Newsflash: All Western women are U.G.L.Y

I went to the pub a few weeks ago with some friends, and at the table next to us was another Brit. He was in his 50s and we happily chatted about the craft beer craze that is taking over Bangkok. Then out of the blue he asked me if it was hard to be a woman in Thailand.

Thinking that he meant it was difficult because although women are often the dominant forces in families and communities, and despite the fact that Thailand currently has a female prime minister, women still get a rougher deal here than they do back in the UK. So I launched into a discussion about women’s position in society only to be shot down with a laugh and a bold statement ” no, no. no – because Thai women are so attractive”.

Now this chap was accompanied by a pretty Thai lady who spoke excellent English and seemed to be enjoying his company. But I didn’t sit there worrying that I was in some way inferior because I was western, although I admit I was a teensy bit jealous of her amazing coral pink killer heels.

Who you find attractive is a matter of taste and of course he is entitled to date whoever he wishes. But there was no need to assume that I should be depressed about the way I look. I brush my hair and I occasionally paint my nails. Whilst my eyebrows sometimes look a little mad scientist in the early morning, I always wet them down with a bit of water. Such. A. Catch.

I can only assume he was badly heartbroken by a western woman, leaving him incapable of finding love again with a fair skinned lady. The same thing happened to a senior member of staff at my old office. He announced in a meeting that marrying a British woman changed a man for the worse, and that’s why he moved to Asia. He must have thought I was American or something. But let’s get back to the shallow end rather than get bogged down in emotional detail.

Of course, there are many beautiful women in Thailand. There are plenty of very pretty ladies in London (where I used to live) too – but I never walk the streets feeling like an outcast because I do not fit with his (and we all know he’s one of many) version of attractiveness. I do stand out a little in Bangkok. Sometimes on the sky train I am head and shoulders above most people, and I feel sorry for those stuck in my armpits. My blonde hair makes me recognisable in a crowd, great for when I wander off like a small child.

The definition of beauty is an interesting one and very much down to an individual perspective. But I believe it is the whole package, rather than simply the wrapping. It still annoys me that people like this chap feel that they can go around making sweeping statements about the looks of an entire hemisphere in this way. He was not my type, but I would never ask him if his girlfriend was only with him for his money…

Sadly you don’t have to go far in Bangkok to stumble across a couple in which the woman is with a man for the security he provides rather than for love. I’m not looking to be arm candy, and I am lucky enough to be able to look after myself, although I am perfectly happy for anyone, from princesses to toads, to deal with the cockroach under the sink.

I’m cool in my world, but not so cool about to views he’s broadcasting from his. Because what IS depressing is that women are always being compared and judged against each other in the looks department above anything else.

Being all repulsive and British
Scaring some strawberry tarts with my western looks.

Ten things I love in Bangkok right now (Nov 2012)

There are so many great things in Bangkok, but sometimes all it takes is a song, a picture, a smell, something that triggers a memory deep inside and reminds you how far you are from family and the things that hold a lifetime of familiarity. All I can think of at the moment are those cold crisp days in London, I blame the stupid John Lewis Snowman advert. We’ve just had friends visit, which makes the memories of the UK come back into focus,  things at a distance do tend to blur and smudge after two years away.

It’s on days like these that I need reminding about why I love Bangkok so much. It’s not quite toppled the big smoke as my number one city, but it is doing its best to catch up.

  1. Christmas is coming fast, and usually it’s a time where people want to be with their families. Screw that, come to Bangkok – to them it’s the huge trees, bigger buffets and the perfect excuse to spend money, not recreating childhood memories. Who doesn’t want to giggle at all the ladies of the night wearing sexy Santa outfits?!
  2. Rediscovering Siam Square. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure how to navigate this area, with so many shops it was hard to work out where to go, and I usually ended up down bad quality alley with purchasing fake goods my only chance of escape. But since writing this article I have totally fallen in love with the place, especially the quirky upstairs gallery at Siam Vintage.
  3. Twitter. I love the English speaking  community on Bangkok twitter and although I still haven’t quite got my head around tweeting, hearing about other people and their journeys in the city is both entertaining and reassuring.
  4. Visitors. Okay, it can be stressful when people expect you to know everything about a place, but they do allow you to rediscover the city beyond your commute to work. I always try and save the touristy things till people come and stay, so I don’t have to do it twice so it’s nice to see some of the more famous parts of Bangkok, including the Sky Bar at Lebua.
  5. Tom Kha Gai (coconut chicken soup) and mango sticky rice are my Bangkok comfort foods, the Thai equivalent of a hug in a bowl – I could eat them every day.
  6. Cheap manicures. I now alternate between two nail salons on Sukhumvit. My favourite Nailista, only has three seats and recently they just haven’t been able to fit me in. So I’ve headed to Ten Ten near Phrom Pong BTS, more room, great YSL inspired French manicure in green and purple and free ginger tea.
  7. The cool weather. I am ecstatic when I wake up and it’s cloudy. It means I can wear jeans AND not have to worry about getting sunburnt or dehydrated.
  8. How cheap and easy it is to escape from Bangkok. I’ve just spent a week on the Islands, fallen in love with Koh Tao and plan to return to attempt some Grand Bleu style free diving whilst holding my breath for three minutes.
  9. BKK Bagel Bakery. I’ve started going here at least once a week, who ever thought you could stuff so much goodness into a ring of dough? (518/3 Maneeya Center, Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330)
  10. Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) at Emporium (BTS Phrom Pong), a great library to get your head down and get some work done, or procrastinate with photography and design books.

Keane, Bangkok 4th October 2012

The first time I heard of Keane I was sitting in my flat in Toulouse where I was spending a year as a teaching assistant. From the description in my copy of Heat Magazine they sounded like the kind of band I would love, so as soon as I returned to England I purchased ‘Hope and Fears’. Their single ‘Everybody’s Changing’ was playing on music channels that blared out of our sitting room, one of the things all of us could agree to watching.

I did not know that Keane’s first album would become the sound of my summer. It was 2004 and I was about to turn 21, I was saving up for a ticket to New York by working two jobs, weekdays in an insipid high street jewellers and serving drinks every Friday and Saturday at The Fire Station, best nightclub in town (there were only two). Keane played Glastonbury in the rain, and I was there in the front row with one of my best friends, both of us looking like drowned rats, appearing on  BBC 2 doing an embarrassing dance which everyone I knew saw, and can still be found during the first five minutes of this YouTube video.

The most significant thing about this summer was the number of us living under one roof. My father had remarried and for one reason or another, all five children from this blended family (seriously, is there no nicer way of saying this?!) were under the same roof for three months. For any of you who have had the pleasure of watching ‘7th Heaven’, it was about as far removed from the Camden’s as you can get. Five young adults under one roof does not make for peaceful living, but I remember nights out with my sisters, awkward but entertaining family meals where we wound each other up something silly and many childish pranks that we probably wouldn’t want to own up to.

Those links between music, memories and emotion has been researched and as someone who still listens to a song I really like on repeat, I reinforce this more than most. When I found out Keane were going to play in Bangkok, emotions from the summer of 2004 came rushing back to me. My favourite thing about our minds is that the bad times really do fade, so I can only remember the positive things about those few months, especially as it was one of the last times I spent so much time with my UK family.

Keane in Bangkok was a fantastic experience. They were so British and I was lucky enough to be standing behind possibly the most enthusiastic, wave your hands in the air, sing a long to every song, all the way from Hastings fan in Bangkok. This made the experience feel so much more like a gig should, and the rest of the crowd, predominantly Thais, were just as vocal. Moonstar studios is a pain to find, especially in the rainy season, but I would trek there again to hear British music and be reminded of times gone by.

On their new album my favourite track is Sovereign Light Café, such a cheerful melody with lyrics that lead me to look back to the end of my school days. It’s nice to spend a short while reminiscing, but life is non-stop at the moment: I am preparing for a trip to Singapore at the end of the month and my girls holiday in November with always, always more to look forward to.

Learning how to write

There are so many things I love about my new job. I know that I am only 15 days into it, but it’s a bit like when you click with a person. You just feel completely at ease straight away and feel of value because of your thoughts and ideas. After six years of floating around with no particular direction it is fantastic to finally be doing something I truly feel invested in.

The greatest thing about it is that I get to see Bangkok through different eyes. When you are writing for a specific audience rather than just for pleasure, you see things differently. Even visiting a shopping mall becomes more exciting! You need to decide how you feel about a place, and more importantly how a visitor to Bangkok would feel about somewhere. Just because I am super passionate about art and could enthuse about most of the galleries in the city doesn’t mean I should preach to the readers. My writing is anonymous (I was even called a ghost writer the other day) – they don’t know anything about me so judge everything on face value.

The food is another upside. Somehow the promotions manager has worked out I like cake – so when I go to review hotels they like to feed the stuff to me. I have had fancy pastries in a five star hotel in Chatuchak and amazing crepe cake (a layer cake of cream, pancakes and strawberry coulis. Get some.) in Khao San. The sugar rush I have experienced in the last three weeks is impressive.

The only downside about my job is that I am so tired after writing all day that the last thing I feel like doing is blogging. Hopefully over the next few weeks this will balance out and I can get back into a rhythm. There are so many things I am discovering about the city that perhaps aren’t the right fit for work, but would be perfect to share here.

The idea of writing for a living has always been at the back of my mind, but I never thought I would be good enough (and for a long while was too lazy to do anything about it). I’ve only just realised how amazing it is to be doing something you really love as a job. I spend more of my waking hours doing this than anything else. I know a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have a job they even like, and I feel very grateful.

Note to self: Editing is also important!

27 by RJ Heald

The most fantastic thing about Bangkok and indeed any place is the people you meet when you get here. What makes Thailand even better in my eyes is that there are thousands of people who have come here to make a dream come true. Some simply want to live on a tropical island, some want to set up their own business and some (like me) only discover their dream when they get here, and Thailand helps them to make it come true. Ruth came here and worked on completing her novel which was published last month.

Ruth is one of those great people who I met and had an instant connection with. She’s clever and funny – the kind of person you’d want to be sitting next to at a dinner party. As well as writing and self-publishing 27 she is also the creator of the Five Stop Story, a series of short stories which are designed to be read on the average tube journey (I wish my commute had been five stops). It’s a great way to connect new authors to a potential readership and perfect for anyone who is bored with day old news in the Metro.

Your 27th year is a turning point.
Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse. Janis Joplin.
They died at 27.
Six friends reunite in London. From the outside their lives are enviable; from the new father, to the rich entrepreneur to the carefree traveller. But underneath their facades they are starting to unravel. Dave is made redundant, Renee’s marriage is crumbling and Katie is forced to return home to her parents after six years abroad. In a world fuelled by social media and ravaged by recession, the friends must face up to the choices they must make to lead the lives they truly want to live.
 

27 is a novel that speaks to my generation. The ones whose lives are always connected, from our ‘friends’ on Facebook to intercontinental communication on our smart phones. Sometimes life can feel like a competition – there is always someone out there who has done it bigger and better. Career, a relationship, travel, buying a house, babies, all these things that you feel you need to tick off a list to make life magical.  27 takes you behind the happy snaps and the good news status updates and shows you the dark side.

Once I started 27 I couldn’t put it down. It was not so much that I liked the characters, some of them could be rather unpleasant and selfish. It was that I either recognised part of myself in it and had come across someone just like them in the past few years. I don’t take pleasure in other people’s downfalls (okay, sometimes I do) but it’s a relief to know that whilst you are going through your mid to late twenties trying to find significance in your life, other people are having problems as well.

27 takes your right to the heart of the kind of issues young graduates face. It’s an unflinching look at how shitty life can be, even if you have the degree, the boyfriend or the house. It’s a roller-coaster ride, although the characters face some pretty tough times, there are some great moments of humour too. It’s not just me who enjoyed it, Ruth also got short-listed for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel.

The book is available for download or in paperback on Amazon.  Instead of picking up the a trashy thriller next time you head to the beach give this a try.

Reading about the Olympics

Another day, another momentous occasion that I am missing. Or rather a full two weeks of high drama with joy, tears and once in a lifetime moments.

I was in the UK just a few weeks before the Olympics started and there was hardly a billboard or sign that did not reference the great event that was coming to London. Even after 48 hours in the city I’d seen enough of Wenlock and co to last me a lifetime. Upon my return to Bangkok I was deliberating whether I should permanently set my Guardian online page to ‘Hide Olympics’. But then the games started and I found that in this age of social media it was impossible to hide from the event itself.

The problem is that right now we don’t have a television and my laptop is currently under repair, so all my news of medals and doping is filtered via photos and the written word. In a world that seems so connected it feels mad that the only Olympics I have seen (and not even live) was the three minute round up of the opening ceremony on the BBC website. Even this has been enough to be able to share the fever that seems to get higher every day.

After my trip back to Blighty I definitely feel more of an outsider than I ever have before. When your world changes more than you could have possibly imagined it’s hard to reconnect to the feelings you once had for a place. It also makes you take off your rose tinted glasses, the UK is not a grown up fairy land built on biscuits, Royal gossip, pretty clothes and great pop music. I am still thrilled to feel the delayed excitement as our medal tally grows.  I will keep reading, waking up in the middle of the night to BBC news alerts announcing more gold for Great Britain.

Turning my blog into a job

In two weeks I start a new job as a content writer for Bangkok.com. I am very excited as it is a complete departure from what I have been doing (recruitment), and very chuffed that I got offered the job because my future boss found (yes, I am searchable!) and liked this blog.

I have now been in Bangkok for just over 21 months and I have been blogging since I stepped off the plane. What started as an easy way to keep in touch with folks from home has turned into a bit of a passion. I love sharing the great places I come across, taking pictures of the world around me and trying to capture what life is like as a woman ex-pat in Thailand.

I also love to talk and it’s been a great way to chatter away to a mostly unknown audience. However the greatest thing about having a blog is the feedback I get. It’s amazing to hear from those who read it, to hear how they come across it and what they think of it. It’s been the perfect tool to meet new people and find out about other ex-pats in Thailand.

It’s sometimes hard to tap into specific knowledge about life on the ground here, especially if you are looking for a lifestyle that doesn’t involve bar fines and ladies of the night (yep, my top searched blog entry in entitled ‘Soi Cowboy”), but there are some great female bloggers who offer tales from a different side to the big mango. It was via blogs that I discovered great places to get my hair cut, unusual music venues and that Batiste (dry shampoo – yippee for being lazy) had landed in Boots Thailand.

Just before I was offered the job I had been thinking of quitting recruitment and spending some time and energy focusing on my writing. It really was a dream to do something more creative, but there is a lot of negative chatter online about trying to get into writing. It was starting to look impossible, and I think if I was still in Europe it would be. The fantastic thing about Asia is that there is so much growth and opportunity. It’s also the perfect place to take a risk and try something new. If it all goes wrong, there’s cheap whisky to drown your sorrows in.

I will (of course) keep up the blogging as well. If two years ago someone had told me that I was going to be living in Thailand and writing I would never have believed them. There is nothing more fantastic than life taking you somewhere better than you could have ever imagined.

Where have all the eligible men gone?

I was out for drinks last night and speaking to some friends about living in Bangkok, and the message from the single ones was pretty much unanimous; they love Thailand, but since moving here their dating life has barely had a pulse. It even seems to be a reason that some of them are leaving. Now I am a very lucky lady indeed in that I imported my boyfriend from the UK but I was sad to hear about all the cute ex-pats were having little luck finding a handsome chap to have a drink with, let alone love.

Let’s start with the locals. There is no shortage of tall dark and handsome men here, but the dating system is like a twisted game of snakes and ladders with an unnerving amount of snakes. This is a country where people are often set up with a ‘suitable chap’ by their parents. You can spot them on dates across the city, hardly talking and both on their smart phones. There are so many rules – the ultimate one being about appearances. Casually going up them is a no-no (or is it?) and my Thai colleague tells me they would never approach western girls they didn’t know for fear of rejection. Only once have I ever been approached by a Thai man and that was in a strange club, he was very drunk. I know of very few women who are dating Thai men and even fewer who are successful at snagging one long-term.

What about the ex-pats then? There are around 60,000 British ex-pats in Thailand plus all the other Europeans, Americans and Aussies. There has to be at least a few good men amongst them. The sad reality is that most men who come to Thailand are on the prowl for Thai ladies. People always assume that my boyfriend must be dating a Thai girl. It’s no surprise, there are some very beautiful local women in the city and  even if I doubled my evening out prep time they would still blow me out of the water.

Some of my friends who would never even dream of attempting to use technology to find a date have resorted to online dating. But the stories I hear from those brave enough to tell their stories suggest that these sites are filled with strange, sometimes creepy men who are never worthy of date number two.

So what options are left? I think they key is in the target market. After a few more cocktails we worked out the ideal man to look for. He needs to have been here long enough to have to have tired of the usual lifestyle and be looking for someone he can make a real connection to. Because at the end of the day, no matter how you look on the outside it’s more meaningful to spend time with someone you can talk to than simply eye candy. But adding this to the usual requirements (solvent, coherent, clean…) seems to make the feat impossible here. I would love to hear any stories that prove the theory wrong!