The People You Most Want To Avoid In SE Asia (and sometimes everywhere else too) – Part Deux
First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who enjoyed and shared last week’s blog. To be honest, the response left me a little gobsmacked; 9,000 visitors from 117 countries and that was with no promotions or boosts other than posting it on a couple of expat sites here in Cambodia.
Secondly, to the (very) small minority who took umbrage at the list, chill out guys. It was only ever meant to be some tongue in cheek fun, a little light-hearted look at some of the stereotypes you find here in Asia. So no, I don’t think I’m perfect, nor do I hate anyone, and I definitely don’t spend all my time complaining. Well, other than rush hour traffic in Phnom Penh, but that would drive the world’s saintliest person to the depths of road rage and despair.
I started the blog for fun, to have somewhere to talk about my favourite books and music, talk with some of my favourite authors, do the odd bit of promotion for my publishing company and, yes, to vent the occasional rant in the world of cyberspace. Those of you who have come on board for the rant side may be a little disappointed at times as it will be fairly pedestrian (at times) but hopefully will still generate some interest.
So here is Part 2 of the list. I hope it entertains again, though please, if it doesn’t, note my second paragraph and maybe resist the temptation to send abuse? Please?
- The Yoga teacher. Now I’m not having a go at Yoga, or indeed the vast majority of Yoga teachers either. It’s a wonderful discipline that improves suppleness and flexibility and I doff my cap to all the true practitioners. But living here in Asia, you tend to come across a lot of what I think of as ‘Fundamentalist Yoga’ with the emphasis very much on the ‘mental’ part. There is a certain irony in Westerners coming to Asia to teach something that originated in the region. Invariably the practitioners in this area of Yoga will have matted dreadlocks, a tie-dye t-shirt, jasmine pants, and several ‘spiritual’ tattoos (editor’s note; see also ‘Ecowarrior Vegan Pansexual Minstrel’ from part 1). These ‘gurus’ have usually been on a spiritual discovery for several years now and have nearly always spent time with a Swami in Northern India (reality – 2 weeks with food poisoning in Goa), discovered the true meaning of their inner self (reality – too strong a mushroom shake on Ko Pha-Ngan), spent months reading ancient shamanic scriptures (reality – they skimmed a Carlos Castaneda book) , and awakened the hidden power of their chakras (reality- a day long bowel movement while on Koh Rong). They also tend to reject the idea of using deodorant (as will quickly become obvious) and promote more quackery than David Avocado-Brain Wolfe. To be avoided at all times unless you want to experience a permanent spinal injury. Irritation factor: 6/10
9.The Patriot Abroad. When living at home, this species of expat rarely raised a patriotic finger other than the odd drunken rant during football or rugby games. But once they choose to leave the ‘old country’ they transform into rabid patriots who will not hear a word said against their home nation. They will likely have a flag on the wall, at least one tattoo with their flag or national symbol, and will turn up to televised sporting events like clockwork, to shout on their own team while denigrating all others. For some reason those that originate from the UK seem to suffer from this condition more than other nations, though some English ones may play it down a little to avoid being mistaken for a brain-dead UKIP supporter. Despite the tropical heat and humidity, Scottish versions of this expat will insist on shipping/bringing a kilt over (they’re 100% wool for chrissake!) and wearing it as often as possible, much to the amusement of the locals in a region where ladyboys are commonplace. The patriot abroad will also make posts on social media every time a ‘food parcel’ from home arrives, and by their enthusiasm you would think they had just won the lottery. Luckily for the masses, the patriot abroad usually only reveals himself during major sporting events (or prior to major sporting events in the case of Scotland fans) or at times of nationally significant events (St George’s Day, Burns Night, Dydd Santes Dwynwen etc.) As a result, it is easy to avoid this class of expat by carefully avoiding sports pubs or large gatherings at any time when they may be at large. Irritation factor: 5/10
8.The Travelling Bedroom DJ. This type used to be far rarer when DJs only really used vinyl as the possible excess baggage charges – and the hell of lugging round a record box – was just too much effort. But with the advent of CDs, and more recently the USB stick, every wannabe can now rock up to the nearest beach bar/club/full moon party and declare themselves an ‘international DJ’. Look mate, just because you have travelled from one country to another does not, in any way, make you an international DJ. They will tell you about the amazing venues and gigs they have played back home while the actual reality of their resume is that the biggest gig they ever played was Auntie Mabel’s 60th birthday party where they dropped some ‘rad beats’. Once on the decks you will quickly realise just how flimsy their experience is as a badly mixed cacophony of a horrible Justin Bieber remix clashing with some really nasty formulaic EDM comes out of the speakers at far too high a volume. Having watched multiple YouTube videos of the likes of Guetta or Aoki, they will also accompany their (bad) mixing with some standard ‘hands in love heart shape’, ‘hands thrown in air’, or ‘The Jesus pose’, while ripping their shirt off in glee and throwing it into the crowd. You will also notice that they very rarely have their headphones on –other than for effect – as they base their entire set around the technological wonder that is the ‘sync button’. While many have sympathy for this type of traveller, the best solution is to remove him/her from the decks as quickly as possible and send him/her to one of your competitors. Irritation factor: 8/10
- The Cheap Charlie. This type can be either expat or traveller. Now look, I have nothing against people travelling – or living – on a budget. You live – or travel – within your means, and I have great admiration for those who can go out and experience the world on a limited budget. But there is careful financial planning and there is utter and complete stinginess. First of all you have to realise that most expat run businesses in Asia are not making their owners rich. There is rent, electricity, stock, staff wages, and other overheads. So if you, in the case of travellers, and your three friends sit and carefully nurse one bottle of water between you so that you can access free Wi-Fi for several hours then you have no right to act aggrieved when the owner tells you to f*ck off. And while we all love the cheapness – and variety – of street food, buying your $1 fried rice from a nearby stall then taking it into the nice air conditioned venue by the beach is just sheer crass rudeness. Expats can be worse. Now we all like a good happy hour offering cheap draught beer and cocktails but there is something self-defeating in having tactics where you flit between bars to take advantage of their happy hour by using a tuk tuk that means you spend as much in total as if you had just remained in bar number 1. And going back to the costs and margins of running a business here; the principal idea of offering happy hours is to get the customers in and spending money on food or on more drinks once happy hour is finished. Do you really think that your purchase of three happy hour glasses of Angkor draught at 50 cents a pop is going to help them survive the coming low season? At the very least buy some snacks from the menu, even if they are the cheapest ones available. Irritation factor: 7/10
6.The Culturally Unaware. Ok, so you are on the adventure of a lifetime, coming to places you have never been before, meeting new people, and experiencing cultures that are likely far different to your own. Living in the information age, there is a wealth of material out there to read, both online and in books, as to what to expect, how to behave, what is forbidden or frowned upon, and what the cultural parameters are. So why oh why do so many of you come over to Asia and act like total grade A assholes? We’re not asking you to take an exam, or to spend weeks studying the material available, just to brush up on some of the basics. Every year we see more and more reports of travellers disrespecting temples and historical sites, wandering about naked in conservative countries, climbing on Buddha statues, insulting locals with behaviour and actions, defecating in public (editor’s note; see also ‘Chinese Tourists’ from part 1), or being arrested for a sheer lack of common sense. We’re not trying to stop you having fun, far from it, but even a little cultural awareness of the country or countries you are visiting can go a long way. Getting angry with locals because they don’t speak English is another example I have seen on a regular basis. I mean, come on, this is their country, and while you may expect some level of English to be spoken by staff in major hotels, large restaurants, or by the tourist police, to expect poor old Bong Dara selling noodles by the roadside in Banteay Meanchey to know anything more than ‘hello’ is the height of colonial arrogance. And that doesn’t mean that we expect you to pick up more than a smattering of phrases in the local lingo (though the locals will love if you do attempt their language), it is simply about being aware that many locals will have no more than a rudimentary grasp of your language. Irritation factor: 8/10
5.The Culturally Over Aware. Yes, number 6 has its flip side. There are travellers – I know, I have met them – who take the whole ‘learning something about the country and culture’ to ridiculous heights. It sounds hypocritical to on one hand criticise people who learn nothing and then single out people who learn too much. But trust me, when you actually live in a country and end up in conversation with someone who proceeds to deliver a lecture on construction techniques of the 12th century as exemplified by the Angkor temple complex, then you would understand where I am coming from. I want to applaud you for actually showing real interest in your destination but you have taken it to such anal levels that I want to slap you instead. And if you think the reaction from us expats is bad, you should hear what the locals say! Do you really think they want their (long) working day interrupted by some well-meaning liberal Grauniad reader delivering a long and stultifying diatribe on the multiple causes of the Khmer Rouge coming to power? Simple answer to that is ‘no’. And it’s also a ‘no’ to the idea that you dressing like a local will endear you to them. They are far more likely to laugh and think ‘lop barang’ (crazy foreigner). But your attempts at the language side of things? Bravo. The locals do love that part and do not be put off if they laugh at clumsy pronunciations as they do genuinely appreciate that you have tried to learn Khmer (or Thai or any other regional language) and will help you learn how to say it properly. Just tone down the know it all side regarding history etc. and you will be fine. Irritation factor: 4/10
4. The Forum Griper. May seem strange to include gripers in a list which is griping, but every country in the region has its own (or several) little forum(s) where expats gather to complain about…well…absolutely anything and everything (editor’s note; see also ‘Barstool Philosophers’ from part 1). If you spend any time reading any of the particularly bad ones, you will wonder why any of the members are actually here. There are good and bad ones for sure, and the good ones can be both informative and funny (but still with a side-order of gripe). Cambodia has K440, once a hell of geriatrics complaining and whining and flaming new members but since the new owner took over it has turned into a far better place with a better cross section of the expat community and can be a good place to go and ask questions, even stupid ones. The real humdinger in this category though is ThaiVisa, which has managed to maintain the highest levels of pathos for many years now. You enter the TV forums and in your mind you are stepping into a badly run old people’s home where there is a pervading aroma of stale urine and neglected pensioners. As with most of these forums, there are definite cliques running amok and new members will show any naiveté at their peril as no quarter is given. Teak Door in Thailand seems a more civilised version and if you are looking for genuine information and/or help there I would recommend that one. The real danger of any of these forums is that they can suck you into a black hole of often meaningless debate to the detriment of anything you had planned to do that day. Irritation factor: 6/10
3.The Annoying Request Backpacker. Ok, this is a smaller group and a very personal dislike. If you go to a club night/party here, why on earth would you think that the DJ – who has been playing a classic drum and bass set for the last 2 hours – is going to listen to your request for Justin Bieber/ Spice Girls and suddenly change the whole tempo/feel of the night to play your nauseatingly crap little pop song? Or, just as bad, the ones who come up to the DJ booth and ask you to plug in their iPod or iPhone as they have some ‘really radical tunes, man’ (also see ‘Can you play from YouTube?’). Most of the time, DJs here in Asia have been doing it for a long time, though few of them have it as a full time job here (unless you are Sir Alan Ritchie, Third Earl of Essex)
The sets they play are usually well thought out and planned beforehand, and will follow the theme of the evening, whether it is jungle, techno, house or whatever. Now we are not saying all requests are bad; if I am playing a 90s jungle set in Naga House and someone comes up and asks for ‘Tom And Jerry – Maximum Style’ then I am going to say ‘respect bro, will try and fit it in.’ But under no circumstances (other than a rather large cash bribe or the offer of filthy sex) am I going to suddenly go from a DJ Crystl track to The Spice Girls’ ‘Viva Forever.’ No way. Nope. Nada. No chance. There are lots of beach bars etc. here that WILL gladly play requests, let you plug your iPod in, search on YouTube, but a club night is not the place to ask for songs that go off on a tangent from what is playing. Irritation factor: 12/10
2. The Spontaneous Bar Owner. I have lots of friends who own bars here and in Thailand. And with the odd exception most of them have thought out their purchase, looked at all the pros and cons, and made an informed decision that while not allowing them to get rich quick, owning a bar here will allow them to live in a tropical country and not worry about 9-5 drudgery. But, without fail, each high season brings in a new crop of spontaneous idiots who spend two weeks here, think that owning a bar will be paradise, and sell up back home and make a reactive purchase. The reality check that most of them miss is that lots, and I mean lots, of businesses fail across this region every year. It’s not an easy ‘career’ path by any means. Long hours, the potential to drop into an alcoholic lifestyle, unscrupulous landlords, high staff turnover, and crappy low seasons (or crappy high seasons for that matter) can all mean that you are heading home with your tail behind your legs sooner rather than later. And trust me; your ‘unique’ business idea is anything but. Virtually every variation of them and their cousins have been tried at some time or another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to start a new life away from the horrors of Brexit/Trump/being French but in the name of all that’s holy, think before you jump! Take some time to know the area, talk to other bar owners about potential pitfalls and always, always have a contingency plan which includes emergency funds. If you can afford to, spend a couple of months living here before deciding what business to buy. These little snippets of advice may sound obvious but if more people actually used them then there would be less one-way fares back home come low season. Irritation factor: 7/10.
- The (temporary) English teacher. As with business owners, I know a lot of people in Thailand, Cambodia, China, and other countries, who are teaching. And nearly every one of them is a professional who has qualifications and experience and actually cares about the job they are doing (and let’s face it, given the wages in many places, they’re not doing it for the cash). No, my ire in this area is reserved for the temporary/travelling/last resort English teachers. The ones who have no real qualifications (a degree in social studies does not count) or experience but sees the fact that some countries are desperate to fill vacancies as carte blanche to present themselves and their skimpy CV as being the salvation of the children here. Your photocopied degree from Khao San Road does not actually mean you know what you are doing, nor does your 2 years’ experience as a waiter in Basingstoke. But teaching here offers an easy option for people wanting an extended holiday but who lack any real skills to compete in the employment marketplace. Now I’ve heard the argument that a crap education is better than no education. Bollocks. If you can’t tell the difference between there, their, and they’re, then you shouldn’t be around kids and passing on your own ignorance. If you really want to teach here, go off and get a decent teaching experience, rack up some classroom hours as an assistant, and then come and get a job. Yes, we need teachers across the region, and yes, the level of education here needs to be raised. But what we don’t need are people whose idea of a good lesson plan is teaching their students how to give a middle finger. Irritation factor: 11/10.
Story shared from Steven W. Palmer, Author.