“The secret of a good memory is attention, and attention to a subject depends on our interest in it. We rarely forget that which has made a deep impression on our minds.” (Tryon Edwards 1809 – 1894)
Between Jun and Sep 2008 I stayed for fifteen weeks on the tropical island of Phuket and it was while based there that I formed my first impressions of Thailand. I made the hour long hop by plane on the occasional business trip to Bangkok and worked remotely on my business in Cape Town, in daily Skype contact, with my partner Paul. During this period I began to learn a little of what it would be like to live in Thailand permanently. I diarised my activities, observations and some of the more amusing (well, amusing to me that is) incidents which took place during my visit. It should be evident on reading that in 2008 I did not take either myself, or Thailand, too seriously. But I did glean some valuable information which I backed up in the four years following with research and some rather testing personal experiences.
Thailand is unfathomable, baffling, inexplicable, magical, perplexing, puzzling, veiled, enigmatic and secretive; in a word ‘mysterious’. If you stay for any length of time in Thailand there will be many times when temptation hooks you up to the internet in search of the cheapest air ticket to anywhere. You will feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall and then fall into the trap of making incomparable comparisons with your country of origin as you become bewildered by the aesthetic discord, pretence and hypocrisy. Everything seems to be broken or is about to break and whenever a workman fixes something it ends up worse than before. You will wonder why more people are electrocuted in showers than you could ever imagine possible. Then you find out that most electrical installations are not earthed and the ‘electrician’ (I use that word loosely) is perfectly content to connect several old bits of wire with tape to make up the required length. You wonder why and then you find out that he has saved the customer twenty baht in materials and charged him an extra fifty baht in labour! You are desperately trying to understand a new culture, new customs and a new ‘sign’ language. You know nobody thinks like you so you are trying to think like everybody else and you are slowly going doolally and are about to have a kynyption. If you think you are the only one in step then don’t worry you’ve just joined the tribe.
Evolutionary Biologist Professor Richard Dawkins says that humans are far more uniform
than any other species and there is a greater genetic difference between two chimpanzees in the same forest than there is between two human beings living at opposite ends of the earth. We humans are, then, so uniquely uniform that it is hardly surprising that, behind the mask, Thais are just like everyone else; vibrant, intelligent and adorable people. Thailand is irresistible.
Welcome to this captivating and enthralling land. Contradiction, controversy, confusion, frustration, weird language, cultural barriers and mystery will haunt you. When you eventually get over the early shocks, which may incidentally take years, and you realise that you cannot fix a ‘dysfunctional’ nation without a modicum of help from above you can begin your bumpy journey.