Not to be confused with an expert Thai. To be fair Thais have a slight advantage at being an expert Thai but neither do I mean a Thai who is an expert in any particular field. Most Thais are an expert in something and they gain their expertise with apprenticeships. Thailand still practices the medieval method of selling a son to a tradesman in exchange for his apprenticeship. Some just start up a business and learn the hard way with no knowledge or background experience. They fix your motorbike with a couple of old coke cans and two foot of gaffer tape but it works and often they will employ some unusual recycled adaptation but they'll fix it; and without qualifications.
What is a Thailand expert?
Inspired by a moron in the Market Hotel, Aranyaprathet.
I was sat at a bar with my old mucker Bleak one evening when a couple of ex-pats came and sat opposite. I said hello as is polite
and was really surprised at their response because they had really strong accents. I mean STRONG strong, sort of mid-way between
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Ustinov's Charlie Chan. Having agreed on the weather I asked them where they were from. So
imagine my surprise when they said Preston.
This was my first encounter with the pretenders (no not the 1980's pop group) and though this pair didn't give me the bullshit stories that so many experts do the accent was put on to make it sound like they had lived in Bangkok for the last ten years as was their claim.
Bleak supplied me with a litany of tales about these weird creatures that feel the need to pretend to be something they are not. They talk with a stupid accent that they pretend they have acquired over time when in fact that silly accent is only conjugated by newcomers. They do it as loudly as possible to ensure all around can hear their expertise and they ONLY come from England. They learn this silly Asian speak from bargirls and think if they talk English with a Asian accent Thais will understand what they are saying while the only effect they have is to make the bargirls think that is how to speak English. They are directly to blame for the ridiculous way bargirls across Asia speak. But the problem with these ex-pats isn't their pretense; it is their perpetuation of nonsensical Urban Legends. So when a bloke in flip flops, cheap Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirt talks like he's speaking in 'Tongues' just make your excuses and leave, otherwise he is going to waste your grey matter with myths about Thai nicknames or snow in Chiang Rai when the truth is, he has never been further than a go go bar.
How to spot a Thailand expert?
We were waiting in Aranyaprathet while the British Embassy approved my step-daughters visa to come and join her mother in the UK. There are
many factors the ECO has to consider such as has her mother been managing her upbringing or what is the real reason her mother wants her to come to
the UK? This is about preventing 'people trafficking' and it takes a long time to consider all the evidence.
We had been there a week or so and not had a phone call or anything about the application so I thought I'd check the progress online. Internet access is really poor in Thailand and because of the floods the Internet cafe downtown was closed but not to be defeated I went to the Market Garden Hotel because they have broadband and are high up from the river. While doing this an English bald chap started a conversation about how slow the application for visa's process is and explained to me that it is because the Thai government move so bloody slowly. I said, "No, we are applying to the British Embassy for a UK visa for my Thai step-daughter." To which my expert replied, "Yes I know but all the paperwork has to go to the Thai Government to be processed". I set about explaining that the processing is done by the UK ECO at the British Embassy in Bangkok but he being an expert contradicted me, the law, himself, and a cul-de-sac until I was bored and changed the subject. He enquired what is our 14 year old daughter doing while we wait.
She is learning English. "Oh, I'm an English teacher here in Aran" he answered, "I'd be more than happy to give her private lessons". He is not an English teacher at all and you can spot these experts by the way they talk to you as if you know nothing about Thailand. Even if you do not know anything about Thailand you can still sniff them out by the condescending way in which they preach all about Thailand and especially when they choose to discuss Thailand's bureaucracy to which they have zero experience but my expert is a TEFL, he knows all about UK visa applications even though he has no teaching qualifications and works in a unregulated industry. In fact his experience of visas is his own to which he would have had to apply to the Thai Immigration Service. He's not married, has no children of his own, and lives in a Hotel. Would you trust him alone in his hotel room with your 14 year old daughter? Sadly you will come across these expert TEFL everywhere in Thailand. A country that refused admission to Paul Gadd with whom my expert held a remarkable resemblance. I made a rather rude comment to a Thai behind the counter about him not having a proper job and a snakes head to which she laughed so I added 'tell him what I said after I have gone' safe in the knowledge he will not speak parsar Thai.
How to spot the Internet surfing expert?
These are easy to spot if you have experience of Thailand but if you are new or going for the first time they are a nuisance because they proffer
very bad advice. They are most often found in forums making comments like "I just asked my GF and she said..." That is singularly the most
frustrating of argument not least because they may well be telling the truth. But because they are wholly reliant on their partner because they were
too lazy to learn the language they do not understand the culture. That causes them to ask leading questions to which they always get the answer
"yes dahling". They are asking questions like "Does tee rak mean my love" and the answer will be yes. But if you asked "What
does tee rak mean" you're going to get a different answer. This is because of convention. The problem here is you will very often get the
answer "Oh, I doh know" so unless you can ask or receive the answer in Thai you are going to get things wrong. And that's usually what you
find in forums. You can also read things like "What is the weather like?" and answers of 'really cold, I had to buy a coat today I was
so cold' because like the pretenders above they want you to know they are fully acclimatised.
It is rarely cold in Thailand by the way so you do not need to wrap up warm in January.
Teakdoor is a forum where you will find the most stupid comments made by ex-pats living in Thailand but not to be outdone is Thai Visa or even the much better Thorn Tree. Use them but beware of answers that sound too obvious. This is because of their information sources which are usually Googled websites most of which are blogs. While blogs can give you suggestions of what you would like to see or do while on hols in Thailand they are often written by travellers who only go sightseeing or they are deliberately misleading advertising. You could have Googled it yourself and then asked in a forum and got the same answer thus convincing you the answer is correct. The problem here is that Thailand is plagued with Urban Legend most of which is wrong and forums promote them.
I could write a book on this topic but here's a random subject. On Thorn Tree is several threads about motorbike rental & passports with many posts claiming 'I have never had a problem handing over my passport'. It doesn't matter you never had a problem, if you keep doing it you will one day regret it. Your Foreign Office will tell you 'Never under any circumstances give your passport to anyone' and as a tourist in Thailand you are legally required to carry your passport on you for identification purposes. And if that doesn't convince you then consider that Thailand is the third most likely place to have your passport stolen. Why would you give it away?
How to spot an 'experts' website?
is the kind of website that is both a nuisance and a cynical method of advertising. Steve who having successfully found a wife on thailovelinks and
using an expensive lawyer to do all his paperwork publishes a page offering advice to fellow Americans on howto when he has no knowledge
or experience. Almost all his advice is poor and misleading nervous Internet fiancées and lonely bachelors into problems.
"my profile on Thai Love Links was very clear, I was looking for friends and was willing to trade English lessons for Thai lessons. I got dozens of emails the first few days after signing up". No you didn't Steve. You sent out emails to loads of the girls on the site until a couple (or maybe even only one) of them replied and your website is about making a bit of money from google adsense. The fact is, Thai dating sites provide a very poor return and are frequented more by bar girls and desperate factory workers in an Internet cafe than all those apparently University educated post graduate members they purport to be. But Thai dating site or bar girl in Phuket they are looking for the same thing.
But here is Steve's most scintillating piece of advice: "I used a lawyer, mostly because it saved me time and gave some peace of mind as the lawyers office had Thai staff to take Golf around for her physical, explain the process and take her to the visa interview. The lawyer himself had been doing U.S. marriage and fiancee visa's for a long time and knew most of the staff at the embassy as well, which I'm sure doesn't hurt the approval process." This is an advertising statement from the average thai dating website based on hearsay and not fact, just about everything you have to say is completely wrong and will cause others to waste their money. Thai staff in a Bangkok law office do not know US law and are not qualified to US legal requirement. Your Thailand based lawyer is a visa agent who knows absolutely no one at the Embassy and would have passed your application to the VFS Global Office. And taking your bride to a medical was actually to the IOM who then sent her for a chest x-ray at an Embassy registered hospital to check for TB. You could have done all this yourself in a matter of a few hours.
There are thousands of websites like this and all of them copied their 'facts' off each other and that is why these myths become common knowledge. Common Knowledge will always be wrong and to get facts you need to check with the appropriate official websites. Steve's blog is a personal view and I like reading it as it is entertaining but don't take his visa advice. There is ONLY ONE recommendable visa agent and that is YOU. If you want to find a bride go to Thailand. And if a website is plastered in google click links, adsense, and banners like Steve's then the author is only trying to make a bit of money and is skint. The only real advice they can offer you is how to live in Thailand by making money from a website.
A Litany of Tales
Shooting yourself in the foot
I found myself with a long weekend off rather unexpectedly. Being near the Victory Monument with clothes packed for a trip to Ayutthaya which had been abandoned and hankering for some sea air, I decided to head to Hua Hin where I have a few mates, and pay them a visit as I hadn't been there for a while. The mini-van made great time, absolutely pelting down the Petchkasem Highway at an average of 140kph (this I know as I was sat next to the driver!) and slipped into Hua Hin a couple of hours later.
It was the September of a pretty wet rainy season, and by the time I'd done my hotel stuff, had a swim and reached Soi Bintabaht, the main nightlife Soi in Hua Hin, the skies were leaden and a light rain had begun to fall so I made straight for the bar where I'd arranged to meet my mates once they finished work to waste the rest of the afternoon away watching the rain come down.
The expat community in HH isn't as large as BKK's or Pattaya's but is of a fair size. Most of the expats there tend to be late middle to early retirement aged Europeans with the odd Aussie, Yank and Canadian thrown into the mix which puts me a good 15 to 20 years younger than the average HH expat. In the large bar there were a few of the local expats none of who I knew nor recognised, nor they me, so nodding politely at them I ordered a beer and sat near the door to watch the rain come down as the skies turned the colour of bruised skin.
After 5 minutes the promised storm arrived and it was a belter. The rain came down in sheets, turning the Soi outside into a raging torrent. In spite of having been here (at that time) for 11 years on and off, I found (and still do find) the rainy season storms are things of majestic beauty and ferocity. Sitting there safe and snug, I watched the lightning spit from the sky with alarming regularity with something akin to awe, relishing the violence of the thunder as the lightning strikes earthed all around us. The storm, typical of the Monsoon Rains, passed and died as quickly as it had arrived, leaving all fresh and clean in its wake as the sun began to pierce the clouds in beams which briefly speckled everything they touched with warm sunlight.
Not wanting to disturb the solitary lass working the afternoon shift who was busy cleaning the bar area in preparation for the night shift I approached the bar to get myself another beer instead of having her stop what she was doing just to bring me a drink. As is my wont, I ordered in English, as when in tourist circles I assume that those who work serving foreigners have to use English as a part of their job, therefore I always use English as not to make it appear as though their English skills may be wanting in some respect. I only resort to Thai if a) I know the people I am speaking to and they are OK with speaking Thai with me or b) English is really getting me nowhere. As it turned out, the lass had very good English skills and we exchanged a little small talk as she served me. As I went back to my seat there came what I can only describe as a cacophony from one of the huddle of expats at their table. "Noi, Ow Beer Sing Song Yen Yen," one of them hurled.
In my time in Thailand I have become attuned to hearing awful atonal, not to mention rude Thai (the buffoon had even omitted the polite particle 'Krap' which is an utter fundamental basic of learning Thai) but this was among the worst I'd ever heard.
I cringed inwardly as I always do at these times as I knew this was solely for my benefit. This cretin, upon seeing me with my long hair, in my Baggy Slayer T Shirt and very hip shorts, speaking English to the lassie behind the bar, had just decided I must be a tourist and wanted to make some statement of his 'Expatness'. He wanted to show me that he wasn't on holiday. I chanced a glance at Noi and frankly the look on her face was as thunderous as the recent skies were.
As I passed their table another of them called out to me and asked me to join them. What followed was basically a plethora of the usual Expat Bullshite Urban Myths perpetuated by pricks who, in their utter ignorance of all things Thai, just seem to make things up as they go along. I won't bother with examples but they were of the kind you can find on this site and I'm sure you have heard them all before.
And so it was I sat with these blokes who merely wanted to show off how much they knew to this 'tourist' while in reality were just making themselves look idiots in my eyes. Not once did any of them ask me anything about myself. Indeed, after 20 minutes of it all had they have asked me, I would have merely told them I was a tourist on my first jaunt to Thailand as their embarrassment would have been extreme had they known the truth about me. After about an hour, punctuated with some hideous examples of Bar Girl Thai aimed at poor Noi I saw with relief that the first of my mates had turned up. So making my excuses I rose to meet him and left the table.
My mate vaguely knew the lads and passed a few pleasantries with them and we began to move to another table but as we did my mates lovely wife came in. As I had not seen her for a while she flung herself at me with a squawk, babbling away at me in Thai as she did so. On seeing this and hearing my responses to her rapid fire questions, the heads of my erstwhile mates began to dip and look elsewhere, studiously ignoring me and my mate's wife as we went to sit down.
I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Santimoneous? Maybe but having seen me in similar circumstances several times before, my mate had put two and two together and knowing what had passed he too was chortling away. Needless to say within five minutes, especially after Noi had come over and joined in our chat, the 'lads' paid up and disappeared, tails firmly between their legs.
Needless to say I also enjoyed Noi's 'company' that weekend...
I have faced similar scenarios to this many times - in fact almost on a weekly basis - during my time in Thailand. Just why people feel the need to show off so much to a total stranger without even stopping to check the other person's credentials first is utterly beyond my comprehension.!
I was out late night on Sukhumwit with a friend of mine who is a long time Asia Hand too. He has lived in Malaysia and currently lives Singapore. He has also more than 15 years' experience of living and travelling in Thailand and is married to a Thai woman who now lives in Singapore with him.
Now, one of our rituals whenever we meet up in Thailand is to sit out on Sukhumwit late at night and hopefully snare an 'expert', lead them along and then rip them to bits. In the past we've had everything from impromptu Thai language lessons in how to call a soi dog, teachers giving us advice on how to get into Real Estate in Thailand, through to lectures in Thai political history straight from the textbook of the University of Expat Bullshit. One chap however really stands out among our acquaintances.
We were sat at one of the rickety beer bars which spring up around 10pm each evening in the Lower Sukhumwit area. These bars are small and often cramped so you can find yourself sharing with some rummy characters. We were already nicely cut as our hero sat his large frame down on the stool next to us. Me and K were basically throwing bait around the place, making fairly crass throwaway statements of the like you hear in any expat bar hoping to hook an 'expert' in.
K is a master at baiting the 'experts'. He has a sixth sense for them. He had cottoned on to the fact that this guy was ear wigging our chatter and had laid it on thick. Right away K had somehow managed to draw the guy in with some small talk. Sensing he had an audience for his expertise in Thai Studies, our hero began to wind himself up to lecture.
But this guy was brilliant. Every cliché in the book seemed to flow out of his gob within the first five minutes. Mine and K's eyes were lighting up with every sentence. We'd have some serious ammo to work with from this chap. He was still in full flow when the owner of the bar, an old flame of mine, came trotting up and began yakking away to me. As she did, the guy's face slowly fell.. well, more sort of plummeted, would be a better description.
I've never seen the wind being taken out of anyone's sails quite as spectacularly as this bloke. It seemed to dawn on him all of a sudden that maybe he had been preaching to those with far more knowledge than he had himself. Rapidly he began to retract everything to K in a desperate attempt to not look an utter prick. "I'm just testing you lads out really," he rallied, "you seem to know your stuff alright lads. You get some real bullshitters here in Bangkok lads.."
"That's OK" I replied "I wouldn't want some twat who's only been here six months telling me all about Thailand either"
I was on Soi 4 in Morning Night bar one afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
I was sat in my usual place in the corner looking out onto the soi and idly watching the world go by, when in came three classic 'Teachers in Denial' types right down to the briefcases.
I could tell a mile off exactly what they were.
When they began talking in pidgin Thai to try and impress me as I was the only person in earshot, then began to talk 'business', (mainly commodity prices), I knew they were teachers.
As it happens one of them engaged me in conversation and without even waiting for me to talk, began telling me all about Thailand and life in Bangkok...
'Here we go again' I thought and so it turned out to be.
It was almost a carbon copy of other incidents related here.
After ten minutes of this impromptu lecture, one of my dollies arrived in the bar and came trotting over to me talking Thai as she likes to do.
This time however, one of them took real umbrage and started ranting at me.
"Your Thai isn't anywhere near as good as my mate Dave's. He's been here seven years. Think you know it all? I'm a mate of Stickman's, I go drinking with him every Friday. He's forgotten more than you'll ever know about Thailand..."
...and his expletive riddled rant went on for the best part of five minutes...
While he ranted, I translated what he was saying to the dolly. When he was done she turned to face him and said, "I know your friend Dave. His Thai is shit same same yours..." and in turn began a nice little rant of her own which included how they were shit tippers and never took care of their ladies properly however as she had gone from English to Thai after her opening salvo it went right over their heads.
I laughed so hard I thought I would shit myself (although at my time of life that doesn't have to be too hard anymore...)
This buffoon hung around and kept on vainly, still trying to come across as the big 'I Am', so, just wanting a nice few quiet beers before a night out, I went on the offensive especially mentioning how I have seen so many overdressed TEFL tossers just like them with their big ideas and big talk, come and go over the 20 years (on and off) I have been living in Bangkok/Thailand.
I then went on to ask if they never admitted to being teachers or was teaching just a stop gap for them until the big corporations came knocking on their doors in spite of the fact that they have a huge pool of Thai graduates to choose from?...or maybe until their business ideas - which have been tried a thousand times before - ultimately failed (if they even come to fruition) and off they slink off back from whence they came.
All the while they were shrinking. I hadn't so much touched a nerve as shattered their spines.
This guy, desperate to get back on the attack, then asked what I did.
As luck would have it I'd just been to renew my Work Permit which I produced for his perusal and which is endorsed by my employers, along with my degree certificate and my MA. Their faces sunk, and realising they had been outshone, they shaped to leave...
By now the bar had filled a little and quite a few other people - both lasses and punters - had been watching this drama unfold with great amusement. As the TEFL's walked down the stairs to leave, the audience broke into a round of applause and waved 'bye bye' to our pals coupled with more opprobrious comments.
Ahh, what a pure gold moment.
Bringing an 'expert' down off his high horse
A few years ago I was sent to work in Pattaya for three months. As a regular visitor I knew a few people there but had never really lived there. But after a little research I decided to live on the other side of Sukhumwit Road where I had a few mates living as well as being close to the office. This area on the other side of Sukhumwit is known as 'The Dark Side' amongst local expats (in spite of the fact that most who apply this name actually live there themselves). Most people there tend to be on a budget, taking advantage of the excellent value accommodation to be found there. 4 to 5000 Baht a month can get you a reasonably pleasant house, a little more and you can get a bit of garden too if you're lucky.
Around this cheap accommodation is a small industry of surprisingly good cheap bars, restaurants and cafes that have sprung up to suit the pockets of the local expats. Not many visitors get to see these bars but they have always surprised me that at times the quality of fanny to be had there often matches and sometimes surpasses that of the town itself.
It would be fair to say that most people there don't have a great deal of money to throw around. Many there are retired, on a pension and settled with their long term Thai partners (often ex-bargirls) and they find time weighs heavy on their hands. For most, days consist of drinking cheap beers at someone's house or outside one of the many mini marts - which all seem have tables set up outside - gossiping about their fellow expats and recalling their glorious younger days.
Most of these retirees are decent blokes with their own incomes and are quite self-sufficient. One or two may struggle towards the end of the month but on the whole they burden no one. Then you get your younger guys. One of the aforementioned older lads once summed them up nicely for me.
"If they're aged between 25 and 45, have no visible means of income or job either here or at home then you can guarantee that they're either 'waiting' for some lump sum of money, they have some house or property waiting to be sold, some legal wrangle waiting to be settled or some business deal about to go through 'once the other guy' has got his act together. In reality though they are chancing their arms for a fuck and haven't a pot to piss in, a window to throw it out of, nor a garden for it to land in so give them a wide berth and don't lend them money unless you can afford to lose it"
I was a novelty for the older boys for I not only had a job but a job with a multi-National Corporation but also had been
in Thailand for a good length of time already (for that era) and had a decent knowledge of most things Thai. Most of the
other younger lads with 'jobs' were 'self-employed' (chancing their arms) usually in some dodgy enterprise like Real Estate,
commission based sales or a similar dead end venture doomed for failure in the end, or they are TEFL teachers. All these jobs have
one thing in common. They pay poorly and those who did the jobs were as fly by night as their jobs. Most of the old timers had
seen many lads come and go over the years.
My own job was a very easy gig. At most I was only called into the office two or three times a week so had plenty of time on my hands most of which I'd spend around the 'Dark Side' but as I was on a decent wallop I would often venture off into town most nights when things in the Dark Side would down around 8 or 9 pm every night. For me, life was good.
Now I have pretty decent Thai language skills but for me it's no big deal. It's a means of communication and that's it. In places where most speak English then I use English. If English fails in these places I'll discreetly use Thai to clarify that all has been understood - discreetly because many people's jobs can hinge on their English language skills and people have been sacked for having shortcomings in this field. If there is no English spoken at all then I use Thai. I for one have never understood why so many expats here seem to love to show off their language 'skills' at the top of their voices especially when it is usually either basic or just plain bloody awful. What makes it even sadder is that most of the people their Thai is aimed at speak English several levels higher than their Thai which makes it even more pointless.
I can't think of another country in the world where the expat community makes such a song and dance about knowing a bit of the local lingo as they do here. Fuck me, basic Thai is so simple that a 8 year old child could learn enough to get by in a few hours (my own nephew is evidence of this). In most expat circles there is usually a Thai Language 'Expert', more often than not being the person who has learned a few phrases from his wife and gone on to manage to string them together. Sometimes though one does find someone who really knows their onions but on the whole it's seldom you find any real knowledge of the language amongst the expat community.
The local expert here was a guy called Steve. I'd seen him around the place but frankly he seemed to fit firmly into the category of 'ones to avoid' that I'd been warned about so I'd never really spoken to him. He was rather unpopular among both the local Thais and the expat community but his language skills had made him something of an asset and given him a level of status that usually a struggling TEFL 'teacher' with a reputation for short changing bar girls and having bar tabs run up all over the place would usually never get. In my book that made him best avoided especially as I'd never need his services.
I managed to ascertain however, that he actually made a few quid on the side by interpreting for the local expats so I assumed his language skills must be pretty decent. As I love nothing more than meeting non-Thai's with a proficiency in Thai and comparing notes, seeing if I could learn anything from them, I decided that next time our paths crossed I'd introduce myself.
I didn't have to wait too long for that first meeting and it was far from auspicious. I was sat in a local bar, a nice respectable place with nice air con and some nice lasses working there. One or two of them knew my Thai was pretty good as I'd taken one of my dollies in there who had spilled the beans to them.
The bar was dead. I was the only person in on a wet, stormy Tuesday night. I was chatting with a couple of the girls in Thai as there was no one else in and as a relative newcomer they were testing me out. I passed their test with flying colours to the extent that they kept on saying over and over again (amongst themselves) as to how my Thai was way, way better than Steve's and they should watch what they talk about around me. They were also amazed that I could read and write as well and this was also put to the test. I wowed them as I translated the few bits of (admittedly easy) Thai they flung at me and even passed their spelling test with flying colours. They all kept asking me why I never spoke Thai in the bar and my reply that they all spoke good English so there was no need won me more brownie points.
We then chatted away for a while, me trying to switch to English to no avail, when after about 20 minutes the door swung open and in came Steve with a couple of his deadbeat mates who I knew from sight but they went around the other side of the bar to the pool tables. The first thing I heard was Steve talking to the girls.
I got the vibe from the girls that he was far from popular among them and from the atonal nature of his Thai, as well as the fact that it was fairly coarse in its overall timbre, I could see why. He then began to make small talk to them and it became clear to me that his expertise had been grossly exaggerated. The phrase 'Fluent Thai' must be one of the most overused in expat circles. Those who tend to describe someone as being 'fluent' in Thai wouldn't know fluent Thai if it bit them on the arsehole for one thing.
I know of only a handful of non-Thais who are truly 'fluent' in Thai. To be fluent in a language one needs to be able to talk freely on any subject at the drop of a hat. The true test of one's fluency in Thai would be to be able to flick through the TV channels and be able to understand EVERYTHING effortlessly. I have even met a few self-proclaimed 'fluent' speakers all of whom have failed this test with flying colours. So beware when you hear someone being described as 'fluent' in Thai. I would say assume at best it will be 'proficient'.
With a sense of disappointment it soon became clear that Steve's language abilities really had been overplayed by the ignorance of the expats. At best it was reasonable conversational stuff. There was nothing to be learned here but I'd guessed at that already from the fact that he couldn't read or write, so I scratched the idea of wanting to meet him especially after some of the things I'd heard about him. I decided to have one more and head off into town if the rain had stopped or go and see my current local fancy in a closer bar if it hadn't.
As I was drinking my last pint I could hear the girls all singing my praises to Steve whose mates had now left and was sat at the bar opposite me but hidden by the till area and fridges. This made me uneasy. I'd experienced envy and even hostility at times in the past because of my language skills, usually from some self-proclaimed 'expert' who felt their status was threatened by my presence. I once had some sad twat on Samui challenge me to an oral (oral because he could neither read nor write) translation contest which I refused several times until his braying that I was 'all mouth and no trousers' riled me to the extent that it would give me no greater pleasure than to see this twat utterly humiliated, which he was. However, the last thing I wanted was to make an enemy so I called the girls over and asked them to wind it in a bit.
I was too late. Steve, his pals now departed, was coming unsteadily around the bar. I braced myself for some unpleasantness but as he sat he introduced himself and we made pleasant enough small talk for a while even though he was clearly the worse for wear having started drinking in the afternoon as many do there to snap the tedium. I could also tell he was baiting to be able to hear me speak Thai so he could make an assessment so I began to drink away at my beer and thought to get away ASAP.
To my dismay though Steve bought me a beer which meant I'd have to do the courtesy of getting him one which even at my fast rate of supping meant another 30 minutes. Desperate to get off the Thai angle I asked him about his teaching. Here was clearly another field of his 'expertise' but it seemed to have done the trick as he drunkenly rambled on and on about how he was a 'real' teacher and couldn't stand these jokers you found in Thailand. I was content to let him ramble on and on as I bought my round and paid up, meaning to get the fuck out of there ASAP and be out of this iffy situation. There was a lull in the conversation and desperate to not let things move towards language I casually mentioned that I admired a lot of teachers, having done a little bit of teaching myself when I've had to make ends meet.
Without knowing it I'd lit the blue touch paper. He exploded into a rant about how jokers like me were fucking it up for 'real' teachers like him. Now I know a good few 'real' teachers i.e. people with a B.Ed. and this guy didn't strike me as one of their ilk as they all tend to be employed in International schools and not scraping around for a living in the back streets of Pattaya. I didn't say anything though. He'd made a real idiot of himself and when he began banging on about 'Methodology' (which any educator worth their salt has disclaimed for a decade) I went for a piss, made my excuses and trapped.
The next day I went for coffee at one of the old timer's houses, who by pure chance had been a teacher in his working life. I told him of my experience. He chuckled all the way through my story and told me that Steve was no more a teacher than he was an Astronaut but because he had taken his TEFL in the UK at a university, thought it was akin to a degree. I made a mental note to avoid the fool from now on at all costs. He'd be sure to be sore that his position as 'Thai expert' had been ruined, for now the girls in the pub had found out about the extent of my language skills, it was only a matter of time until it became common knowledge. My mates there knew all about me, but knew me well enough that I liked to keep it under wraps and had kept quiet but now my secret was out.
Later that day I was sat at outside the local shop having a beer waiting to see who would turn up when I saw Steve driving past me on his motorbike. He glanced at me but carried on by much to my relief. Maybe he had been so pissed the night before that he'd forgotten all about it so I carried with my beer and book. To my surprise though, less than a minute later he had turned around and was pulling up at the shop. My beer was almost done and so I was ready to leave had he started any shite or even to flatten the prat if need be. I can take care of myself but I'd heard a few iffy things, not so much about Steve but certainly about a few of his mates, and frankly I'd sooner just walk away than get involved with such idiots over the petty jealousy of one fool but even someone as mellow as me has their limits. To my utter surprise though he walked right up to me and made a genuine apology for his outburst the previous night. To say I was taken aback was an understatement especially after I'd heard he was pretty much a total low lifer, but I was relieved that I'd not made an enemy out of him. I accepted his offer of a beer and we sat and had a chat over a few beers.
He seemed OK to me when he was sober. He was from my part of the world and we had a few places in common so the small talk flowed. He came across as an intelligent enough bloke albeit one with that odd expat slant on Thailand, but seemed reasonable enough company for a beer. All the time though, as we chatted, I was aware that he was getting uncomplimentary looks from the few Thais around the place including some of the girlfriends and wives of some of the lads who'd come out for a beer. While I was grateful for his apology, I really thought that this wasn't a good guy to be associated with too closely so on finishing my beer I made my excuses and left for the pub.
Over the next few weeks I ran into Steve here and there. Things were always civil, yet I never lingered too much in his company. I even went so far as to feel that maybe he was victim to a bit of envy from his fellow expats as well a victim of suspicion of their spouses (who, as we all know, don't like it when someone close to their meal ticket 'know too mut'). The mild animosity felt towards him seemed widespread enough that there had to have been some truth in it all though so arms-length was the way to go with this one but it did seem a little over the top.
I'd heard stories of how he had unpaid bar bills all over the place which he often cajoled his better off cronies to settle up for him or as to how he would take women home but never pay them what they had agreed in the bar, if at all, yet he always paid his way when our paths crossed, however I could more than see that many of the girls seemed less than pleased to see him.
Bitterness and jealousy are common poisons in expat communities especially towards the successful or knowledgeable. As poor as Steve's Thai was; for that community, it was streets above the rest of the Thai I heard there and that was a sure foundation for both poisons. My rule of thumb is always to take things with a pinch of salt and read between the lines until I can make up my own mind and I applied this rule to Steve. I surmised that seeing as he wasn't a well off bloke, living hand to mouth, he was bound to have the odd outstanding tab around the area. Most people did as there were few millionaires around there but it was unlikely that he had them in every place as he would surely have been chased down for it when he visited them. That said however it was also noticeable as to how he rotated his bars from week to week yet he wasn't barred from anywhere therefore he couldn't be as bad as people made out. As for the girls, it's well known that they don't like men who are in the know. My guess was that maybe as he had the language skills to at least eliminate some of the hassles that can come with whoring, he probably held firm against most of the little 'add-ons' that ladies can spring on a chap much to their chagrin, as well as be able to maybe get a better rate than some. That would be enough in itself to get the vixens snarling about you.
I had begun to read between the lines as to what I had heard about him and form my own, hopefully fair opinion, when he approached me one day asking if I would be interested in joining him in starting a translation service. I wanted no part of it. I explained that I was going to be leaving in a few months as it was, plus I find translation work tedious and dull and most of all I didn't need the money or the extra hassle. He took my suitably explained refusal well... or so I thought.
A few days after I was called upon by one of the lads, Brian, who drank outside the supermarket accompanied by a pal of mine. To cut a long story short the guy was on the verge of having his new squeeze moving in with him and needed my services as a translator to make sure that all ground rules were fully understood before she moved in. As I sat there listening to what he wanted me to do I had to stop him in his tracks. I told him that he'd be better off with Steve. I knew full well that this was his gig and how he made a few bob on the side. The last thing I wanted was to be seen taking the money out of his hands (even though I'd do this for nothing or maybe a few beers as I'm always too happy to help). He shuffled uncomfortably and told me that he'd tried Steve already but his lass couldn't understand his Thai and she'd lost him totally when she'd tried to explain a few things to him. I asked how good her English was and he explained that it was pretty good but having been burned before wanted nothing left to chance this time and wanted everything crystal clear in English and Thai.
Reluctantly I agreed to help however only if it was done behind closed doors and it was kept under wraps. He agreed and we arranged that I'd go around to his house in an hour. I went and did as he asked easily enough so that both parties were fully satisfied with each other's terms. A nice meal and a few drinks in town on him followed and that seemed to be that until a week later.
Unbeknown to me, a few nights after I'd done this, Brian had been on a rare foray to some of the bars up the road where he'd run into Steve who was with a few of his deadbeat mates and somewhat the worse for wear. An argument ensued between them with Steve demanding payment for his services and Brian telling him to get fucked as he'd not been able to do the job. As things got heated Brian told him that he'd got a 'professional' to do it in the end who speaks better Thai than Steve ever would and had got the job done in 20 minutes. It didn't take Steve long to work it out and Brian realising that he'd dropped me in it, placated Steve with 500B and that seemed to be that. A few days later I was sat outside the shop with a couple of mates when Steve pulled up outside. Instead of joining us as he would have done he made a pointed show of sitting away from us. Kev, the guy who'd introduced me to Brian, read things right away and being a former bouncer, called over to Steve and asked why he was sat on his own. Steve looked up and remarked that he didn't drink with backstabbers. Deciding to bite the bullet I asked him if he was talking about me doing a favour for a mate seeing as he couldn't do the job. By now my dander was up and the time for walking on eggshells around this self-important prick was gone. I'd been there a few months now and wasn't going to hide my own abilities anymore to spare the blushes of this lowlife pisshead and pretty much said that much.
He said nothing and finished his beer and left. Kev told me to watch my back but assured me that if I got any bother there'd be a lot of weight behind me as many people, local Thais included, were only waiting for a decent reason to drum Steve and some of his lowlife mates out of town.
An hour later as my mates went home for their evening meals, I went down to the pub. Sure enough Steve was there and as I walked in the sight of him irked me. He looked at me and I went right over to him and sat down. He went to speak but I raised a hand to silence him as I was going to have my say. I quietly informed him that I had nothing against him per se, indeed I thought that his reputation was unfairly deserved from what I had seen in my time there. I went on to reiterate that Brian had come to me in desperation, I'd even told Brian to go to see him but I never let anyone down when I can help them and if he didn't like that then that was his tough luck. By now though it was obvious that he was in obnoxious drunk mode and he began to make silly threats to me. He began waffling as to how he knew the big coppers and the mayor etc. basically all the usual pub wanker bullshit you hear all the time in Pattaya.
That's when I struck. I pulled out my passport and showed him my current Work Permit stamp, my current one year visa, plus all the others from my long working past. If he wanted to make silly threats, then I in turn, could and would, see through some very real threats. I pulled out my phone showing him some of the numbers of influential figures I'd met through my work in Pattaya (including senior police and immigration officials). I could see him visibly shrinking as he realised that I could really make things very nasty for him especially when I dropped in the fact that he wouldn't get too many supporters in that vicinity. Sensing I had him over a barrel, I said that if he just wound his neck in and realised that one of the facts of life is that no matter how good you think you are at something, there's always someone around the next corner who's better and learned to live with that fact, then I'd leave it, but if I heard another word on the whole affair, I'd have to take some action over it.
I left it there. I was only around for another month or so and every now and again I'd hear a little bit of bullshit about me, which thankfully nobody ever believed anyway, and know full well where it had come from but I left it. As soon as the word was out about my skills, I had a constant stream of people coming to me for my help which I freely gave, if not to utterly remove Steve's influence, but to reduce it greatly, and to bring him down off that bloody high horse.
Got an opinion or experience?