I thought I was going mad. I really thought I was going mad. Noise was
driving me crazy. I couldn’t get away from it. Everywhere I went it seemed
to follow me.
It all started on a spot off Nimmanhaemin Road more than
three years ago. I picked this lovely little Thai house tucked away behind a
row of shops. I told the lady who owned the house that I needed somewhere
very quiet; I told her I was a writer and that I couldn’t work if there
was any noise. I told her I was a bad sleeper and that I needed somewhere
very, very quiet.
She assured me the place was ‘sabai-sabai’, ‘ngieb-ngieb’,
that I wouldn’t hear a thing, that it was miles and miles from any open
air restaurant or bar.
“How about karaoke?” I asked her.
“What that thing?” she asked me.
The lady had never heard of karaoke and I felt a little
cheap for having suggested the likes might exist in this area. To make up
for my farang crudeness I pushed two months deposit and one month’s
rent into her hand.
She drove away in her Volvo.
I went to Tesco Lotus in a song-taew to buy sheets
and towels, pots and pans for my new abode.
A row of sheds was under construction back to back with
my new home but I took little notice of that. Beyond was open green space. I
was fresh from Irish pastures and still had dreams of things pastoral. The
‘sheds’ looked like outhouses. I thought they might be for buffaloes or
Within a month they had metamorphosed into ten karaoke
I couldn’t take it; I moved on.
I went down to Phuket.
I took a house, miles from nowhere. It was up a soi
so small I had to leave the car on the road and haul the sheets and pillows,
pots and pans by hand. I was taking no chances. There was nothing
nearby. That is if you didn’t count the tiny, tiny, tiny little hut
at the entrance to my tiny, tiny, tiny soi. I took it to be
security hut. It was so small I thought the security man could never sit
down – I thought the poor man had to stand all the time.
The day after I move in the hut started to grew. It grew
and grew until it became the most successful hip-hop bar in the whole
island. Its fame spread. They motorbiked to it from far and wide.
I drove away.
I tried Krabi. There, an ‘Outdoor-Entertainment’
opened up close to my inner ear. In Bangkok they started an all-night disco
so near to where I stayed, I sometimes thought it was in the room with me. I
tried Ayutthaya but they found me there, too. Just after I took up residence
a fanfare of trumpets announced the opening of the biggest food festival in
And through all these moves I wondered. I wondered was
there something wrong with me? Thai people showed no annoyance at the noise.
They seemed not to notice. Those I mentioned it didn’t understand what I
was talking about.
I moved back to Chiang Mai. I took the quietest room I
could find – but of course (you have guessed it) – it happened again.
I told a Thai friend about my problem – a friend I have
known for a long time – a friend who has known me for a long time. I asked
him to come around and witness what I had to put up with.
We were sitting having a drink when the racket started. I
pounced at the opportunity:
“Now you see! See! Listen to that! How could anyone
live with that?”
He was quiet for a short while. Then a little smile crept
across his face – he crossed his arms over his chest, closed his eyes and
swayed in time to the music. He didn’t say anything for a while. He left
his reaction soak into this resistant farang. Then ever so gently he
said, “It is really nice if you listen to it. Don’t be anti it.
He swayed over and back.
“Nice isn’t it?”
“Twasn’t bad. Not nearly as bad as it was when I
I didn’t tell him the miracle he had worked. I grunted
disapprovingly and poured another drink. I pretended I still hated it –
that it was intolerable and that everyone out there in those bars making
music was out to get me.
Inside I knew the spell was broken. The real offender had
not been the noise; nobody had been out to get me. I had resisted too much
and too hard. My friend had taught me another lovely Thai lesson: ‘Don’t
resist; accept – relax.’
Now, sometimes, I find myself opening the windows to let
the music in.