“Along for the Ride”

Jomtien Beach 2

Happy…that’s it!  I’ve never seen a people more happy than the people I have met in Thailand.  Such a beautiful country, easy to navigate without speaking Thai, and welcoming in every way.  While Singapore Airlines did a great job of setting me up for success in Asia (thank you Singapore Airlines), every facet of my time in Bangkok and Pattaya has been wondrous.  Just a note on Singapore Airlines, and I have absolutely no affiliation with them at all, but consider this:

On a 2 1/2 hour flight from Singapore to Bangkok, the cabin crew served me breakfast with fresh fruit and really good coffee (espresso), a hot towel to wash my face (I’d been flying for more than 26 hours), and a smile for every request I made of them.  I cannot remember the last time I had a hot meal on a domestic flight, economy class in America.  On the long flights they had a snack bar available, had a gluten free menu option, and offered wine and beer as a part of their “free” beverage service!  I had wine with lunch and dinner and never had to use my credit card!  Needless to say, I am a fan…a BIG fan of Singapore Airlines!

Upon arrival in Bangkok, the immigration process was organized, efficient and welcoming.  Customs was no problem, and the arrival area easy to navigate.  I had a driver waiting for me, recommended by my hotel, and a wonderful transit to the beach front property.  My driver was most curious as to why the American government never came out against the corruption within the Thai government.  A military coup took control of the country last year, and it made only a blip on the US Media screen! I didn’t have an answer, as I question the same thing of my country.  I do have an idea, however:  $$$Money.  It always comes down to economic interests.  If we have little to gain,  corruption goes largely unbridled.  If there is oil to be had, we invent stories of WMD so a war is justified…just sayin’!  Other than that question, the driver was helpful, pleasant and a good driver!  Which is important in a foreign country.

I arrived at my hotel, checked-in, and still haven’t given them a credit card!  I didn’t need it for my reservation, they don’t use it for incidental charges, and one of the residents even walked me to his favorite bank to exchange my currency!  And, by the way, didn’t even ask to be paid for the advice and time it took to walk to the bank.  We enjoyed a lively conversation, he hails from the UK, but has lived in many places in the world, including South Dakota!  I’ve never met anyone who actually lived in South Dakota…and typical of my experiences, the one I did meet has a passport from the United Kingdom!  The staff has made me feel more like a member of an exclusive club or family, just by virtue of the fact I am staying at their beautiful guest house!  The bar seats 3, the restaurant has 5 tables, and the owner is behind the bar most of the day!  Where has service like this gone in my home country?  I am old enough to remember my parents and grandparents speak of such times, but this is my first time to actually experience such an exquisite connection to my host and his staff and friends.

Neil, Tui’s friend, has been a welcomed presence for my holiday here.  His wit is keenly British, and his knowledge of American pop culture is inspiring!  I have made it a priority to have no agenda here.  I want to have long conversations, meet many people, and truly enjoy the nature of this place.

On Friday, I spent time at Jomtien Complex, hanging out with a couple of the staff from the hotel.  Though I don’t speak Thai, most of the residents of Pattaya speak English (some better than others! ;-).  As the wine and Bailey’s took effect (Bailey’s Irish Cream is a big hit here!  God bless the Irish!), several observations became evident.  These guys were really happy in the moment.  We had wine and cocktails that cost less than $3.00 each, and a food truck that stopped in front of the establishment created quite a stir.  Obviously, a well-known proprietor (think motorcycle/side car, rather than an American Airstream!), my hosts jumped up and bought food for 3 of us for $3.30 cents.  Rice, fish, and pork with a side of Thai Chili sauce.  The pork was barbecued, and the sauce on it was spicy enough for me, and I really like spicy food!  I did try the Thai Sauce, suffice it to say, I did not want that working its way through my digestive system all night!  The fish were small mackerel, smoked and then grilled or fried, I couldn’t figure which, and seemed to me like eating large anchovies!  The Thai’s loved this meal, and I could tell they were very happy and proud to share such an authentic and delicious meal with me.  At no time did I feel like an outsider.  The languages we spoke were bridges to one another not barriers, and the best part of the time together was the laughter that permeated the evening.  One of the bartenders walked me back to my hotel (it was only about 4 blocks), to be sure I made it ok.  

It has been a long time since I have seen people truly happy and thankful for what they have.  Most of the guys in our party had moved here from the northern more mountainous regions of Thailand, and have family still there.  Many of them are college graduates or skilled laborers, happy to have a job and even happier to be able share time with friends and make new ones.  They would leave their mobile phones on the table when they went to the toilet or to visit with another table, and I saw no locks on the motorcycles and bicycles around the hotel where we stay.  I know it can’t be as idyllic as I see it now, surely there is crime here ;-), but my experience thus far has been completely free from fear.  I can speak from my own experience, that I have learned much from the Thai people in just a short time.  In my rush toward “owning” and “possessing,” I had forgotten how important things like smiles, handshakes, trust, and great conversation were to the quality of my life.

I am looking for a dose of what these people possess.  I’m not sure they even recognize the beauty of their culture.  I see them looking toward work, enterprise and things to define their lives, all the while they posses a paradise of soul that is irreplaceable. When I meet guys at the bar we shake hands, and almost without fail when we leave, we embrace in a hug.  Strange how close I feel to these amazing people and their beautiful lifestyle.  It has been the perfect holiday so far:  strangely holy, wondrously fulfilling.

On Saturday, I asked one of the hotel employees to direct me to a great restaurant for dinner.  He decided to show me instead!  His comment was, “…I don’t trust you to find real Thai food.  I will go with you.”  He took me to a lovely restaurant called the Surf Kitchen.  He helped me in ordering, and I have to say…the food was amazing.  We had a lovely grilled chicken with coconut sauce, a beef dish with onion and cucumber, accompanied by a seafood-vegetable soup.  While I was somewhat familiar with these dishes from eating at Thai restaurants in the US, the flavors here were in some ways more subtle, and in others over the top.  The proteins were tender and clean, and the vegetables fresh from the local market.  The sauces were amazing.  When Thai people say spicy, they mean really SPICY.  The food was great, but what was equally good to see was the pride the employees take in how their food is presented and received.  There is a great national pride in the Thai culture, and I can see why.  We sat outdoors, within earshot of the beach.  At least 5 languages were being used in conversation around me, and once again, it was exactly the kind of evening I was looking for.

On a side note, I slept most of the night last night.  The thirteen hour time difference from Austin, TX to Bangkok has taken a bit to overcome.  I am so glad I decided to do it before heading to China.  This way, upon arrival I will be fully present, rested and ready to dive-in to a new job.  As my first post comes to a close, I want to thank you for being on this journey with me.  As always, send any comments and/or questions you have about my writing, my music, or my travel.  It is a blessing to have such good friends along for the ride!

NamasteJomtien Beach 1

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