Is Efficiency The Best Model? Part 2

So, I may have found some answers to my wonderings about the stop sign disguised as a security guard. And, lucky for me I got to meet a really interesting neighbor too.

For the last few weeks, one of the neighbors in this fine hood of mine has been toiling the soil of one of the abandoned lots-turned jungle. You know, one of the lots that got me thinking our stop sign/security guy needs to maintain. I’ve been seeing this guy doing the Frog Squat (Another phenomenon I can’t wrap my head around) and hacking away at stray bushes, planting banana trees and basically working his ass off in the oppressive Bangkok heat. Not a “high-so” activity by any stretch of the imagination. I was curious about his plans for the vacant lot so I asked ” are those banana trees you are planting?” He mumbled back a “yes” that reflected a sense of pride and pain. I thought, maybe this is his family lot from long ago or maybe he works for the owner and resents the fact that he’s still working in his golden years.

So, I kept walking thinking that this was the end of the conversation, when I caught a sense of frustration in his expression. “Is this your land” I queried, to which he grinned and said, “no, that’s my house over there”, pointing to an immaculate mansion, typical of the muban. ” I am cleaning this lot because it is dirty and nobody seems to care”. I liked him instantly. Not only was he capable of the amazing Frog squat, where you sit flat footed with your knees up to your ears, but he had a edgy sensibility about him that rung true to my ears.

We chatted for a while and I learned that he lived in the US for 5 years, studying structural engineering and working in this field for a bit before moving back to Bangkok to run his own business for thirty years. He said he hadn’t spoken English in thirty years, which I found hard to believe considering that I understood everything he said. We discussed how insane it was that there could be vacant lots in this million dollar neighborhood and how that would never happen in the US.

“So” I said, “do you want to hear my opinion about the guards?” His grin encouraging me to go on. “They are basically just stop signs and should be trained to do what you are doing right now.” A wide, knowing smile, crossed his face. “That would be much more efficient wouldn’t it?” “Exactly!”, I exclaimed. Man, I love this guy. “So, what’s the deal?Why aren’t they paid to do something more useful? ” “Well,you see, these people that live here want to have someone salute them each day”. I replied, “So, you’re saying they are there to make these people feel special about themselves, which is more important than the quality of landscaping?” “Yes”, he said, “that’s exactly right”.

Man, I liked my theory about the guards being fortune tellers better. The thought of them being puppets for the “high-so” neighbors is a little sad. But, who am I to judge? It’s just one man’s opinion, although probably true, and they might just be growing on me. Nothing wrong with a friendly face greeting you each day, even if there are reasons lurking beneath the surface that don’t sit so nicely with my American upbringings. So goes the expat life.

norm and his tools



  1. Susie Jennings

    Interesting concept—and you present it in such a compelling way!


    • I just want the best for these guys:) I mean, who wants to stand around all day saluting people when you could be beautifying a neighborhood?

      Side note, bulldozers just came in today and cleared out the jungle lots. I feel bad for Norm, who put in so many hours with his hands. But maybe it was his efforts which forced the lot owners to finally clean up. It’ll be interesting to see what’s next for these lots.


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