Although I already did a Thailand Observations post the first time I was here, I have a few more notes to share before moving on. Some of these might be repeats – my apologies if they are. I’m now writing this way after the fact and am doing my best to keep track 🙂
• We all know that Facebook is huge – 1 out of every 14 people in the world has an account. Still, some countries have far less penetration than others. In Brazil for instance, Orkut is more popular, and in Japan Mixi rules the scene. But not in Thailand. Here, Facebook is absolutely out of control. Sometimes I feel like it’d be harder to find a (computer-using) local without an account than one with. Foursquare, too – I once checked into a nightclub and fifty others had done the same. Literally everything is a venue, from street stalls to hair salons to intersections. Could it be that Thailand is the social networking capital of the world? 😛
• Bangkok feels like the “biggest little city” I’ve ever known: despite its population of nearly ten million, I’ve been repeatedly shocked by how often – even after just a couple months – I run into people I know. I suppose it’s because groups of people do tend to frequent the same types of venues, but still, I’d never expect to walk out in a city of ten million and run into one of the maybe 100 I’ve met…time and time and time again.
• For all the good observations I’ve made about Thailand – for as much as I adore it here – I’ve got to make one pretty major bad one: honesty. Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles,” but personally, I think “The Land of Superficial Smiles” would be far more accurate. Because perhaps more than anywhere I’ve been, what the Thais say and do so often doesn’t reflect their true motives. And while motives of course vary from person to person, I really hate to admit that time and time again I’ve gotten the feeling that it almost always comes down to money. Thais seem to be so obsessed with money – so willing to do whatever’s necessary to get it – that everything else just goes out the window. Sometimes this means as little as an innocent “hello” followed by some pestering to ride a particular tuktuk or visit a particular lady-bar. Others it means a woman pretending to date a man overseas – accepting his monthly checks – while cheating on him every night of the week. I’ve heard of some terrifying (and absolutely heartless) schemes to get money, right down to fake pregnancies in an attempt to scare someone into a payout. And not from just one person, either. The simple fact is that after so many encounters of “friendliness” being followed by a hustle for cash, I can’t help but grow suspicious of those who come up “just to be nice.” Which is really a shame, because I’d *like* to interact with anyone and everyone who says hi. But doing so is just too uncomfortable.
• On a completely unrelated note, if you’re interested in learning Thai and have an iOS device, you *MUST* buy this dictionary. It’s simply amazing – for everything from vocab to characters and grammar. I’d go so far as to say it’s the most comprehensive and effective electronic dictionary I’ve ever used (in any language).
• The number five is pronounced “ha” in Thai…so in emails and text messages, people say “555” instead of “hahaha.” Hah!
• Thailand has lots of stray dogs.
• Convenience stores – especially 7-11 – are everywhere in Thailand, and are amazingly…well, convenient! In places like Norway, prices are so outrageous that they’re more or less useless – but in Bangkok they cost little more than a supermarket. Anywhere you are, any time day or night, you can pop in and grab a microwave meal, a bottle of fruit juice, or anything else you might need. It’s unbelievably handy.
• (This is way out-of-date, but) during my first month in Thailand with Herb, people often mistook him for Thai. This mistake acted as catalyst for a joke that turned into our best bargaining tool of the trip: “I’m Thai pee-pol! You give me Thai dis-count!” he’d say in a feigned, over-the-top local accent. They thought it was so funny that they almost always did 🙂
• Thailand is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, with magnificent golden temples and shrines virtually everywhere you look – from the dense urban center of Bangkok to smallest backwoods town. People have mini-shrines in their yards and even outside of convenience stores. I was therefore surprised to find just how prevalent Islam becomes as you travel to the South – the female attire changes dramatically, and in Krabi, I met numerous Thais who introduced themselves as “Mohammed” or “Ali.” Influence from Malaysia perhaps?