We have a gardener at the villa. A Thai Muslim. Nice guy. Late thirties. Very respectful, lots of bowing, smiling and hands held together when greeting us. We, of course, reciprocate. But our language skills are non-existent and so all communication is limited to the gestures and the odd bottle of coke offered.
It is hot. Sal and I ‘dip’ in the pool maybe three or four times a day. He is often here to witness a dip or two. Sal wears a modest one-piece bathing suit. I wear a pair of boxers (two pairs on-the-go. One at a time) but, if the boxers are both wet and I need to ‘dip’, I simply go without. I spare him any embarrassment by making sure he is not around at such times and I make the exposure short (in case of neighbours) but when a man’s gotta dip, a man’s gotta dip and I am au naturel at least once a day.
The point: by Muslim standards, we are not modest, if not blatantly gross. In fact, by strict Muslim standards, we are immoral and maybe deserve a stone or two thrown our way. We are naughty beyond the pale. We are true infidels.
Our Muslim guy has to turn a blind eye, tho. The whole development (30 homes) is occupied by Europeans (one Canadian) and the vast majority of them are Scandanavians. Scandanavians, when old and wealthy, seem to pork up a bit and they, of course, invented nudity (but they managed to kill sexuality along the way so maybe it is a trade-off). So, our Muslim guy is visually assaulted at almost every turn. For him, this community is tantamount to daily sexual harassment.
He handles it well.
Our Muslim guy also wears a lot of clothes including a hat with a small towel sewn to it. The towel keeps the sun from directly hitting the back of his neck and also allows him to cover his face from time to time. Why? No idea. But, occasionally, I see him looking like the gardening bandit. Most of the time, tho, I can see his face. He wears long sleeve shirts, long pants and rubber boots all the live-long day. All in brutal-heat. 30+. I am melting and he is working in layers that I might adopt on a cold November day.
He works for approximately $12 – $15.00 a day (Tbht300-500).
I asked the ‘marm’ at the elephant park, after spotting a few hundred pineapples in tubs for the elephants, “J, I pay 35 bht for a pineapple in the supermarket, 20 bht for a pineapple at the market and, once, I paid15. Surely you guys can’t afford to pay at that rate for the elephants?”
“I pay 20 baht for three pineapples and consider that Farang pricing. Most of the pineapples for the elephants are free or very cheap.”
My guy raises a family on $12 – 15 a day. I spend that on dinner. My guy lives at 40C (he has to) and I am dying at anything over 25. My ‘marm’ does half the work the gardener does wearing black t-shirts in the same blazing sun but only two or three times a week. It seems I pay three times the rate that my more savvy marm pays but she pays at least double what my gardener pays.
The folks at poolside down at the Hua Hin Hilton pay easily five times what I pay.
Spending/earning discrepancies like that explain a lot about what I see in this tourist-oriented third world country. Thai society is basically a pleasant one despite huge social strata differences but part of that is ameliorated by strata pricing. The poor get less but they also pay less.
That is also true in Mexico but the discrepancies are less.
Minor aside #1 in the Scandia Soap Opera: The Finns are fighting. Seems there are Finns in the community and they are fighting about strata rules and procedures and policies and such. Seems the Finns are really, really ticked that there is not 100% rule compliance all the time and, after working themselves up a lather, have put their units on the market.
Maybe the gardener’s tolerance attitude could rub off on them…?
Minor aside #2: At one point with the ‘marm’, she told us of the Thai mental case next door to the elephant sanctuary. “Seems, he is not all there! Sometimes he wanders around his property not wearing a thing!” I shushed Sal before she said anything. Marm and I already had some issues.