MM: You have given me your name card, and your gallery’s card, but perhaps you should repeat your name for the reader of this interview?
Daniel: My name is Daniel Leon Dandoy.
MM: You have told me that you are Norwegian, but the name Dandoy, at least to my ear, sounds French rather than Norwegian.
Daniel: Yes, it is not a Norwegian but a Belgian name.
MM: So you have Belgian background. Did you grow up in Belgium or in Norway?
Daniel: I grew up in Belgium, though I was born in France.
MM: Do you, then, consider yourself, fundamentally French, Belgian, or Norwegian?
Daniel: I consider myself Norwegian, since I lived there for 32 years. I emigrated from Belgium in 1970 and spent most of my life working in Bergen.
MM: Now you have moved to Thailand, but to Pattaya rather than Bangkok, just as earlier you had moved to Bergen rather than Oslo. Why did you settle in Bergen?
Daniel: I settled there, because my Norwegian wife, whom I met in Copenhagen, was from Bergen. I enjoyed passing most of my life in that pleasant city, because in the west of Norway la nature is really very beautiful. In Bergen you have everything: the sea, the montagnes, the forest, the fjord. It is quite amazing.
MM: Yes, I have visited Bergen, in fact have written a few pages about the town, which is quite striking. But I also found it rather isolated. Did you ever feel the same way?
Daniel: Yes, I found that Bergen is a little isolated, especially in the wintertime. Nonetheless, today you have the airport, which keeps you in touch with the rest of the world. And you have the boats: to England, to Holland and to other places.
MM: I notice that many English tourists come by boat in the summertime. In Stavanger I arrived at a guesthouse, where I was received by a very tall Norwegian, who took my American passport. So he knew that I was not Norwegian. The next morning, however, when I came down for breakfast, he asked me in Norwegian if I had slept well and what I would like to eat. I found this very charming.
MM: I think he did so, because many of the English who come to Norway on vacation try to learn Norwegian. And of course this is rather difficult, if people will not speak their own language with you. In the Chinese world I have found that the natives will not address you in their native language, if they can speak English (or think they can).
Daniel: When you try to learn Norwegian coming from England or Holland or Germany it is not too difficult, because these languages are related to Norwegian, but coming from France or Belgium it is much more difficult.
MM: During your early years in Norway, how did you get along? Did you speak Norwegian, did you speak English, or did you find people who could speak French?
Daniel: I found a few people who could speak French, but almost everyone that I dealt with in my daily life could speak English.
MM: The Scandinavians are quite unusual in this regard, aren’t they? In Stockholm the Swedes, for example, speak English almost like native speakers.
Daniel: Well, the Norwegians are a people of the sea. Many of them spend five or six years away aboard ship. This enables them to learn many foreign languages. And that is why the Norwegians are so internationales. If you think about it a bit, there are little more than four million people who speak Norwegian, so if they want to communicate with other people in the world, they must learn the other languages.
MM: It has become a practical problem everywhere in the world, hasn’t it? We should, I suppose, understand why everyone wants to practice English with the native speaker.
Daniel: Yes, English is very important.
MM: Now, if I may change the subject, or return to an earlier one: I am curious to know why later in life you have settled in Pattaya. You had told me that you have been here for only seventeen months, so your impressions must still be quite fresh. I wonder if you might express for us your view of this charmingly international city. How, for a start, does Pattaya in your view compare with Bergen?
Daniel: Actually, I had been coming to Thailand during my holidays for a dozen years, and while I was divorcing my Norwegian wife I found my second wife here. I needed a Thai lady, so that I could take her with me to Norway. This all happened more than a decade ago. My wife is from the Northeast of Thailand, a region far away, where there is nothing interesting for a man like me (it is just farm land, nothing to see, nothing to learn). Of course one has Bangkok, which is an interesting city, but it is far too busy for an old man. I wanted a little action, and Pattaya was excellently what I searched for.
MM: Did you meet your wife in Pattaya?
Daniel: Yes, I met my wife in Pattaya. She was working in a laundry. After a year she and I decided that we should spend the rest of our life together.
MM: And when was it that you decided to make Pattaya your home?
Daniel: Well, first we lived for a year together here, but because this second wife was so young she wanted to find a new job in Norway. To make a long story short, she is now a Norwegian.
MM: How wonderful! She has Norwegian citizenship?
Daniel: Yes, and because she is working, she wants to receive all the advantages.
MM: Social security and so forth.
Daniel: And, most important, the retirement.
MM: Yes, a Norwegian pension.
Daniel: Because, you see, in Thailand only the military person or the government official can receive the pension.
MM: So now your wife remains in Norway, while you have begun your new life in Thailand with this beautiful gallery of yours! If your wife has become Norwegian, is it possible that you yourself may become Thai?
Daniel: No, that is impossible. To do so is a long and difficult process, very expensive, and it takes years, many many years. I am too old to try.
MM: The Asian civilizations do not share our view (do they?) of immigration and naturalization. They regard it as absurd that the foreigner (by which they mean a person with white skin) should become an Indian, or a Japanese, or a Chinese, and the same is true in Southeast Asia. Nationality and ethnicity for the Asian are one and the same. But some of these civilizations nonetheless are willing to entertain the white foreigner as a guest, even on cordial terms. Among them Thailand is perhaps the most hospitable. And for this reason many foreigners end up in Pattaya as permanent residents (if they must still renew their visas on a regular basis). I would hope that you might give us, from your greater experience, a broader view of this extraordinary community, for you are so well placed to help us understand Pattaya.
Daniel: First of all, Pattaya is a fast growing city. There is always something new. It is a beautiful place to live for a short time; it has everything that you want as a tourist. To live permanently in the center of the city, though very nice to the young person, is not so attractive when you get older, for you want something a little quieter. So I talk to people, and now I have found a beautiful place in the countryside with a little garden.
MM: Many people, I find, have a stereotyped conception of Pattaya, from reading the newspapers. Each time that I visit the city I am impressed by its great diversity. This morning, for example, I took a walk out of the center of town up the beach to the area where there are several expensive hotels. I wandered into one of these to discover a medical conference in progress with hundreds upon hundreds of surgeons from all over Asia, attending seminars and examining displays of the most advanced operative and post-operative procedures. As a gallerist accustomed to encountering international visitors, both tourists and permanent residents, what aspects of Pattaya are you familiar with that the average person would not be?
Daniel: For the person who likes good food there are more than 300 restaurants here, so that you can eat whatever you want from all over the world. It is impossible not to find a restaurant that you enjoy. And you have a great deal of nightlife, you have floorshows and other entertainment, you have beautiful beaches, you have golf, you have every possible sport. There is just one activity that is hard to find, if one comes from Norway, and that is the skating and the skiing. For you do not have the snow
MM: Well, I suppose that one can always go water skiing and take up in-line skating. With all this variety, with all this pleasure, and of course with its underside of suffering, is it possible that we might say (if we wished to be very philosophical) that Pattaya is a kind of metaphor for life itself?
Daniel: Yes, I think so.
MM: I am in the process of writing a book called Life, and our interview about Pattaya, which will take its place among 28 other interviews that I have done on a trip around the world, will be a part of it. Along with the variety of Pattaya goes a vitality that always impresses me. What do you feel are the most conspicuous qualities of life here?
Daniel: What I think is so special in Pattaya is the kindness.
MM: Yes, in this international community, which has seen everything, and is prey to the vices as well as home to the virtues, one encounters great tolerance and understanding.
Daniel: And everyone is so welcoming! In the other cultures, people often remain inside themselves. They walk down the street and ignore the other people. But here in Pattaya, in a large city, people say “Good Morning” to you as they pass.
MM: Do you think that this tolerance and humane acceptance have to do perhaps with Buddhist doctrine, for as we know, Thailand is a thoroughly Buddhist country?
Daniel: Yes, I think so. And it belongs to the Thai life without stress. In other parts of the world you always have stress with your job and even stress after the job. This is not the way of living in Thailand.
MM: Perhaps, as you suggest, there is some more general principle involved, aside from those of Buddhist doctrine, one that governs the rhythm and nature of Thai life. For, after all, the Japanese and the Chinese are also Buddhist, or at least historically have been so, but the Mayahana form of this great religion does not seem to conduce as readily as the Theravada form to a relaxed quality of life such as we find not only in Thailand but elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Daniel: Yes, I think that life for the tourist is especially good in this country.
MM: The point that you are making is interesting. For tourism in this special sense is a relatively recent phenomenon, isn’t it?
Daniel: Yes, we are now able to live for a long time as tourists in another country, and this is what happens in many cases in Pattaya.
MM: The practice, I have noticed, is becoming more and more possible in the other countries of this region: you have it not only in Thailand but in Cambodia, and I understand that it is even possible for the foreigner to live in Vietnam.
Daniel: The tourist industry is going to be very important in the future of the world, in particular for the older population, since people are living much longer now, and those who have earned their pensions in advanced countries have the chance to live out their old age in more comfortable and economical environments elsewhere.
MM: And the world has changed in other ways, hasn’t it? For we can now take an airplane relatively cheaply and move about conveniently. In certain parts of the world, then, a truly international community is possible without the active element of trade or commerce, without the competitive aspect of immigration for the purpose of seeking employment and the class struggle that results from this process.
MM: Now in my interviews I usually ask people to tell me something about their work. You have unusual access to the international community of Pattaya, for along with more transient tourists it constitutes the clientele for the copies of western paintings that make up most of your offerings. Tell us which painters are most in demand.
Daniel: We have copies here, as you may see, of work by Gaugin and Monet and Van Gogh and Chagall and also by Gustav Klimt.
MM: I see among the books that you have on the table one about Monet. A generation ago he was regarded as a leading figure in the history of western painting, at least as far as popular taste was concerned. I find it of interest that recently Van Gogh seems to have replaced him. All over the world I have become aware of this shift in taste: in Europe, in America, even in East Asia. Can you tell us why it is, according to your view, that Van Gogh should have risen to such prominence?
Daniel: I think it is because Van Gogh is very personal. In his paintings there is something that we all can relate to.
MM: I notice too that you also have on display in your gallery a few Norwegian paintings. Have you been able to sell works by these artists?
Daniel: Yes, I have been able to sell some of them to the tourists.
MM: There is another modern painter who has achieved a universal appeal, a famous Belgian by the name of René Magritte, but I do not see any reproductions of his work.
Daniel: That is because I must wait for the customer to ask that a painting be copied.
MM: I see. And if you obtain such a commission you may ask any of the ten artists that you tell me are working for you to copy one of his paintings. Now, if I may change the subject one last time, what do you see as the future of Pattaya?
Daniel: In the short term, many people from Europe will want to live in Pattaya. Then too within a few years we are speaking of making the casino here. In this case we shall be the first in Thailand. So, I believe, Pattaya will become even more attractive.
MM: I have taken much of your time and I want to thank you for expressing your views. Let me conclude by wishing you the best of luck in your new life in Pattaya!
MM: When I saw you earlier today, you were putting new books on the shelves in the store where you work. Tell me what your name is.
Jiraporn: My name is Jiraporn.
MM: What kind of books do you have in your bookstore?
Jiraporn: Oh, all kinds of books, and magazines too, from around the world. We have cookbooks and books about business and . . .
MM: . . . a lot of books about Southeast Asia, modern Thailand, the ancient Khmer civilization. Do you also have books about Pattaya?
Jiraporn: Yes, I also have.
MM: I should come back to your bookstore and buy a book about Pattaya, so that I can learn more about your city. But today we are trying to learn more by talking to two sisters. And what is your sister’s name?
Chitima: Chitima. (Actually we are just good friends.)
MM: You both have very long names. Most Thai girls that I know have names like Lek and Pa and Mai and Nuan.
Chitima: Those are nicknames.
MM: Do you have a nickname too?
Chitima: My nickname is Jeab.
Jiraporn: And for me: Boom.
MM: A student of mine fifteen years ago, when I taught at Thammasat University, is also called Boom. Her email address is “Shakaboom.”
Jiraporn and Chitima: [Laughter.]
MM: What it is that distinguishes you both — if we may be serious for a moment — from many residents of Pattaya is that you both have a double point of view. As university graduates, as people who have used English to acquire much of your advanced education, you have absorbed, if unwittingly, the western point of view. Pattaya seems to me a very international city, only half Thai, the other half western (or even more broadly exotic: Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Arabic). How do you regard this element of Pattaya? Do you think that the city is more international than the rest of Thailand?
Jiraporn: I don’t think so.
MM: Interesting. Tell us more.
Jiraporn: There are many tourists in Pattaya, but there are also many ordinary people who lead a real Thai lifestyle.
MM: Yes, undoubtedly so. There are many people who are not at all influenced by these exotic lifestyles, and this no doubt includes most of those who keep the city running. Chitima, what is your view of this matter?
Chitima: Well, I came to Pattaya as soon as I graduated from the university and my first job was in a tourist resort, so I have always worked in the international part of Pattaya.
MM: What do you find to be the most challenging problems in communication between these two worlds, the Thai world and the world of the tourists?
Chitima: Thai people are more accepting and more humble.
MM: I agree. By comparison westerners are more arrogant and prone to challenge expectations. On the other hand, what you say is not necessarily true of all Thai people, at least not in my experience.
Jiraporn: Most Thai people are Buddhist and are taught to behave this way.
MM: Yes, I understand. But my first experience of Thailand was quite different, for the students that I taught, and who came from wealthy families, were often Christian, and although they were very sweet and polite, they were not necessarily “accepting,” as Chitima is using the word.
Chitima: These students were not typical Thai people.
MM: No, they had been brought up by parents who encouraged them to marry a westerner and escape from Thailand, and many of them had already traveled abroad. I am sure that you have known such Thai people.
Chitima: I think that for the average Thai people (not for me, because I too studied at the university), the idea is that the westerner has more money.
MM: Well, that is a fact, is it not? (Though there is a misconception around the world that all westerners are fabulously wealthy.)
Jiraporn: In Pattaya, when people see the foreigner, they feel that he has more money, and so he has a choice, whereas the Thai lady does not have a choice.
MM: Certainly this is the case among westerners who can afford to travel half way round the world, though again we must remember that these westerners are not typical of the many very poor people who are also westerners. Nonetheless, I appreciate what you say about the condition of women from poor rural backgrounds in Thailand who come to Pattaya to alleviate the poverty of their families.
Chitima: The girls who go into the bars cannot get out of the bars. The people they see are all foreigners. The Thai people don’t like what happens to the girls, and the foreigners don’t care.
MM: You are describing a very problematic situation. Though one does notice that many foreigners marry the bar girls and take them back to Germany and to England and to other countries. And some might say that if Thai people do not like the situation, then they should exercise responsibility and change the situation. Now that we are talking, however, about the problem of the poor girl driven to such a life, I would be interested in knowing whether you think that this is the most important aspect of life in Pattaya, which began as a small resort for soldiers but has now grown into a huge city. Pattaya, after all, hosts international conferences; international institutions have their offices here; international hotels welcome families and their children. International sporting events take place here. And you have a whole range of tourist attractions and activities, including visits to islands and outings to other places. How else is Pattaya changing?
Jiraporn: I would like to talk about how to live in Pattaya.
MM: This is very important for someone who actually lives here, instead of just visiting! Tell us about the problems of life in the city and how it needs to be improved.
Jiraporn: I would like to tell the leader what he should do in Pattaya and what he should not.
MM: Well, if you could speak to the mayor of Pattaya, what would you tell him?
Jiraporn: The traffic is terrible in Pattaya! The sidewalks are not good for walking on. Some of the buildings are not managed right, and this should be changed!
MM: Yes. I understand that some of the new high-rise buildings let their sewage out into the bay. What other problems should we be aware of?
Jiraporn: The voting is a problem . . . buying the votes. And developing the land.
MM: In other words, Pattaya needs better zoning laws and a war against corruption.
Chitima: If you walk around Pattaya you will notice many bars. Too many! Not good!
MM: So you feel that Pattaya should change from being a city that attracts men who frequent bars into a different kind of city. And what should the new city be like?
Chitima: I think it should not have bars all over town but have just one place for bars.
MM: This sounds like a good idea. Now I have heard that there is a plan to build a casino in Pattaya. What do you think about this idea? Is it good or bad?
Jiraporn: I think it is good for business but bad because of the criminals.
MM: You are speaking of the mafia in Pattaya and how they control its financial life.
MM: So, Chitima, you know about this too! How do you know about the mafia?
Chitima: I used to get threatened by the criminals, when I worked for a foreigner who lost his bar to the mafia.
MM: One of the differences between the Europeans that I have talked to and the two of you is that the foreigners are old and you are young. Do you feel that being young gives you a different perspective on these problems? What do you feel needs to happen for Pattaya to have a better future, say in the course of your lifetime?
Chitima: Get rid of the bars!
MM: What role do you think religion might play? We do not see much evidence of Buddhist activity in Pattaya. Should more temples be built? Should others, such as the Christians, who proselytize and attempt to change people for the better, be encouraged?
Jiraporn: I do not like.
MM: You mean that you do not want foreign missionaries to have an influence on the development of charity and morality in Pattaya?
Jiraporn: No, I think Pattaya is part of Thailand.
MM: I am always amazed at the appeal of Christianity in societies that already have more mature religious and moral systems. What do you think is the appeal of the Christians?
Jiraporn: In Thailand the people have problems, and because of Buddhist tradition they cannot talk to the monks about them. But they can talk to the Christians.
MM: To return to an earlier question: You have both agreed that we have given too little emphasis to ordinary people in Pattaya. Westerners, especially ones who do not speak Thai, often have difficulty communicating with ordinary Thai people. What would you like to add about this subject?
Jiraporn: I think that Pattaya changes the life for the farmers and the fishermen and the workers who come here from another province.
MM: Yes, this is undoubtedly true, and it is a great problem, in Pattaya and in Bangkok. On the other hand, great centers of civilization, such as Paris and New York and Tokyo have always drawn people from the provinces and have always changed them in the process. Is this a problem that we can avoid? And is such change necessarily bad?
Chitima: I do not think it is bad. But the people who have to come to Bangkok and Pattaya must also be given a chance. I feel that they need a better chance in their life.
MM: If I may ask you both to speak personally for a moment, do you feel that you have a better chance in life because of Pattaya?
Chitima: Yes, I have a better chance, not to make money but to have a better lifestyle.
MM: And what about you, Jiraporn?
Jiraporn: I like it in Pattaya, because I do not have to get up too early in the morning!
MM and Chitima: [Laughter.]
MM: Mark, you have a very nice eyebrow there. You seem to have some extra hair in it. How many stitches did this take?
Mark: Ten or twelve.
MM: And the make-up job looks great: lavender, blue, a little green. I guess it’s lucky that you can still see through that eye. Where did this happen?
Mark: Soi 6.
MM: That’s funny. Just last night I walked the length of Soi 6. Somehow it didn’t feel right, so I kept on going.
Mark: I stay Pattaya five year. I know Pattaya very good. In five year Pattaya change.
MM: Really? What do you think has brought this about?
Mark: Pattaya used to be nice place. Many time I stay Thailand. Now coming from everywhere in Thailand, every place, are . . . uh, not mafia . . .
MM: Just tough guys.
MM: And what about the Russians? The Russians also coming to Pattaya, so I’ve heard.
Mark: I don’t have this experience. I am coming Slovenia.
MM: So this was some Thai guy. You tell me by mistake you sat down next to his girlfriend. He didn’t say a thing. Instead all of a sudden he whacked you.
MM: Whatever. You’ve got a very pretty eye now. Natural makeup! Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?
Mark: I don’t wanna look. Everybody tell me, “Why you not call police?” If I call police, next time I go Soi 6, they shoot me. So many angry people. I just right time wrong place.
MM: In a bar yesterday I met this guy from Switzerland who wanted to get me into a fight, because I was from the USA. “Fuck George Bush,” he said. “Right,” I said. “You writing about Pattaya?” he said. “I live here fifteen years. What you know about Pattaya?” “Thank you for your help,” I said.
Mark: In Pattaya: more bars than tourists. In good bar I say, “Can I get a drink of water.” “No problem,” they say. In bad bar: one guy, two girl, no money.
MM: I understand.
Mark: They go to bank, get money, buy a chair. Manager and two girl, one outside, one inside. When you come inside, bam!
MM: So things have changed in Pattaya.
Mark: Yeah. Everything is money.
MM: Why you think Pattaya is changing? (Here, I’ll buy your beer.)
Mark: Because everyone coming from everywhere. They wanna be rich. They wanna be millionaire in one week. One chair, two lady, you got bar.
MM: One has to have good manners to run a bar, don’t you agree?
Mark: I go in bar. No music, two lady, bad manager.
MM: When are they gonna take the stitches out?
Mark: Maybe one month after. Every day I go collect the money. Every day I go emergency. Say, how you gonna to write a book about Pattaya?
MM: Well, Mark, that all depends on whether you can tell me something interesting to write about. You and the Swiss guy.
MM: We are talking to three young optometrists in a modern, glass-enclosed, white-tiled, air-conditioned optician’s shop, surrounded by eyeglasses set out in their gold and silver frames on perfectly polished transparent shelves. Tell me your names, will you?
MM: I want to know what you think, from a Thai point view, about Pattaya.
Noy: Pattaya is very nice and very beautiful. It is very popular with the European tourists. We have the high season and the low season, and the high season comes when it is very cold in Europe and warm in Thailand.
MM: This is why so many people come to Pattaya from Scandinavia (isn’t it?), from Finland and Sweden and Norway and Denmark.
Noy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And people also come from England and Germany.
MM: You know a lot about this, probably because people come to your store to get glasses and to have their glasses fixed. Do any Thai people go to England, Germany and Scandinavia? When Thailand is too hot do Thai people go to a cold country?
Noy: [Laughter.] People from everywhere come to Thailand for the warm.
MM: But don’t rich Thai people go to Europe? And aren’t there a lot of Thai girls who marry Scandinavians, Englishmen and Germans and go to live in the cold countries?
MM: What do you all think about these girls who marry foreigners?
Gun: I need you. I need to marry with you. I want go to cold country.
MM: Yes, I think you should marry someone with blond hair and go to America.
Gun: And maybe I have my son with hair like this [running hand through author’s hair].
MM: Yes, half Thailand, half America. Gun, you are very beautiful, and so is Noy. Let’s ask her, why she decide to marry Thai man instead? Noy, you probably think Thai man better than foreign man, don’t you?
Noy: Yes, I marry already to Thai man. He is very nice. We can talk about and understand another.
MM: I see. Most foreigners cannot speak Thai very well. So when you have foreign customers you must speak to them in English. If you had a European husband, you would have to speak to him in English too, wouldn’t you, Gun?
Gun: I am not sure, sir, because I do not have boyfriend from another country.
MM: Well, you must start by speaking English to these customers of yours who come from another country, then one of them will be your boyfriend.
Gun: Yes, I like your idea very much. I have to learn how to speak English.
MM: What do you mean?!? You speak English already. You speak English very well! Here, let’s all look together at this map of Pattaya, so you can show me the places you go in the city that foreigners may not know about. Nan, where do you go?
Nan: I like to go to discothèque.
MM: Do you go to boy discothèque? By the way, your lipstick is very beautiful. Do you find other boys with lipstick there?
Gun and Noy: [Laughter.]
Nan: No, I go unisex discothèque.
Noy: Jomtien beach, on the map here, is very nice. It is a beautiful beach. You should go there. But be careful, for it is not very clean now.
MM: Yes, I have been to Jomtien beach, and I too think it is very beautiful. It has white sand. In one soi near the beach there are Finnish, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian bars. Have you ever been to these bars?
Noy: No, I never go.
MM: Do you ever go to Jomtien beach in your bathing suit and lie down on the sand?
Noy: No, I never go.
MM: Noy, I want to learn where you go in Pattaya, you and Gun and Nan. Where on the map do you go?
Noy: I go here, to Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, for traditional Thai food.
Gun: I go to Mike Shopping Mall to buy makeup. And for looking.
MM: You must like shopping, Gun. Your makeup is very beautiful. Does Nan go to Mike Shopping Mall to buy his makeup too?
Gun: I like you. You like me? [Laughter.]
MM: Gun, I like you very much. But where does Nan go?
Nan: I go to Mike Shopping Mall to buy lipstick.
MM: And Noy, you buy lipstick there too?
Noy: Yes, and I go Royal Garden Shopping Center.
MM: You know, when I visit Japan, the boys and girls have green hair and blue hair and purple hair, but you all have black hair.
Noy: Yes, Thai people have black hair but now can put a little red in.
MM: Gun, you don’t have any red in your hair. Your hair too beautiful. Please don’t put red in, OK?.
Gun: OK. I like black hair.
MM: So do I. Black hair more beautiful than red hair. I just went to Italy. I see many girls with very long hair. You know why?
MM: Because Italian girl every day eat spaghetti. Spaghetti very long.
Noy, Gun, Nan: [Laughter.]
MM: But Italian girls, their hair a little red too. You know why?
Gun: Italian girls painting hair?
MM: No. Italian girls putting tomato sauce on spaghetti!
Gun, Noy, Nan: [Laughter.]
MM: Now let’s talk, if we may, about your work. You are all optometrists and have told me that you had to study for three years to get your jobs. What does an optometrist do?
Gun: Test your eyes. Maybe you have myopia. Maybe hyperopia.
MM: I see! Gun, you are so beautiful. Noy, thank you for these new glasses. You make Pattaya much more beautiful. Do you all like working here?
Noy, Gun, Gun: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MM: Why? Because of air-conditioning.
Noy: Because not too cold.
MM: I see. Gun, why you like working here?
Gun: Because I stay inside all day long.
MM: Nan, why you like your job?
Gun: Because make customer see so good.
MM: Tell me how you feel about being in Pattaya.
Madeleine: I don’t feel very good about it. I went to the beach to go scuba diving and the diving wasn’t very good. On the beach it was girls, girls, girls and sex, sex, sex.
MM: Sex on the beach?
Madeleine: No, but it’s not the sort of place that I thought it would be.
MM: I suppose you know that Pattaya was originally a resort where American soldiers came during the Vietnam War for “rest and recreation.” It’s not a religious retreat.
Madeleine: No, it’s really for “recreation” and not for the average European person.
MM: Well, ironically, there are now a lot more Europeans here than Americans. This morning I was sitting in a restaurant across from a bar that has, painted above its name, the flags of France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Austria and England, plus four Scandinavian countries. I couldn’t help noticing there was no American flag.
Madeleine: The Europeans that I’ve seen here are so disgusting, guzzling beer and walking around with these poor Thai girls!
MM: If you’ve been staying in the central district, you may not know that Pattaya is now a city of a million people with many five-star hotels, where tourists come with their families to go swimming, boating, shopping and so on. These hotels host dozens of international conferences. Many charitable organizations have their headquarters here. The prime minister of Thailand often meets visiting dignitaries in Pattaya.
Madeleine: This surprises me.
MM: Though you are right: there’s still the activity that you’ve described, mostly in the central part of town, and elsewhere too: bars and bar girls, discos and massage parlors, and a lot of carousing. What do you think should be done about this?
Madeleine: I don’t know. You can’t change people. If they want this sort of activity, I suppose that it will continue.
MM: Well sure you can change people, if you want to. One of my interviews has been with two young Thai women who’ve recently graduated from college. One said, “Get rid of the bars”; the other proposed to restrict them to a single section of town.
Madeleine: But the bars are part of the economy here. If they shut the bars, then there’s no economy left. And there are people who like the bars. Every man needs to take the girl, if he likes the women. It’s better here than in the streets somewhere. I don’t know.
MM: What is your view — if I may ask a more volatile question — of sex outside of marriage, or sex after marriage, or — for the young people here — of sex before marriage?
Madeleine: I don’t care about that. The only thing that’s remarkable to me is that I’ve never seen so many bad-behaving, ugly people from western countries.
MM: Where did you see these people, in bars?
Madeleine: Mostly on the street.
MM: Well, I admit, I’ve had some ugly encounters, mostly with Europeans, who were drunk and belligerent. But generally I just walk away. I don’t have any problem with the Europeans in Pattaya. What happened, did someone confront you? Did you encounter European men who were rude, or nasty?
Madeleine: No? But in European countries most people are nice and normal, and here I don’t see any western people who are nice and normal.
MM: Are you saying that you regard me as nasty and abnormal?
Madeleine: Well, I have met some who are nice, but maybe that is only a part of them.
MM: Do you mean that part of me is not so nice?
Madeleine: [Laughter.] No, I didn’t mean to say that!
MM: Madeleine, perhaps I should introduce you to some pleasant people in Pattaya. We could visit an optician’s shop nearby and talk to my friends Gun, Noy and Nan, or visit a bookstore and see Jiraporn and Chittima, or I could even locate for you a civilized European, such as my friend who runs a successful art gallery on the walking street.
Madeleine: Yes, that would be very nice.
MM: So we’ll do that. But first let’s continue our conversation. I think we should return to the question of these bar girls. What’s your feeling about the girls themselves, who come from all over Thailand, often from very poor families, and who’re usually supporting those families by working in Pattaya?
Madeleine: I pity them. I can’t imagine that they like to go with these ugly old men who come from everywhere.
MM: How, then, should we proceed to change this situation?
Madeleine: I don’t know. I mean, if you want to change it, you have to make it more like it is in the western world.
MM: Well, you’ve said that you’re from Holland. I’m sure you know about the brothels of Amsterdam, and you probably have some idea about other European countries, or Russia. Do you think that the Thais should learn from western countries how to manage this?
Madeleine: In Thailand it’s much much cheaper for the western men. It is like Valhalla. So I think that things should be made more equal.
MM: One way of addressing the problem is represented by the American feminists’ campaign. They march from bar to bar, putting up posters, shouting at the men, talking to the girls (or trying to). But unfortunately the girls don’t seem to have much interest in being radicalized. And you can imagine what the owners think.
Madeleine: I think you can only change it, if people want to change it.
MM: Yes, I agree.
Madeleine: Personally, I don’t care if people live this way. That’s their choice. If the girls need the money, then it’s up to them. And the men keep coming, I guess. But I feel that it should be made a little more difficult for the men.
MM: Many of these men, you know, especially the Germans and the English and the Scandinavians, marry the Thai girls and take them out of this situation to live in Europe.
Madeleine: Yes, I see them in Holland as well. But these are men who cannot get a girl in their own country, who want someone who’s very obedient.
MM: May I ask, then, what’s wrong with them coming to Pattaya to find themselves a charming girl who wants to marry them?
Madeleine: If they want to, fine.
MM: You know, if one visits the city several times and stays for a week or so (as I have), one often sees the Thai girl every day with the same European man, having breakfast, shopping, walking happily down the street, apparently quite content with this relationship, which may or may not eventuate in marriage. How do you feel about that?
Madeleine: Yes, I think the Thai girls really have a gift to look so happy. For in one sense it is good for them, to be with someone who has so much money.
MM: Do you think it is bad for women to be with men who have money? Does a girl in New York who wants a date look for a homeless person, or does she look for a guy with a job on Wall Street, with a new car and a house on Long Island?
Madeleine: Well, I suppose money is always important.
MM: Money does solve many problems, doesn’t it? I know a man in Lampang, in the North of Thailand, who started a college on the fortune that he’d made as a businessman and from money that he’d raised in Japan, Taiwan and the USA. He takes girls out of the bars and gives them a college education. I’ve lectured at his college.
Madeleine: I think that’s very good. If these girls get an education, then they can have a better life, and they won’t need the money. Otherwise, they must be prostitutes.
MM: Here part of the problem, it seems to me, lies in the westerner’s perception of what constitutes a “prostitute.” A Russian prostitute who’s been sold into white slavery in Europe, where she’s beaten and abused, is in quite a different situation from that of a girl who’s decided to venture into Pattaya from Nong Khai, who’s free to return with money, who enjoys her life with the other bar girls, who’s happy to be among the westerners, who’s not interested in marrying a Thai, or who’s recovering from having done so.
Madeleine: Well, yes, I know. There are girls in Amsterdam who are just human beings and just need the money, and so they do this.
MM: Do you think there might also be other women in the world who want to marry a man capable of supporting them and raising their children?
Madeleine: Yes, of course! I have just been in Cambodia, where the girls are marrying the western men and are very happy.
MM: In Cambodia I’ve been told that if one marries a Khmer girl, he should expect to pay the family — if the girl is from the countryside — US$100 a month. (If she’s from the city, it will cost him US$200.) How do you feel about this arrangement?
Madeleine: I think it is just a part of their life. I have a Dutch friend in Cambodia who is about to marry a Cambodian girl, and she has already been married, so the family is very happy, since a Cambodian girl who has left her Cambodian husband is not allowed to marry another Cambodian man.
MM: So in some respects you find the system satisfactory.
Madeleine: Well, I think it is all about money, not about love.
MM: You know, for the last five or six millennia, except perhaps for the last century or two in the West, marriage has usually represented a financial arrangement between two families, between a man and a wife who plan to raise a family of their own. Isn’t this a rather modern idea, that one should marry for love? Surely you know people who have married for love. If they are now in their thirties or forties or fifties, are they still in love?
Madeleine: I think that love is very important in marriage.
MM: Yes, I agree with you. But if, let’s say, you are equally in love with two men and have to choose between one who makes $10,000 a year and one who makes $500,000, wouldn’t your decision be influenced by money?
Madeleine: I’d go for the poor guy! [Laughter.] That is just the way I am!
MM: Well this is very charming of you, but what you’re proposing is not a possibility for the Khmer girl, nor for most other women of the world. The Khmer girl who did what you’re suggesting would be turning her back on her family. Your idea of marrying the poor guy is a western, Romantic idea, and it’s not very realistic, if we think it through.
Madeleine: Yes, the Khmer girls won’t do it. They choose the rich guy. It’s not just for themselves but to arrange things for the family members.
MM: You know, I often hear from Scandinavian guys, from the ones who are considering getting married to Thai girls, that Scandinavian women are awful. I was reluctant to believe this, but I have heard it so many times that I begin to wonder if it might not be true, for I’ve been talking to so many normal, well-adjusted, Scandinavian men.
Madeleine: I know. This is what the Dutch men say too. But I think they want the Thai women, because they want someone below them. They don’t want a woman who is equal to them, especially not in marriage.
MM: Let’s raise our discussion, if we might, to a little higher plane. What do you think in general about this question of equality in marriage? Isn’t “equality” in this sense another of these modern ideas, like your idea of love and marriage, another idea that arose in the Romantic period and has now become part of an orthodoxy?
Madeleine: For me equality is very important. You can’t be happy with someone in marriage, if you aren’t on the same level, if you can’t share everything.
MM: Do the Thai girls seem unhappy to you, the ones who marry, say, a successful western businessman? It’s hard to imagine him sharing his business problems with her.
Madeleine: Well, if you can’t share things, it’s not a real marriage. If you can’t talk about everything together . . .
MM: You’ve been speaking personally, and I appreciate that, so perhaps I should tell you what I enjoy about Cambodia and Thailand. Chinese is my eighth language, but I speak neither Thai nor Khmer. And yet I very much enjoy being with a Khmer or a Thai woman and saying absolutely nothing. In other words, different people have different tastes.
Madeleine: [Laughter.] Well, that could be nice. People really talk too much, I guess.
MM: But returning to our topic: in my experience, both personally and generally, I sometimes wonder if inequality in marriage doesn’t promote a higher degree of happiness than equality. And I’m not speaking only of male over female superiority. The reverse can also be true. Many men, I’ve found, are happy with a dominant woman.
Madeleine: Well . . . but I mean . . . what you get out of marriage depends upon your ability to share your problems and your joys . . .
MM: Perhaps you’re right. But does this “sharing” necessarily depend upon equal physical strength, or equal earning power, or equal authority within the household?
Madeleine: Maybe not, but I still think communication is very important. You must know what your partner is thinking, and the equal relationship makes this easier.
MM: Perhaps. To shift the subject slightly: one thing we notice, as we travel around the world, is that Southeast Asians, like the Indians and the Chinese, have populations that are growing, whereas many European populations are declining, some dangerously so. The Europeans, like the Japanese, are waiting till very late to get married, are not getting married at all, or if they are they severely limit the number of children they have. What do you think is the cause of this phenomenon among such prosperous people?
Madeleine: It’s a good thing! There are too many people in the world! And there is so much more than family for us, with women working and so on.
MM: Let me ask one more question, if I may. Which do you think will make you happier: being single or being married? (Basically, you seem to be a very happy and successful person, so you’re probably happy now and should be even happier after you get married.)
Madeleine: Yes, I believe that marriage will definitely make you happier.
MM: Jowel, we have enjoyed listening to you perform this afternoon. You are an accomplished professional entertainer, but you seem quite young. How old are you?
Jowel: I am nineteen.
MM: How long have you been singing songs in English?
Jowel: About three years.
MM: In other words, since you were sixteen. How did you get started so early?
Jowel: My mother was also a singer.
MM: Is she also from Pattaya?
Jowel: Yes. I was born in Pattaya.
MM: Your English is so good! When I hear you singing American songs, you sound like a native speaker.
Jowel: Thank you, but my English is very poor.
MM: Tell me about your view of Thai music and American music. You have not sung any Thai songs this afternoon. Which do you like better, American or Thai music?
Jowel: American, because the music is good. I like Thai music because it is Thailand.
MM: What about other kinds of music? For instance do you like Japanese music?
Jowel: I cannot understand Japanese music.
MM: Now the songs that you sang after this meeting of Pattaya expats were all romantic. Do you also sing other kinds of songs, like rock ’n’ roll?
Jowel: I sing rock ’n’ roll songs in Bamboo Bar.
MM: I have been to Bamboo Bar, but I have never heard you singing.
Jowel: I sing at 9:00 o’clock.
MM: Some time I will have to arrive earlier. Now where would you like to sing after Bamboo Bar? Do you want to continue your career in Bangkok or elsewhere?
Jowel: I am not sure. I think I would like to stay in Pattaya.
MM: That’s very interesting. I’ve noticed that these days many of the best Thai singers come to Pattaya to perform, so perhaps your career has been made easier by starting here. Most people I meet in Pattaya are not from Pattaya.
MM: Since you were born in Pattaya, I am sure that you know a lot about the city. I am writing a little book about Pattaya made up of interviews. What kind of a place is Pattaya for you? Do you like the city?
MM: What do you like about the city?
Jowel: A lot of people and not afraid.
MM: It is a very safe city to live in, isn’t it?
MM: What about the foreigners in Pattaya? Do you like living in a Thai city with so many Germans and Englishmen, Norwegians and Americans, as in your audience today?
Jowel: I don’t like . . . south — India.
MM: You mean that you don’t much like Indians, Pakistanis and the other people from South Asia. Which kind of people do you like best?
MM: Yes, the Englishmen are very polite? They are nice people, aren’t they? Which other people do you like? How about the Americans?
Jowel: I don’t like America so much people?
MM: What about people from Norway, Denmark?
Jowel: I don’t know, I don’t understand people from Norway, Denmark.
MM: You know, many people in your audience today have come from Norway. A Norwegian has told me that in Pattaya there are 5000 people from Norway. Anyway, everyone seemed to enjoy hearing your English songs. Do you also sing Thai songs?
MM: Tell me a little about what it is like to sing Thai songs. When you sing in Thai it is different from singing in English?
Jowel: Yes, different.
MM: Which is better, singing songs in Thai or singing songs in English?
Jowel: I think singing English songs is better?
MM: When you sing English songs, everyone can understand the lyrics, so English songs are for everyone, aren’t they? What about Thai songs?
Jowel: Thai songs are also for everyone.
MM: Yes. But today you did not sing Thai songs. When you perform at Bamboo Bar do you also sing Thai songs?
Jowel: A little. I know ten or fifteen Thai songs.
MM: Let me ask you again, if I may, how you think Thai songs are different from American songs? Do they express a different feeling?
Jowel: Yes, the voice is different.
MM: Thank you very much, Jowel, for talking to me. Today everyone enjoyed listening to your songs, but everyone also enjoyed seeing you. Those high platform shoes of yours, so black and clunky, seem to me very chic; and I notice that you are still wearing your beautiful jewelry. These earrings are gorgeous, and you are very pretty.
Jowel: Thank you.
MM: I am talking to Wai, who is very small but very beautiful, right?
MM: Wai, how many babies you have?
Wai: I have two baby boys.
MM: We are in Jomtien’s Soi Scandinavia, seated across from three establishments flying the flags of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Unbeknownst to author, he has entered a bar filled with lady boys, who are mingling with Scandinavian tourists and their wives, with other western customers playing pool, with Wai and her beautiful female colleagues. Rock ’n’ roll, blasting from huge black speakers, has caused the girls standing out front in the soi to start dancing with one another. I love these girls, Wai. What you like?
Wai: I like lady boy.
MM: You like girl too?
MM: You like boy?
MM: Anything Wai no like?
Wai: [Laughter.] No!
MM: Wai like Norway?
MM: Wai like Sweden?
MM: Wai like Denmark?
MM: Wai like every body?
Wai: [Laughter.] Yeah!
MM: You have told me that you left school at 14, began to work at 15 and now are 29. How then is it that you speak such good English?
Malee: No, I not speak good. Sometime I want to go to school for the English, but my mother have no money.
MM: Still, you understand everything that I have been saying, and it seems that you can talk about anything you want to in English. How did you learn this language so well?
Malee: I working long time in hotel.
MM: In Pattaya or in Jomtien?
Malee: Here in Jomtien.
MM: You have told me that your home is in Rayong, but that you have found another job in this soi, where there are so many Scandinavian bars. Can you also speak a little Swedish or Danish, Norwegian or Finnish? This is a Swedish bar, isn’t it?
Malee: I am only working this bar three day.
MM: Well, I imagine that you can speak Thai quite well?
Malee: [Laughter.] I am speaking very good Thai! You speak Thai?
MM: You know my name in Thai?
Malee: What your name in Thai?
MM: First name: Nick. Last name: Noi.
Malee: [Laughter.] Nick Noi [“a little bit”]!
MM: You have told me that you studied in school for seven years and that you would like to go back to school. If you went back to school, how long would you want to study?
Malee: Study seven year.
MM: You would like to go to school for seven more years! What would you study?
MM: But, Malee, your English is already very good. Today, for example, you have shown me that you could read The International Herald Tribune that I brought with me. What else would you like to study? Computer, perhaps? Or accounting? Or business?
Malee: I want to study English.
MM: You would like to study English. So that you can be a tour guide?
Malee: Yes, I take you. OK?
MM: Now if you were a tour guide, what would you be talking to the tourists about? Buddhist temples? Nong Nooch Village. Jomtien beach?
Malee: Yes, I talk about Thailand really beautiful! I talk about what you need. I talk about where you go. And “Welcome to Thailand!” [Laughter.]
MM: When you serve as a tour guide, Malee, you must take people to see things. Since you have grown up in Rayong and lived in Pattaya for many years, you know everything here that tourists like to see. You could take them to see the elephants or the snakes or the tigers; you could help them to find the golf course and show them where to scuba dive. What else would you show people in Rayong or Pattaya or Jomtien?
Malee: Jomtien is very beautiful city. I take them to beach.
MM: But here we are looking at the beach. It runs the length of the main road! People in Jomtien don’t need a guide to find the beach!
Malee: [Laughter.] OK. Then I can help. I think everyone sometime have problem.
MM: Well, that’s very nice. But what about me? I have no problem.
Malee: Maybe you walk too much, you don’t know where you want to go.
MM: I see. You are talking about problems of how to get somewhere. So, let us say that I know where I want to go, but I need help getting there.
Malee: Where you want to go?
MM: I want to come to this bar and talk to Malee! But how can you be my guide, if I am already here?
Malee: [Laughter.] OK. You want to eat, I know restaurant, I take you very good food.
MM: That sounds wonderful. Yesterday I met someone who told me that I should visit the aquarium in Pattaya. You like fish? You take me to see them?
Malee: Yes, I look at in the book. I dream. I think, when I have money, I go.
MM: Well, maybe you and I should go tomorrow and look at the fish. OK?
MM: Can you talk to the fish? Do the fish in Thailand speak Thai?
MM: Then maybe you will introduce me to the fish, tell me their names, OK?
Malee: [Laugher.] Yes.
MM: We go tomorrow, OK?
MM: But for now please tell me a little more about your life. I am writing a book about Pattaya, and I am doing this by talking to people. I have talked to Norway man, to Holland girl, and tomorrow I am talking to Pakistan man; but when I ask Thai girls what they think about Pattaya, they only tell me, “Pattaya very beautiful, Pattaya very nice.” So tell me more about Pattaya, and what you have been doing here for 29 years.
Malee: I think Pattaya very beautiful for foreigner coming but not for me. I think many many beach in Thailand.
MM: I see. There is too much competition for tourists in Thailand, and so Pattaya is a hard place for you to find a job. But you had a good job, you say, at a hotel working as a receptionist, and now you have job in this bar. Why you leave your job at hotel?
Malee: Manager always worry me. Want me give him massage.
MM: Oh, that’s terrible, Malee. I’m so sorry to hear this. Tell me, darling, what other problem you have in Jomtien?
Malee: Yes, very very problem. Maybe I go work in the Pattaya. I think many many people talk very very much, I don’t know what he wants. Maybe he lie for me, she lie for me, I don’t know too.
MM: So you would like to leave Jomtien and work in Pattaya. People at work have been talking behind your back? People have been lying to you?
Malee: Yes, I think better, better foreigner in Thailand. When many many people come, we can talk, I talk back. Many many people in Thailand, many foreigner.
MM: Are you saying that you prefer to work for foreigner than for Thai person, or that Thailand has too many foreigners.
Malee: Yes, too many foreigner.
MM: But if you and many many Thai girl marry Swedish men and go Sweden, won’t Swedish girls say, “Many many Thai girl in Sweden, too many Thai girl?”
Malee: No, I don’t like Sweden. About last two year I have the boy in Sweden.
MM: You have had a Swedish boyfriend for the past two years?
Malee: Ya, he lie for me. He say, “I love you. You very pretty. You very beautiful.” He come in Thailand about one month, two month, he stay with me.
MM: But he didn’t really love you, did he?
Malee: Every day every day he say, “I love you.” But he have another lady. Very big problem for me. Now I have tattoo. [Malee shows author red heart-shaped tattoo over her heart with “Jorgen” lettered above it in green.]
MM: You have this Swedish guy’s name tattooed on your heart!
Malee: Yes, when I in a shower every day I see. Big problem for me.
MM: Jorgen very bad for you.
Malee: Yes. I want to say to the man in Sweden, when you think you love lady in Thailand, but you not love. Lady in Thailand have heart same same as lady in Sweden.
MM: Now what about the Swedish men who marry Thai girls and take them to Sweden?
Malee: Yes, I think that better better for coming in Thailand.
MM: So you would like to get married and go to cold country like Sweden?
Malee: No, I like to stay Thailand.
MM: Well, maybe you have found the right person. I stay in Taiwan, which will not give visa to you, and which give me visa only 60 days, so maybe I come and stay Thailand.
Malee: Thank you very much [laughter].
MM: Can you build a house for me? I have no house.
Malee: I can help for you look. I can help for you find. But I cannot buy for you. I work in bar, I not have money too much.
MM: Now, Malee, I am very old, and you are so young. Is this a problem?
Malee: No, I think, when I marry, I want old man, old man really love lady. I think better for me. I think I am very good lady, very good heart. When I marry, in my heart I cannot have another man.
MM: Malee, you don’t suppose this interview of ours is getting too romantic, do you? Maybe you should tell me again about the difference between Pattaya and Jomtien, the difference between Jomtien and Rayong, where, you have told me, your mother lives.
Malee: Rayong is very very beautiful, very quiet, very good.
MM: You say Rayong, but I think that you are talking not about Rayong, you are talking about Malee. You are very beautiful, you are very quiet, you are very good.
Malee: Thank you, but I not very beautiful.
MM: I think you are beautiful, and you are certainly quiet, and you seem to be very good. Tell me what you want when you get married.
Malee: I dream, I have dream every night, when I have good husband. I think I want to cooking every day for him. Some time go to restaurant, one month one time or two time. I want to get one baby.
MM: You want to have a baby! Malee, I am very old. I cannot be your husband.
Malee: Yes, I think better for him, and better for me!
MM: Do you think that your husband, the one who will give you the baby, should be Thai man or falang, as you call him?
Malee: I think falang better than Thai man. I think he love me better. He have one heart for me better very very good for me.
MM: Yes, I think that a good heart is terribly important. Now is this your mother here, listening to our conversation?
Malee: No, she just my friend working in bar.
MM: And is she married?
Malee: Yes, she marry.
MM: She have Thai husband?
MM: What you think? Thai man, foreigner, what is the difference?
Malee: Thai man not same as falang. When lady have man, have baby, Thai man say, “No, not good lady,” but falang, he say, “You have baby, no problem. You were in the bar, OK, no problem. You have sex with another man, no problem. When you go get marry, you can finish everything.”
MM: “Finish everything.” Yes, I think that’s a good idea. But why would a foreigner be better than a Thai man? Wouldn’t it be better Thai woman marry Thai man, foreign guy marry foreign girl? Why Thai girl want marry foreign guy?
Malee: Ummm . . . I think better better this man you marry this woman me [laughter].
MM: Tell us, why you think foreign man like so much Thai woman?
Malee: Maybe it Thai girl black color!
MM: Yes, beautiful color.
Malee: Many many falang love black color. Like sun.
MM: Like a beautiful suntan, yes. But what about good heart? What about kindness?
Malee: Good heart?
MM: Yes, good heart. Malee have very good heart.
Malee: Yes, I know very have good heart, I think. Good for everybody, good for take care, good for you.
MM: Why is it, do you think, that Thai people are so kind?
Malee: Um . . . I don’t know. Last time I have Thai man. I think not so good, not kind.
MM: Not kind to you, not so good for you.
Malee: I give everything for Thai man.
MM: I understand. Next time, darling, I hope you find your husband. So, good luck for you!
Malee: [Laughter.] Thank you very much.
MM: We are seated in the air-conditioned Caviar Fashion Shop, talking to Nadeem. Along with his brother, Atip, who preceded him to Pattaya, he has made the move from Pakistan to Thailand, where he and his brother run several businesses. In addition to making suits and jackets, trousers and shirts, primarily for tourists, tell us, what are your other ventures?
Nadeem: We are also selling bottled water from Thailand into the European market, and we have a line of paper products, including pizza boxes, made from local trees.
MM: If I may ask you a personal, financial question, which of these activities has proven most profitable to you?
Nadeem: The bottled water business.
MM: You have told me that altogether you have sixteen employees working for your tailor’s shop, which is located here in one of the large covered markets near the center of Pattaya. Are your tailors also Pakistani?
Nadeem: No, all the people who work for us are Thai.
MM: Tell us, if you will, how you have come to be so involved with Thailand. Do I understand that you yourself are a Thai citizen?
Nadeem: No, I am not a Thai citizen, but for four years I have been living here, I am now married, and I am soon expecting to be a father.
MM: Your wife is Thai?
Nadeem: Yes, she is Thai. I met her in the city of Ayutthya, when she was very young and a student at the university. At first she told me that I must wait to marry her, as her parents required, but I told her straight out, I want to marry you now. I went away for a year, and when I returned I found that she have Thai boyfriend. He say to me that I must leave Thailand. I tell him that he must leave. Again I say to her father I want to marry his daughter right away, will take good care of her. Finally he agree.
MM: I understand, however, that your brother is still single.
Nadeem: He not want to marry yet.
MM: Did you and he come directly to Thailand from Pakistan?
MM: But you have told me that you had worked for several German companies before you made the move. These German jobs, then, had all been in Pakistan.
Nadeem: Yes, I make only one trip to Germany, and that was while I was working for Lufthansa as a traffic officer. Later I have another job with a Germany engineering company in the field of computer design.
MM: You have also told me that your educational background is in physics and in finance, an interesting combination. With your scientific knowledge and engineering experience you would seem to be well positioned to take part in the expansion of international high tech in Southeast Asia.
Nadeem: I hope so.
MM: Tell me, what led you to make your move to Thailand?
Nadeem: I came to join my brother — who was already doing business in Pattaya — so that I could start my own company. The prospects were not good in Pakistan.
MM: How many Pakistanis are doing business here in Pattaya?
Nadeem: There are 42 Pakistanis doing business here.
MM: And what kind of activities are they engaged in?
Nadeem: All sorts of activity, but most are opening the tailor shop
MM: So your own business is more diversified than that of most other Pakistanis.
Nadeem: Yes, the average Pakistani does not have much choice.
MM: He is either a clothier or a restaurateur, I have noticed.
Nadeem: Yes, he feels that his choices are limited, but this is partly his own fault.
MM: Now by marrying a Thai woman, you have made a certain commitment to Thailand, haven’t you? Tell us how you feel about giving up your native country for another.
Nadeem: I think that love and understanding are the most important thing.
MM: You are speaking of your love for your wife and the mutual understanding that the two of you have; these must be important reasons for your staying here. But I was raising another question, the question of your being ethnically Pakistani but finding yourself in another culture — for business reasons, for domestic reasons — and how you consider that this fact is shaping your life. You in effect are an exile, aren’t you?
Nadeem: Well, I am comfortable living in Thailand, because one has great freedom here to do what one wants to do.
MM: Would you ever want to return with your family to Pakistan?
Nadeem: No, I am more comfortable living here than in Pakistan.
MM: By contrast with the Thais, the Chinese I find rather exclusive, even racist, in their attitude toward foreigners; the Indians, in my experience, do not encourage foreigners to live in India; and the Japanese, though very polite to foreigners, find it hard to believe that those who are not ethnically Japanese could be assimilated into their society. What is it about the Thais that makes them more comfortable with the presence of foreigners and in such great numbers? This cannot be explained purely on economic grounds, for the Indians and the mainland Chinese are poorer than the Thais.
Nadeem: The Thais have a very very good heart, soft, like a water, you know.
MM: Yes, others have remarked upon this. But the relationship must also be two-way. The Thais must find you sympathetic as well as vice versa, in order that you be so comfortable, so “free” as you have said, in Thailand. Is this sympathetic relationship related to native Buddhist belief, and if so why is it that Thais tolerate you as a Muslim?
Nadeem: I don’t think it is a question of being Pakistani or Muslim or whatever. The Thai people like all the foreigners. If you are honest, if you do not cheat them, they like you. You also, if I cheat you, if I speak you lie, you don’t like me. If I speak you truth, you will like me.
MM: I understand your principle of honesty, but it does not explain everything. If you were to go to China and speak the truth, the Chinese nonetheless would not accept you as a member of their society. They do not encourage even the successful businessman, who benefits them as well as himself, to live on a permanent basis in their country. If you go to Japan to do business, so people tell me, no matter how honest you are, you will find it very difficult to do business, at least to establish yourself on an equal footing with the Japanese themselves. If you go to India as an adept of Indian culture, the Indians will welcome you, as a visitor, but they do not approve of the foreigner marrying an Indian woman; they cannot accept his belief in the principles of the Hindu religion; and like the Chinese and Japanese they will not assimilate him into their culture and civilization.
Nadeem: India has many problems. Six per cent of the population are politicians and very corrupt. Forty-two per cent of the population is below the poverty level. I have many friends who go to India from Pakistan and experience many many problems.
MM: Even though Indians and Pakistanis are ethnically the same! Though you have not been to China or Japan, many of your customers in Pattaya are Chinese or Japanese. Tell us how you find the Chinese and Japanese that you encounter here?
Nadeem: The Japanese are good, but the Chinese want everything always cheaper.
MM: Might this be a function of the great disparity between their standards of living? Japan is a wealthy country, mainland China much poorer by comparison.
Nadeem: Yes, possibly, but the Chinese are always bargaining, always demanding.
MM: In this series of interviews that I have been doing in Pattaya, I have represented the European point of view — I hope accurately — by speaking with a Norwegian, who like yourself has married a Thai woman, and by speaking with a Dutch woman, who has looked upon the conditions of life in Pattaya from a western, liberal, even feminist point of view. You bring to your experience in Pattaya another, Asian, point of view. How do you feel about Pattaya, as an Asian?
Nadeem: I feel that Thailand is really my country, because it is a part of Asia. European culture is completely different, but I feel very comfortable in Thailand.
MM: More comfortable, it would seem, than you feel in Pakistan.
Nadeem: This is because of the freedom that I have in Thailand. Here you can do whatever you want to do.
MM: Is this “freedom” that you speak of an “Asian” principle, or is it not instead a modern, western (now universal) principle, one that Thailand has perhaps absorbed in the course of its diplomatic, if self-interested, dealings with other civilizations?
Nadeem: I do not know.
MM: Now we do know that many South Asians settle in the United States, where they are also very successful. Have you ever considered this possibility for yourself? America is renowned for its celebration of freedom and economic opportunity, and many Indians and Pakistanis, by all reports, are doing very well there.
Nadeem: Yes, you can survive very well in The United States, for it is not just a country, it is also a world. They have all populations there. The Chinese, the Japanese, the Indians and everyone else can go and succeed. Everything is in your hand. But Europe is very hard now, for it is difficult to get work. In Asia, if you want to come here to work, you have many many problems with the unemployment. But I myself have been able to start my own business, so that I work for myself. In Pakistan I cannot do this easily, so I like Thailand. In Pakistan I could not get credit to start my business, but in Thailand I can easily do this.
MM: Everything considered, then, Thailand represents for you a very attractive alternative to Pakistan: domestically, financially and personally, as far as the freedom to do as you wish. Do you think that you will live the rest of your life in Thailand?
MM: Interestingly, this is also the view expressed by many westerners in Pattaya. Though these Europeans and Americans periodically return to their native countries, many are content to have left home and to have resettled in Thailand, often in their retirement. What plans do you yourself have, if any, to return for a visit to Pakistan?
Nadeem: I am very happy in Thailand.