Tales From Korat
I’ve been living here in Korat now for about four years. I can say that it truly has been an eye opening experience for me. I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience the Thai culture as well as be exposed to a lot of the Thai craziness that surrounds my world every day. Below, are a collection of short stories that I’ve compiled since I’ve been living here.
Thais are brutally blunt
I work at a local language school and from time to time, I am asked a lot of personal questions by some of the students. Most of these questions usually occur on the first day of class at the beginning of a new term. Some of the questions I get range from:
“How old are you?”
“Are you married?”
“What do you think of Taksin Shinawatra / George Bush?”
“Where do you live?”
“What’s your phone number?”
“What’s your salary?”
Many times, I ask myself, would they ask another Thai, especially one from the upper echelon, these kinds of questions? The answer is, certainly not. So, why do they think it’s ok to ask me these kinds of questions? Believe me, they know that when you first meet someone, you don’t ask these kinds of questions. Even after, I explain to them that it is not considered polite to talk about these topics, they still do it. One of my older students, let’s call her Nid, approached me today and said she had a question that she wanted to ask me about myself, but that is was VERY impolite and if she could ask me the question. I calmly asked her if she would ask her father or her boss the question. She said certainly not. I then asked her why she felt it would be ok to ask me the question. All I got was a blank look on her face. She got the message and walked away. Now, Nid is around 42-45 years old and runs a small grocery shop in her neighborhood. She does not come from the upper class segment of Thai society. I often wonder why Thais think it’s ok to ask foreigners these kinds of questions.
The Thai hit and run ambulance driver
My girlfriend works at a local hospital here in Korat. Sometimes during the week I will meet her for lunch at Condom And Cabbages which is usually never crowded and not far from the hospital. I often enjoy the crazy stories and gossip she shares from time to time. One of my favorites is the one about the hit and run ambulance driver. Well, the story goes like this. One of her hospital’s ambulances needed repairing and routine maintenance, so the driver was sent to the contracted shop to complete the work. When completed, the driver took his regular route back to the hospital. About a kilometer away from the hospital, the ambulance hit a pedestrian. What did the driver do? He did nothing. He made it out of there as fast as he could leaving not only the poor pedestrian there on the road, but in plain view of several onlookers who managed to notice the license of the ambulance and also the name of the hospital on the side of the ambulance. Now what perplexes me about this story is the fact that this guy was an ambulance driver. His first thought was to run and avoid responsibility. The funny part of the story was that the guy he hit was brought to his hospital for treatment. Word had got out and everyone knew what had happened. Needless to say, he was fired the following day. As far as the man he hit, well, he was treated and released with no major injuries.
Thai ambulance drivers revisited
This story is one of my favorites. This time, my girlfriend and I were having lunch at MK. This is the restaurant that serves sukiyaki style food that you cook in a wok at your table. It’s quite good and very tasty. We ordered the usual set along with the roasted duck and green noodles. “Did I ever tell you about the three accidents with the ambulance?” she says to me.
“No, honey. What happened?”
The story goes like this: One of the ambulances from her hospital was sent to Pak Thong Chai to transport a patient back to her hospital. This takes around one hour round trip. So, the ambulance driver picks up the patient and starts heading back to the hospital. While passing through an intersection he hits another car damaging the ambulance in the process. The ambulance can no longer transport the patient to the hospital, but since the other ambulances from the hospital are too busy cleaning up the daily road carnage, they have to call an ambulance from hospital B to come take the patient to the intended hospital A. After 20 minutes roll by, the ambulance from hospital B shows up to take the patient to hospital A. The driver from hospital B’s ambulance assumes that the patient is late and needs to get there quickly, so off he goes tearing down the road. Guess what? He too gets in an accident, but this accident is serious and involves a motorcycle with a mother and two children. Uh oh. The police show up and it’s going to be a while before this driver can go on his way. What now? You guessed it, ANOTHER ambulance is called, this one from hospital C, which is located across from Big C here in Korat. He shows up and the patient gets to hospital A unscathed. When my girlfriend first told me this story, I thought she was joking. I can assure you it is entirely true. What are the odds of this happening? I guess they must be pretty high here in Thailand.
The Thai manager with a Mia Noi
You’re looking at the title of this and I bet you’re thinking to yourself, “How many Thai men in manager type positions don’t have a Mia Noi?” I love meeting my girlfriend for lunch, because she often has some amusing stories to tell me about life at her hospital. I swear, someone should make a soap opera based on the events and happenings at her hospital. My girlfriend has told me many times about a certain manager at the hospital who is married with two children, but has a young Mia Noi who also works under him at the hospital. For many months, this manager had been giving his Mia Noi special treatment and privileges which were not taken lightly by the other employees in the department. Eventually, one of the girls in the department got fed up with this guy and decided to resign from the hospital. On her last day, she decides she’s going to get even with him so she decides to write a letter about him that explains how he has a Mia Noi, wife, blah blah blah. Well, she in fact does this and distributes it to many people in the hospital. The letter is even posted in the elevators. Word gets out and everyone manages to get a copy of this letter. It’s the hottest thing since the Nong Nat video!
According to this disgruntled employee, not only does she point out that this man has a wife with two kids and a Mia Noi, but that the Mia Noi in the hospital has a child from him as well! Everyone’s name is mentioned in the letter. Talk about loss of face. I found this shocking and amusing at the same time. I can’t imagine what this guy must be going through. Causing a Thai to lose major face like this can be very dangerous and can result in retaliation with consequences that are often fatal. Thais just love to gossip and my girlfriend is no different. Here in Korat, Thais have this secret network. As a foreigner I can’t go anywhere or do anything without the entire Thai community knowing about it. I often have students approach me and say to me, “I know where you went last night!” “I saw you with kik at Bule Saloon!”
“Hey smartass, that’s my girlfriend, not my kik.” This conversation routinely takes place a few times a month. This is another reason why foreigners need to really be careful about what they do and where they go in their free time. It’s all about perception. Even if what you think you’re doing is innocent, Thais may perceive it completely different and that can cost you your job. The bottom line is, here in Korat or any Thai city for that matter, if you are going to partake in any naughtiness, you have to do it the Thai way. Be discreet about it like they are!
One of my favorite pastimes here in Thailand is snapping photographs of Thais on motorcycles doing outrageous things. I often get some great photos of the Thai road rules and some of the things I’ve seen have simply left me bewildered. One day I was on my way to work when I came across this guy riding down the middle of Mittapap Road here in Korat.
I’ve seen some pretty crazy drivers here in Korat, but this one takes the cake. Take a look at how close that pole he’s carrying is to the high voltage wires above. Up ahead, this guy stops at the intersection, right next to a cop who is also on a motorbike. My first thoughts were that he was going to get pulled over or something. Wrong. The two started to engage in what appeared to be casual conversation. When the light turned green they both laughed and went on their way like nothing unusual was going on.
I’ve started to collect photos like these and have started saving them on my PC. I’ve managed to acquire quite a nice collection of photos. I often send some of them to my family and friends back in the states where they always get a kick out of them and a good laugh. My Thai girlfriend on the other hand doesn’t take too lightly of me doing this. Why? Well, it’s actually pretty simple but I had no idea the REAL reason why she didn’t want me taking photos or Thais doing stupid things. At first I used to think that it was because in her eyes, I was looking down on Thai people as a whole, but that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t until a week or so ago when I snapped this photo while we were on our way to a restaurant.
Take a look closely and you’ll see that the woman is holding her child off the side of the motorcycle. Upon snapping this picture, my girlfriend absolutely flipped. She said to me in a very loud voice, “HEY! WHY YOU TAKE PICTURE? YOU CANNOT DO THAT, YOU KNOW?”
So I asked her, “Why not?”
She replies, “NO GOOD! SAME YOU LOOK DOWN THAI PEOPLE!”
“Bullshit!” I reply. Well, at first I think this is the reason why she doesn’t want me taking photos of Thais doing stupid things, but I suspect there’s something more to it. Why would she even care about these complete strangers to begin with? I even asked her and she didn’t answer me. I then asked her if we had a child, would she do the same thing. She told me no, but that it was ok for them because they don’t have enough money to buy a car. Oh bullshit! I asked her if she thought it was ok to compromise the life of an infant because one doesn’t have money. After I said that to her, there was this long pause. She knew I was right and she knew these people were reckless. I also know that if we had a child, she’d never do anything like that to compromise the safety of him / her. So why was she so pissed off about me snapping a photograph of this idiotic Thai family?
After a few minutes go by, the truth is finally revealed to me. She blurts out to me, “You know, when I was young girl, my father used to take me on his motorcycle same same because he doesn’t have money, you know!!!??” I wanted to tell her that her father was an idiot too for doing that, but I didn’t. I realized that by taking this photo and commenting about this Thai family, I was actually looking down on her father, or at least that’s how she saw it. That was the real reason for her anger. By taking this photo and laughing and commenting about how idiotic these people were, I was actually doing the same to her father, who unfortunately was very poor when he raised her and her sisters. <This is an interesting point that could help explain why Thais often get annoyed when we comment about the behaviour of other Thais – it probably applied to them too at some point in time – Stick>
Many people might wonder why Thais drive the way they do and act the way they do when they get behind the wheel of a car or motorcycle. The answer is quite simple. Thais are trained at a very young age, usually infant, that this is the way driving cars and riding motorcycles is done in Thailand. For example, take a look at this guy.
At a very early age, children are taking in information, they are observing, learning, and watching everything people do, especially their parents, who are supposed to be their role models. Now, this is source of the problem. It is ingrained in Thai youths at a very early age that this sort of reckless behavior is acceptable. The children in the picture are going to grow up and probably do the same thing with their own children, if they even live long enough to even have any children. It’s a vicious cycle that gets passed on from generation to generation and there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. If someone gets killed, they just blame it on bad luck.
As my fellow colleague has often said to me, “You can’t change 400 years of history.”
More short stories to follow…..
Looking forward to the next batch of tales from Korat already!