Stickman Readers' Submissions October 8th, 2011

I’ve Got A List Part 4

I thoroughly enjoy almost every kind of Thai music, from the Mor Lam of Issan, to the pop music of Bangkok. My only exceptions would be the rap and head-banger varieties, and I hate those in English as well. There is something about the structure of the Thai language that makes every kind of music sound pleasant to my ear. I even enjoy the sugary sweet girly groups, although a steady diet of that might send me over the edge. I haven’t had the chance to attend many live concerts, but have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I’ve been to. I know that Carabao has actually performed in Lampang. Unfortunately I’ve never known about it beforehand. Every time I hear just the first few bars of Noom Bao Sao Parn, I instantly want to get to my feet and cheer. Now that’s music worth listening to! I hope to be in the audience next time.

The only thing I most definitely don’t like about Thai music is the volume level at which Thai people play it. It seems that they only use three control settings, extremely loud, even louder, and something suitable to usher in the Apocalypse. Maybe this is because when Somchai is grooving to the beat, he simply wants to “share” his good mood with everyone within several square kilometers. Naw, that doesn’t like my neighbor, Somchai. You may recall him from something I wrote called, Of Course You Know This Means War! This amusing little vignette goes to show that when you are dealing with a born and bred idiot, “making nice” Thai style won’t get you very far. Let me explain. Late one night Somchai had the volume cranked up so high that my fillings ached and my bedroom walls were beginning to crack. So, I grabbed a bottle of whisky as a peace offering went to politely him ask him to please turn his music down just a little. My God, you would have thought that I had pissed on a picture of his sainted mother. How dare I ask such a thing? Since that fateful night Somchai considers me his mortal enemy. My only consolation is that all the Thais in the neighborhood also consider him to be a flaming asshole.

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I don’t often get to a cinema to watch a movie. There is a theatre at the local Big C, but they only show Thai movies. My movie going experience has been limited to the Major Cineplex at Central Airport Mall in Chiang Mai. I would have to rate the theatres there as being superior to any I have ever been to back in the U.S. The seats are very comfortable. The sound systems are first rate. The prices are quite reasonable. The staff is friendly. The popcorn is always fresh. My only complaint is that even if the line snakes to Kingdom Come, they still allow customer to dither endlessly choosing specific seats. I’m as patient as Job…or nearly so, but when there are hundreds of people waiting to purchase a ticket, can’t they just let people seat themselves? I’ve yet to see a film at one of the IMAX theatres in Bangkok, but that’s definitely on my “to do someday” list.

I’m largely ambivalent about Thai TV. The only thing I think worth watching are the commercials, many of which are pretty clever. The acting on the soap operas is often unintentionally amusing. The one show of any quality is a historical drama imported from Korea. Unfortunately any subtlety is lost by the dubbing into Thai. My wife doesn’t seem to mind though and watches each and every episode. On a very positive note, my satellite TV bill has dropped from 1500 baht a month to just 300 baht since getting Dream Box installed.

On another positive note, internet service here has improved markedly over the past few years, while the price has gone down. When I first moved here, it cost me 1500 per month, and the download speed was pitiful. Currently I pay only 590 per month for over 6 MB/second. That ain’t too shabby, and I expect things will continue to improve.

It’s ironic that although 7 Eleven is an American institution, I never set foot in one until I moved to Thailand. Now I’m a big fan of “7” as the Thais call it. They are everywhere it seems. In Lampang there must be at least a couple dozen of them. Not only are they a convenient place to pick up a few necessities, like those Kit-Kats that you simply must have, but you can pay all your utility bills there. Somehow I’ve never been able to bring myself to eat one of those hot dogs spinning lazily in the front case, although I think they do sell a lot of them. The Slurpees always sound like an intriguing idea on a hot day, but then I think do I really want to put all that sugary slush into my body…and get a brain freeze in the bargain? Okay, I admit that on few…a very few occasions I’ve walked out of there with a small frozen Coke. Oh what the hell, I’m going to die of something, someday in any case! 7 Eleven does a good job training their staff. I’ve always received prompt, courteous service. As in the case of fast food workers, working at a convenience store is not considered to be something to be ashamed of.

For many years prior to moving to Thailand, I, like many Americans pumped my own gas. That would be petrol to the rest of you or benzene as the Thais refer to it. In Thailand there is no self service option. Here a uniformed attendant does all the pumping. As a matter of preference I always stop at a PTT station. By now, many of the locals know me and my silver Toyota Vigo, and so longer try to motion me over to the diesel pump. My fuel of choice is 91 Green. The first time I asked for fuel I referred to the number as Ninety-One. The gas jockey looked at me blankly. How was I to know that Thais call it Nine-One. Oh well live and learn. In case you are wondering, the Green means that it is gasohol. It's 3 – 5 baht cheaper per liter, and doesn’t seem to have done my engine any harm.

The crew at PTT always cleans my windshield, which is a nice gesture. Back in the days when Young Sawadee was growing up, it was standard for a gas attendant to check the oil. Does anyone anywhere in the world do that anymore?

PTT stations have a nifty air pump which allows you to set the desired pressure, and shuts off after that pressure is reached. I wish they had coin operated vacuum cleaners. I wonder if they there are any in Thailand? The larger Super Stations have a 7 eleven, which is convenient when traveling on the highway. The toilets there are relatively clean, and as a bonus have soap dispensers!

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One of the nice things about stopping a Thai gas station on a major highway is that there is always somewhere to eat. The food isn’t necessarily fancy, but I always manage to find something. You’re also likely to find someone selling fruit, or steamed sweet sticky rice with black beans in a bamboo tube.

As I said, the toilets here are usually relatively clean, but there are I’m afraid in the minority when it comes to public toilets in The Land of Smiles. The sad fact is that I’m rarely smiling using a public toilet here. I admit that I don’t much care for “squatters”, but in a pinch I can manage. That’s not what gets me frowning…or at least not scowling. It is the filthy conditions that raise my ire. To be honest, there is no lack of filthy restrooms in Farangland. I’m also sure that there are even worse ones in many other countries. However since I’m not writing a 300 page doctoral dissertation on “A Scientific Comparison of Hygienic Conditions of Public Restroom Facilities Worldwide” I’ll confine my remarks to what I’ve personally experienced here in Thailand.

I don’t think that there is a soap shortage here. I don’t think so. Every time I walk down the soap aisle at Big C, I see an astonishing variety of soap. So why is there any rarely any soap available at a public toilet? At my school there are big posters explaining the importance of hand washing. I’m sure that by government decree these are hanging on walls at every school in Thailand. The children depicted in these posters are always scrubbing there little hands with plenty of soap and water. You might think then that there would be plenty of soap available at these schools…but you would be wrong. There usually isn’t any. So from a tender age, children never get in the habit of properly washing their hands after using the toilet. Considering the method by which most Thais clean their butts, using their hands in lieu of toilet paper, I shudder to think of the fecal bacteria count on their hands when they exit the toilet s stall.

Okay, I’ll accept that using toilet paper, as opposed to sluicing your butt with water is a mere cultural preference. Personally though, I’ll stay with toilet paper, and I always carry a supply with me when going out, “just in case”. Still the question arises, now that you are wet, what are you supposed to do? If you aren’t using TP you either need to air dry, or pull up your drawers and walk away decidedly damp. That sounds like an excellent way to acquire a nasty rash. In any case, no matter how you cleanse yourself, washing your hands thoroughly with soap shouldn’t be optional.

One of my biggest pet peeves is paying for the “privilege” of using a disgustingly filthy toilet at a Thai bus or train station. What the hell are they doing with the money they are collecting? Obviously it’s not going toward keeping the place even vaguely clean.

Okay, let’s move out of the bog and into the sunshine and fresh air. Actually, the air quality can be a bit dicey in Lampang. Even though there is no heavy industry in the province, for a few times a year the air quality was some of the worst in Thailand. A large coal burning generating plant, coupled with some unusual meteorological conditions and the topological layout of the area, kept a pocket of foul, smoky air from dispersing. Schools handed out face masks to students and teachers alike, and many outdoor activities were canceled. People on the street were coughing and gagging everywhere you looked. Did this stop Somchai and his family from busily burning everything in sight? Ha, if anything it inspired them to new heights of incendiary fervor. Oh that Somchai! He always has the knack of making an intolerable situation worse. Eventually the meteorological conditions changed back to normal, the air cleared, and we went back to relatively clean air.

After six years I’ve finally gotten used to the weather, although I will say that the very hottest season still makes me run for the comfort of an air-conditioned room…although I certainly don’t miss shoveling snow. Like many of you. My first visit to Thailand was during the cool season, and like many of you I was “fooled into thinking that “Hey, it’s not so hot here”. My second visit, in the middle of April showed me what the weather’s like for a good part of the year. There is no escaping the fact that it is often hot and humid. If nothing else, this makes the cool season seem all that nicer. As I write this I’m glancing over at my wall calendar and counting the weeks until November. I’m looking forward to turning off the AC and opening the bedroom windows, and not breaking into a sweat at 6:00 AM! Right now we are still in the middle of the rainy season. I really don’t mind the rain. It cleans the air and keeps everything green and growing. It can and indeed does come down in buckets, so I’ve learned to keep umbrellas stashed in strategic locations, and a pair of rubber boots handy for when my school parking lot is six inches deep in water.

Bus travel is an easy and inexpensive way of getting around. The VIP buses are fairly comfortable, with plenty of leg room to stretch out and someone serving snacks. They do tend to sway a lot on the highway, which can make the short walk to the toilet seem a lot longer than it is. I’m always staggering, trying my best not to end up in someone’s lap. My hat is off to the bus attendant who has to negotiate her way down the aisle with a tray of cold drinks in her hand. Any of you out there who has had to use the toilet while the bus is barreling along knows that it takes the agility of a circus acrobat to use the damned thing. If I’m traveling at night, I always hope that the driver is wide awake. There are way too many bus accidents to give me complete confidence in Somchai’s driving ability.

I’m always amazed that when we stop in the middle of the night for a pit stop that Thais have no problem slurping down a bowl of noodles. The only thought on my mind when we stop is finding a place to pee. At my age, Old Sawadee’s bladder needs relief more often than when he was young.

One thing that I don’t much care for when arriving at Mor Chit bus station is being accosted by touts trying their best to get you into an un-metered taxi. I got suckered only the first time I got of the bus there. Now I simply pretend that I can’t hear a word they’re saying.

Mor Chit is a huge bus station. I’ve learned to find my way around there, but hardly ever have I found a place to sit, since it is always crowded. Once I made the serious mistake of traveling just before New Year’s Eve. I’ll never be that dumb again. The crush of humanity was so overwhelming that I actually began to fear for my safety.

I am ambivalent about Bangkok. Yes, there are things to see, many places to shop, and excellent restaurants to dine at, but I’m simply not all that comfortable there. It is noisy. It is dirty. It is often difficult just to make your way along the street without twisting an ankle. After two days there I’m definitely ready to head home. There is of course the nightlife, but to tell the truth most of the time I’d prefer simply to enjoy the company of a good friend like Stick over a delicious Indian dinner.

Ah good friends! That’s the best thing about living here. I consider myself to very fortunate in having some of the finest friends I could ever want. Obviously because of my limited ability to speak Thai my interactions with my Thai friends is limited, but there is genuine respect and good feelings towards each other. I enjoy getting together with my Farang friends over dinner to talk about what’s going on in our lives here. Most of my friends have families, so with all of us having Thai wives and children; we usually have a story or two to share with each other.

Without much effort I could probably blather on for umpteen more pages about all of my likes and dislikes, but by now you are probably bored to tears already. Suffice it to say that although there are some things which I loathe, on the whole there is still more here that I love.

I would be remiss in not mentioning, at least in passing that on an average day I see more attractive woman than I would see in a “month of Sundays” back in Farangland. That my friends, rates a big plus in the “I like” column!

Let me say once more…although I know that I’m still going to get some indignant e-mails, that everything I’ve talked about reflect my preferences. I hardly expect everyone to share these. Feel free to disagree with me. The fact that you are here at this website reading this probably means you share my fascination with all things Thai. Thailand can arouse every human emotion in us, but it certainly is rarely boring. I would be interested to hear what’s on your “little list”, so please feel free to write.

Stickman's thoughts:

That's a nice round up of things you like, and are less keen on.

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