Delightful Bangkok Service Encounters
Touchdown in Thailand again. Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok.
In the arrival area, I let a sales agent from the DTAC booth approach me. Yes, I do need a DTAC SIM card for my mobile phone. The sales agent plugs a SIM card into my cell phone, changes service notifications from Thai to English, activates the voice box and upon request tops up the credit to 1000 baht; so I don’t need to rub, decipher and hack in any 13-digit phone card numbers for a while. She also writes down for me how to check balance, how to best call and text to certain Asian and European countries.
The procedure takes about 65 seconds.
"Have a great holiday", the sales agent smiles upon goodbye.
I want to send a parcel with souvenirs to Europe. At the post office my wares get immediately packed into a cardbox that's cut manually to the ideal size. The packing takes about 115 seconds and is charged with 40 baht (1,13 USD).
I get the customs form and after completion, three counters are free for me. A young, smiling Thai man awaits me. He speaks perfect English. It's 1350 baht (38 USD) for 4,8 kilograms by sea mail.
This procedure takes about 35 seconds. It’s the post office on Soi Prasarnmit, Sukhumvit soi 23, almost opposite Soi Cowboy.
"Have a great day", the post man smiles upon goodbye.
In the Subway fast food franchise on Sukhumvit road near soi 33, I pay up-front to eat a bad sandwich. I walk a few steps to the Robin Hood pub and fight the bad sandwich taste with a bad tasting coffee. When I want to pay the bad coffee, I notice that my wallet is lost – it must be in Subway. It contains around 4000 baht.
With me, I still have my small bag with camera and mobile phone. I hand this bag including camera and mobile phone to the Robin Hood waitress as a deposit and tell her I will come back to pay in five minutes. The waitress agrees, but she lets my bag rest on the guest’s table, out in public. With some effort, I convince her to store my bag under the cashier’s counter.
I sprint back to Subway. They welcome me with my wallet, already sealed in a clear plastic bag and with a hand-written paper on top. The chief sandwich chef hands me the wallet and says “you check everything”. I want to drop 300 baht for the honest staff, but my wallet has only 100 baht and then some 1000 baht notes, so I only drop 100.
I sprint back to Robin Hood. I finally pay for the bad coffee and redeem my bag with camera and mobile phone.
“Next time, take good care na kha”, the waitress smiles upon goodbye.
Thai Music MP3s
At a pirate CD store in Bangkok’s Fortune Town IT mall, I tick off all the names from my Thai music shopping list. I am serviced by an elder gentleman, and I order the newest or the best of Siriporn, Fon, Pornsat, Poy Fai, Jintara, not to mention Carabao, Lohso, Thongchai, Big Ass, Body Slam, Endorphine and Modern Dog. With each new name, the vendor smiles more. After he found the requested music, he asks why I don’t try Cot, Sao Maad, Sunaree, Marijuana, Suntaraporn, Maitai Jaitawan, Phi Saderd and Takkaten Chonlada too? And right he is, so I order some more.
The CDs will now be made for me, so I have some time to wander around and look for an MP3 player.
When I return to the CD stall, a stack of CDs awaits me. Of course all inscription is in Thai only, so my vendor brings a fat pen and helps me to write down all the names onto the covers in roman script: Siriporn, Fon, Pornsat, Poy Fai, Jintara, Carabao, Lohso, Thongchai, Big Ass, Body Slam, Endorphine, Modern Dog, Cot, Sao Maad, Sunaree, Marijuana, Suntaraporn, Maitai Jaitawan, Phi Saderd and Takkaten Chonlada. The vendor clearly loves morlam style music and he smiles more with every morlam artist he pronounces for me.
Upon goodbye, the CD vendor gives me a generous, brotherly hug.
While my MP3 CDs are being made, I look around the Fortune Town stores for a new MP3 player. Obviously, the usual price for a simple 2 GB MP3 player is 1400 to 1600 baht.
Finally I see a nice player in a big department store within the rows of smaller stalls. My model is posted with 1298 baht. Just as needed, it has a belt clip and uses regular batteries. The price is ok, too. I discuss the pros and cons with the sales lady in my broken tourist Thai and finally agree to buy this model.
The sales lady guides me to the cashier lady. After a short exchange between the two, the cashier lady says “649 baht, sir”.
“649 baht”, I ask my sales lady?
“50 percent discount, sir”, says the sales lady.
At the Central Chitlom department store’s third floor I see nice shoes for 3500 baht. I also see many signs advertising ten or 20 percent discount on obviously everything.
“So I get 20 percent discount on these shoes”, I ask the sales lady?
“No, no discount on this brand!”
“Yes, but you can get VAT refund, you have to claim it on the sixth floor.”
So I buy the shoes at full price and wander to the sixth floor to get a paper for VAT refund. After some waiting at the counter I learn from the slick lady that the VAT refund scheme only works if you spend 5000 baht on one single day. But she says I could get a voucher for a 20 percent discount for my next buy.
“Okay, then I take that discount voucher.”
“You will get it in the 7th floor.”
After some more wandering I find the office on the 7th floor. After some paperwork they hand me a voucher for 20 percent discount.
I make it down to 4th floor and find a jeans for 800 baht that I’d like to buy with my discount voucher. I show the discount paper to a sales lady and ask if I can get the pants with the promised discount.
“No, you cannot use your voucher, because this item is already discounted.”
Motorcycle Taxi to Pratunam
Near Central Chitlom department store I ask a motorcycle taxi to take me to Pratunam market.
“Yes, Platinum”, he says, “no problem”.
Does that sound right? “Prrrratuuuunam”, I repeat my order to play it safe.
Motorcycle taxi driver: “Yes, sure, Platinum!”
Hans: “Prrrratuuunam, khrap?!”
Off we zoom, up Ratchadamri road. At the Phetchaburi road junction I point to the far right corner, where Pratunam market is located. The motorcycle driver ignores me completely and turns left (which is much easier for him), drives west past Panthip Plaza, suddenly stops and proudly points to the sign of a shopping complex I hadn’t known so far: “Platinum Fashion Mall”.
I hear that Carabao concerts are coming up in the provinces. Carabao is one of Thailand's best-known, major bands. I like them a lot. A Carabao concert would be the perfect reason for a two day upcountry trip to, say, Saraburi or Lopburi.
Carabao has many websites, but all in Thai only. I don't find a gig schedule in English. I discover a web page that seems to indicate concerts soon, but only in Thai script. I call the phone number from that web page, but only Thai is spoken. I get other numbers (I understand enough Thai to write down those numbers), I am promised to be called back by English speakers, I don't get called back, I am promised to get English gig schedules by e-mail, I never get the English gig schedules.
By chance I find out that Carabao actually play in Spice Club on Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road on March 9th and in the German Brewery on March 21st, that’s in Bangkok too. The dates are confirmed when I visit those venues and tickets are offered. But I don't like Spice Club, and the German Brewery doesn't fit into my travel schedule plus most tables are reserved already.
An English speaking Thai actually does call me back now and says he knows of no concerts – he also doesn't know of the two gigs in Bangkok I managed to locate.
I should ask the hotel receptionist for help. But that's a slick serviced apartment building with very formal, uniformed and thickly painted front clerks. Anyway I schlep the laptop to the front desk and open the Carabao page with the phone number:
I ask the least scary receptionist "Could you help me to book a Carabao ticket by telephone in Thai language"?
She almost laughs all the paint off her face and replies "Wow, Carabao! Will you take me with you"? – "Yes", I say! I give her my mobile phone with the Carabao number pre-dialled.
She talks for about ten minutes, repeatedly pointing at the laptop with her slim, manicured fingers and, as if sensing evidence there, she even keeps pointing at the cell phone. Meanwhile, more guests build up a queue for the only other receptionist. Only at the very end my receptionist says some sentences with a regretting tone and presses End Call.
She points at the web page which seems to contain concert dates: "That was *last year*", she laughs. And yes, the Thai Buddhist year "2551" is written in big, Arabic numerals on top of the web page. Even I should have noticed that this page was about 2008, one year ago.
"Thanks a lot", I smile and wander off.
Unfortunately, I didn't bring tip money. I zoom up to my pad, grab 100 baht, zoom back down to reception, fortunately she is free, I put 100 baht on her desk and say "thanks a lot, one coffee for you". She looks at the money a bit troubled, not smiling, and says "oh, no need, no need" and moves the banknote back into my direction. But I am already near the lifts, saying "thanks, just enjoy a good coffee".
I feel bad now as I return to my flat.
At Bangkok's old Don Muang airport, I check in for a domestic evening flight upcountry. I need a window seat on the left side to see sunset over Isaan. It's 90 minutes prior to departure, but at check-in the THAI clerk claims there is not one single window seat for me.
Very disappointed, I walk towards the gates with my boarding card for an aisle seat. I don’t like gangway seats under any circumstances. But anyway, funny to see old Don Muang again, after all those years… those well-known upcountry gates… those two-digit flight numbers (back then)…
At the gate for my flight, the desk is manned by exactly one THAI lady. Here I must try again! I stand close to the desk and watch her writing something hectically for two minutes. When she sees me, she flushes and says "Oh, sorry, sorry".
"No problem", I smile. I produce my boarding card with the aisle seat number: "I wanted a window seat so much, but at check-in they only had aisle seats. Do you still have a window seat on the left side? I would love to see sunset over Thailand."
From previous seat reservation sessions I know that the "sunset" argument creates soft feelings in otherwise hardened THAI agents.
The gate lady makes a worried face and says "probably no more window seat, sir".
Then she suddenly gets hectic, "wait, wait, wait, sir!" She shuffles a few papers and says, "here's a window seat, but only right side".
"Only right side?"
"Wait a moment, sir." She gets even more hectic. For full two minutes she juggles frantically with cell phone, desk phone, walkie-talkie and computer keyboard.
Finally all devices sink back to the desk. She relaxes. She smiles:
"So lucky, sir, just one window seat on the left still there for you."
31A. She writes the new seat number onto my boarding card.
Chuckle, chuckle. Service in Thailand can sometimes be very, very good and of course the opposite can be true too!