Undead and anxious: the ohs and lows of Bangkok life.

Still in Kok city. Remain undead.

I have done Tourism. I went with friends to see the world’s largest golden teak house. It had everything you would expect from the world’s largest golden teak house, for example it was large and it was also teaky, and it exuded a definite aura of housiness that one could not quite ignore. It lacked an over-abundance of goldenness but, nevertheless, there were obvious and serious security concerns in play. We had to buy curtainskirts to cover our legskins so as not to offend the security guards and decorative torn-out elephant teeth, and I had to buy a t-shirt to cover my shoulderskins for the same reason, and we had to be sensuously frisked by bored ladies in uniforms to ensure that our mobile phones and assorted picture-taking technology had been left behind in lockers built specifically for the purpose. Yes, taking photographs, ownership, cultural appropriation; but also human rights, the internet, cat pictures.

My curtainskirt is sprawled dejectedly on my bed like a discarded cloth that isn’t quite a curtain and isn’t quite a skirt. It reminds me of the mattress from Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Yossarian’s liver pains, except that it is blue.

Because teaching is so easy and not at all stressful, and because I am definitely excellent at managing my time, and because my reaction to stressful situations definitely isn’t to tuck myself away into a smalldark and womblike corner and get a bit drunk on the floor in the shower and indulge in melodramatic catastrophic imaginings, I have decided that I will try to organise a roller derby team. There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea but, as with all the good ideas worth having, I’ve so far been successful in managing NOT to think about the situation too much, and am just forging ahead unthinkingly without any real idea of what it takes to set up a sports team. No pressure or anything, but it MUST SUCCEED or it will, naturally, be a reflection of all my deepest failings as a human being.

When I get around to lamenting all my deepest failings as a human being (which I like to do fairly often, being a pro-active sort of woman who likes to keep on top of things to ensure that they remain manageable), I usually meditate on such earth-shattering situations as feeling too awkward to make conversation with my landlady because I still don’t speak Thai and she doesn’t speak any English. Or, for example, fully intending on going to do A Social Thing but talking myself out of it at the last moment when I’m so close to the venue that I could reach out and slap the door and it’d be entirely stupid for me to do anything else other than go inside and meet everyone. Or, for example, when I’m trying to make friendly conversation with a colleague by commenting on their bust lip, only to have them retort, you bloody well know it’s a coldsore. Except that I don’t have my glasses on and I can’t see his lips properly or understand what the fuck he’s saying to me, or why he looks so pissed off, or why the atmosphere is suddenly hitting a hot 36 AWKS, and, because of Life and Failure, I have to make him repeat it THREE TIMES, each time looking at him with an awkward smile and confused pause while my brain ticks over trying to gather the shards of words he’s said and tetris them together to form something comprehensible. And, of course, it has to be in an office of people so that it seems as if I’m purposely making him explain his situation repeatedly and in public as if to shame him. And, perhaps worst of all, IT’S JUST A FUCKING COLD SORE, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? It’s irritating, yes, but it’s a COLD SORE, so I can’t even empathize and can only be embarrassed at my failure to hear, failure to anticipate what’s being said, failure to understand why it’s awkward and failure to halt my role in the escalation of the awkwardness of the situation. Or additionally and just for lolls, breaking off in the middle of telling a man that he looks like a young Bruce Willis to add Oh, I have no idea why I’m telling you this, I just thought it and now I’m saying it, this is awkward, well I’ve started now… and going on to finish the sentiment in the same breath. I had to excuse myself immediately afterwards, OBVIOUSLY, as the flush crept up my cheeks and I willed myself to die a thousand silent deaths staring intently at the drinks menu at the bar and hoping nobody would notice my presence. Mein Gott. Get a grip. It was OK really, it was the night of the Vodkrimes and we were all friends at the end and because it was the night before the Hangover day that ought to have been FAR worse than it was, and it was especially good because I made two friends and one of them came to the BRD social and seemed dead keen and was hilarious and is definitely someone I want to befriend if my personality decides to allow it.

And now breathe…

So here I am. Kok city. Nighttime. On my bed, under the slow whirr of the fan whose stirring of the air almost persuades motes of dust to change their wafting course. The glass door to the balcony is open and from outside there are Assorted Sounds. I think of Bear vs Shark, about the noises against which we understand the very idea of silence, of lino – you fooled me, where’s the seam? – of sexy chocolate cake advertising and of electric pillows that throb and murmur into the ear of a main character who still hasn’t gotten up off the sofa yet even though we’re three chapters in.

In the Chinese graveyard across the way, the huge centipedes I have only ever seen as carcasses ripple through the undergrowth and the strange fish haul themselves across slick, wet, tangled grasses from one flooded depression to the next, as if they weren’t fish at all but slimy air-breathing mermaids, or appalling similes. Frogs bark, old men with rum-reddened cheeks shouting Opinions-with-a-capital-O across the gentlemen’s club. Rats skitter across the street. Newts scamper up and down my walls like nervous tourists at a zoo. The weird worm larvae I discovered in the cracks on my bathroom floor burble into nothingness in the comforting bleach-bath I poured just for them. THE FREAKIN’ MOSQUITOS GNAW AWAY AT MY FLESH LIKE A BUNCH OF CHAVS ON THEIR FIRST MACCY Ds OF THE DAY. Oh Nature!

You wouldn’t believe it but life is good, I think. I order from all different kinds of food stalls these days. I watch movies and arrange roller derby things and hang out with my colleagues. I say numbers and basic pleasantries in Thai. I go into the occasional class and feel as though I can teach competently, and occasionally I even come out thinking the same thing. I understand how my attitude affects the outcome of the classes I teach and remembered that sometimes worrying doesn’t get you anywhere and that, even in the face of failure, it’s better just to say FUCK IT and try to have fun. You can’t win ’em all, and I am reminded of the huge position of privilege I have as someone who had a job good enough to be able to earn herself the money to pack up her life and move to Bangkok almost on a whim but not quite, and mostly because the flight tickets were cheap at the time of booking, and try to teach even though it may not come naturally and after all that come to the conclusion that, even if I fuck it all up and have to leave  then it wouldn’t, actually, be the end of the world, not really; it wouldn’t matter in any serious way, I can afford my plane fare home and as long as that’s the case I may as well enjoy this experience while it lasts. As a human once said, you didn’t come to Bangkok to work a high-powered job and earn a shitload of money. Hell no. No I did not. So more fun. More massages and more all-nighters. More skating in the park and falling asleep on the grass. More exploring unknown BTS stops and more bus rides and more wandering in the Bangkok smog. More culture. More notculture. More exploring and less worry, less pressure. (But still a bit of worry, and still a bit of pressure. What’s life without it?).

Anyway. Enough. It’s time for presents.

Here’s something I really liked that I hope you’ll like too. I listened to some short stories during the Day of Death, and this is one. It seemed to me to be a perfect creation, all images and snippets, the way I remember things in life, confused and unsure, detached, close-up, profound; on the outside looking in, reaching, close but never touching. Notes from the house spirits by Lucy Wood. It’s here if you’d like to listen: http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2012/dec/31/jon-mcgregor-lucy-wood-house. I hope you don’t despise it with every fibre of your being.

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5 thoughts on “Undead and anxious: the ohs and lows of Bangkok life.

  1. Robert F says:

    Hi,

    Love reading your blog entries hun.

    You give such a good sense of imagery that makes me really feel like i am with you and feeling every AWK with you.

    Keep it up and keep living the adventure.

    R

  2. Kali says:

    Ah hun, next time you get all those ‘oh my god what the hell am I doing I’m a failure’ feels, don’t forget that you are out there doing what so many would only dream of doing.

    Also, maybe show your colleague with the coldsore the pic of my stitches from my bust face, and tell him to stop being so fucking touchy. 😀

    Lots of love from Leeds
    x

  3. Alexis says:

    P.S. You have reminded me that I wrote something when I lived in Taiwan about frogs barking. They really do! Also, fun fact – the Chinese for edible frog translates as ‘field chicken’. I’m sure this information will be entirely useless to you in Thailand, but still. Good luck with the roller derby team. Miss your face.

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