We’ve been in Thailand for 110 days now and are 10% of the way through my three-year commitment. The following are some observations about this country.
For some reasons, Thais love this color. It is not just the taxis (see headline picture above and text below) — I’ve seen plenty of guys around here riding pink motorcycles, although I don’t think that any of these bikes are Harleys. I also see guys with pink cellphones, flip-flops, and shirts. I am not there yet and not sure that I ever will be.
Thais are big believers in luck and every day has a lucky color associated with it. If you were born on Tuesday, pink is your color. I was born on a Friday, and blue is indeed my color. In case you don’t know your lucky color (or you want to validate that you have the right one) here you go:
Sunday → Red
Monday → Yellow
Tuesday → Pink
Wednesday → Green
Thursday → Orange
Friday → Blue
Saturday → Purple
By the way, if you are curious what day of the week you were born on (I know that you were there, but your memory of the day might not be too good), go to http://www.mathsisfun.com/games/dayofweek.html, enter the date, and it will give you the answer.
Thais are pretty monochromatic when it comes to their cars. It seems that every privately owned vehicle is either white, silver, grey, or black. Thank God that there are taxis and tuk-tuks because they add the color to the landscape. Taxis are brightly painted — pink is probably the #1 color, followed by yellow, orange, baby blue, and two-tone ones — yellow and green, red and blue, orange and yellow, etc. Tuk-tuks are downright garish with bright colors, flags, and lights.
Taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and they are quite inexpensive to use — as long as the meter is running. Many taxi drivers try to get you to agree on a fixed price, usually with the excuse that traffic is heavy this time of day, however it really doesn’t matter what time of day it is. we’ve found that you just need to say “meter” a couple of times and most drivers will turn it on. Metered fares are very low — 35 baht (about $1) for the first 2 KM and then 5 baht (about 17 cents) for each additional KM, and this is why the drivers would rather negotiate, particularly with the farang (foreigner.)
Traffic lights are often very long — a 90 to 120 second red light is not uncommon. To keep drivers informed, many signals display a countdown timer showing how many seconds until the light changes color. On many roads, there are also display maps of major cross streets and parallel roads that show the traffic conditions — green if traffic is moving smoothly and red if it is not. These displays help drivers find alternative routes and avoid congested roads. On those days when the entire map is in red, it can take an hour to go two kilometers. On these days, it can be faster to simply get out of the car and walk.
When we arrived in March, Thailand was in its summer. Throughout March and April, temperatures were regularly in the very high 90s and low 100s. There were few clouds in the sky and the sun just beat down relentlessly. I was concerned about hot it was going to be when we moved into what I have always known as the summer months (or summer weeks for my friends in Buffalo!)
In May, however, temperatures began to cool and we are now in the Rainy Season. While it doesn’t rain all the time (this is not the Pacific Northwest), it pretty much rains every day. Fortunately, most of the rain seems to come late at night and it is generally over by the time I head off to work. There may be an occasional shower during the day, but it never seems to last very long. The Rainy Season, however, does mean that the sky is cloudy more often than not, and this keeps the temperatures down. While it is far from cold, the temperatures are typically in the mid-to-high 80s and only rarely gets over 90, and the humidity is not bad at all. Indeed, right now this weather looks a lot nicer than what my friends in Texas are currently suffering through.
Thais simply love to eat. When you go out to a Thai restaurant, meals seem to go on for at least a couple of hours with plate after plate brought out from the kitchen. Since everything gets shared, you never get (or take) very much of anything (with the exception of rice.) Plates arrive as they are ready, so you often have no idea if you are done or if more dishes will be coming out of the kitchen.
Meals usually start with soup that is served in a large container that sits over sterno to keep the soup hot, although sometimes the flames are so high that it looks like the soup is sitting on top of a blowtorch. One person usually serves the soup to others at the table and bowls are passed to the server. A good server goes straight to the bottom to pull out all the goodies — shrimp, scallops, squid, fish, vegetables, and whatever else is in the pot. Once the bowl is pretty much filled with these items, he will top it off with the liquid.
The main courses are usually pretty heavy on the vegetables and seafood. While there are meat dishes, the meat is usually an accompaniment to the vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, spices, etc. rather than the star of the show. One of my favorite dishes is the fried fish. A whole fish is gutted (I think) and then fried until it is crispy. It is place on the table and everyone gets a few bites, but that never seems to be enough.
Meals often end with a plate of fresh fruit — watermelon, pineapple, mango, apples, etc. No matter how much you have eaten, the fruit is a pleasant way to end the meal. The official end of the meal is when the waiter brings out the toothpicks. Just about everyone uses one, but they are discreet about doing so — one hand is held in front of your mouth while the other hand puts the toothpick to work. The waiters, however, will never bring out a check until the customer asks for one.
I do not think that there are any buried utility wires in Bangkok. When you look up in the sky, you inevitably see a rat’s nest of wires. This reminds me of some old pictures from downtown New York in the late 1800s. It must be a real challenge for utility workers to have to track down any problems with the phone, electricity, etc.
There are eight elevators in my office building, four that serve the lower levels and four for the higher floors. Elevators can be quite crowded in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day. When there is a considerable wait for a car, the elevator actually apologizes for the wait with a recording that comes from a speaker once you get on and the doors close. There must be some algorithm tied to how long it has taken the elevator to arrive from when the call button was pushed.
When Thais get in an elevator there is inevitably someone who positions himself near the control panel. This person will hold the open door button until everyone is on board. Once the elevator has begun to make its stops, he will push the close door button as soon as the passengers step out at each floor where the elevator has stopped. On a typical ride, this probably gets the elevator car to the last floor maybe 5-10 seconds sooner than if the doors had closed by themselves. Not sure why the Thais do this — they are pretty laid back people who generally are not in a huge hurry. Perhaps they realize that by closing the doors as soon as they can, they are shortening the wait for those who are waiting for the elevator to arrive.
Happy 4th of July — enjoy the fireworks, ice cream, watermelon, hot dogs, and corn on the cob!
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.