Farang Redemption. (Part
II of The Farang)
4, 1995 20:00 Continued
from Part I
22:00 Tanya House; Chiang Mai-Thailand :: 25 APR 95
So there's this lowly farang hangin' out with all the other farang
in Bangkok and feelin' pretty much like a lowly farang while sipping ice
coffee like a farang. But what's a traveler to do?
Throughout Malaysia it was much easier to feel independent in
your actions, to feel like the adventurous traveler. To begin with, there
just aren't that many foreigners around. Even the beaten path has been
tread very lightly. Among the top three accommodation choices listed in
the Lonely Planet (The Guide), there may only be two or three rooms hired by white people, particularly
off-season. Here in Chiang Mai you'd be hard pressed to find a guest house
not housing a single western traveler. As a matter of fact, if
there's anyone staying there at all, you can bet it's a westerner.
This is the situation that confronted us in Georgetown for the
first time, that continues to dog us into Northern Thailand and that we've
not yet adapted very well to. Since then the general response has been
to sleep in the tourist district and flee it like Gomorra during daylight
hours. In the evening we'd return to relax, play cards and chat with the
westerners, write a few lines of this journal and figure out where we
wanted to head for dinner. Some days, especially very hot days, a few
hours around mid-day would find us back at the hotel or guest house.
On those hot days, and those early evening hours, I'd have rather
spent the time on a park bench in the shade of a tree, or some quiet,
out of the way bistro chomping on a bagel, sipping cappuccino. Even better
if there's a steady trickle of interesting people passing by. Asians apparently
don't relax in these typically western ways so the settings prove to be
a difficult find, if there are any at all to be found.
So why not do as the Romans do? Asians go about repose in decidedly
un-western fashions. I'm not particularly comfortable stretching out in
a mosque, Wat or other religious building. I just don't feel I belong
there other than to take a respectful look around and depart at my earliest
convenience. I don't own a market stall to nap the off hours in, so the
ready surface of a market table isn't open to me. A refreshing dip in
the river is out of the question. I'd sooner bathe in primary sewage treatment
plant effluent-at least the chunks won't be floating about. Finally, the
Asian refuge of home is exactly the place I'm madly trying to escape since
my home is filled to the gills with farang.
1:52 Tanya House; Chiang Mai-Thailand :: 26 APR 95
And yet, home is where I go. It's inevitable, really. The most
popular budget accommodation always offers that quiet place to unwind
and contemplate your next move. A dozen or so tables usually well off
busy streets so they're quiet. Soft drinks, beer, familiar sorta-western
munchies (Asian attempts at western preparation are, shall we say, 'creative')
and a few humble examples of local fare. You can sit there reading for
hours and never feel compelled to buy a thing, which is just as well since
the prices are inflated even by tourist trap standards.
And even though they're not the people you came to meet, most
farangs have an interesting story to tell. Which is just as well since
many are dying to tell it. Remarkably, other travelers provide the greatest
hazard to my computer writing time. Locals gawk, ask a few questions then,
usually, leave you to it. Westerners use the rarity of a budget traveler
carrying a notebook computer to start a conversation. After a couple of
minutes I just power down.
I don't often mind the intrusion. After explaining why I'm lugging
around 3 kilos of electronic support I take the opportunity to ask alot
of questions myself. Where do they come from? Where do they go? What are
they seeking? What did they expect? What do they think? Intrepid explorer
of human nature that I am, I never tire of hearing the often fascinating
answers. "Why are you climbing Kinabalu?" I ask. "Because
nobody believed we'd do it, least of all us," came the reply. To
another, "What's the best thing you've done?" "Hmmmm, studying
Tai Chi with a Taoist master. He exists within different laws of physics."
And a friendly, giddy German told me he travels, "because the most
important thing you can do with your life is learn about other people,"
how they live, what they think, what they want-who they are.
I'm not sure what it is about strapping on a back-pack but that
simple act seems to filter out the 'ugly' tourists, or at least the ugliest
ones. Budget travel isn't for the Club Med and coach-tour types. Too little
luxury; too little itinerary; nobody to tell you when to take photographs.
Most backpackers live a little closer to the bone. Even the ones patronising
those horrid burger joints. Most backpackers measure the length of their
journey in months as opposed to the tourist's weeks or even days. Most
backpackers can tell you where they're going for the next couple of weeks;
sometimes they actually get there though usually something more inviting
draws them away. Coach tour people can tell you what they'll be doing
at 10AM next Tuesday. If given a pop-quiz at the end of the week, they'd
probably not be able to explain with any detail the historical/cultural
meaning or significance of any place they'd taken pictures of. Travelers
don't know where they're going; tourists don't know where they've been.
21:59 Charlie's House; Pai-Thailand :: 26 APR 95
My redemption from being just another 'Masshole' comes via the
recognition that I am a traveler, not a tourist. My intention, my traveling
raison d'être is to learn about the people who live where I go.
I avoid 'cultural exhibitions' produced by governments, chambers of commerce
or any other organization not owned and operated by members of the culture
being exhibited. I refuse to patronise 'freak shows' and other circuses
where you pay money to take pictures of people with elongated necks, stretched
lips or bones poked through their noses. I think of the hapless victims
of David Letterman's ohhh, so cynical Stupid Human Tricks. Real culture
is neither staged nor purchased. If I am invited out of goodwill or otherwise
made welcome to visit with such people, I will gladly accept the hospitality.
If it feels right, I'll ask to take their picture or perhaps show them
some video of themselves. Though not always successful, I try very hard
to be discreet with my camera and camcorder.
I am not a tourist and neither are most of the backpackers I
share hostels and guest houses with. Most of the time 'at home' is spent
either sleeping or in repose between excursions. I spend most hours of
the day away from the guest house, checking out the local's scene, and
know that the few waking hours spent there relaxing are necessary to my
mental health. Since I need those quiet times, it's unwise to castigate
myself for perhaps missing opportunities for new experiences. I learn
much about places to go and how to get there from other travelers and
I learn alot about people in general.
9:17 Charlie's House; Pai-Thailand :: 27 APR 95
I just have to be careful about being too comfortable, growing
lazy and hanging around the guest house. I remind myself often that I'm
traveling, not on vacation. But every now and then it's good to take a
break from confronting otherness.
Continued in the Epilogue
Patrick. -- Responses Sought --
A man noticed that his axe was missing. Then he saw
the neighbour's son pass by. The boy looked like a thief, walked like
a thief, behaved like a thief. Later that day, the man found his axe where
he had left it the day before. The next time he saw the neighbour's son,
the boy looked, walked, and behaved like an honest, ordinary boy.