Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bangkok and the Ugly Farang (Foreigner)


Korean Air was surprisingly good, given the nature of economy class. The service was wonderful, but I still arrived at Bangkok International around 1AM. Of all days, Friday the 13th. I didn't really plan on that, but then maybe that might explain why the ticket was slightly cheaper. The fact that I was forced to stay a few weeks longer than intended might also be a factor as well. One of the things about travel is the circadian rhythm thing. No, not that type of rhythm either, you . . . No, it's about the body clock. I'm out of wack. I didn't always sleep well at home in the US, so this isn't surprising. What do you do? You look over the local news streams on crime. Boy, are there some ringers and most of them are not Thai.

It has made me think about being a foreigner in a foreign land. There are good ones, and then there are real BAD ones. I have begun to develop the concept of a new proper noun, The "Ugly Farang." It can be roughly defined as a "Foreigner in Thailand who thinks that the law doesn't apply to them."

Do not dress that way fool.

While driving up the the Assumption University around 2 in the morning after getting out of the airport, I observed what appeared to be a European couple walking around. Being jet lagged doesn't mean my eyes are messed up. The man was dressed in club worthy black, and the woman was in some street walker style of outfit with a tattoo of what appeared to be a Thai temple on her lower back. Yes, you could clearly see most her. Not much left to imagine. Drunk as heck too. My gut reaction was "wow, she's wasted." Fast forward to 12 in the afternoon, and I saw her again in the same dress, but different guy. As Arsenio Hall used to say during the heyday of his talk show, "Things that make you go hmmmmmm." Although Thailand has a particular type of reputation thanks to movies like the Hangover 2, the country prefers people to dress more modestly. Strike one for the gal in the all too revealing dress.

The Ugly Farang

So you check up on the news for some more examples. There were two cases of what I call the "Ugly Farang."

Druggie mule flies into BK. Druggie now in jail.

As usual, some drama in terms of foreigners coming into Thailand. Because of lax law enforcement, and generally an accomodating attitude, many a farang get into some big time trouble. A day before I got here, some Iranian dude was caught with a few million baht worth of crystal meth and Ya Ba pills (crazy pill similar to meth). This guy is going to be a lifetime guest of what they call the Bangkok Hilton. This is a prison for foreigners that their countries refuse to accept back. "Rot there as far as we care." In other words, tough luck fool. In many parts of this world, it's a death penalty offense too. See the article here: Iranian arrested, 4kgs 'ice' seized | Bangkok Post: news

Dreams deferred become a suicide on Facebook.

Facebook in Thailand. Apparently, they use Facebook for many different things, and now it is suicide. Of course, it was a farang doing it. One of the things that popped up in the news is that some Spaniard committed suicide while posting his stuff on Facebook. Now that is a crazy concept. Many foreigners come to Thailand because of their troubles back home. Thailand is the new American Dream destination. Problem: its a dream. Things are not as easy as you think. Technology seems to magnify it all too, so you can monitor the mental breakdown live. This wouldn't have happened 10 years ago. Think about it. Consider the idea that Facebook wasn't even a remote concept about 10 years ago as the first issue. In fact, when you think about it, we have so many more gadgets now, you're drowning in them. In 2005, when I came here for relief work with the 2004 Andaman Ocean Tsunami in Khao Lak, I carried a laptop, and had a phone smaller than the size of a deck of cards. Skype was kind of a new concept, as calling over the Internet was a new thing. Now, my home line in the USA is basically a fancy Internet phone, except managed by Verizon. With the evolution of technology, people use it both in positive ways and negative ways. The Arab Spring of 2011 was a result of social media. But in 2012, social media is the enabler for a suicide in Thailand. Apparently the cops were called, but he was dead in front of his computer screen. He couldn't make it work here, so he checked out. Review the article here: Spaniard kills self while on Facebook | Bangkok Post: news

Who comes here?

Why? In Thailand, and in many parts of SE Asia, there are not just Ugly Americans, but people from all over the globe. Some are here to remake themselves in what has become like the Old West of the USA. Others are more nefarious. For some reason, some Europeans, Australians and North Americans seem to view SE Asia as a version of Vegas. Think of the movie, the Hangover 2. The big problem is criminality. It's the primary destination for Sandusky like perverts, for drug runners, for Euro trash, for Russian gun runners. This sort of poisons the well for the good one's coming here. When I was working on tsunami stuff, I noticed that Thailand attracted some weird people in addition to honorable people.

  • Real Tourists. Thais generally like tourists. Tourists bring income. Tourists give them work. The good tourists are easy to spot. Usually, they are with a family. They could also be a couple. In fact, most of the people who come to Thailand and SE Asia are legit people who are your neighbors and friends. These are the people that Thailand's Tourism Authority prefers to bring here. They like crazy people like me who actually apply for a tourist visa in my home country.
  • ASEAN. Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines among other SE Asia countries are part of this association called the Association of South East Asian Nations. If you carry a passport from these countries, you basically have a visa for all of the countries.
Who come but try to stay. Let's start with the ones who poison the well.


  • The Criminals. You've got your crime element. Be it known, racial profiling does happen in Thailand. Iranians are generally viewed as drug runners. They often are connected with Nigerians. The Nigerians are known drug suppliers as well as responsible for Internet crimes conducted through the Internet Cafes. They often get the third degree at immigration. Europeans are often connected to other forms of crime, specifically sex crimes and human trafficking. Burmese are the Mexicans of Thailand, and they are subject to Arizona like stop and seizure incidents. Russians are considered a part of organized crime in certain hot zones like Pattaya. So, be careful in Pattaya. This isn't to say that Thais are not doing anything, but what is truly amazing is how much occurs here and the root cause is foreign sourced. You might say, well, racial profiling is wrong. Well, yes in the USA, that is true. But . . . THIS country isn't the USA.
  • The Stupid Tourists. Periodically, you hear about stupid tourists. Most of them come in clusters of men or now young women. They go to the "full moon" party islands; they get wasted; they drown. There are always cases of this type of stuff happening all the time. You also got people who assume all Thai girls are available for sale. Now that gets me. It's that stupid Miss Saigon crud. Some of these people become what I call runners. They want to extend the party well beyond the 90 day limit.
  • Runners. I call these people runners for a reason. They hate their country, and decided to run to Thailand. Thailand has a certain sense of freedom. Your sexual orientation is not an issue. Your religion, so long as you are not forcing people to covert, is not an issue. If you want to be an Emo, who cares. I ask the same question? Why Thailand? I hate Chinese society. I hate Israeli society. I hate America. I hate England. I hate Oz. Etc. Some get desperate, and do visa runs. They view their country as a prison sentence. Most are running from their past. Some of these might be a little shady.

As you can tell, don't mess with Thai girls. He's lucky they didn't have knives. He would have looked like swiss cheese instead of a cheezy tourist.
  • Business People. There are the legitimate business based foreigners here. Most are here on company assignments. Thailand is a hub area in SE Asia, especially given the rise of the economies of Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. The Japanese technology sector is present. Many Nikon cameras are made here. Some Canon DSLRs are made here too. My Casio watch is made in Thailand. Japan Town in Bangkok is one of the most interesting sections, as it truly tries to duplicate Japan for the businessman assigned to work at Honda, Toyota or Nissan here. Perks? There are Japanese franchises all over Bangkok. In fact, there is a mall called The Nine about 5 minutes walking distance from my apt rental. Japanese food heaven. Ramen, shabu shabu, et all. Yum. Koreans are increasingly coming here as their economy expands. I saw an all you can eat Korean BBQ place. 300 Baht all you can eat. 3.00 USD by the way. Some Westerners do come here with a legit purpose as well. Many of them are German.
  • Retirees. Many of the Westerners that you will see are of retirement age. Most of them would be above the age of 50 minimally. Most of these people have money. Visiting Assumption University, I noticed the full time professors were from the USA, and retired. I asked them, "Why Thailand?" Cost. It turns out you can stretch your Social Security and pension for miles here. The medical facilities in Bangkok are world class and often the primary destination for medical tourism. You can rent a 1 bedroom condo in Bangkok for 300 USD per month with fingerprint security. Plus, the country is less stressful in many ways. No photo radar. No parking meters. They salute you as they open mall doors. The hospitals can rival 5 star hotels.
  • Students. Increasingly, many are going to Thai Universities. Some are from Western countries as well. It's about the only way to have a legit visa in Thailand. Some exploit this loophole, however, so it sort of poisons the well for those legit students here to study.

Who am I?

  • Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain No Reservation Wannabe.
This is what I am. For this trip, I'm planning on focusing on food and deeper elements of this part of the world. From Bangkok, I'm going to Hanoi to meet my special friend. I'm going to write about it too. I'm not a good videographer, but I will be posting food shots of new dishes that I discover here in Thailand and in Vietnam. I've done all the touristy junk. Now, I'm up for some serious eating. There is pleasure in finding the ultimate rad na or larb dishes. I'll try to get the names of the dishes right. Maybe get an idea on what the ingredients are.

Do I want to stay here? I don't know. There are inconveniences here. The traffic makes Los Angeles traffic look like a bullet train. I love the food. My high school friend now lives here. In fact, everytime I come here, I lose weight, and I feel better, healthier. Not exactly sure why. Could I live here? Sure. Do I want to? That's up to speculation, and I'm not 50 yet. When I hit 55, I'll think about it.

What is Thailand?

I have come to the conclusion that Thailand today is what America was during the 1870s to 1890s. It's the Old West updated with a contemporary twist. At least in terms of concept, this appears to be the common thread. Thailand, or any other SE Asian country seems to offer the promises of renewal or redemption. Bangkok is sort of like a Western Frontier town in which you can come to the country and remake yourself. Essentially, the American Dream has in fact moved East like so many things. The American Dream has been outsourced.