING, the class was bored because math is just BLAH to 15 year olds.

Other places I’ve seen Thai people sleep:

  • All over a wat – (Buddhist temple). I think some come there JUST to sleep.
  • On a coconut palm that was sort of horizontal over the beach.
  • In hammocks – ANYWHERE – they put a hammock up between two trucks.
  • In a hammock UNDER a truck – attached to the frame of the bed of a 20 wheeled truck.
  • Anywhere they are having monks chant.
  • During meditation.
  • In their office.
  • At a restaurant.
  • In their car, taxi, tuk-tuk, or song-laew.
  • On bleachers at a sports game.
  • On a motorbike as their friend is driving – the driver is HOLDING the drunk, sleeping person upright to keep him or her from falling off the bike.
  • I’ve also seen guys NOT being held by someone else, just leaning hard on the driver – with his arms wrapped around the driver – and not falling off, but unconscious for sure.

Man falls asleep in comfortable bed – AFTER HE ROBS someone’s house!
..
.