Ello everyone! Hear my british accent there? We got outta class super early today, meaning… so much time for activities! However, being that my stomach has been an uppity pandejo the last couple days, the usual activities of beach/beer/sun aren’t as appealing as they usually are. (side note, I just picked up a 5 day cycle of antibiotics and charcol pills for ~$2.25). So now I’m sitting in Starbucks looking out over the street like a sweaty hipster. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t buy anything, but they have free air conditioning. Anyways, I wanted to write a bit about some Thai culture I’ve experienced so far.
During our first week orientation, our advisors did their best to warn us about a lot of the major differences. They did a good job, but hearing it and seeing it are different things. One of the stranger things they told us is that locals actually don’t place as high a value on life as we do in the West (their belief in reincarnation has a lot to do with it). Apparently, if you are driving a scooter and hit and kill somebody, there’s not gonna be any lawsuits. God forbid, if something terrible like that went down, standard procedure is to give the family a decent amount of money (like a few thousand USD) and call it a day. This was extremely weird to hear. But then seeing people driving here, it started to make a little sense. I know I’ve mentioned the entire families of 4 riding on one scooter and the fact that nobody wears helmets. I saw it in the city, but then it was way more apparent this weekend when we took our 3 hour scooter ride south. There would be 2 people on a scooter, neither wearing helmets, going about 50-60mph in the dark, down a road with crazy potholes. I also saw a dude just strolling down the far-left scooter lane munching on some fruit at like 8pm at night. Also, most of the roads here have massive dividers down the center with shrubbery and whatnot. So say that a local wants to go the opposite direction and are stuck on the wrong side by the divider, they’ll just drive the wrong side of the road until they can cut over.
Oh man one of the most subtle but wild ones… locals here are OBSESSED with plastic bags. Like seriously obsessed. They even give you a bag for your slurpees at 7/11. Rosa bought a single lighter last night and they put it in tiny bag for her. In the US they are starting to charge us for that shit. Not the case here. They taught us how to say “no bag” in Thai during our first week. I thought, “well that’s a weird thing to teach us.” Nope, it’s one of the most helpful things we’ve learned. They always look at me funny when I tell them I don’t want it. Don’t mind me, just saving the world one bag at a time over here. Plus they give you 2-3 straws with every drink you buy. “You have a 1.5 liter bottle? Here’s a 6 inch straw to help you out!”
Another interesting aspect of life here is employment. Apparently unlike western countries, once you are hired in a company, you have lifetime job security. They place an infinitely higher value on loyalty to the boss than they do job performance. Our advisor basically told us when we get to our schools that, yes, of course it’s important to be a good teacher, but it’s actually more important that the administration likes seeing you around every day. So pretty much if I show up to school on time, dressed properly, and smile freely, I’ll be an incredible success in their eyes. So that made my lack of teaching experience feel a little better.
Let’s take a second to talk about spoons. The utensil-norm here is a fork and a spoon, but the fork is really only there to push the food onto your spoon. I wish I would have known of this earlier. I’ve stained so many sets of shorts because I have no patience and rush my fork the short distance from my plate to my mouth and I end up dropping, on average, about 30% of whatever I’m trying to eat. This
Thai families are also incredibly matriarchal. We were told that in most cases, the female of the family is both the leader of the family and the breadwinner. Men have a shorter expected lifespan and many have drinking problems. We’ve seen this in action in front of our hotel. They are doing construction and building a new 7/11 and a vast majority of the construction workers are female. Our program director said that this is very normal and most of the employees are all likely related to the oldest female there. Family loyalty really takes precedence over everything in Thai society. If you are born into a family business, the rest of your life is pretty much decided. This can make teaching English challenging with some students as they may come from a family of farmers and will not need English to succeed in their adult life.
We were told an interesting story about our director who went to a Thai birthday party for a 10-year-old. Back home, we are used to birthdays being all about us. The birthday boy/girl picks the location, invites all of his/her friends, and gets presents from everybody. Our director said at this party, he insisted on bringing a gift despite his wife’s objections. When he arrived, instead of a bunch of other 10-year-olds running around, it was only the boy’s family and he was the only kid there. When it came time for the cake, instead of him getting the first piece like we would back home, the little boy took a piece of cake to each guest and thanked them for joining him on his birthday. After everyone else had been served, he shared the last piece of cake with his dad.
The political system is one of the biggest elements of life here. However, I’m not going to write about it because a) I’m not qualified to discuss their leadership, and b) I could literally go to jail for saying the wrong thing (look up Thailand’s Lese-majeste law). It’s extremely interesting though and worth reading about.
Short funny one. If you own a pick up truck, you essentially can transform yourself into a impromptu farang taxi. There was one night last week that we didn’t have to pay for transport to or from downtown either time. Both times a nice fellow in a truck let about 12 of us hop into the back of his truck and drove us 2 miles home. Neither car would accept money for the ride either. They were just nice. And it’s funny because back home, having one person riding in the truck bed would get you pulled over instantly. Here the police wave and smile at us.
A sad one? Stray dogs and cats. They are everywhere. It’s super sad because I want to pet and love up on all of them but they are all mangy and extremely unhealthy. However, the Thai word for cat is maaow. You know, the sound a cat makes. That makes me happy.
Another element of Thai culture that matches up with how I’ve lived my life to this point is that they are extremely non-confrontational. A Thai person will smile at you and tell you things are fine even if they are extremely upset. Being a sociology major has helped me with this so far because reading body language and non-verbal cues is essential for communication here. So pretty much if you smile all the time and don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers, you’ll do great here. This is pretty much the opposite of Western culture where we are very direct and like to “get things off our chest.” Not the case at all here. On the flip side, if you do cause a Thai person to lose their shit, things can get dangerous because they aren’t good at reeling their emotions back in.
Let’s see, what else. PDA is very frowned upon here. If a girl wants to kiss her boyfriend or husband in public, instead, they will lean in close and sniff his neck… Seriously, this is a thing. Apparently holding hands is about as scandalous as someone will get in the public eye. (random off-topic fact: was just next to the washing machine as it finished it’s cycle. Instead of a loud guttural buzzing, it played a nice little jingle. I like that). Alrighty folks, I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot but that’s it for now. Hope I could teach you a thing or two! Bald Eagle out.