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.
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.
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.
“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.