The Rhetorical Questions.. They continue...
OK I said I'd try and find someway to explain exactly why I feel so stupid at the moment... BUT.... where to start ???? Be warned.. This is very long and whingey... Here's my side of it.
I've been trying to get hold of A, a guy I know for days. We're friends. Nothing more, just friends. We went to the movies together last week and I wanted to ask him a couple of things afterwards. But, somehow or other, I never managed to get round to it. I e-mailed him. No answer. I was in the area around where he works on Sunday so I called him, and was going to suggest meeting up for a coffee or a 5 minute chat. Again, no answer.
I hate calling or e-mailing people a lot. Normally if someone doesn't pick up the phone the first or second time that I call, I give up on them, and leave it a few days / weeks and sometimes even months before trying trying again. But I really wanted to speak to him, and ask his opinion about something. It's probably just a crappy, trivial thing (and I can see it as that now), but, last week, worried about my job (and whether I have one or not next term) and about what my parent's will think of my life, when they arrive here in 2 weeks time, it seemed really important.
I called. No answer. Again... no answer. I SMSed him to ask whether he was at work. No answer. That was OK. We could talk another time. I'd a DVD of his that I was planning to return to him. We could talk, and I could give him his things back later in the week. Thursday or Friday (usually the only 2 days when I'm free in the evening), maybe... On Thursday, he finally picked the phone up. I told him I needed to talk to him about something. He told me that he couldn't hear me at all, and that he was busy. Busy that evening, busy tomorow, busy at the weekend... I guess a Thai person would know the real meaning of a conversation like this, but I'm a farang. I didn't quite get the idea that he was giving me the brush off, and that whatever it was I wanted to talk about, he wasn't going to listen.
I mentioned it to a friend I MSNed back home. They suggested that I try and talk to him. Call him. Send him an e-mail or an MSN. Whatever it takes... But, I've done that already. I called him around 6 times in 1 week. I don't think I've ever called anyone that much. Ever... I feel like I'm turning into one of those scarey pyscho-bitches, straight out of a Thai soap opera, always wanting to know whats going on. I hate it, and I hate myself for letting myself feel this way, and getting upset over something so unimportant.
I feel really crappy for other reasons too. Partly because the little plan that I'd hatched in my head, about what I was going to do this coming November, has totally fell apart, but also because I really can't understand why someone who I thought of as a friend (and a good one at that) is behaving like this towards me. It's like I've done something wrong, very badly wrong, but I can't see what it is. At all...
At home, a guy would talk to you... well actually at home, good friends wouldn't behave like this. They'd have a reason, a good reason why they didn't want to listen to you, and would normally tell you. If, one day a friend suddenly decided that they were going to stop talking to you, and had no reason, or didn't want to tell you the reason, they would look stupid and immature. It's the kind of thing that sulky children do, not grown adults.
I've had lots of friends in the past that I don't see or talk to nowadays. If we've fell out, we both know the reason why. But, that's rare. I'm quite an easy going person. I choose my friends carefully. I rarely fall out with friends back home. Normally we just lose touch. Either that or we drift apart as we grow older. We realise that we don't have that much in common anymore, move on and don't make much of an effort to stay in contact with each other.
Here, in Thailand, its me that looks stupid. Why ? Because I can't accept that he doesn't want to talk, and can't let it go.
Sometimes I complain about my friends here. How I know a lot of people, but have few really, really good friends. T, a good friend in BKK is always telling me its better to have a few good friends than a lot of hangers on. But, I'd figured this guy A, was a good friend. In my eyes he was different from the usual string of students and losers who latch onto me when they need help with their English and disappear soon afterwards.
I've know him for over 2 years. I used to work in the same office as him, and he used to help me practise my Thai. He was the guy who originally suggested that I should try and write a blog, almost 2 years ago when I was heading back to England for Christmas, and joking that I would forget the little bit of Thai that I'd managed to learn. He was the guy that suggested I write it in Thai ( though that idea soon went out of the window... My Thai writing is crap - and its even worse now, as I never have to try and write Thai anymore... ) He's smart and fun to talk to. Whenever I've met up with, or talked to him I've never seen anything other than friendliness.
I'd nothing much to do on Friday night. Most of the guys from work were planning on going to a pool party. I'm not drinking at the moment (have shocked myself by managing to stay alcohol free for almost a month and a half now :) ) so it wouldn't have been much fun. I called N, a guy from my old work, and asked if it was OK to come and say hi. We have an odd sort of deal. I smuggle beer in for them, they buy meat on sticks, and let me practise my bad Thai and lose at ping pong. I knew the other guy, A would be at work too. I tried calling him to say that I would bring the DVD back. No answer. I sent an SMS as well. No answer too.
My friends drank the beer. We talked and played ping-pong. I offered to take 2 of the guys, N and S (my old little boss) out for dinner. I owed S a big thank you. A couple of week's ago he'd transferred some video from tape to DVD. My Thai boss had wanted it copying for weeks, but hadn't been able to find anyone willing to do it. I'd figured that buying them both dinner was much better than waiting for my Thai boss's thank you, some 20baht kanom to arrive in the office. I know already that it's never going to appear. She's already complained about how bad the DVD copy of the tape was, and about how my friend had messed the audio up. He hadn't at all. I was at the event itself and the sound was atrocious. It was beyond rescue. My friend had done a good job, adjusting the levels and managing to get any sound on there at all. In any case, I'd feel embarrassed passing cheap kamon onto them, knowing that it wasn't an easy job, and that my Thai boss has saved the school quite a bit of money by asking me to sort it out for her.
We went to the easiest and nearest place to eat. The man across the street from the office who will take anything you ask for, dunk it in a pan full of cooking oil and fry it. We'd just ordered food, when A walked out of the office, on his way home. I beckoned him over. I wanted to say hi and give him the DVD. He asked me whether i'd watched it all. I'd said yes. I hadn't but I'd watched as much as I was ever going to watch. I'd watched the movie, twice, last weekend, but that was all. I've never really been that fussed about all the extras etc. that get bundled onto DVD's nowadays. There was also another reason I wanted to give it him back. I was worried that it was about to screw up, as it took a while to persuade my DVD player to recognise that it had a movie inside it, and to play it. I figured that it was better to give him the DVD back whilst it still worked. A couple more plays and it might die completely.
My friends asked him to sit down and eat. He couldn't, he said. He was going home. I asked too. 'No', he said. 'I need to rush back home. I have to do my laundry.' 'Erm, I want to talk to you about something.' I said. ' Are you free on Saturday or Sunday?' 'No,' he replied 'I'm working' 'But, maybe you could take a few minutes off work, get lunch together ? I'm going to be near here around 2ish on Saturday,' I said. 'I'm busy', he said. 'Maybe some other time ? OK?' He smiled, said goodbye and walked off.
'See, he's not talking to me' I told my friends. 'I'm so confused. I really don't understand why.'
Maybe he's 'เกรงใจ - graengjy' S said. ' Maybe he doesn't want to eat with his boss.'
'I don't think so. When I used to work here, we all used to go for lunch together....'
S cut me off mid sentence and spoke in English 'Why are you always looking for answers ?' he said. 'Why do you always need reasons ?'
It was then that it clicked. 3 of us were sat at the table. The 2 of them had seen, and understood a totally different conversation to the one that I had. I'd seen a nice, smiley polite guy who wanted to talk to me but was too busy. Everytime I see or meet up with A all I see is friendliness and politeness. They'd seen their friend get hassled by some stupid girl that he really doesn't want to talk to anymore, and struggle to find a polite way to escape.
'I need to do my laundry', is probably the Thai equivalent of 'I'm washing my hair,' something a person says when they want to do anything other than what they are being invited to do.
I didn't know what to say. I just sat there feeling stupid. Very stupid. Unbelieveably stupid. Sure, there's a reason. There must be a reason. Everything has a reason ? Doesn't it. ???? Westerner's have this idea that you should ask people 'why' they behave or do things a certain way. We're taught to question things. Find answers and reasons why things happen.
When things go wrong, knowing the reasons why can help you solve a problem or put them right. If it's impossible to change things, or to make them better, at the very least, knowing the reasons why something went wrong allows people to learn from their mistakes. They've earned their chance to ensure that they don't repeat the same behaviour or let the same situation develop again.
In Thailand its the opposite. People here learn to accept things, good or bad. They learn to let them go ie. to not think about, or dwell on them too much. ('อย่าคิดมาก' yaa-kid-maark ) Don't think too much is a common phrase here. Sometimes, ignoring a problem allows it to go away. The minute you stop thinking that it's a problem, it disappears. At home, ignoring a problem is almost always seen as a bad thing. If you don't think about it, and deal with it straight away, it will grow. It will become bigger, and bigger, and biggerand become much, much harder to cope with and resolve.
At school, the other teachers and I sometimes make fun of the way that many of our students, and Thai kids in general don't know how to think... They're great at memorising conversations but, change a few words, alter the pattern slightly and they're lost. Totally lost. They can't understand at all. Thai children learn the Thai alphabet, and how to read by rote - repeating each letter and sound until it's firmly comitted to memory. I find this odd, as Thai's much more of a phonetic language than English.
I taught 'Why?' 'Because?' question patterns to my P4 kids last year (eg. 'Why are you going to drink water?', 'Because I'm thirsty' ) and most of them struggled to understand them. Thinking of reasons, in a second language when you're not taught to in your own can't be easy.
But maybe sometimes not thinking, not questioning is easier. Like now... There's probably a reason why my friend has decided to stop talking to me. I know there must be. But I'm fairly sure that I will never find it out . How can you get answers from someone who refuses to speak to you? You just have to accept that you can't, and won't, but that's hard too. It leaves you with a sick feeling inside. It's as if you have done something wong, horribly wrong and there's nothing you do to can find out what, or work out how to put it right again either.
The look in their eyes said another thing too. ' Why on earth do you care?' That one is much harder to answer. I care about my friends, the people I think of as my 'real' friends. I care about all of them, and I guess I get disappointed whenever I realise that they're not the people I've made them out to be.
Now looking back at things, I see things totally differently, and feel even more stupid than I did before. It's funny. When you look at people, you only see what you want to see. For instance if you're foreign and you look at a Thai person, you see a smile. Most westerners equate smiles with happiness. We only ever smile when we're happy. One thing they love about being here is that they see so many 'happy' people in Thailand. Even poor people, begging on the streets in Bangkok, or children walking around the streetside restraunts late at night selling kanom or pens have beaming smiles. Everyone looks happy. Anyone who's been here a while knows that this isn't true. Thai smiles have many meanings ('confused', 'upset', 'angry', 'happy', 'glad to have got one over the boss'... to name but a few ) but westerner's can't, or sometimes, choose not to see them. They want to believe people are happy. So, that's all they see,
I guess I wanted to believe that this guy was my friend. We used to work together. I like talking to him. Whenever, I'm bored at school, and have a free period or two and there's no Thai teachers in the office, he's the person I like to natter to on MSN. He nearly always MSNs in Thai. Since I rarely read Thai nowadays, Its fun to try to read what he writes. We share a lot of the same interests, film, photography, music. I kind of assumed, since he chats on MSN, sends me links to his photos etc. that he enjoyed talking to me too.
A couple of months ago, I brought myself a bike. He came to the bike shop with me and helped me choose all the bits and pieces. I was really grateful. I can speak some Thai but would have found it really hard to follow most of the conversation about lights, helmets, locks and stuff. At first he offered to sell his own bike to me, but I said no. I'd already seen the model I wanted in another shop, and knew that it was the right size etc. for me. I took my bike to Non. a couple of times and occasionally asked him to come out riding with me. He was busy. Everytime...
Less than a month after I brought my bike, he told me that he'd sold his. He sold it for a lot lot less than it was worth, and much less than I thought it was worth second hand. I was very confused. One of the foreign students where I live was talking about buying a bike. If I'd known he was serious about getting rid of it, I would have recommended that he sold it to her instead. He would have got 5K at least, maybe 6. To a foreigner 6K for a 9K mountain bike, hardly used, in mint condition, would have been a real bargain. Maybe that was one way of cutting himself off ??? 1 less thing to talk about. 1 less thing the foreigner would be able to hassle him about.
Now I see things differently. Maybe wasn't really friendship in the way that I'd thought at all. Maybe it was all just politeness. Maybe as a Thai person he'd felt some kind of wierd obligation to be nice to the farang, to 'take care' as they say here, help her when she screwed things up or needed a hand buying things or going places. Maybe I was that desperate to see it as friendship ( 'real' friendship) that I did. Maybe I couldn't understand that his answers were his (Thai) way of saying ' I don't really have the time or energy to talk to you...go away' As a westerner I saw a smiling face, heard nice polite answers, and instantly thought the opposite.
There's a lot of other cultural baggage too. Thai people tend to be very ('เกรงใจ) graeng jy. There's no easy way to put this in English. It's not a concept that we westerners have. People usually translate it as 'being considerate' but it's a lot, lot more than that that. It's not so much being considerate of others, as being 'afraid of being inconsiderate.' Not wanting to offend others. It's partly because of this that people rarely say what they honestly think about something, the way that a westerner would. They tend to come out with polite, tactful responses. Thai people can usually understand the real meaning. Some foreigners, if they've been here a long time, have a thai wife etc. and learn about Thai culture etc. can too. I can't. At all... I've never been able to. Sometimes, it feels like the longer I'm here, the more Thai friends expect me to be able to. The more I'm expected to be able to, the ruder I sound and act, when I still can't.
Maybe if I could understand Thai people better, maybe if I could read between the lines (the way I usually can with English people) I would have realised this. Maybe I wouldn't have hassled him so much.... Maybe I shouldn't have annoyed, or embarrassed him by telling the world what my P6 students told me last Friday, though last week I left the worst comment (ฝรั่งไม่กินฝรั่ง) out of my blog. Maybe I should have realised that he doesn't really need an annoying farang friend... After all.. who does ? They are usually more trouble that they're worth... and was just being friendly because he felt obliged to. There are a lot of maybe's... A lot of mistakes... A lot of things to learn from... But reasons ??? answers ??? I already know they'll be none of those.
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