Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Something to Say?

One of the most uncouth things a person can do – and one of the most frequent faux pas of falang in Southeast Asia – is to raise their voice. Raising one’s voice shows a myriad of flaws. It shows loss of self-control. It shows unnecessary disrespect. It shows ignorance to local culture (when in Rome…). Most of all, it shows everyone within earshot the skid marks in your own underwear.

This morning I skipped the 7:30 departure to a particularly good dive location. I wanted to sleep in. I wanted to rest a little extra before heading back to the mainland and my quiet and orderly existence in Laos. By habit, I woke at 7:00 a.m., checked the time and opted for more sleep. At 7:55, I was awakened by voices outside. I could hear the voices, but could not make out the words. I slid back into sleep. The voices continued. By 8:05, I abandoned by grandiose thoughts of sleeping until 9 or maybe even 10; the voices showed no sign of stopping.

I listened more closely. Was someone telling an exciting tale of last night’s adventures? I hoped so. I got up and went to the bathroom. I tried to peek through the ventilation slits of the concrete wall to see what was happening outside – I thought of my nosy ex-wife who always peered through curtains and wanted to know what was going on with other people. I couldn’t see the men. There were two men. I could tell from the voices. One was English. The other I thought to be Thai. The Thai voice was trying to express, to console, to empathize, to find a suitable solution. The English voice spoke over and beat down on the Thai voice – he did not want to hear, he only wanted to have his say, to assert his rightness, to aggress his own absolute perfection. The Thai voice was calm and rather quiet. The English voice was everywhere and demanding. Did he want a refund? I thought of a trip to Jamaica years ago when a honeymooner wanted a refund in early October because the brochure failed to mention the daily rain in the Caribbean in October. I pissed, dressed and walked outside.

Stepping onto the porch, the words were now discernable. Bed bugs… I didn’t put bed bugs in the mattress… It’s your fault… if anyone is responsible for bed bugs it’s you. The Englishman had a long brown shit stain flowing out of his mouth. The Englishman thinks the Thai intentionally wants itchy guests who will tell others about a crappy resort where conditions are substandard. The Thai is patient and as I step out onto the porch, the conversation ends. The shirtless Englishman with an homogenously rebellious tattoo on his lower back walks away with flippant gestures and aural puss seeping into the sand. The Thai is smiling, not because he has won or because he is happy or because he enjoyed an 8:00 am pissing contest or because his other guests had to listen to this nonsense – he is happy because he knows there is no point in being unhappy. His day can not be ruined because of someone else’s bad behaviour and miniscule suffering.

How is it done correctly in Thailand? How is it done correctly anywhere in the world? Calmly approach. Make it quietly clear than a problem has occurred and a discussion is warranted. Step into a private area, a place where no one has to endure your own dirty laundry. Have your conversation. If voices are raised, they are raised in a cloistered fashion. The matter is exposed, a solution is presented and all people walk away with at least an agreement to disagree. Then, maybe the guy in bungalow 3 will sleep a little later than normal and have nothing to write that day.