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Bangkok: First Impressions

It’s only been a few days and I haven’t even gotten to properly explore the colorful neighborhood in which our hotel is located, nevertheless the Greater Bangkok area, but I have some initial observations I feel ready to share with you:

The Language Barrier

The language barrier can feel impenetrable at times but it also allows for moments of endearing non-verbal [mis]communication. Tonight, the grocery store clerk and I giggled together as she peeled back the outside of a langsat fruit in the middle of the grocery store and mimed the process of eating it then spitting out the seeds. She sang in Thai all the while, the soft tonal murmurings meaning nothing to me, while I exclaimed in English my surprise at the fragrantly flavored fruit. Of course, she didn’t know what I was saying either so we both just stood there and continued to giggle. Then, after doing a 360 looking for a trashcan (any trashcan! please, Bangkok, y u no has trashcans?) she took the peel and threw it out for me. “Kop-kun-ka,” I thanked her.

Shopping

Bangkok is great place to be a consumer.

The night market on Ramkamhaeng Road right near our hotel is bustling with sidewalk vendors selling clothes for RIDICULOUS prices. I’m talking $2-3 for a pair of pants or nice skirt or dress or shirt…$4 for a pair of shoes…all very “Forever 21” or “H&M” and all in my size (FINALLY- I FIT IN!!!) Everything is so affordable, I can’t even feel guilty about compulsively buying meals and snacks and treats. Today I spent 37 baht on lunch. That’s a little over a dollar. I bought a bowl of pho for dinner for 70 baht (almost $3). There is a stall that offers an hour-long Thai massage for 100 baht. Just over 3 dollars. It can add up pretty quickly – 20 baht here, 40 baht there, and suddenly you’ve spent two dollars on who-knows-what – but it’s still pretty awesome.

coconut water in Bangkok
Just one of the many delicious treats you can find on the street. 15 baht (50 cents) for cold, refreshing coconut juice.

Being Polite

After spending the day with Rudy, I became familiar with one of the most marked cultural differences between America and Thailand (and maybe even Asia in general): “politeness.”

It’s not the “politeness” we’re familiar with – it’s not about saying “please” and “thank you” – but rather, a form of showing submission and quiet deference at all hours of the day. An individual with spectacular body language is looked upon highly in society. The better you can wai and slouch when meeting someone older than you, the more “polite”  you are. Wai-ing is an art; you must raise your hands in prayer to your chin while bowing your head simultaneously to execute the gesture of respect correctly. Careful with your feet – don’t let your soles face anyone, especially an elder. Even your speech must be careful and controlled if you want to appear as “polite.”

I asked Rudy if Thai’s thought Americans were unfriendly because we don’t smile as much or use “polite” words like ka and khrap at the ends of our sentences and he answered matter-of-factly, “Not unfriendly, no, but maybe a little bit rude or abrupt.” Fitting in to this collectivist culture is rewarding, but by the end of the day I admittedly felt my personality bubbling up inside wanting to express itself to its full potential. Being “polite” can be stifling.

The Weather

“Rainy season” seems like an exaggeration. It rains, yes, but mostly in the evening and not for more than an hour or so. When it rains though, it literally pours. Liz, Nick, and I ventured out towards the nearby university looking for a track to run around and got caught in a downpour. We waited it out on one of the raised crosswalks, from which we could watch the traffic down below us as well as the Thai college students milling around under the covered crosswalk with us. I’m about to go shower off what Nick described as terribly polluted rainwater before my skin starts to burn and dissolve…(Just kidding! [I think…])

What I’m trying to say is that it does rain, but it is also sunny a lot of the time. At least, that’s what the weather has been like so far.

Sweating in Bangkok
Sweating through lunch of spicy thai chicken noodle soup in the intense Bangkok humidity. I’ll get used to it, right?
Walking around Bangkok
This is what it feels like to walk out of our hotel towards Ramkhamhaeng Road. The beautiful, green decoration over the street (side streets are called soi’s here, pronounced like “soy”) indicates that there is a temple down our soi.

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27 comments

  1. Vaughan Merlyn says:

    Your giving me great recollections of my 2 visits to Bangkok – thank you! I loved it, though on my 2nd visit I did find it overwhelmingly noisy! Have you come across the Durian fruit yet? I’m not sure it’s in season, but if you walk past a shop selling any, you will immediately be disgusted by the stench! Tastes good – but smells horrible!

    Keep up the posts – especially when you get to see more of Thailand!

    • mishvo says:

      It is noisy out on the main road but our soi is incredibly and deliciously quiet. Haven’t seen the Durian fruit yet but I’ll keep my eyes (my nose?) open. There are so many wonderful fruits to try – it’s incredible!
      Thanks for the comment – you’re one of my top commenters 🙂

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Allison! Thank you – I’m so happy you’re reading! Nick and Liz are two of my classmates from my TEFL course. Both are American but very well-traveled – Liz came here from India where she had been working for a non-profit and Nick has been to over 30 countries already! I think I’ll do a post about each of my classmates later – there are only seven others but we are a very diverse and worldly group.

  2. Lena Smith says:

    Please get one of those $3 massages – I think that fact alone fully convinced me to travel there. You are an awesome writer – I feel like I am there with you! I love reading about your adventures!!

    • mishvo says:

      Hahaha, Lena, I will definitely go for a Thai massage soon, however I’m not sure about the place across the street…There is never anyone in there! And thank you for the comment – I’m so glad you enjoy reading cause I enjoy writing 🙂

    • mishvo says:

      That’s Jasmine, one of my classmates. She lived in Beijing last and is used to the heat apparently. It’s also really freezing cold in our classroom so many of us bring sweaters down and I guess she just decided not to take it off when going outside.

  3. DaveO says:

    Sa wat dij khrap.. = that’s hello for males! I’m learning with you.

    Great blog. I am learning so much about the Thai culture from your blogs. I love it and it sounds like you are too?

    I youtube wai and was surprise to see so many ways to bow depending on the person you are meeting with.

    Glad you can finally find cloths your size! You have been waiting for years!
    And as Allison asked, who is Liz and NicK? where are they from?
    Great pic’s too.

    • mishvo says:

      Hahaha good job, Daveo! Yes – guys say “khrap” and girls say “kha” after everything to make it “polite.” I haven’t had to seriously wai anybody yet but I think as long as you are genuinely trying (as a foreigner) they would appreciate any effort even if you don’t get it right. Liz and Nick are two of my classmates (See above response to Allison)

      Hopefully more pics soon – it’s overwhelming but I want to walk Ramkhamhaeng with my camera and show you how wild this place really is….

  4. marlene says:

    Hey Michelle, I’m in Maine picking Molly up from Seeds of Peace. What an experience. I love reading your blog. you’re such a brave girl. Can’t wait for Mol and I to read it together and send you a paired note. I adore you and can’t wait to read about your next adventure. Love you so much. xoxoxoxo Aunt Tante Mar.

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Marlene!! So good to hear from you! So glad you’re reading…Just went out tonight to take some photos for an upcoming post. Love you and hope to hear from Molly soon as well! <3

  5. Cindy Eisenberg (Ellenberg?) says:

    Nice to hear you are doing well and your informative blog….that way I don’t have to endure the trip myself!!! (hehehehe)

  6. carolineplyler says:

    You are seriously the most talented blogger. I’m looking forward to following all of your adventures! Feel free to guest blog out Vietnamese cuisine anytime 🙂

    • mishvo says:

      Wow, thank you Plyler, that’s so kind of you to say! I actually have been thinking about doing a blog about Thai food…I’ll fbook message you with some ideas. And as for Vietnamese – if I have the opportunity to travel there maybe I’ll write about it too haha 🙂

  7. carolineplyler says:

    Pardon me, *Thai adventures. I blanked out for a hot second about where you were – even though I just read both of your posts.

  8. carolineplyler says:

    Reblogged this on pamplemousse and commented:
    If you’re looking for an adventurous read, check out my friend Michelle’s blog about her upcoming year in teaching in Thailand.

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