Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wealth of the World

When I moved here, I was desperately searching for a meaning, a reason for me to be here. My lesson, so to speak. The year before I graduated, I moved away from home, and was taught a massive lesson in respect and values. A lesson I will always benefit from. A lesson that took 5 months to learn. So when my eyes first rested on the city I now call home, what I was to learn was not apparent. Perhaps for a reason. I have been searching desperately but turned up nothing in this confusing array of hidden wonders. This is where I live.
Nestled in the beauty of this nation, there hides a microcosm, thriving in local nature, but in complete contrast to the character of the people and their national culture.
The most unfortunate truth about this, is first, I am not fabricating this, and second, the following has become a stereo type with a few selected foreign populations. The aim for many of these tourists, is simply, to experience the following.
On my night outs my ego gets stroked manically, it is unfortunately fair to say, that every local woman who crosses my path on these nights is fair game, for what is considered pocket change. I hear calls and chants (kaaa, sexy man) from hundred of women lines up on bar stools and dancing on tables edging the street. Every disco is packed with hands grabbing my arms and chest. The desire for something other then a lonely middle aged train wreck is phenomenal. The denials I distribute a night are on par with the number of students in my former school. However this needs to be made very clear. This, is not Thailand.
I live in Pattaya, considered to be the sex capital of South East Asia, interestingly, the United states navy can be somewhat thanked for this, as Pattaya was a selected R&R location for their extensive vocabulary of troops.
The average couple visible along the ocean walks consists of a 40-80 year old man, often visually dissatisfying, burdened with a beer belly, and most likely pained by several years of denial, and loneliness. Hanging off his arm, of course, the girlfriend. Thai women age extremely well, at first glance, a 30 year old will look 16 to 18. The one hanging off this mans arm, fits that profile.  She nods to what he is saying to her, in complete misunderstanding, waiting for him to laugh, he does, she follows along. I wear more cloths on my feet as she does in a week, I often think about her parents, if they are proud of this offspring. Though often the main concern is whether these parents are fed, and for this girl, doing what she is doing, those may be her concerns as well. What of the man, does he bother to look beyond what he can see? Does he choose to forget her ranking on the food chain is on par with him? Could he really do this knowing she is a human too?  This, is not Thailand.
Filling the movie theaters, these couples perform their, what they see as, ‘harmless forplay’. Seen from night clubs, off in the wings to benches along the beach. I have grown weary to these sites, they are a blank spot in my vision, the discussing truth of these tourists have become a forgotten gap in my evening visits to town. Turning away from problems was an act I despised, turning my eyes from this, keeps me sane. The men who are alone, often sit together waiting. The men who come with wives, let their vision wander. However far across the line these intentions go, the true disappointment occurs when they forget, this, is not Thailand.

I was repulsed when many of my younger female friends mentioned to me, that when they have been out, whether it be shopping with friends, or having a drink in a club, they have been approached, a pricing inquisition. These tourists seem completely oblivious to many things, to start, the respect of any female, local or not, has been dropped to a price. This, is not Thailand.
Secondly, in the amount of women that these men succeed in taking home, they will be shocked to realize, that quite a few of them, are not women. Though Kathoeys, or ladyboys are culturally common, an increase in order to gain money from prostitution has occurred in Pattaya especially. This, is not Thailand.
My eyes have been brought great disappointment in how I view my fellow man, I have been on many journeys, and I do not allow the views and ideals of travelers down the world famous “Pattaya walking street” alter how I respect my gender. To see so many men treat sex as a commodity, buying to those who are selling, has put me off such ideas. To be offered with full intent, countless times, it has become a habit to decline. To see such a massive group of people, publically involved in the trade, my views have been solidified on how horrible such an occupation can be. The Thai smile is so well known, though it is not here. Not on walking street. Not on the faces of those being brought home by such tourists. It is a different smile. This, is not Thailand.
I have been south, the islands, in Koh Phi Phi, I assisted in the construction of a tsunami relief facility, greeted with a nod until I bend my head, and with a simple “Sawadee Krap” a smile explodes across their faces. Community spirit is not hard to find as the one man with a tractor is busy all day helping for very little money. A group of hotel personal playing cards and enthusiastically firing Thai at me as I pretend to understand, stopping me to show me a snake as it slithers through the grass. Helping hands on Koh Chang as I hurry around taking photos of students fulfilling adventure awards, happily cruising around in boats and trucks to get me to where I need to be. Cooking in Chiang Mai, a couple shows me the ropes, as I grind up my curry paste. This, is Thailand.
I have swung from the trees of the northern jungles with a pack of wild and exciting Thai locals who claimed to not have a clue what they are doing, as the drop 25 meters upside down. I have been taught how to cook the most delicious food by farmers who grew everything themselves. I have walked through the local markets as the only white face in site, getting offered tastes and tests at every bend. Sitting in the bars of Bangkok with a crowd of university students, eager to show me their English skills, then filling up on a serving of street pad thai bigger then my head as I put an effort in holding up a local conversation. A simple hello will be returned with generosity beyond compare. My willingness to learn has provided a library of opportunities. This, is Thailand.
However, I have numbered my days here and I am only certain that it will come to an end before I realize it has truly begun, but what is it that I have learned? How much have I changed? The answer is unclear, though I am not disappointed, as my halfway mark has not yet been reached. There is one thing I know, like every opportunity that exists, there is much more to take from it then you can hold. I allow the food to fill my belly, and the smiles to fill my heart. Every day my mind gets packed more and more as I try to wrap my head around this culture, these people, their thoughts, our stories. This, is Thailand. This, is where I live.