You Know You’ve Been In Thailand Too Long When…
Let’s face it. I’m not the only long-term resident here in the Land of Smiles, and while I won’t be the first to admit it, the local customs and culture do have a way of creeping into your life in ways that you don’t expect.
It does not affect all of us to the same extent, or the same way, either. You either love it or hate it. Either way, if you’re still here, you’ve probably come to terms with it. I have. It’s called Que Sera Sera. What will
be, will be. Here are a few short stories that will either have you smiling, or tearing the hair out of your head. It helps if you’ve been here a while. Enjoy.
I first saw an elephant when I was probably five or six. They were part of a travelling circus; we got to buy bananas and feed them after the show. Boy, did they look big then! Oddly, the other thing I remember about the circus, and, I guess, the elephants, was the smell of exotic manure and turds larger than a football.
By the time I was bringing my kids to the Safari World in Bangkok, the elephant show was no longer something exotic, nor was the sight of one in the street an alien concept. There seemed to be one or two perpetually patrolling the nightlife areas in Sukhumvit, and though the authorities have tried preventing them from entering Bangkok, it’s a losing battle.
So it came as little surprise, then, that one day I find my dogs barking their head off at something passing in the soi. An elephant. The mahout spots me and stops. ‘Feed the elephant?’ I shake my head, but go out anyway. There is a reason for this.
A few years ago, my wife’s sister got married and we had the ceremony at our house. As part of the custom, a stalk of sugar cane is planted in the compound as a symbol of fertility. Or so I am told. They had planted this sugar cane in the vacant land across from my house, and it had proliferated.
I was just going out to tell the mahout’s helper that it was okay to cut some of it for the elephant before he cut down the lot. And no, I didn’t want to buy any from him to feed the elephant either.
If you’ve been here as long as I have, you will realise that visiting the temples is not a tourist thing any more but one of social obligation. A lot of Thai life revolves around the temple, the main events being ordination ceremonies and funerals. In fact, having a son ordained as a monk is considered a rite of passage; it is even considered more important than marriage. Some parties insist the male party must have completed this before allowing their daughters to get married, as the joke goes that if the guy decides he doesn’t like his wife any more and decides to get ordained, he may just decide to stay ordained.
Temple fairs and ‘Tam-boon’ (merit-making) ceremonies are also popular venues.
You may find, in retrospect, that you will probably have spent more times in a Thai temple than you would have been to Church in your own country. <Thai temples are so much nicer than Western churches, in terms of atmosphere and general feeling – Stick>
While a lot has been said on what appears to be chaos on the roads, once you’ve been here a while you realise there’s a method to the madness. Contributing factors to this are the one-way system implemented in many parts of Bangkok and some other major towns; U-turns spaced several kilometres apart on major roads and divided highways also have not helped. It is common logic that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Now the average local, if faced with a choice of going several kilometres to the correct u-turn and back to get to his destination, or two hundred meters against the flow of traffic, which logic do you think is going to appeal more? What he does do, however, is let you know he is there by either turning on his lights or flashing his headlights. He has seen you, and wants you to see him. That way you can avoid each other. Once you realise that, it’s not as mad as it seems, and it doesn’t annoy you as much, so you don’t notice them as much any more. Avoidance has now become a reflex action…
That does not mean that you have to follow suit and drive the wrong way down the road, though.
I don’t have any real beef with them, though one or two of my colleagues think of them as having questionable dressing habits, questionable hygiene and quite possibly, questionable funds. I don’t frequent Khao Sarn Road, and as I apply the same principles of observation when walking on the sidewalks of Bangkok that I do when driving, I don’t notice them.
The one thing that does get my beef, though, is what can be perceived as a total lack of sensitivity to the cultures that they pass through, though ignorance would be a close second. A farang friend, who’s also been here a while and married to a local, related this story.
He was just recently at Swampypoom with his wife and a group of Buddhist monks and novitiates, preparing for a pilgrimage to a neighbouring country. Out of the blue, two female backpackers approach. One whips out a camera, and the other, without even asking, stands between two saffron-clad monks, puts her arms round both their shoulders, and poses so her friend could take a picture. They disappear just as quickly, leaving the group, and my friend, absolutely speechless.
To understand the implications of this action, you need to understand that any monk is not allowed to touch a female, and vice versa. If a female wishes to give an offering to a monk, she has to place it on a special cloth he lays out in front of him. In other words, the touch of a female is sacrilege to a monk.
The girls were probably quite lucky in that they disappeared into the crowd that quickly, as things like this are not tolerated. I also wonder what will happen to them if they decide to print their pictures locally as something like this will very easily get them reported and land them on the deportation list of undesirables.
My friend’s words to me were on the lines of ‘I feel embarrassed for my own country people’. I agreed.
Panthip Plaza and other IT venues
It is without a doubt that a lot of pirated software is available here, and many an afternoon is spent browsing all the latest in computers and hardware too. One of the other things that is on offer are adult movies on CD. The touts are on almost every corner. ‘Hey, farang, you like see movie? Only two hundred baht.’ ‘Hah. You crazy?’ ‘Okay, okay. One hundred baht. Only for you.’ No, mai ow, khorb kun. No thanks. ‘Okay. Three for two hundred.’’ Ha ha, tonight I go Patpong. Beer one hundred baht, many lady.’ He smiles. Then I ask, ‘Where can I get Udom CDs?’ (Udom is a well-known local stand-up comedian with an extremely large nose. If you understand Thai, he is extremely funny.) He laughs and points me in the correct direction.
I’m sure there are other nationalities also resident here for a long time, and they will also have stories to tell of how the local culture has affected them. I’m hoping to see more come out with their views.
The "You know you've been in Thailand too long" stories are always amusing and I too hope we get a few more contributions similar to this.
The one aspect of life I personally struggle to get used to is some of what happens on the roads. People's lives are at risk – and often lost – because some really small-minded decisions are made. I have to admit that my blood still boils at some of the things I see on the roads here.