A Few Notes About Thailand

So we’ve been in Thailand for more than 2 weeks now. As expected, hot season is super hot and people speak a different language here and it’s a very different sort of place. As of 9:30 this evening it’s still 90F.

But for those who find this sort of thing interesting, I’ve been compiling a list of sorts of the particularly unusual, to me as a westerner, things I’ve discovered.

First, to understand how a lot of things work in Thailand just take yourself back about 15 years in terms of technology. For instance, you can get cash from ATMs every where, but you can’t pay with debit or credit at the check out counter in most places. Your receipt at the grocery store will print very slowly on an old school printer, the kind that has the tear away paper with the holes in it on the sides. Oh and a friend discovered you can’t buy alcohol except between 11-2 or after 5pm, unless you buy it in quantities larger than 10 liters. This is supposedly to keep people from drinking all afternoon instead of only at lunch and dinner. I hear it doesn’t work very well.

Also at the grocery store, which isn’t that much different price wise from the US, though some local things are way cheaper, and because it’s Chiang Mai you can get a ton of western items, they have these weighing counters at the meat and produce sections. So once you’ve selected your fruit you take it to the weighing station and they weigh it and put a little sticker on it with a bar code that says it’s price for the people at the check out. It’s basically like a deli counter, only for all of your fruits and vegetables, and another for your raw meat, which lies open in giant bins and you just put the cuts you want in plastic bags to be weighed. I’ve twice forgotten to weigh my produce before going to check out and had to turn around and go back to get it done. It’s a good job for any kids you take with you to the store though. Then you can keep shopping while they stand in line waiting for things to be weighed.

Here’s a really weird one. People park their cars behind the regular parking spaces in parking garages, which is perfectly legal, as long as they leave it in neutral with the parking brake off so their cars can be pushed aside when someone needs to leave their space. There are even garage attendants who push the cars around for people so they can get their own car out. I can’t even imagine anyone in the US being comfortable with leaving their car in the hands of someone else to push it around while they are gone.

You have to carry toilet paper with you in Thailand. In some places, they will have water beside the toilet for you to wash yourself with, often in the form of a little spray hose. It’s a country full of bidets. Other times there will be nothing at all in the bathroom but a toilet and a trash can. Unless there is a sign saying otherwise, the toilet paper has to go in the trash. But I have always wondered what women do about the wetness situation after using the water to wash themselves. Aaron tells me you just get wet, but that seemed unlikely. Since he’s a man, he would only need avail himself of the water part of the toilet routine once or twice a day. We women on the other hand, we know just how often we would be walking around very wet and uncomfortable if water was our only option. I figured that this could work in India, with the more traditional clothes, very low crotched pants, or skirts, etc, but the Thai women are very stylish, and wear pants and fitted clothes and I’ve never seen one of them walking out of the bathroom with a wet crotch. So I finally asked Prang how they managed that, and she told me they all carry toilet paper to dry themselves off with. Mystery solved! Also, every time one of the women living here goes out I see her stuff a roll of TP in her purse, and I’ve started doing the same. Sort of like camping, only not. 

Here in the middle of hot season it’s also burning season. People burn their fields to prepare them for the coming rainy season and new crops, and people also just burn wild fields, because that makes mushrooms grow and they go back in a few months and pick them. Add to that the exhaust from vehicles, and that Chiang Mai is in a valley, and the air quality is pretty poor. It smells like forest fire almost all the time. So people drive around with their faces covered. There are these nifty sun hats that have a bit that goes across your nose and down over your mouth and neck that everyone wears to keep from inhaling as much of the air. I’ve even seen people with cloths wrapped across their faces over respirators. So basically half the people you see outside look like terrorists. And you just get used to it.

Everyone is waiting for the rain, which will wash away all the smoke and make it so we can see the mountains and take away some of the heat. The Thai new year, Songkran, started yesterday. It’s basically a three day long country wide water fight. I think it has something to do with looking forward to the rainy season. But everyone gets everyone wet. Driving down the road there are people on the side with buckets and hoses and they will spray you down. This is awesome, especially when it’s so hot. Though I’ve been told that you never know where the water came from, and some people get sick. The kids loved it when they got wet in the back of the truck driving around.

You also see what look like gangs, roaming the streets, packed into the back of open pickup trucks, with giant barrels of water that they keep filling up water guns and buckets from to throw on people. Sometimes several trucks will just keep pulling up beside each other as they drive down the road, just for a chance to get each other wet again. It makes for interesting driving.

I went out by myself in a friend’s truck during Songkran, and watched the truck action as I went. It’s not that hard to drive here. As long as you can wrap your brain around the fact that you are on the wrong side of the road, you turn into what feels like it should be oncoming traffic, you are on the wrong side of the vehicle, and you are using the wrong hand to shift and operate the signal light. Once you get comfortable with all that, you just have to remember that lanes are more of a guideline than anything else, there are hundreds of people on motor scooters coming up on both sides of you, and that people stop and park in random places that you have to drive around all the time, and you have driving in Thailand figured out. I’m hoping to get my Thai driver’s license in a few weeks. So far, no one has died on any of my driving attempts. I’m planning to keep it that way.

Thailand has this interesting cultural phenomenon called lady boys. Basically, cross dressers. Guys who look like girls. I walked into the store beside 7/11 one day, because I thought it was the door to the 7/11, and realized quickly that all the young ladies dressed in the red polo shirts who tried to understand what I was asking for were not ladies at all. But their eyebrows were impeccably drawn. They even have their own polite designation. At the end of each sentence in Thai, to be polite, men say “krap” women say “kaa”, which is basically “yes”. And ladies boys? They say “ha-a” and it sounds exactly like you would imagine it would, if some gay guy in New York said “holla” with his hands in the air and ended it with girlfriend.

But the weirdest thing to get used to of all of them is the internet. You can get relatively fast internet connection here, but you get different pages. I guess I thought the internet was the same worldwide, except for places like China and the middle east, but it’s not. Google bumps me to their international products page, which is not the same as their products in the US, same with skype, and many other sites that I just thought would look the same here as they do back home. Of all the different things to adjust to, this, in the end, was the one that made me cry a few days ago in frustration, because it just doesn’t work the way you expect it to, and you just can’t see or do the same things from here as you can from the US. Which is telling I suppose. I guess I live more of my life online than I thought if the difference in website pages made me more upset than the difference in languages. It’s expectations I suppose. I thought that if I had wi fi, I would have everything I needed at my finger tips, and that’s not true, not for everything. So I don’t have a google voice number like I planned, because you have to set that up in the US and attach it to a US number. They don’t let you do it here.

But overall, it’s a way easier place to adjust to being in than some I could think of. For one thing, the food is amazing! My kids don’t always agree, and would prefer to just eat bread and peanut butter, especially BamBam, but it is amazing, trust me. So much yumminess. I’m trying to figure out what the ingredients are, especially the vegetables, so I can make more dishes. And like everyone else, I’m looking forward to the rain and the end of hot season. They say it’s coming soon. Until then, I’ll be sitting here under a fan, wiping my dripping face with the hanky I bought for just that purpose at the store today.

all content © Carrien Blue

7 thoughts on “A Few Notes About Thailand

  1. This was awesome. Please keep sharing these experiences. Hope it rains soon!

  2. Wow. I don't know how excited I'd be about being doused with water at random.

    In Germany, you weigh your own produce and the scale spits out a bar code sticker, so I'm familiar with that. The thought of driving in a turned-around car on the wrong side of the road with the motorscooters does make me hyperventilate a tiny bit though. I guess I'm not ready to move to Thailand. 😉

  3. Your description of internet in Thailand makes it sound easier, faster, and more user-friendly than internet in New Zealand. This means either I'm a wimp, it really is easier in Thailand, or most likely – both!

  4. I guess it's a sign of how long I've been here, that it's weird to me these things are weird to you. This is also why I don't take pictures as often as you think I should 😉

    What are grocery receipts like in the US now?

  5. Well, they have these things called laser printers now that print entire pages in seconds… 😉

    Grocery stores print receipts on those little white scrolls of paper. Just like they were doing when you left the US I think.

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