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Is That a Gorilla in the Cage?

Category: , Posted:15 Oct 2011 | 06:00 am

Expat rage is seemingly part and parcel of living in a foreign country, no matter where on Earth you come to call your home away from home.
Absolutely no one is immune from sporadic emotional outbursts. The behavior transcends nationalities, genders, social and financial circles. Despite my 26 years in Asia and my love for the island, I myself had an "episode" a few scant weeks ago.
A story in this newspaper's "Issues & Answers section" explained about an expatriate who wanted to buy an annual swim membership at the newly upgraded Cherng Talay Community Center. He had been rejected as memberships there are no longer available to foreigners.
The article included a response from the government authority about how memberships used to be sold to foreigners, but that the facility was built with the intention of Thais using it.
Expats could use the pool now on a daily basis for 100 baht, while Thais paid 20 baht. Comments included how this represented only three to four dollars to expats.
My blood pressure rose, and the color red dimmed my vision. In years past, when I managed to hobble my way through triathlons, I had been a monthly member there, swimming on most mornings as the lone early morning whale-like apparition.
Now if I were to return to training, there would be no membership and I would be relegated to the classification of "dollar-toting fat cat expat".
Anger coursed through my veins. I pay Thai income tax, and I own a company that pays VAT and provides jobs to Thais, and blah, blah, blah, blab… as we've all heard on internet forums so often. I was reduced to a cliche : a ranting foreigner.
Later that evening while dozing in my lounge chair, spending some quality time with my dog Koko and channel surfing True cable television. I found myself watching that classic movie Mississippi Burning.
Up came one of the more memorable scenes as teams of agents from cities descended on a small rural town that was caught in a racial battle during the 1960s. Barking out to all the agents, the town sheriff snarled out, "This is Mississippi!"
The inference here was that local thinking ruled and what happened far away, stayed far away. It was the turning point where the myopic small-town thinking intersected with the outside world – but for me it also served as a reminder that the two-tier system was not uniquely Thai. It comes in all manners, forms and faces all over the globe.
For people living on a small island, the view of the outside world can be often distorted and incomprehensible.
For the most part, Thais have a welcoming and open mind in the collision course of daily interactions between locals and expatriates.
Of course exceptions are clear for everyone to see and, at the end of the day, no matter our tenure, the country remains a second home – no matter how many wish to embrace and become a permanent part of the framework.
After an hour of verbalizing my unhappiness with developments at the local pool to my muted captive employees, I calmed down and considered the alternatives. First, I could go into battle and seek out this voice of government and let him know what I think.
Or I could go to Thanyapura and get a pool membership there, or just pay the 100 baht to use the community pool, or simply go and stick my head into the ocean.
There are options and in most cases maybe trying to change the world is not at the top of my agenda. Local thinking and practices that often seem illogical to me are a fact of life.
As for the hour of rage, we can chalk that up to a wasted 60 minutes plus the perfunctory apologies to my office staff and minor damage to my brain cells.
Looking for a positive result, I at least managed to find a column out of the epic tale – and yes, "This is Phuket."

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