Chapter 1 - MY LIFE AS A DOG
The most popular man on Phuket is the New Boy. Any tourist fresh off the plane, clutching a wad of purple notes and a receipt from the currency exchange bearing this morning’s date, will be greeted on a red carpet and handed the key to the city by a phalanx of smiling citizens. If his skin has yet to tan and his tongue has never known curry, his friends will number more than the grains of sand on Patong Beach.
He is the beloved of the bar girl, the delight of the desk clerk, and the patron of the policeman. Tuk-tuk drivers will call him Brother, renters of jeeps and motorcycles will sing his praises, and Immigration will extend his visa with a nudge and a wink. Somtam vendors will leave the black crabs out of his salad without being asked, and massage girls will actually give him a massage first.
Farang who speak Thai, on the other hand, are received by the island folk in one of two ways. The first is with brusque disdain, as summed up by the common expression “farang ru mahk mai dee” or “a farang (foreigner) who knows a lot is no good.” In this case, “knowing a lot” means knowing what things should cost, or knowing the phone number of the local police station and the name of the night duty officer, or knowing what it means in this society when someone clinks her glass down on top of yours in a toast.
Speaking a few words of Thai, even if they are all pronounced in the middle tone with consistently long vowels, immediately puts one under a black cloud of “ru mahk” (“knows a lot”) suspicion, and that makes you about as popular as the positive results of a blood test broadcast over the local radio.
Still, as much as we all like to be liked, the pariah status earned by asking the price of something in Thai is preferable to the second kind of response, which is known on the island as the Talking Dog Syndrome.
Imagine that you are walking down Main Street back in your hometown, and you come upon a dog sitting in the shade of a lamppost. Imagine that as you pass by you smile at the dog and say, “Hello there, Dog. How ya doin’, boy?”
Imagine further that the dog looks up at you with his big brown eyes and lolling tongue and replies, “Good afternoon to you, Sir or Madame, I am doing quite well. Thank you for asking.”
Well, you’d be surprised, wouldn’t you? You would stop and consider this remarkable talking dog. After all, everyone in your country knows that, among other traits, dogs smell bad, have terrible manners, and aren’t too bright, which is probably why your government requires dogs of all breeds to leave the country and renew their visas every few months. You would probably start asking the dog all sorts of dumb questions, just to hear him speak in that funny dog accent.
“How come you can speak?” you would ask. “How long have you been here? Do you have a girlfriend yet?“ (You would probably giggle when you asked this one.) “How much did you pay for your watch? How much do you weigh?” And on and on and on.
Knowing as you do, as indeed everyone in your country knows, that dogs combine their simple-minded natures with unimaginable wealth, you would probably call over all your friends to view this amazing talking dog, and you would all be very friendly to him in the hope that he might want to invest in a business with you, or buy some land from you, or at the very least spring for dinner and a few drinks. All of your friends would ask the same questions you just asked, and laugh delightedly at the dog’s obscene mispronunciation of the word “snow”. One of your friends would rattle off a few insults to establish that if you stick to local dialect and speak quickly, you can still talk freely in front of the dog, at which point you would all begin to discuss how big his nose is and how fat he is. Finally, you would all try to get the dog to sing a song, and maybe one of the group would shyly ask the dog if he could learn some dog language, because he really wants to get a good job in one of the big hotels.
Meanwhile, the dog, who was just standing there waiting for a bus, is aware that if a real human being of equal education, job title, and address were accosted in the street by a group of pushy strangers, he could call a cop or tell them all to get lost. But since dogs are outside the normal system of rank and privilege, they are required to observe its rules without enjoying its benefits, and so the poor mutt continues to make polite, somewhat stiff conversation, praying for his bus to come soon.
A few episodes like this and the most assimilated expat throws away his AUA Thai Grammar book and resorts to phrases like “I want go post office, you take me 20 baht, okay?”
But occasionally we slip, and should not be surprised to one day pick up the newspaper and read the headline:
“LOCAL EXPAT BITES TAXI DRIVER ON THE ANKLE”.
(End of Chapter 1.)
© Steve Rosse. All rights reserved by the author.
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