“TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both …..”
Robert Frost, my favorite American poet in high school. Also my favorite poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’, the perfect title and beginning of this weeks Thai ‘fanatical’ tale. Yesterday while knocking about and browsing the shops in my neighborhood I unexpectedly stumbled onto my blog for this week.
For days I had thought about, half written in my head, reviewed and discarded several ideas for my latest but nothing seemed to fit! For one reason or another several ideas were good (in my humble opinion) but could not be written yet because of timing. Trust me on this that timing always works best for me. One idea however kept coming back to me and had for several months but up until now I felt it was the one blog I could never write without giving Richard and some readers a heart attack!
Still the more I thought about it the more I saw a challenge to tell my tale without causing cardiac arrest. So what was this great but terrifying blog about? Nothing less than the true story of how Wit first met Thailand.
As an ‘out’ Thai Fanatic I run into the usual questions a lot. Someone sees the book about Thailand I am reading on the train and is curious. Someone at the coffee shop notices the strange language I am writing notes in and asks me what it is. A co worker stops by my desk and notices the Muay Thai background on my computer or the Suriyo Thai poster on my wall. Thus begins a short discussion about Thailand before they ask the usual questions.
Someone: “When (or how long) were you in Thailand?”
Wit: “Uhm, actually I have never been there before.”
Someone again: *Curious pause* “Oh, so why do you like Thailand so much?”
Wit: “Well I like Thailand because (insert what pops in my head that I like about Thailand at the moment) …..”
Sometimes though someone will ask THE QUESTION which is not really why I became so into Thailand but HOW. Ah yes, theres a story for you but usually for time, and to protect the innocent, I brush over the question with a heavily censored Readers Digest version and let the subject drop.
Still I am the type of person that mai chop go hok (don’t like to tell a lie) even when it’s probably the best thing to do in a situation. I’ve wanted to tell the truth about how I found Thailand for awhile but for a long time felt that was a secret to be kept, well secret! Plus I just wasn’t sure how to do it anyway I mean how do you tell a secret? You whisper it of course! So if it helps you dear reader as you embark on the rest of this missive just pretend I am whispering my secret in your ear.
I have a feeling that this blog will undoubtedly be controversial with some folks on here and for that I do apologize in advance. All I ask is just hear me out before you want to run my tail out of Thai Blogs on a rail!
It was with these thoughts tumbling around in my head yesterday afternoon that I paid another visit to a second hand new and used book, magazine and video shop which recently opened. While browsing the Asian Culture section I suddenly suffered an Eighties flashback! There amongst the books and what not were several issues of a magazine I used to read back in 1985 the year I discovered Thailand. It was a high gloss publication from Australia all about the sexy side of modern Asia with some pretty racy photo spreads and stories plus some travelogue articles and stuff.
I should mention here that before I became ‘Thaiwriter’ I was called ‘Thaiphile’ meaning basically that I was coco for cocoa puffs for all things Thai but before 1985 I was just a plain old ‘Asianphile’ into everything Japanese since Japan, China and Korea was all I really knew there was of Asia.
I didn’t understand this then but there are three levels of farang ‘Asianphiles’ (me back then) or ‘Thaiphiles’ (me as I am now)
Level One: Someone strictly into Asian looks of the face and body (DEFINATELY me back then)
Level Two: Someone who has been to Asia before or at least knows or appreciates some things about Asian culture (that would be the me that was yet to come)
Level Three: The poor farang so misguided as to believe he is actually Asian! (DEFINATELY not me if I can help it but somedays I do wonder….)
From the magazine I learned about other places not only Thailand but the Phillipines, Indonesia and Vietnam that I vaguely remembered from the war there. Anything I could get my hands on about Asian culture I did even if the ‘culture’ in question was, well questionable!
In the back of the magazine were ads for videos and other what not you could buy and I was intrigued by this one ad for videos of ‘exotic and amazing’ Thailand so I sent off for it and a few weeks later I received this curious video tape (amazing how we all got along back then before the internet isn’t it?) I popped the tape in the VCR and watched the first part a travelogue film of life in Bangkok.
It was my first time to see the ‘real life’ of an asian culture, not just in a movie. People coming and going in the hustle and bustle of life around the city during the day then the second part changed from footage of the everyday to a very different life in the city after dark. Oh my God!!!! Suddenly I saw unbelivablely ‘eye-poping’ footage of go-go dancers in the notorious Bangkok bars! This was the era of Patpong in it’s heyday where not just anything goes it went. I was shocked at first but, well, I’m a guy so you can fill in the rest for yourself.
Actually to be honest it really wasn’t anything pornographic (which was how they could sell it in the US then) and by todays media standards would even be considered pretty tame. No one was naked but if one of the dancers sneezed at the wrong moment that might change! However I was quite a randy lad then and it didn’t take much for me to imagine a lot!
For years I dreamed about going to Thailand after that but never did. Growing up in Alabama sometimes I am not certain if Thailand was what I wanted to run away to or if Alabama was what I wanted to run away from. Maybe it was both. I always knew I was different but being different was never encouraged in my town or in my family so I chickened out of setting off for Asia and it probably saved my life.
I have no doubt that had I gone to Thailand back then after seeing that tape I would have been hell bent on just living out some pretty wild fantasies for no other reason than at that time anything and everything you could want was right there! Just pick! I also have no doubt that had I gone there as a reckless and irresponsible walking hormone I would probably be dead by now.
Sure I would have had the chance like our blogger ‘Superman’ to get to know a Thailand that was pre-MTV, mobile phones, KFC and Starbucks. But what would have been the price? I can tell you it would have probably been my health if not my life and as I know now my soul. That’s the reward for surviving your youth, sometimes maybe you get to tell some awesome stories but if your really lucky you learn something to become a much wiser person.
I’m glad to see in some small ways at least that I have not just grown older but grown up. What was once exciting and titillating I now understand for what it is, sad and degrading. Learning about Dhamma and the Buddhist thinking has helped that understanding a lot I believe.
Something I read not long ago hit me like a thunderbolt on this. Sunyana Graf on Taming the ‘I want’ Mind said this about the third precept of Buddhism, to not misuse sexuality.
“Everything we do affects others, including looking at degrading picture s of men, women or children who were certainly at some point in their lives mistreated, abused, neglected, or were, at the very least, suffering from abysmally low self-esteem. To look at such pictures robs not only them of their dignity but also the one who is looking at the pictures.”
Something I wish I understood back then.
It’s funny when you’re coming up fast on ‘middle age’ (I AM turning 42 next month) your eyes start looking in two distinct directions. One eye looks to what is still ahead after getting through lifes Superbowl Half Time Show as it were. The other eye is looking back over your shoulder past all the experiences you’ve racked up so far. It’s more and more common that I find myself glancing through ‘Daves Dewy Decimel System’ to pull out a memory from the past and meeting again not just when and where but who I was.
For a short time a ‘sex pat wanna be’ was who I was but not who I am now and hopefully not who I am yet to become when I finally get to Thailand. Bangkoks notoriously naughty underbelly may have been what opened my eyes to Thailand but it’s her people, culture, beauty and sanuk with life that opened my heart and helped me fall in love with Thailand.
The way I see it, like in Robert Frosts poem there are three ways to look at your life, where you’ve been, where you are going and where you are now like I like to say, ‘no matter where you go, there you are!’ You can dream and think and plan for the future but live in the now, not in the past. I still have a lot of growing to do if I keep my mind and eyes open and again if I am lucky. Who knows what is around the next bend for me here or there in Thailand because life, like the Chao Praya, has so many twists and turns but always keeps flowing on.
A good friend said to me not long ago when I related to her this part of my past that “Everyone has a different story, and whatever got you started on your journey toward Thailand has gotten you where you are now. And boy am I glad you are here.”
That’s why I like Robert Frosts poem. He’s musing that yes there are two paths you can go by but in the long run..wait a minute..that’s Led Zepplin! Sorry, but whether it’s Robert Frost or Robert Plant and Jimmy Page the point remains the same.
There is always a choice which path you take so choose well. Each path has it’s own way that can become your life if you let it so be careful what path you follow or what you wish for.
Good or bad, I’m not perfect by any means but I’m hanging in there and still trying. Some days may be just a small step on the good path but some days that’s enough. The ending of Robert Frosts poem is my favorite part and pretty much says it all.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. “
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To read ‘The Road Not Taken’ in it’s entirety click here.