As Sarah and I started the day by walking down the river, she enlightened me with some of the interesting facts about Thai people she had learnt on her Lonely Planet guide. One of those facts was that Thai people try to avoid confrontation at all costs. Apparently it is shameful for them to shout at each other; therefore, you’ll never see a Thai person fighting or arguing. As she said this, I mentally went through a list of Thai people I know and I concurred, although it is hard for me to imagine going through life unable to confront one another.
“Perhaps they don’t get as annoyed as other cultures do,” I said.
“They probably have the same emotions, but they don’t react the same way because they don’t know how to behave in a confrontation. They are intrinsically peaceful people.”
“It’s true that the Thai people I know avoid confrontation, but I don’t like to generalise. Stereotypes are superficial and misleading”
“But if you compare Thais with Latin people who are fiery…”
I thought about the time the police knocked on my door in the middle of the night searching for my Colombian neighbour. “That’s just a stereotype,” I said.
While our plan was to walk along the river and check out all the touristic sites along the way, there was no real waterfront or walkway, so once we reached a pier, we felt lost and were forced to make our way back to a main road.
Nothing says “desperate” like tourists looking at a map instead of watching out for vehicles while crossing the street in Thailand, but luckily someone took notice of us . He was an affable local who offered his help without it even being requested. Our knight in shining armour. He told us it was Buddha Day (January 9th) and therefore it was not only free for everyone to visit the temples but Tuks Tuks were particularly cheap as petrol was subsidised by the Government. The fare to take us to all of those temples was only 40 Bahts (US$1).
He marked a few touristic sites on our map, then flagged down a Tuk Tuk and explained our route to the driver. So far, we were loving Thai hospitality. Loving it like hippies love pot.
The Tuk Tuk driver took us to those magnificent temples and kindly waited for us outside each time. But the real fun didn’t begin until he drove us to an information centre in the heart of Bangkok.
There we met a Thai travel agent who cordially invited us to have a seat. After making the proper introductions, we shared our travel plans with him which included Kanchanaburi, Krabi, Phi Phi, Phuket and Pattaya.
He flinched at the mention of the city Pattaya. “Are you going there for business?” he asked.
“Business? No, we are tourists.”
“People only go there for business. Why else would you go there?”
“Her father recommended it,” Sarah explained.
“I guess your father wants you to find a job.” he said.
“He does, but how is that relevant?”
“You should have gone to Chiang Mai instead.”
“We don’t have to go to Pattaya. We can still make it to Chiang Mai,” I said and then proceeded to cancel our booking. “Instead of flying from Phuket to Bangkok, we could fly straight to Chiang Mai,” I told Sarah since those tickets were really cheap anyway.
“You can call your airline and change the tickets,” the Thai travel agent suggested.
“Can we do that?”
“I don’t know. How did you buy the ticket?”
“It was through a trusted site,” I stated.
“When you go to the airport, you’ll have to pay more money because you’ve been SCAMMED! You purchased everything online and it was a scam. You should have done it through a Thai travel agency. You saw online that Pattaya is a good place to visit. All Westerners go there because of their ladyboys and the hookers.”
“That’s not exactly…”
“Scammed! You’ve been scammed. There are too many dishonest people in your countries that want to take advantage of ignorant people who look up information online.”
“There are not that many other ways to find out about a country.”
“Okay, so are you able to book everything else for us?” I asked.
“I see on this picture that you can go kayaking and rafting in Krabi,” I said.
“Yes, you can do many things in Krabi but how long are you going to be there for?”
“Almost three days.”
“Surely we could…”
“Three days. Why three days? Krabi is the real Thailand. There are many activities you can do there. You can go hiking, you can explore the caves, but you need a week, at least, or 10 days.”
“We are on a tight schedule.”
“Why do you want to go to Pattaya for? You want to learn a new trade?”
Then it hit me. I realised what he meant before when he asked us if we were going there business.
“You mean we are looking for jobs as prostitutes…” I said.
Sarah tried to reassure me: “I’m sure that’s not what he meant, Clau-…”
“Many Westerners come to Thailand to make money as hookers,” he interjected.
“Then again, perhaps that is what he meant,” Sarah admitted.
“We came to see the real Thailand,” I said. “We are not interested in its nightlife or making money.”
“Then you have to go to Ko Samui, not Ko Pha Ngan where all Westerners get wasted at the Full Moon Party. You should go to Krabi, not Phuket. You should skip Pattaya and go to Ayutthaya instead.”
We nodded. “Yeah, we can do that,” I said. “Are you able to book the activities in Krabi for us?”
Unfortunately, that question sparked one of the worst incidents in customer service’s history, surpassed only by the time a few waiters beat up an annoying customer at an infamous restaurant in Sydney which had to close down afterwards. As you would expect.
“I suppose you have met many bad people in your life…” he trailed off.
“I’ve had my share,” I said. “I’ve worked in the media, you see…”
“There might be many bad people in your country,” he said pointing at me. “And in your country,” he said pointing at my friend. “But now you are in Thailand. Thai people are good. Thai people are honest. I’m Thai. I’m honest. I’m good. I am… honest.”
“I take it you are honest.”
“Then why don’t you trust me?”
“I do. We do. That is why we are asking you to book…”
“Thai people don’t lie like Western people do. Thai people have morals.”
“I’m sure, but-”
“Then why won’t you believe me when I say that Krabi is good.”
“We do. We are going there. You see, I was asking you to book…”
“Why do you insist on going to Pattaya…”
“We cancelled Pa-”
“You Westerners always want to party. You don’t care about History, you don’t care about…”
I went through the rules of conduct in Thailand. Take your shoes off at a temple, don’t tattoo Buddha on your forehead or anywhere else for that matter, don’t pat Thais’ heads. I didn’t pat his head. Why would I pat his head? Did I pat his head? Maybe I patted his head. No, get a grip! You didn’t pat his head. I don’t know. The heat is messing with my head. This morning is a blur. Is there a tattoo of Buddha on my face? Damn street markets!
As I tried to understand how I had offended him, I missed some of his rant but that didn’t make much of a difference because when I started listening again, he was still going on the same topic.
“All you Westerners want is sex, sex and… sex…” he continued. “Your people come here because of the nightlife. You don’t care about Thai culture. You just want to get drunk, find a ladyboy or a prostitute or hook up for free…”
Why would I want a ladyboy for? Geez…
I was expecting he would break into a rap any second. Just add the word “ass” and you’ve got yourself the lyrics to a standard hit by R. Kelly. I bet someone will draw inspiration from this post to compose Rihanna’s next hit. Sex, ho, sex, ho. Scratch Rihanna. Just get a Thai to impersonate this travel agent and the video could break the Internet. He would be the Thai Pitbull. That could be the next Apple Pen song. All rights reserved.
One way or another, this post might start a new trend:
Who are we?
What do we want?
When do we want it?
What’s most shocking, however, is that I was being apologetic to someone who had just hinted I was looking for a job as a prostitute, insulted my people and the Western world at some many levels.
This caught us off guard not only because we wouldn’t expect a stranger to insult us, but because in the West it’s hard to find someone who works in customer service and treats you like dirt. In the Western world, customer service is pivotal because they are capitalists and they want your money; they will sweet talk you until you give them your credit card, hopes and dreams. That is why you can often expect the royal treatment from them. And if you don’t, there’s always a manager on duty you can complain to – not that I encourage it.
I couldn’t help but fantasise what would have happened if this travel agent had pulled this stunt in Sydney instead. A pair of bogans would have tied him up to a chair and locked him up in some godforsaken basement with rats nibbling his feet.
“Because of people like you…” he continued before he stood up, grabbed some cigarettes from his pocket and walked out the door.
Stupefied, we remained seated as we watched him storm off. I supposed he needed a cigarette after putting up with us. But… What did I say to cause this avalanche of insults?
Dazed, ashamed and confused, I stood up and walked towards the tuk tuk. I felt endlessly guilty for causing such an outburst. It wasn’t until Sarah uttered words of astonishment that I realised what had just happened.
“How rude!” she said. “Can you believe he spoke to us like that?”
“So it wasn’t something I said?”
“Not at all. He insulted us, he yelled at us. He basically called us prostitutes and walked out on us. I would have never expected someone who works in customer service to speak to me like that. This is outrageous!”
“I guess that Lonely Planet book wasn’t exactly right about Thais being non-confrontational after all.”
“Perhaps he doesn’t practise Buddhism.”
We were in such a state of shock we couldn’t speak about anything else for hours.
When get back on the Tuk Tuk, the driver asked us if we wanted to check out another travel agency.
“I think we’ve heard enough,” Sarah said.
I burst into laughter.