Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why I Live as an Expat in Bangkok

Phra Phrom as depicted at the Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok. 

I am often asked why I choose to live as an expatriate in Bangkok. There are many reasons. 

Initially, my family in America imploded in 2003, and I seized the opportunity to cut myself off from all entanglements. I am grateful that I had the perspicacity to perceive that opportunity, and the decisiveness to act upon it.

My life immensely improved, as it is often said that you can choose your friends, but you do not get to choose your family. I got no patience for drama.

More, living across the Pacific Ocean makes it complicated for ex-wives or other undesirables to push my buttons or to knock on my door in the middle of the night or to make scenes in my neighborhood. 

Good luck finding me in Bangkok. Even if you follow a GPS coordinate it is difficult to navigate a Thai neighborhood unless you are Thai. And my security sensors, old lady Thai aunties, surround me. I always see unwanted visitors coming.

Believe it or not, Her Majesty is acutely aware of her surroundings, even when she is napping on the couch with Momma. 

Her Majesty, my majestic cat, is my final intrusion detector. I know it when anybody knocks on the gate in the high wall surrounding my garden and my home. They do not even need to find the doorbell.

After I checked out of a residential PTSD program at the VA in 2003 I literally had no ties to anyone or to anything. I could go anywhere that I liked. So I went to Baghdad.

Holy cow, Baghdad was fun. The war was not really serious when I first arrived, though you could see it coming. It was dangerous enough to make it sporty. Like the Wild West.

Ranger John Czarnecki, myself and Phil Warner on Southern Camp Slayer at the FBI HRT house in late 2003, Baghdad. 

I had a glorious gun collection, and a “get out of jail free” letter from the CPA authorizing me to traffic in black market guns, munitions, and petroleum. I have got to find that letter. I could not believe that they signed it. It is in these files piled around me somewhere.

Then as suddenly as it started, it ended. I had to leave Baghdad, and I was not happy about it. At that time anyone with a PTSD diagnosis was considered undeployable. This was DOD policy. 

DOD later changed their policy, as a PTSD diagnosis would have rendered everybody with combat experience undeployable, but that happened too late for me.

PTSD was not a factor for me in Baghdad, in fact, Baghdad healed me. I felt better there than I had in years. I think that it was the immediacy of living in a war zone and the compulsion to be present in every moment. I did not live in the past, nor ache over old wounds.

I was gloriously alive in Baghdad. Working there helped me get over the implosion of my family. I was even able to get my medications refilled at the CSH in the Green Zone.

There was something about being back in a war zone strapped with guns and a dip in my mouth and the smell of jet fuel in the air that rejuvenated me. I was back home, where I belonged. And I was with my brothers. Baghdad was a big reunion for old school Rangers.

And then the policy intervened. I could have lied about it, but I refused. I am not ashamed of that PTSD diagnosis. I consider PTSD an honorable wound, especially when you get it in combat. 

So I went back to the states for a month. I contemplated going to Nicaragua, but no. I avoid Latin America, for reasons that will be explained in my fourth book, In the Valley of the Shadows, should I be blessed to live long enough to complete it. 

Then old SF brothers asked me if I had ever been to Bangkok. I had not been. While I was assigned to 1st Group, the SF Group oriented to the Pacific Rim, I was in the Korea Battalion, 2d Battalion, so I never went to Bangkok.

They invited me, and so I came. The minute that I saw that Thailand was populated with honey colored beauties with almond eyes and puffy lips and jet black long hair, I knew that the Big Ranger was guiding my path. 

I say it all the time. I came on holiday, and I never left.

I was a horrific man whore for two years. If it was feasible and it did not involve more than one penis (my own) I did it. I literally scratched every sexual itch that there is between consenting adults.

Then one day, eating steak with a friend, I saw my wife. She was the most beautiful thing that I ever saw, and she still is, 11 years later, sleeping placid beside me in bed while I write on an iPad.

That ended my man whoring. I did not mind saying farewell to a libertine lifestyle because I am not by nature a libertine, and I checked off every entry on my sexual bucket list.

I live now like a Mormon, spiritual, domesticated, monogamous, quietly. Except that I do not research my genealogy or wear big underwear. 

I cracked the code on Thailand when I realized that traditional Thai culture is very conservative. Thai women want their men to be strong, but not too strong. They want their men to be men, and they are often delighted to be housewives. They are glorious at it. 

Thai women are indoctrinated from birth to care for their families. All that I have to do is bring in the money. As I do not hit what I love, and I do not drink or gamble, and I naturally treat the women in my life like a gentleman, as my mother taught me, I stack up favorably to the competition.

My wife graduated with a BA in Business Administration. She runs our household like a business. I just have to stay out of her way. She has it all under control.

You can say that my wife tamed me, but really, I tamed myself. It is an honor to be in this marriage with her. I am endlessly grateful to her, as she taught me how to live. 

Phaya Naga, mythical semi-divine demi-creatures in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. 

Thailand is also a very old culture, and I immediately felt comfortable here as it is a pagan country and I am a pagan at heart. 

I see no contradiction in my monotheistic belief in a prime mover God, or a Great Architect, if you prefer, and in an historical Jesus Christ who became more than man. I just permit no priest to intervene in my relationship with the Big Ranger in the Sky, and I worship nature, the universe, in all its manifestations.

I try to know my place, and I pay attention when the universe tells me no. I believe that karma, the hammer of karma, strikes not just in the next life, but in this one, as well. I see it around me every day.

The Hindu do not stress over these doctrinal matters that spawn wars and jihad and reformation as there are many manifestations of Brahma, and many goddesses and many gods. This makes more sense if you understand that Hinduism blanketed Thailand for centuries. 

But before that, there was animism. The oldest, most pure manifestations of animism are found in Tibet. But animism also pervades modern Thailand. So in the beginning here, there was animism, then the Hindu brought their unnumbered gods and goddesses with them. Only later, relatively recently, came the Buddhists.

Loi Krathong, Lumpini Park, Bangkok, 2007. WikiPedia

The Thai will tell you if you ask them that they are Buddhist. They will tell you this as they set candle-bearing boats adrift as offerings to the river goddess. Loi Krathong 2017 is mere hours away as I write this. 

The Thai will say, “I am Buddhist,” as they festoon old trees with ribbons and offerings for the tree spirits, and as girls wai to the golden idol of Brahma from the elevated walkway at the heart of the great city.

It all makes perfect sense to me. 

As Thailand is near to China, you see different blends of Buddhism, and you can get authentic Chinese acupuncture here. I do it when I have enough money to afford it. It works really well.

Buddhism is the state religion in Thailand, and they can be doctrinaire about it. But they are also quite lax about interfering in matters of faith, and there are some Christians here, and Mormons, and a small cell of secret Israel.

A Christian church as we saw it on a night cruise from the Phrao Chaya River. 

Then there is the food. Only the Thai know how to throw a party in your mouth and to treat your tastebuds like an amusement park. Hot, sweet, spicy, sour, it all happens in the same bite. Once you get acclimated to Thai food you come to crave it.

Then there is the fruit. I encountered many fruits for the first time in Thailand. Gigantic fruits. Exotic fruits. It just grows on trees. My wife brings me a chilled coconut when she comes back from the market. I drink coconut juice straight from the gourd here. It costs the equivalent of .25¢.

Then there is the tropical climate. I suffer from chronic and severe arthritis, the consequence of too many years under the ruck in elite units. Only narcotics and the hot, moist blanket of the Thai climate keep me ambulatory.

I see a pain specialist at an expensive Thai hospital for the narcotics. I take them most carefully. For the heat, I just open my windows and I cut the air con, or I walk around my neighborhood. When I walk out of the terminal at Suvarnabhumi airport and get hit by that wall of Thai heat, my face aches from smiling so hard.

This is no small matter. When I am stateside, in Orlando, for God’s sake, I cannot move when the temperature hits the mid-40’s. I freeze my ass off. I feel good in the Thai heat.

Then there is Thai massage. Like their food, the Thai just came up with their own thing and there is nothing comparable to Thai massage. You have to be able to communicate in Thai with your masseuse as they can hurt you if you do not ask them to back off. 

In the same way that Thai chilis can kill you if you do not restrain yourself, a Thai masseuse can hurt you. They seek the borderline between pain and pleasure, and that, I think, is the secret to Thai massage. But nothing works better.

My big brother Uncle Ray Caron took me and Momma out for Thanksgiving dinner at the JW Marriott. They lost money on me and Uncle Ray, just on lobster alone. Such a repast!

Then there is Bangkok itself. It is a gourmand’s paradise. Any food can be found here, and there are expensive delis at Asoke and at Emquartier. You can get fragrant croissants straight from the oven here. Glorious slabs of prime rib. Italian meats and cheeses. Dean & Deluca New York style pizza.

Bangkok malls are world class, and you can buy anything here from the illicit in word of mouth street markets to authentic Apple hardware. Bangkok Street food is justifiably famous, and there is no place better just for people watching. Everyone comes to Bangkok. It is one of the great capitols of the world.

Outstanding medical care is available here if you can afford it. It costs less than in the US, though I cannot use my Veteran’s Choice card here as I can back stateside. I make inevitable pilgrimages back to the VA when I need treatment.

So there are many reasons why I am an expat in Bangkok. I find the clash of cultures useful as a writer, it helps me see clearly through otherwise invisible filters and I get distance from the culture wars in America. It is simple to be red-pilled in Bangkok, as I control what goes into my mind. 

The Thai pay me no mind. I tip generously and I observe their social niceties. No people on the planet smile as much as the Thai,  though I could write an article just on the implications of the Thai smile, not to mention on the variations of the wai

My main reason, the primary thing that keeps me here, and makes me homesick when I am gone, is sleeping contentedly beside me. Where she is, is my home. 

For many years home was where I hung my hat. Now my home is with her. And with Her Majesty. Who just walked in at 0548 hrs in a somnolent Bangkok morning announcing that she had a nightmare. 

So I will leave this right here. This is why I live in Bangkok.




3 Comments:

Blogger SabaShimon said...

Stephen, how best may I be in touch with you?
Shimon (sabasarge)

6:46 AM, November 28, 2017  
Blogger Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez said...

No idea. I tried to send you a PM, but the system denied it..

7:58 AM, November 28, 2017  
Blogger Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez said...

Probably KeyBase.io/ma91c1an.

8:01 AM, November 28, 2017  

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