Michael Batson

Travel Writer

Vietnam

Cambodia

Other

Travelogue

Lifers

 

Monday 17 May 2010

Thailand has been accepting tourists increasingly in their droves since the Vietnam War, when American GIs kicked off the whole tourist thing using the country attractions to escape their war experiences. US military planners used other parts of the country to stock, supply, maintain and operate their mass machinery of war.

In parts of this country it appears, in places, to be happy hour all day every day. The sun shines most of the time and it’s always warm. One English guy had always wanted to own an English country pub. So he bought one in rural England somewhere, even booked Van Morrison to play a gig one time. Trouble was he said, the weather was never good enough. If it was summer all the time, trade would be much better he thought. So he copied the design and replicated the whole concept in Thailand where it’s sunny 360 days a year.

I think that I should stop coming to places that are too popular with visitors. So many tourists come to Thailand it’s possible to generalise about some of the more noticeable groupings, like the British for example, or more particularly, the English. They appear to be divided between back packers on their “gap year” in one group, those approaching a genteel retirement in another (less seen), and those who could be best described as the lumpen proletariat.

The latter fall into one of two demographics, pre and post middle age. The latter are often in poor physical condition, no doubt resulting from bad diet and worse lifestyle choices. Addicted to nicotine and alcohol, they can invariably be seen sitting around in bars. Their faded tattoos, usually of some banal subject matter, assuming you can still make them out at all, stain their withered limbs. Their inter-group conversations, usually confined to their regional groupings of origin, criticize all that is lacking in Thailand, and what they invariably miss about the home country, which makes you wonder why they are here at all. These are the lifers, those who cannot go home. They cannot exist back in the "old" country but then curiously have never realy accepted their adopted lan either. They exist, therefore, in some kind of limbo, neither here nor there.

One character, from the first demographic, I’ve seen twice stumbling along the street, looking and sounding like he once belonged on the terraces at Millwall. He is covered in tattoos from the top of his shaven head to his ankles. At 10am he is already (or still) off his face, to infuse a colloquialism he’d have once understood. His only clothes now, a pair of board shorts, worn ludicrously halfway down his backside.

The younger ones, as in the previous example, are more heavily tattooed than the older grouping, and walk about topless whenever out and about, as if involved in some pre-mating ritual. They often seek counsel with the older members of the pod, learning behaviour, as if being groomed. Neither group appears keen on making any concession to the local culture. Most come half way round the world to a country with one of the finest cuisines on the planet to eat eggs, chips and beans and now, Subway. Often of pasty complexion, their skin becomes red and blotchy when reacting to sunlight. With their tattoos and ashen skin, lack of grace and poor demeanor, one is reminded of prison inmates recently released (probably unfair to some - inmates), or football hooligans, or both.

Comments  

#1 Guest 2010-05-21 01:16
Michael, Hope you are feeling better by the time you get this. Just to remind you to take plenty of pictures to encourage me to visit Vietnam later this year. I enjoyed your article on Thailand, it is in fact really good.

cheers
bill
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