It’s been said so many times before, but Bangkok is a city of contradictions. The city streets are pure chaos, but the people are as friendly and generous as those in a small town. You may think you’re in a slum, but you can find a mansion with a Mercedes Benz parked across the street. Buddhism and religion are an integral part of city life, but seeing monks is just as common as seeing a foreign male sex tourist with a Thai woman. All of this makes Bangkok a fascinating city to explore. It also makes it difficult to write a blog entry without your head spinning.
That culture shock, along with some internet issues, have left me with an empty blog since I’ve been here (sorry, Mom!). My first few weeks in Thailand have been a blur of new people, new food, and new experiences, so I thought I’d start off with a more general post. I’m sure I’ll look back on this later and laugh about all my generalizations, but here are some initial thoughts on Thailand from a Southeast Asia newbie:
One of my favorite things about Thailand so far is the food culture. Food stalls selling everything from spicy papaya salad to steaming noodle soup line almost every street, and you can see people eating at all times of day. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big fan of eating, so me and my gallon container of Tums and Pepto Bismol are having a great time with this aspect of Thai culture. I still haven’t gotten used to eating soup in 100-degree heat, but I’m getting there!
It is HOT
I know this is stupidly obvious, but the heat in Bangkok is beyond comprehension. Every day I question whether I actually need to shower because I know I will start sweating the moment I turn the water off. (Don’t worry, showering always wins.) I’m convinced most conservatively dressed Thai’s in long pants have some sort of internal AC attached to their clothing.
What many guidebooks fail to mention….
I’m not going to sugarcoat it—Bangkok stinks. Depending on where you are, it’s a mix of sewage, rotten egg, and unidentified roasting food. It’s particularly bad in the industrial area where I’m teaching—Paknam. For the first two days, I was too busy looking up at buildings and people to realize that the source of the smell lay right at my feet. The mix of old food and trash in the street, along with crazy cab and motorcycle drivers, make walking a nearly impossible obstacle course. Think Frogger, except with motorbikes, tuk tuks, taxis, and buses.
Mind your manners
Much of my orientation with my fellow foreign teachers was spent reviewing how to not be “that” westerner who offends everyone they meet. While the lessons were helpful, I was rendered motionless and/or mute from fear of screwing something up. So I can cross my legs, but I just have to magically dislocated my ankle so I don’t point my foot at anyone? And just how low do I have to bow my head when I ‘wai’ to the school principal? There’s a lot to remember, but experiencing a new culture was one of the many reasons why I chose to go to Thailand. Plus, Thais are really forgiving about those sorts of things.
“Farang” = Foreigner
One of the hardest things to get used to here is being one of the few “farang” (foreigners) who live in the neighborhood. My pale (now sun burnt) skin and huge curly hair (thanks, humidity!) get me a lot of stares from locals. People are usually very nice, but sometimes I miss walking down the street without being looked at like an alien.
More specific blog posts on orientation, my school, and an overnight trip to the beautiful Kanchanburi will be up here soon!