This week I must pause in my chronicle of Thai experiences to thank all my readers who sent in their personal Melting Moments this past week. Honestly, I am in awe of the response. When I send off my weekly column to my esteemed editor I sometimes forget that it's printed, read, and even responded to. I feel like Sally Fields receiving an Oscar for Places In The Heart.
Last week I asked readers to send in their personal stories of their own Melting Moments _ the moments when Thai life finally gets the better of you and you collapse in a screaming heap, wailing and flailing your arms about like a drunken international school teacher on two-for-one night.
My life in Thailand is a fascinating rollercoaster ride of experiences which are more often than not rewarding. But, like spending your life with another human being, there are maddening aspects to that person's personality along with the cute things. And sometimes it just damn well gets the better of you. Like this: "I just flew in from America, went out and got a taxi. I said in my clearest Thai dialect: 'Yak bai Soi Ekamai _ Thanon Petchburi.' The driver immediately responded: 'I don't understand English.'
This was sent to me by a reader named Cliff Carbaugh who, with great respect, sounds like a character out of the Bold And The Beautiful. Great anecdote, but is it a true Melting Moment? I don't think so.
There was no culmination of frustration _ unless there'd been an almighty wait for bags, then another almighty wait for taxis. I'm sorry, but both almighties are givens at Suvarnabhumi, where a wait for baggage usually exceeds the time it took for your just-completed internal flight from Nakhon Hideous. I would say the taxi driver's comment should be saved for 2010's Idiot Awards to be announced in this very column in December.
To get a true Melting Moment, we have to pay a visit to one of the local department stores: "After spending many years in the States I moved back to Bangkok and went to purchase a light bulb at a large department store. I told them if the light bulb did not fit I would have to return or exchange it and the sales staff said yes. 'Just bring it back within a few days.' Well, it did not fit so I took it back the next day. There was a different guy at the counter. He said 'no return, no exchange'. I told him that the other guy knew I would bring it back if it didn't fit, but he continued with 'no return, no exchange'.
"See that wall behind you?" I asked him. "Yes," he said.
"Since I can't exchange or return this light bulb, I'm now going to throw it against that wall. And you'll have to clean it up."
"He ran to get his supervisor and I was given my money back."
Why can't I think up such clever responses on the spot? The best thing about this story is that it's sent in by a Thai! Thank you, Pensri Weissman _ but again, I have to say this is not a Melting Moment.
Why? Because Pensri took control of the situation. She didn't stamp her flip-flops angrily against the peeling linoleum. She didn't rush down to Nana Plaza, order a cheap Leo then scream about her experience while losing a game of pick-up-sticks to a jaded bar girl with a sick mother, not to mention a dying buffalo, in aforesaid Nakhon Hideous.
A true Melting Moment renders you helpless in the face of overwhelming odds. Over to you, Malcolm: "I needed to buy a pick-up. In Korat my Thai girlfriend took me to look at a dealer and bought a Toyota Tiger. We then took the truck to what I thought was a testing station. My girlfriend spoke to a man at the weighbridge. The next thing we are back in the truck and heading to a garage, where some men removed the spare wheel and the tow bar. I asked my lady what was happening and she said the truck was too heavy. We went back to the station and the man passed it, then we went back to the garage, put the wheel back and the tow bar on.
"We drove back to Pattaya where we live. Later I discovered the pick-up was in my girlfriend's name, not mine. I told her I wanted the truck transferred into my name as soon as possible. She was not happy but she agreed, saying we'd have to go back to Korat to have it transferred into my name. By this stage I was just about ready to commit suicide or murder.
"We returned to Korat a few days later, went to the government office and were told we would have to go to the weighbridge again. I stood to one side while the man looked at it, and announced he would not pass the truck because it was too heavy.
"That's when I lost it. I informed him in a very loud voice what an idiot he was. He ignored me and told my girlfriend to take the truck away, remove the large wheels, put on the original wheels, and come back. I could not believe this was happening, but we did it. The man changed the wheels, charged me 2,000 baht, and we returned to the weighbridge.
"The official was having lunch; another official approached my girlfriend and said since I'd insulted the first guy, he would not pass the vehicle. And he didn't; he told my girlfriend to take the truck back to Pattaya and have it done there.
"We found the testing station in Chon Buri. We made the decision not to remove the wheels and see what happened. The official passed it with no trouble at all _ I felt like kissing him. This could only happen in Thailand, but it did teach me to keep my big mouth shut."
Definitely a Melting Moment; one man's fight against two Goliaths _ the bureaucratic system, and a Thai woman seeing her dreams of owning her very own pick-up shattered before her eyes.
But let's return to the shopping centre, where on any given day an expat is starting to melt in Aisle 3, like Becky McManus: "My daughter needed a new swimsuit, so I headed for Robinson Ratchadapisek. Most of the kidswear looked too small. A helpful Thai shop assistant with good English assured me this swimsuit would be the perfect fit. Still dubious I bought the swimsuit.
"It didn't fit, which meant a return trip to Robinsons, but not the one on Ratchadapisek. I was told, 'Solly Madam', I had to go back to Ratchadapisek. It was perhaps 10 days later when I finally made it back there and headed for the Customer Service department on the basement level. 'Solly Madam,' the assistant said and told me to go upstairs.
"I headed up to the first floor. 'Solly Madam', the assistant said, and pointed me upstairs again. Level 2 _ same thing. Was I unwittingly being filmed for some amusing TV show?
"On Level 3 it was 'Solly Madam' again as the sales girl points across the floor towards the original swim suit department. I take the swimsuit and receipt from the bag and wave them at the sales assistant, who is not the lady I bought it from but manages to convey that the women I need to see is not here at the moment but will be back at 11am. She arrived close to noon. She took the swimsuit and receipt, looked at them closely and informed me calmly that since it was over 10 days since I had bought the item I could only exchange it for something else. She could give me a voucher. To use elsewhere in the store? No, to be used to buy a swimsuit in that department.
"It was at this point I felt my meltdown descending. I truly felt like throwing myself on the floor and kicking my legs like a toddler, but in British fashion I did manage to maintain that stiff upper lip we are famous for and finally left with a swimsuit for my neighbour's best-friend's son!"
Finally, a big thank you to reader Lorrence Salter, who did not send me in a Melting Moment. Instead, Lorrence sent me a long-lost recipe for Melting Moments biscuits. Bless you, Lorrence! Comfort food for the weary expat, and an appropriate snack to welcome last week's Uncle Smirnoff on his daily noontime visit.