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Rooster has been in Thailand almost his entire adult life. I’ve made visits back to my homeland in South London at least once a year for decades. Usually those visits are to see family. There have been sad occasions like funerals down the years as well as joyous ones like graduations. Often I go back to play Scrabble, a game in which I represent my adopted homeland of Thailand.
My relatives and friends have got used to the fact that I live abroad. They know I am not going back permanently. They understand, as I do, that I am somewhat of an outsider especially as I play up to that role! Unless they have visited me in Bangkok they can’t really picture my life in Krung Thep and don’t ask me much except perhaps how hot it is! This indifference used to bug me in the early years when I expected everyone to be interested in me and me alone! Now, I know it is infinitely preferable to talk about the people living in England and follow their lives while I’m there.
But one thing that often comes up for people who have decided to effectively emigrate to a foreign land is what they miss about their birth place. For me this is very little. Perhaps the weather from time to time. Perhaps some food though I can get most of my Western essentials in Bangkok and if I can’t then I pack my suitcases with treats. One of the benefits of leaving enough sets of clothes and essentials back in England.
I used to miss the television as British people were brought up on a diet of good programming that we were constantly told was the best in the world. Maybe it was but today we have YouTube and Netflix and the wider Internet. No, I don’t miss Blighty TV and when Jeremy Kyle comes on in the morning I think I know why…
Years ago there was one area of my life that I missed above all else. Sport. This was somewhat remedied by relatives who would bring me dozens of videotapes of the Snooker World Championship or the best horse racing recorded from terrestrial TV. From about the 1990’s live football matches started to be shown more regularly in Thailand. Thus began the era when I was heard to remark that I missed virtually nothing….except LIVE sport, the kind you actually go to see!
In the 1990’s it was marvelous that the top snooker players started to come to Thailand. I met Steve Davis – known to all Thais just as “Sa-teeve” – and saw Jimmy White in Soi Cowboy. I had dinner with the late Alex Higgins who was steaming drunk. I was meant to play golf with Steve James but he got lost in the bars in Pattaya, like so many. Thais love their snooker and myself and my mates were regular players in a third floor hall in Nana. Later I effectively met my second wife over a pool table in the area. She won her first trophy before me and thus love blossomed!
In 1990 after I won a Bangkok Post Scrabble competition I traveled miles to their offices to get my prize. A cheap and tacky plastic tissue box. But it led me to one of two ultimate passions in my life (if you exclude what my compatriots refer to as the chasing of skirt). This was Scrabble that enabled me to meet a huge number of Thai people particularly men and encounter the Thai man who changed my life and gave me opportunities to be a “sportsman” and represent his country – well mine, really – in international competition.
But my other overriding passion was something that I could not find a tolerable substitute for or even a near thing in Thailand. Football. Since a young child I was always hooked on the top echelons of the English Football League and the cup competitions. This principally centered around my beloved Tottenham Hotspur Football Club who last won the title two months before I was born in 1961.
Thai football was not the answer. It was interesting to meet ex Spur Gary Stevens – now working for Thaivisa – in Hua Hin the other week. But I never had his enthusiasm for this aspect of Thailand that left me cold.
I was happier when the Thai love affair with English football really began to develop thirty years ago. When one could ingratiate oneself with the local population by talking about David Beckham. I even got off police fines for riding my motorcycle in the wrong lane by saying I knew “Daewit” or asking the arresting officer what team he supported followed up by a hearty and camaraderie-filled “oooohoooo”.
I played football as a veteran at my school Harrow International where we had some great staff teams. I was a striker and once won the golden boot trophy that sits proudly on my mantelpiece. It was sponsored by a hospital – rather appropriate as I usually needed one after running around in the sun in 40 degrees at aged 40.
I hung up my boots shortly after my finest hour in a football jersey. Our team made the final of a veterans’ competition at Bangkok Patana School and I supplied the corner for a Thai colleague to nod home and equalize in the last second of the match against an All Star team that featured Ian Rush, Lee Sharpe and Steve McMahon – footballing royalty if you’ve never heard of them.
We lost the penalty shootout due to Rush’s wizardry but the second place trophy is in pride of place in my house. The sixty odd Scrabble trophies are hidden away or have been donated to charity! No one cares….
When the blanket coverage of matches from the English Premier League began this century my happiness in Thailand was largely complete. This combined with the odd trip back to England to see Spurs meant there was little left to miss.
After “The Lilywhites” unexpectedly qualified for a final in 2008 I went to see my then 13 year old son – indoctrinated by now in my religion – who was studying in a geography class. He called him outside and I informed him we were off to Wembley during term time.
We never did make the national stadium as I couldn’t get tickets but the dad and son bonding in my Spurs mad sister’s front room as we beat Chelsea 2-1 was unforgettable. Even if the short trip did cost me the best part of two thousand quid! A mere bagatelle!
These days if I really want an in-depth and long conversation with any Thai – and they are not Scrabble people – then the subject of conversation must be football. For a couple of years I did part time work at some friends’ recruitment agency in the Ital-Thai tower. My job was to assess people’s English – what better way than to talk about football which animated the most basic English speaking Thai male and sometimes even Thai female!
I used to joke with my West Brom mad supervisor that any candidate admitting to supporting Arsenal – Spurs’ great adversaries – would be marked down a grade. He smiled but I still did it. While he explained the antipathy he felt towards Aston Villa he never quite appreciated – like Thais – that for us Londoners the feeling for rivals was pure hatred!
My passion for Spurs was started by my mother who had a relative who supported Arsenal so she rebelled and we all followed her. She died when I was just 16 but in the last year of her life we went to a crucial Spurs match together in which we won 3-0 and I went my usual berserk self at each goal. Worried that in hooligan infested Britain in the 1970’s I would get assaulted for my celebrations she barred me from going on my own to away matches.
I solved this problem in that age old way that children defeat their parents – by lying. I told her on every other Saturday that I was off to horse racing to lose my pocket money, an activity she found infinitely preferable to me getting my head bashed in. So when I went to Blackpool I came back with stories of the favorite that got beaten at “Newbury”. It was dicey when I got back from “Newmarket” and the Birmingham match was on BBC’s “Match of the Day” but fortunately the cameras didn’t pan round to me standing in the crowd going bananas.
My third daughter born in 2013 was given the initials T.H.F.C. and my Thai wife didn’t bat an eyelid – she had got used to the fact that I was what she resignedly referred to as “baa footborn”.
Those who follow the beautiful game – and who are still (thankfully) reading my self-indulgent Sunday sermon this week – will know exactly where this is all headed. For Wednesday night in a darkened spare room in northern Bangkok in the middle of the night in front of a laptop I experienced the finest few hours of my entire 57 years and ten month life. I was alone with Twitter in case you’re wondering….
I tried to keep quiet as Spurs scored a 96th minute winner to come back from a two leg 0-3 deficit but failed as the little chicks and their mum were awakened at 4 am to the sight of their manic dad running semi-naked throughout the duplex and nearly getting decapitated by a whirring ceiling fan. Mrs R in her slumber was a bit grumpy as I ushered them back to sleep and continued the celebration throughout what remained of the night and following day.
She was less grumpy on Thursday evening when I did my version of what the Thais call “tham bun” or making merit. I filled three envelopes with varying amounts of money to celebrate what I translated into Thai as “our love for each other and love for Spurs”. Ah! The healing power of cash and the pleasure in seeing my wife next day with that much wanted new phone and the little girls with their gifts saying: “Daddy! I like football…”
Then came an email to a former colleague for whom I acted as one of the guests of honor at her Oriental Hotel wedding to a Phuket millionaire. He is well know for getting tickets to Liverpool matches and I am hoping that myself and an American Liverpool supporter who I know in the Middle East will be on our way to the Champions League final between our two teams in Madrid on June 1st. The Thai guy kinda owes me after I got his wife a well paid job for life…..I’m praying that will be enough!
With Spurs’ and of course Liverpool’s equally amazing heroics the day before it was hard to concentrate on my translation job. Especially as I kept getting distracted from the latest news of the “social media meltdowns” in relation to both teams’ unbelievable comebacks from the dead. Out on the streets of Ratchayothin I wore my Spurs shirts on every trip to Lotus receiving thumbs ups and engaging in conversations on street corners with people I’d never met but who I instantly liked.
So having drained your time and attention, dear reader, I propose that this week’s That Was The Week round-up is just going to be a list of my top ten stories for your edification and hope that if you missed them you enjoy the links. They are in no particular order and come with a brief and predictably sarky Rooster synopsis:
1. Not content with arresting pensioners for playing bridge in Pattaya the authorities in Chiang Mai are now going after those claw games for cuddly toys. It’s wicked gambling you see! And if you don’t get that you’ll never understand Thailand.
2. Foreigners in Koh Samui – especially a portly French man – have been named as stealing Thai jobs by being taxi drivers and guides. The forum curmudgeons screamed “xenophobia” while the Gallic guy denied taking money from tourists. How do you say “lying through your front teeth” in French? I’d like to know.
3. Thai immigration are moving into the modern era about two decades behind everyone else with their adoption of biometric technology at airports and borders. A media event at Phuket Airport was all smiles even though a German company is well behind on the installation of machines costing 2.1 billion baht. The system aims to “keep the bad guys out” and the generals in kickbacks.
4. A cute hairdresser in Rayong was featured with a plunging neckline as an old Thai man getting a cut tried to keep his eyes stoically Junta straight. She was a “babe” (my choice of word…) but why was it that so many posters on Thaivisa suggested their wives were so much prettier! Did they all marry Thailand’s only two Miss Universes? Methinks they doth protest too much from their bar stools.
5. In Chiang Mai a Thai tourist was taken to a karaoke lounge and ran up a bill of 13,800 baht without drinking or eating anything. Seems that those seedy upstairs rip-off joints from my Patpong youth have migrated North. Still, the forum faithful were satisfied that it was a Thai that lost his shirt and not a Brit this time.
6. In southern Thailand a police station chief effectively transferred two underlings after they did their job of trying to check a driver’s licence both professionally and politely. Their lesson was in knowing who was behind the wheel – the director general of the Region’s Criminal Court on his way to dinner with a young lady. The chief advised the press that his men were “new” to the job and he promised to take them “under his wing” to teach them the ropes.
7. At Koh Phangan a blacklisted Russian who was now a Romanian tried to sneak his way back onto the holiday island where he used to own a bar. Sergei had cunningly changed his name to Sergiu but had not altered his face! The cops remembered it proving that the billions spent on biometrics might not have been needed – like submarines – after all.
8. Down Pattaya way reporters from Sophon seemed to emerge from their hot season slumbers to wind up the Thaivisa clientele via yours truly’s translation. A single Thai vendor had blamed tourists for the trash on the beach that created a firestorm of reaction on the forum. She obviously meant Thai tourists but why should that stand in the way of a good bash!
9. A Thai “CON-noisseur” faced an inquiry into his motivation from the Thai press after “doing a runner” from 70,000 baht’s worth of bills from just three hotel dinners in the Lumpini area of Bangkok. Rooster just couldn’t understand it. Motivation? Getting free food of course…..another of my lifelong passions.
So finally to the one that rivals football in my obsessions. Scrabble. It has been announced that the new edition of the Collins English Scrabble dictionary will now contain a word that is probably better known than any other even to those who know very little Thai – FARANG.
I’m glad. It’s high time we were recognized for our contribution to the world and it was also interesting to see that the hot American/Vietnamese sauce SRIRACHA also became a new “Thai-ish” addition for crossword gaming wordsmiths.
However, I shall not rest until the people at Collins add the one word that best sums up the kingdom, its news and the lives of positive people within it.