Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shy And Retiring

At a large table with a subdued Thai-patterned table-cloth in a Pizza restaurant in Chiang Mai [that's in Thailand] sat six ageing, balding, male farang, in shorts, short-sleeved shirts and sandals with white socks. Nice rattan chairs, very comfortable - OK, four were sitting, two were standing. They were playing a board-game, which as E@L realised as he looked over discreetly, was backgammon. They seemed to be at the crucial stages of the game with most of the pieces in the home positions.

It was something of an interesting tableau for Chiang Mai. Backgammon. Pizza. The old city; moats, temples and ruins.

The two men playing were taking the game pretty seriously, in their own ways. Pieces were coming off and going on in the typically extended endgame of good players. [E@L hasn't played Backgammon for ages, excuse any naivety as he describes what he thought was happening.]

The farang facing more or less towards E@L was slender, with a long face accentuated by receding fair hair swept back from his already high forehead. He was wearing dark framed glasses. He seemed to be frowning all the time and obviously took it the game very seriously. He took the leather cup and rolled the two dice with a brisk, short shake, let them fall onto the board. All the farang looked at the resulting numbers and murmured. He clenched up a bit, his whole body tightened, or so it seemed, and he frowned again. He slowly reached across and moved a piece that was sitting on the edge of the board back IN onto a spare space of his opponent's Home. Then he picked it up and moved it again, four spaces out into the next area. A brief conversation started and after a pause he moved the piece back two spaces, admitting he had made a counting error. He struck E@L as having once having been a history teacher, had that mien of someone keen on certainty, accuracy and significance and quietly angry at himself by his mistake. He spoke clearly in an English accent, not formal but not broad or working class either, but as if he was used to talking to those less educated or a lot younger than himself. No doubt, from that subtle tone of voice and the way he held himself erect, he considered himself the intellectual of the bunch. The collar of his check shirt was ironed crisp, it was buttoned to the hole below the top and he sat bolt upright throughout his moves.

His opponent was in the ironic way of things, his opposite. Solid, round and calm, arms held slightly out, perhaps because of man-boob fat rolling under his armpits [doesn't E@L know that] in his easy-care check-shirt (E@L couldn't see, but there were probably two or three buttons undone): with elbows propped on the table he sipped his Diet Coke and he played with a pleasant, relaxed ease. As E@L watched he kept holding back the certainty of his determined opponent's victory with a cheerful goad after this mistake, or when he was able to make a frustrating block with a lucky throw of his own. When he rolled the dice it was a more open shake, larger in stroke, and when he released them, the dice clattered around, nearly going off the table. His accent, when joked about the dice running away, revealed his origins from a different part of England, somewhere they scorned toffee voiced snobs. E@L imagined he would once have taught metal work or car maintenance to the working class lads in a forgotten era when not every one wanted to be in finance (or history for that matter). And he would have been brilliant at it because it came easily to him, as did most things that interested him. For example, he knew how to play a good game of backgammon.

Sitting at that same side as the history teacher, with his chair turned slightly towards the game, leaning forward every now and then to watch each move with a slightly slack-jawed interest, sat a third farang, balding, perhaps a bit younger, with another British accent: E@L's guessing they are all Poms. He smiled often as he offered his commentary about the miscounting, the scattered dice, and it all seems directed at the History Man. But the history teacher either ignored him, perhaps concentrating so as not to make another mistake, or just plain ignored. He took this (assumed, E@L is projecting maybe) negativity in his stride, and seemed almost happy just to have them acknowledged. E@L could not help thinking about the small cartoon mutt skipping along side the great British bulldog Ralph. "We'll go chase dem cats, huh Ralph? Huh?" "Ah shaddup!" and a brisk back-pawer sends the little guy flying, only for him to come back panting for more.

The others man at the far end of the table, sitting back, hand on chin, watching or chatting to the standing two, discussing the football on the TV, was not always 100% on the game. E@L could not hear much of what they said, but it seemed to be a bout the football.

And then E@L's pizza came, handed to him by the English accented Thai man who ran the place.

"Looks like fun," said E@L, indicating the table and smiling.

The manager/owner smiled back and lifted his eyebrows briefly. "Sure does."

E@L took his pizza (not bad) across the road to his hotel (there's a pool in the room! Amazing!) and set up his computer with the large screen TV by HDMI cable, and watched two episodes of Elementary (excellent).


"... the tradition of the connoisseur tourism that had been around since the Grand Tour [...] still predominates today; its paradigm as we have seen is the gourmet who selects certain dishes (places, people) without any motive but the satisfaction of the palate. It is a form of travel that may increase knowledge and refine taste but that leaves the traveller's basic assumptions undisturbed. To a large extent the tourist remains insulated within a national bubble that preserves intact the familiar distinctions of language, class, race, wealth, education and so on. 'Many English travellers remain four or five years abroad,' wrote John Moore in 1779, 'and seldom, during all this space, have been in any company, but that of their own countrymen.' Bishop Hurd had observed the same tendency of the English 'to flock together into little knots of their own countrymen'. In similar vein Lord Chesterfield satirised the young Englishman abroad who complains that his bearleader is 'always plaguing me to go into foreign companies'. In truth, he suggests, these tourists never leave home, for 'they go into no foreign company, at least none good; but dine and sup with one another only, at the tavern'. To Lady Blessington it appeared that the English travelled 'not so much for the purpose of studying the manners of other lands as for that of establishing and displaying their own'. "
Ian Littlewood, Sultry Climates - Travel and Sex, Da Capo Press, 2001.


The 15th anniversary of E@L's Tour Of Duty in Asia will come up soon. He started his tentative expat-dom in Hong Kong on April 1st, 1998. An impressive stint? Well, impressive for some, but hardly that of a true Old China Hand, those lifers who are propped against the bars in Wanchai still would consider. His recent (9 months ago now) heart troubles (The Great Angina Incident of San Gimingano) have successfully instilled the moment mori attitude in him (part of the reason for the lack of blog postings - a couldn't give a fuck attitude he hopes is ending). Those medical interventional intimations of mortality; he knew they were coming; but of course not quite so soon. You are never ready for it, never seriously expecting it, never expecting it to be all that bad, never expecting to, like, find yourself coming close to, you know, hard to say the word... Dying

With The Ever-Sensitive Nurse Odette

And so a man's thought turn to the contemplation of taking it fucking easy for here on in. Doing a David Bowie and resting on your laurels for 10 years.

E@L wonders where he will doing that ease-taking, should he live the Bowie years, deo volente. Would he end up in Chiang Mai, playing backgammon?


All sorts of things to consider about retirement, not just the scenery. Health care being a major area of interest, d'uh. Where you want your bypass done, E@L? Cebu, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Brisbane (just a thought - no, it floods all the time) or Melbourne? And why? For the medical skill or for family support? Or is it the "English spoken here", unlike say, Sienna, his resting place after San Gimingano? Non parlo Inglese.

It's not that he's so cheesed of with work that he wants out as soon as possible, it's just hey, if an opportunity came up that could make him really financially comfortable, he'd take it.

Like, someone buys my shares for $10million...

Like, work's not that tough...

And the cost of living has to be considered. And the preferred weather. And an easy lifestyle. Nice food/restaurants? What about family, if he should he become a grandfather? And friends like the good old-fashioned flesh and blood, shake real hands, kiss real cheeks friends from the good old days in Victoria ( Australia that is). Sure he has great friends here in Singapore - but the expat world is a transient world and relationship are quickly quite deep, just as quickly they might end. Like a night-market - it's here; it's gone. Friends? They're here; they're gone.

So should he go back where he came from, as the Singaporeans wish?

But money? Without any big boost, it's a worry because Melbourne is one of the most expensive places in the world to live: it comes in at No.5. His income would be low for Australia, and the Australian pension...? Ha! He'd be forced to live off savings and that would drain away very fast, particularly if (when) he becomes sick again and doesn't want to wait for the public health system.

But if he stayed in Asia? Firstly, obviously he couldn't stay in Singapore or Hong Kong - see Melbourne re:cost of living.

So where? Would anyone care if he married a Philippino or Burmese, or a Thai lady [he is not getting married to anyone by the way] and bought a bar in somewhere like Pattaya and lived in Asia? Would he care what people think (and he does, believe it or not)? But where would he be happiest? Where the food is fresh, brilliant, delicious and cheap?

Som tam and gai tot - S$3. Awesome

Why shouldn't he get married again? He's single, of goodish fortune; he must be in want of a wife? But they'd say, "Dirty old man, gone troppo, look at him, such a young girl. Why doesn't he marry an unattractive, un-sexy, bitchy old woman who would give him hell and tie him down to a household of boredom and psychologically induced erectile dysfunction?" Just for someone to look after him in his dotage?

"Why not marry a pretty, sexy younger lady who would also give him Viagra-supported hell-fire and tie him down with fur covered chains and lightly whip his wobbly white butt?" he asks back. Joking! He doesn't want the spanking: he is not English. [And then have her real husband toss him out the window of that Pattaya condo three years later, once she has control of all his money.]

So, would he end up joining the History Teacher and crew? Would he find a benign, cheap place where he could live out his diminishing days on his substantial cash reserves? Could he survive in a culturally isolated enclave near tropically lush golf courses, with his well-ironed shirts, his backgammon and his cheap pizza? And other great food? And then he could fill the rest of his time with trips all around the world with SPG and family and friends? (Barcelona and then Brussels Belgium and Holland this year)

Or could he live in rain-drenched Melbourne in what amounts to another culturally isolated, racist, enclave where the restaurant are great if expensive - and though everyone speaks English, of a sort, but where intelligent conversation has in general shifted substantially to the left of the bell-curve from that which he is used to here (where the employment filtering allows in moderately to highly successful expats only. (Not, of course with E@L's friends back home, but go outside into the pubs, the streets and the malls - or the hospital staff tea-rooms - OMG the banality!). Back to where entertainment means TV, and that means reality TV and Add-Cheese-For-Instant-Fame-And-Riches shows. And the golf-course are public and under-tended, and at night what he plays is Word With (Facebook) Friends on whatever gadget passes for a computer in those times.

Soufflé at Woolies, not exactly Melbourne yet...

But there is also Aussie Rules football, the excitement it gives him - watch the ticker, E@L ! - and he could use his membership of the MCC (did E@L mention he was a member) more fruitfully - membership came through after a 12 year wait almost to the day he left for Asia, d'oh! April Fool, all right.

He has no idea what to do. None whatsoever. E@L is confused, as you can tell by the thoughts leaping around randomly in these sentences, and he is conflicted.

So he'll ride it out for the moment - he's feeling fit enough to live for a long time yet - and hope something pleasant comes along to force his hand.


(No doubt a lot of typos there in draft no.1 - I'll come back tomorrow)


Lost in Melbourne said...

I have also been pondering some of these topics and decided to make a decisive step so have left my job to start my own company at long last. I wanted to find a sense of purpose beyond just taking a wage and although I am not afraid of becoming wealthy I need to do that for myself and not mostly for others, and mostly help my own nation as is my own desire. So to you I say, sure give up work if you want, but make sure you have a sense of purpose because you are not looking to give up living, quite the opposite!

In terms of where to live I think that will be Melbourne BUT I am investigating property in other countries from an investment view which might be used for part time living years into the future (Germany and the USA are currently far more attractive places to buy and own property than Melbourne for example). But change being the only constant don't think that Melbourne will be uber expensive forever and just as the cultural make up here keeps changing in a drift closer to Asia, the currency will collapse at some stage and the real estate market is equally no set in concrete despite what the real estate funded media do their best to assure us (to the benefit of the majority baby boomers who are holding the title)

There is nothing sadder than the expat in a bar somewhere in Asia always on the hunt for western company, the shared viewpoint. So if you go down that path, truly go troppo, the values and perspective of the company you keep shall be your's. It is always attractive to have the younger and attractive model, but I stay out of that conversation, my own partner being oriental although truthfully older than me, retains most of the physical youthfulness of a woman of 21 despite a dose of the Chinese hypochondria, and a belief in nonsense (non science) medicine.

Phil I think that the music is still in you, find your own purpose, whether that be continued work in Medicine/healthcare, steering heavily into writing or anything else, you have the luxury of choice (as long as you are listening to the universe of following your true path (no I am not talking in a religious sense I am still atheist))

Finally after my ramble, great to have a new post to ponder, and for mine Brussels is hardly worth a visit but I really enjoyed Antwerp, with the most astounding train station I've seen in all my extensive travels.

expat@large said...

Cheers for taking the time to read this ramble and, obviously, get where I am coming from. Or going to. Or both.

Wow, you've quit! But you are entrepreneur in your heart, go get 'em.

And you know, "sad" is something other people have to worry about, if you are happy and they think it's sad, there's a reality disconnect and an attitudedisconnect - but as you say there is no god, so why really give a fuck? And as JK Galbraith said, No-one will be around in 100 years to give that fuck. Or words to that effect.

And yes, I meant to say Belgium, not just Brussels. Izzy lives in Den Haag. So it will be the flat countries, essentially, for 10 days.

Friends have bought a flat in Oxford - shitting themselves. Germany might be an option though, or Brussels. Just kidding. Greece? Going cheap. But I keep looking further on. 15 years here, but that sense of mortality makes me wonder how much I need to worry.


Lost in Melbourne said...

It was time to leave the employee phase of my working life. I might return sometime but at this stage I hope I never have to.

It's very touristy but while you are in Benelux get out to Bruges, a great place to wonder around for a day sampling beers and chocolate. Watch out for the waiters who try to tax you on the agreed prices though, we had to pull rank on them and luckily my traveling companion was with Interpol and the AFP which quickly sorted out our bill ;)

I am a little nervous about buying a property on the other side of the planet as well, but perhaps it becomes less emotional I I will have clarity on the fact that it is purely a financial decision. Investing in property here only adds up by the fact the government lets you claim a tax deduction on a loss making deal. As the baby boomers are retiring now there is every chance the rules will change. In other parts of the world a property investment can pay it's own way and you don't want to be one of the people shitting themselves.

But we still need to have a home in Melbourne and the current plan is designing and building a small development.

Tease said...

Nice picture

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