This past Friday was the second anniversary of my arrival in Thailand. While the past two years have flown by very quickly, as those who read this blog even irregularly undoubtedly understand, I have become comfortable in Bangkok and, for that matter, in South East Asia. I find the people here friendly and genuinely welcoming, the food fabulous, the cost of living reasonable, the temples and historical monuments beautiful, and the weather hot but easy to adapt to. Since my arrival two years ago, I have seen many things and experienced many others that are different from what I was used to, and I’d like to share just a few of these today.
The Opposite Sex
In Thailand, a “Pretty” is an actual job, albeit not a long career, for attractive young women. Pretties are found at the auto shows, at business grand openings, at press conferences, at many ceremonies, etc. Their primary job function — besides looking gorgeous — is either to point at something, e.g., a new car, or else to accompany a speaker or his way to the dais and then back to his seat. They are typically taller-than-average, fair-skinned, and stunningly made up. I have no idea what these young women do when they reach their mid-20s and have to retire.
I do not know why, but Asian women generally look younger than they are; it could be simple genetics or it could be because they consume lots of collagen-based products. At the New Year, gift baskets are exchanged and some of the most popular are ones with a large supply of collagen drinks. These drinks come in small 1.5 ounce bottles — basically one good swallow — and each contains between 1,000 to 5,000 milligrams of collagen, extracted from deep-sea fish, from bird’s nests (that are found in caves and made from the saliva of swifts), or from other sources. The drinks contain apple, grape, or other fruit juices and sweeteners, I assume to mask the taste of the collagen. These little bottles cost between 18 and 80 baht each ($0.60 to $2.70) and there are even Halal versions for Muslims. If you can maintain your youth (I would have to regain mine first), I guess that it is worth it.
Finally, it may seem like a riddle, but sometimes the best looking lady isn’t. Isn’t a lady, that is, but rather a ladyboy. Ladyboys, or kathoey, are known as the third sex here in Thailand. Some are post-surgery transsexuals, while others dress and act like women but have yet to go under the knife. Many ladyboys are absolutely stunning. The signs that an attractive woman might, in fact, be a ladyboy are height — few Thai women are over 5′ 6″ tall; large hands and feet — Thai women tend to also be small; heavy make-up — enough to cover that five o’clock shadow; a deep voice; an Adam’s apple; and, of course, if you were ever really close, the genitalia should be a real giveaway.
For all sorts of reasons, walking in Thailand is best avoided but if one has to stroll about, it is best done in cloudy weather or after the sun goes down. With high ambient temperatures, walking in the direct sunlight can be brutal, and people either gravitate toward whatever shade is available or else use umbrellas with UV protection to create their own. Sidewalks in Bangkok are frequently uneven or broken, so it is important to watch where you are going, e.g., texting and walking can lead to unfortunate results.
On many sidewalks in heavily trafficked areas, beggars are prevalent. There are many who are truly down-and-out, but others seem to be gaming the system. I frequently come across human slugs, people who have lost one or both of their legs but who leave their prostheses elsewhere when they beg. Laying on their stomachs, they push a small bowl in front of them as they drag themselves along the filthy sidewalks. It is pretty obvious that they have help getting to and from their begging location, and this charade is all about looking as pathetic as possible.
Motorcycles are very popular here and it is not unusual to see three or four people on the cycle, although motorcycle taxis limit themselves to carrying a single passenger. Motorcyclists usually ride next to the curb or on the lane markers but they will dart through any small opening, drive through parking lots or gas stations for a short cut, and take detours along the sidewalk — another hazard for the unwary pedestrian. So that they can surge ahead when a red light changes, the motorcycles invariably wend their way to the front of the stopped traffic, often coming within millimeters of the side view mirrors on the cars. Outside the city, it is quite common to see them riding on the shoulder against the flow of traffic.
I have come to enjoy Thailand’s tuk-tuks, three-wheeled vehicles that in Bangkok are powered by three-cylinder, 600 cc, two-stroke engines that run on natural gas. The successor of the pedal-powered samlor (“three wheels” in Thai), the backseat easily carries two people and three can fit with a just a bit of a squeeze. But many people like to save money, so seeing a tuk-tuk with five or six passengers is commonplace. I am in awe that these little engines can handle this many people, particularly when they are super-sized tourists. There is a small door on the back of the tuk-tuk that when open provides a platform on which to carry larger items. Thus, many merchants, like the one pictured on the left below, will use tuk-tuks to carry inventory to their stalls or shops.
Buses ply the major arteries and offer rides for as little as 7 baht (23 cents) in a non-air-conditioned bus to 24 baht (80 cents) in a new air-conditioned bus. Along smaller roads where buses cannot easily go or where there would be too few passengers, Songthaews, literally “two rows” in Thai, operate on regular routes. A songthaew is a pickup truck (usually, although sometimes slightly larger trucks are used) in which a roof has been placed over the back bed with a bench placed on each side along with plastic roll-down side curtains to protect passengers when it rains. Five to seven people can sit on each bench and another eight to ten can stand between the benches. A step runs along the length of the back so that people can get in and out, and two to four more people can ride on this step. For those not keeping score, this means 25 to 30 people can squeeze their way into the back of these vehicles. With fares of just 10 baht ($0.33), the drivers clearly make their money on volume not price.
Public toilets in Thailand range from the I-really-don’t-want-to-use-it squat variety, essentially a small bowl on the floor which you attempt to hit as you void your bodily wastes, to incredibly upscale and elegant facilities. The squat ones are supposed to be good for helping one do what needs to be done, but they are very unnatural, at least to this Westerner.
Fortunately, most places that I frequent have standard western-style commodes. Many, however, have water guns for cleaning yourself, and inevitably the floors are wet from folks who get a bit carried away (and I expect that these people must walk around with wet trousers for the rest of the day.) However, you can usually count on a cleaning woman to come along to mop the floor — these women seen to spend most of their day in the men’s toilet cleaning up as guys go about their business. As I proofread this, I am pretty sure that most females who read this will wonder why I am surprised!
In most restrooms outside the major hotels and best restaurants, there are no hot water taps at the sinks. There is instead just a single tap that provides lukewarm water. Since it is always so hot here, there no chance to get truly cold water from any public water supply, and thus, I guess, no need to provide hot water either.
This blog was inspired by a comment from a friend and former co-worker in Buffalo, and I am grateful to her for her suggestion. The blog has been a great way for me to chronicle my adventures, it has frequently spurred me to get out and explore, and it has provided me with a way to both share my experiences and keep in touch with my friends.
At the New Year, I posted the stats that WordPress made available for 2012. Without boring you, let me share just a few facts about the two-year history of this blog.
- This is the 109th post on this blog. Over time, I have learned how to make the posts better, e.g., adding Google maps, putting titles on pictures, better formatting of text and pictures, etc. I have endeavored to keep each post reasonably short, well-edited, and, of course, full of pictures.
- During the past two years, readers have submitted 106 comments on my musings. I do not edit or reject anything that is submitted (no matter how delusionally liberal it might be), but I simply allow whatever someone writes. I receive many emails from people who apparently prefer direct, private communications rather than posting comments publicly; either is ok with me since both help me keep contact with my friends.
- As of the time of posting, this blog has been viewed almost 14,800 times. About 40% of the visitors were directed here via an internet search, with 85% of these from Google and 90% of the Google referrals from a Google Image Search. People clearly like pictures.
Aside from the home page, the most visited post is The 313′s Raisons D’Être, a page on which I recounted part of my trip to Detroit in December 2011, in particular my visit to the Walter P. Chrysler museum in Auburn Hills. People routinely search for pictures of cars and trucks from the glory days of the American auto industry, and the nearly 40 pictures of Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth and other now defunct brands in this post have been viewed by nearly 600 visitors. My personal favorite picture from my visit is the elegant 60-year-old Chrysler Special shown above. My other Detroit posting, Motown, is the seventh most popular. With all the challenges that Detroit currently faces, it is sometimes hard to remember that not too long ago it was the Silicon Valley of industrial America.
- Readers have made nearly 1,900 clicks on pictures that I have posted, and the most clicked-on picture (with 48 views — nearly two times as many as the next most popular one) is of a Hill tribe man showing me his bird trap.
- Readers have also made over 200 clicks on the various links that I have provided; the most popular one with 26 clicks is for a website that lets you determine the day of the week for any specific date, e.g., you can figure out what day you were born on.
Kop Khun Krab.
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