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The Expat’s Thailand Survival Guide – Chapter 2

  • Written by Marc Holt
  • April 6th, 2007
  • 9 min read


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Why Thai Women Cut Their Hair Short

Have you ever wondered why some Thai women cut off all those beautiful tresses? Of course, fashion does account for the short hair in some cases, but a surprising number are a social protest instead.

She has a fight with her husband or boyfriend; they split up, and out come the shears. Often, she will cut it off in a fit of rage or depression, but sometimes she will take a conscious decision. No matter why, short hair is a signal that perhaps the poor girl’s mind may be in turmoil when you meet her for the first time. Beware!

Who Cuts your Nails?

Ever been into a bar and the girl who sits down with you takes your hand at some stage and examines your nails? She is looking to see how well groomed they are.

If they are well cut, she will guess that you have a woman already who looks after you. At that, she will start to ply you with questions to find out if she is right. Of course, she will still bonk you stupid if you offer to pay her, but she will be aware that you belong to someone else.

If your nails are poorly maintained, then she knows that you are probably single and available. Hold on to your wallet! She’ll latch on to you and be very hard to dislodge if she has taken a liking to you.

Time to Sleep

We’ve all seen this one. If a Thai has to sit still for any longer than a few minutes, odds are, they will drop off to sleep. You have to admire them. I’ve seen Thais sleep in the most amazing places. Once, a semi-trailer rig flashed past me on Sukhumvit road doing at least 80km/h while towing 60-foot long construction pilings. Perched atop the pilings were two Thai men fast asleep. They weren’t the least bit fazed by the rocking rig, or by the high speed they were traveling at. They just snoozed off until they got to their destination.

At some intersections you can see green painted 2-inch pipes fencing off the corner to stop pedestrians rushing across the road. I’ve seen more than one Thai balanced precariously on a pipe, snoring peacefully, dead to the world.

But the funniest sight was one obviously very drunk Thai chap who had sat down to use the telephone in the hallway of my apartment building one night. Somehow, he had managed to wrap the curly telephone lead around himself several times, and then dropped off in the process. Despite this he was still clutching his beer bottle fiercely.

Backing in to Park

Considering Thai drivers will squeeze their cars into any available space while driving, it never ceases to amaze me that they just can’t back into a parking space neatly the first time.

Watch them the next time you go to Tesco. They will stop just past an empty parking space. Wait for a moment or two while they screw up their courage. Then they will slowly start backing up. They are often accompanied by the useless whistles of a security guard. All the while, the drivers are watching the rear vision mirrors while facing forward to try and gauge how much space they have to back into. They almost never guess right, and they never look back to see where they are going. They get the back of the car a little way into the space and stop. Even though they may have plenty of room either side to continue the maneuver, they will go forward, and then try again. I have seen some drivers repeat this up to seven times before they are parked! It’s amazing.

When I went for my license recently I backed in between two poles spaced just wide enough to admit my car in just one go. The examiners sitting at the table actually got up and came over to congratulate me! I doubt they had ever seen a Thai do it in one go.

Thai Walk

Thais walk all over the place. To us Westerners used to going from point A to B in a straight line, walking in Thailand can be extremely frustrating. Thais meander. They dawdle, they dither, they stop suddenly, and then they walk blindly to a point in space that only they can see, completely ignoring other people around them. They are completely oblivious.

What is especially frustrating is their propensity to walk towards you and then deliberately cut across in front just before they reach you. Why they do this is a complete mystery. I doubt even they are aware they do it, until of course a great lumbering brute of a farung crashes right into them, instead of moving out of the way of their unexpected attack.

Catch that Waiter without any Peripheral Vision

Have you ever tried to catch the eye of a waiter? Even if they are walking straight towards you they will not notice you waving your hand in the air. What is amazing is that they will usually do this at the precise time you want to ask for the cheque. You would think they would keep an eagle eye out for the money wouldn’t you?

Thais don’t seem to have any peripheral vision. Have you ever watched a motorcyclist come out of a side road? They don’t look. They just charge straight out, even if there is a huge truck bearing down on them. No wonder so many die. But at least they die unaware.

Nor do they have any spatial awareness. They will try to squeeze into the most inappropriate spaces just because they see a gap. Whether they are walking or driving, they will go for a space just because it is there. The results are often hilarious as they come to grief.

Mobile Phones, Cars, Dress, and Status

All of these are status symbols to Thais, not something practical that they actually need. The mobile phone is meant to impress others with how important they are. It would be interesting to see the call figures to see what percentage of women make calls compared to men. You can bet the ratio is about 90/10%, for sure.

Cars are another status symbol that Thais will do almost anything for. The car is not for transport. They could be living in a wooden hovel in Khlong Toey slum, but an impressive car is a must. They will hock themselves to the hilt just so that they can show off their shiny status symbol.

Have you ever wondered why there are more cars on the road around the end and beginning of the month, or at mid-month? Those are the only times they have enough money to actually afford to drive their precious status symbol on the road. The rest of the time it is parked at their house where they will lovingly polish it, but hardly ever take it out for a spin.

We have a saying in the West that the clothes make the man. The Thais have taken this to its obvious extremity. They judge each other by how well and how expensively they are dressed. My wife is just as guilty as anyone else in this. No matter how full her wardrobe is, she simply can’t walk past a piece of stylish clothing that takes her eye.

Clothes define who and what you are in Thailand. No matter how poor you are, if you sport a snazzy, expensive watch, wear name brand shirt and trousers or skirt, and tote a name brand bag, you must be someone, right? It doesn’t matter if they are all fakes. As long as they look new and expensive. That’s why the fake market here is so big.

Three Circles

Go to any Thai’s house and you will be amazed at how clean it is. Everything will be in its place, the floors will gleam, the furniture will be spotless. Yet, look outside and you are likely to see a street littered with garbage, poorly maintained roads and non-existent footpaths.

Thai society is built on 3 circles. The inner circle is the family. This is the most important circle and anyone in it will be responsible for the others in the circle. People in this circle help each other, look after each other, and ensure their personal space is always neat and presentable.

The second circle consists of friends, business associates, and people they interact with often, but who are not family. Thais will be super polite to each other in this circle. They often go out of their way to perform favors for each other so that they build up a store of good will they can call on in future. The interactions between people in the second circle help to make Thai society function smoothly and get things done. However, things may not always get done for the right reasons. This leads to cronyism, corruption and so on. But it can also lead to very close relationships that build a strong social structure.

The third circle is everyone and everything else. No Thai feels they have any responsibility for anything in the third circle. This is why the street outside their immaculately clean home might build up a large pile of refuse. No one will think to move it, or to complain. It is none of their business.

Yet it’s not always this way. I live in a street where our neighbors are very friendly and sociable. So most of the houses also have well-kept flower and tree plantings outside their walls. The street is kept clean and they look out for the kids playing in the street. Although technically our neighbors are in the third circle, we have built a camaraderie that borders on the second circle relationship instead. They even wander in and out of each other’s houses at times. It was a little disconcerting at first, but then I realized that it was very comforting that they feel so easy with us.

Despite this, my next-door neighbor is a Chinese-Thai gent. We have lived here for almost eight years, and I only spoke to him for the first time at our latest New Year’s Eve party. That was when I found out he speaks very good English! He lived in the USA for six years where he ran a Thai restaurant. Yet, before we spoke he had always walked or cycled past me without ever making eye contact. Even now, we hardly communicate. But as I pointed out to another neighbor at my daughter’s birthday party the other night, we never have any friction between the neighbors. Everyone accepts each other for what they are.

Living in Thailand is always an interesting series of discoveries. You just never know what you are going to learn from one day to the next. The longer you are here, the more surprises you discover!

Stickman's thoughts:

The last paragraph sums things up perfectly!