Have Changed: Returning to Thailand in 2019
trip to South East Asia promised to be different than those I
had taken in the past. I expected that Thailand would have changed
over the previous ten years, just as I had become more gray since
I had last sweated in the tropical humidity. Perhaps the most
significant change was one that I hadn't spent much time thinking
about. I was traveling with my friend Colleen who was not only
quite a bit younger than me, but because of her Vietnamese heritage,
she looked Thai to locals. We were quite cavalier about what that
might mean before we left, but once we were travelling together
we had to develop strategies in order to avoid the judgemental
looks and sly comments.
changed a lot. Most of the tourists were Chinese, who blended
better than the westerners culturally, and the Thai tourism industry,
ever flexible, had compensated. The sellers were picking up a
few words in Mandarin and posting signs in both English and Chinese.
The country might also have appeared different because I was ten
years older than when I had gone with my girlfriend at the time.
In those years I had sprouted more gray hair, and felt a corresponding
dip in my energy level. Where I once appeared as a young hippy
wandering the world, I now looked like an old man from the west,
and in Thailand, that meant only one thing to both the tourists
and the locals.
of how I clashed with the other tourists, or at least their expectations,
was likely my increased class consciousness. I carried my imprinted
social class a little more than I did when I was younger, perhaps,
and that meant the western tourists who were rich enough to travel
overseas eyed me a little more than askance. They could tell,
just as middle class Canadians could, that I didn't belong in
their social milieu; that was no longer hidden by my chance resemblance
to the hippies they saw protesting on television. I tried speaking
to a few tourists only to receive blank stares in return, or more
commonly, no acknowledgement that I had even spoken. I began to
feel as though I were invisible, although the sellers had no trouble
distinguishing me from the locals and the prices rose accordingly.
The most profound
change came from the way Colleen and I were treated, as an older
man and a young, Thai-looking woman traveling together. We were
careful not to touch each other--it was too hot anyway--or to
act in any fashion that might encourage the perception. I avoided
the strange possessive and domineering behaviour of the old men
who had come to Thailand for prostitution, and Colleen both gave
up trying to speak Thai and spoke English louder in public.
to negotiate the perception others had of us, but it took a toll
on our relationship. I thought Colleen came away from that experience
with firmer instructions on who she should pick as her friends,
and slightly less patience with our relationship, and that struck
a sour note in what otherwise was a good trip together. The full
effect of our travels together was yet to be determined, for we
knew her life would change again when she returned to Manitoba,
but it remained to be seen if we could return to the carefree
days of lounging around and watching got-talent videos on YouTube.
In that way,
this book is an examination of our evolving relationship just
as much as it is the story of a man in his fifties reporting on
how much Thailand had changed in a decade.