Entering the Not-So-Swinging Sixties
Don Entz writes: Roger Crutchley, the Sports editor at the "Bangkok Post," turned 60 last week. Below are his thoughts on spending 37 years in Thailand. (In 1969, he set out from England with some friends, to travel overland to Australia. His stories of 1969 Afghanistan are highly amusing. He stopped in Thailand and never left):
Entering the Not-So-Swinging Sixties
Back in 1979 I can recall writing an article for the Bangkok Post about getting old. I had just turned 33 and was hoping that on reaching 33-and-a-third I'd just carry on recurring like the decimal equivalent and enjoy eternal youth. The prospect of turning 40 wasn't appealing, reaching 50 downright grim, and 60 was simply too awful to contemplate.
Well, there's no need to contemplate any more. The Old Dog has reached 60 or, to look at it in a slightly different way, approximately 21,900 days.
It'd be nice to say I don't feel 60 at all and am jumping around like a 20-year-old. Mentally maybe I'm still ''youngish'', or perhaps ''juvenile'' would be more accurate, but the body is definitely 60. When faced with a choice of temptations these days I opt for the one which will get me home earliest or give me the mildest headache the next morning. Gone are those merry times with colleagues from the night shift when we'd see dawn break at the old Pratunam market with a dozen bottles of Singha beer for company on the table and two or three mangy stray dogs under it. That'd definitely finish me off now. And any new sensation these days is almost certainly a symptom of something unpleasant.
There are some contradictions, however. While preparing to go out, to get in the mood I still put on a bit of pop music and rock n' roll. The problem is that you wouldn't call Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or Yes exactly the latest sounds. And as for the Beatles ...
Looking at the latest pop-music charts I can't even tell which is the artist and which is the hit. Occasionally there's a new version of a song I recognise from my younger days but that usually prompts the inevitable Boring Old Fart observation: ''It's not as good as the original.'' At least I haven't reached the stage of humming along to elevator music, so maybe there's a bit of life in the Old Dog yet.
One slice of comfort, perhaps, is that there's an awful lot of other folks celebrating their 60th birthday this year. In the US alone the figure's 8,000 a day - what an alarming thought. There are even a few celebrities among them. As mentioned in PostScript at the start of the year, among those hitting 60 this year are Dolly Parton, Cher and Linda Ronstadt, who have all lasted the pace pretty well - better than Crutch anyway. But it kind of goes
downhill after that. The most frightening thing is two people who were born on exactly the same day as Crutch all those years ago: Sylvester Stallone; and a certain George W. Bush (possibly something not to boast about).
Anyway, as actress Helen Hayes once said: ''Age is not important unless you are a cheese.''
Just grin and look stupid
Another worrying thought is that 37 of those 60 years have been spent in Thailand. When I first arrived in this country it was the height of the Vietnam War and a very different world indeed. But despite a number of superficial physical changes in the interim, Thailand hasn't altered that much - it's still just as bewildering as it was in the old days.
Arriving in the first week of April, 1969, I recall walking along a soi and being approached by a group of ladies dancing the ramwong. What jolly people these Thais are, I thought. Then they started throwing buckets of water over
me. I had no idea what Songkran was at that time, but it was so bloody hot that it seemed quite a sensible thing to do. Thailand was already amazing back in 1969.
A common question is how I have ''survived'' in Thailand all these years, as if living here was some kind of punishment. In fact it's been a delight, but there have admittedly been times when I didn't have a clue what was going on. It's a truism that the longer you stay in Thailand, the more you realise how little you know about the place.
An early piece of advice from a former Kiwi colleague, Brett Bartos, turned out to be invaluable. ''If you don't know what's happening, just grin and look stupid and you'll be okay.'' It works too - not that Crutch has too much difficulty looking stupid.
A very good place to start
During those early weeks in Thailand, Crutch experienced a roller-coaster of emotions; sometimes loving the place, on other occasions an exasperated wreck reduced to an emotional state of jelly. Come to think of it, nothing has changed in that respect.
In 1969, our 800 baht a month house in Makkasan wasn't air-conditioned so we left the door and windows open to let the breeze in. It also let the neighbours in - an immediate introduction to the Thai community spirit.
Everybody dropped in to say hello and they made themselves at home. Sometimes I'd surface to find half the neighbourhood ensconced downstairs getting stuck into their mid-morning som tam. Babies who'd never seen a farang before would scream in horror at the sight of the whiter-than-white Crutch tottering down the stairs.
Every day there was a definite reminder that I was no longer in England. On one occasion a helpful neighbour informed me that the beautiful girl, staying a few doors away, whom I'd been chatting up for most of the previous fortnight, might well be beautiful but most definitely wasn't a girl. Still, it's good to learn these things early on.
Robert and Nanthana Cooper sum the situation up best in their book Culture Shock Thailand. ''If you have never suffered from culture shock, Thailand is a good place to start.''