Tag Archives: Thailand

All Thai’d up

Having lived in Bangkok for more than three years, it’s fair to say that my love affair with this magical, dirty, fabulous, stinky heaven of a city is going strong. But the same cannot be said of everyone. The place is full of deeply jaded expats and while I’m sure lots of things will affect my relationship with Bangkok as it changes and develops and gentrifies and so on, I desperately want to avoid losing my enthusiasm for it. Especially because it seems to me these grumps share a particular and common gripe that alarms me. And that is Thainess.

Yes,  the very things that make Thai people Thai – in Thailand – are what get the goats of those who have voluntarily chosen to live in their country. “This would never happen in[…..]!” is something you hear of Thai bureaucracy or health and safety all the time, despite the fact that we are decidedly not in whatever country we must infer is superior and therefore its practices are rendered irrelevant. Whenever talk of local business culture or the tendency towards ‘saving face’ arises here, there’s lots of condescending eye-rolling accompanied by this insidious little comment: “It’s sooooo Thai”. And everyone knows what that means.

This label, while objectively accurate, is loaded with subtext, and it’s liberally applied to humans too. When, for example, I ask a male friend about the new girl he’s seeing, it routinely goes something like this:

How did you meet? “Tinder”. What does she do? “Marketing”. Where does she live? “Thonglor”. Where is she from? “…”

At this point, if the answer is “She’s Thai”, it will ALWAYS be followed by some kind of caveat: “BUT she speaks amazing English”, or “BUT she went to international school”, or “BUT she studied in America.” It MUST be qualified. As if it’s in some way unseemly thing to live in a country and date a girl from that country unless she’s not, like, “really  western”.

Then, we have the term “Thai-time”. And listen, I agree,  a “relaxed attitude towards arrival or starting times” can be annoying. But if it’s a cultural norm where you are, rather than bitching about it, you just have to readjust to it like anything else. If you’re a naturally punctual person, just stay at home 30 minutes longer and hey presto, you’ll be right on time. And if on the odd occasion you are held up, you can relax in the knowledge that it won’t matter to anyone.

“Uh Nicky, that’s so Thai!”

Yeah,  you know what else is soooo Thai? Delicious food available at any hour of the night, slippers in the office and – my favourite – wearing a t-shirt in the gym! This is just one etiquette lesson the sweaty white men in my condo would do well to observe from our hospitable hosts.

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A roachy encounter

– and what I learned about myself from it.

I was feeling particularly smug about life that morning. I’d hopped out of bed with that feeling I sometimes get: the relish of living alone in my little flat and the freedom I have to do whatever I damn well please – like eating Reeses Cups for breakfast – because I’m a grown-ass-woman and I can take care of myself. Smugly smug smug. And that morning I was going to take care of myself via yoga in my PJs.

I like a bit of morning yoga; I open the curtains and go through a couple of sets in the sunshine. I like the feeling when I’m done and I’m a bit sweaty and my muscles have gone all shaky. I feel like I’ve done something good for my body but also nice and balanced and peaceful and, to be honest, even more smug.

So, this particular morning, I open my curtains and a massive winged cockroach flutters out. It stutters, falters and crashes drunkenly down on my bedside table and I SHRIEK and fling myself across the room. A proportionate response, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here I stand – panting – and consider my options.

I’m not sure where it landed exactly; it could be down behind the dresser or it could have fallen amongst the teddies who inhabit its surface. (A rag-tag bunch, they include Claude the French Christmas bear, Margery the floppy dog who insists on wearing broken aviator shades, and Space Bunny.) I’m scared that if I go over to investigate, it’ll fly out from among them into my face.

In order to ascertain its roachy whereabouts, I decide to send in an advance guard. Lionel, a beany-bottomed lion, is perpetually grumpy and this will do nothing to lift his mood, but there’s nothing for it. I hurl him into the midst of his furry colleagues. No movement. Not a flutter. And suddenly I am very aware of myself, throwing teddies across the room, because I’m scared of a bug.

cockroach-joe

I gird my loins and approach with caution. On closer inspection, the roach is indeed crouching behind the dresser and it occurs to me that even if I get him out in the open, I need an exit strategy. I open my window and aim the fan at it, wondering if he will get caught in the slipstream and just be wafted out.

That’s IT! I’ll just leave everything like this, go to work, and he’ll make his own way out.

Wait, no. What if I get home and he’s not there, I won’t know if he’s gone or merely lurking somewhere else, like my pillow case. No. I must deal with this now, like an adult. I get the broom.

After a rescue mission in which my fluffy friends are gingerly airlifted to the relative safety of the bed (Lionel eyes me with even deeper disdain), I hover uncertainly, with a broom handle pointing down behind the dresser. Nope, I can’t do it. My aim is terrible and I anticipate the scuttling. Shudder. ‘Aha!’ thinks I, ‘Bug spray!’ I grab the massive can under the sink, shake it thoroughly, aim it down the back of the dresser and let him have it. Scuttle scuttle scuttle! Unngghhhhhh.

So now I’m chasing him; he isn’t flying, thank fuck – he’s definitely already pretty busted, but fuck me, the fucker can scuttle. The spray is puttering but I keep it trained on him doggedly, round the bed, across the floor and almost to the rug where he gives up and collapses, legs in the air, twitching. I scoop him up with a post card, dump him out the window and slam it shut. And now I too collapse in a sweaty, shaky heap. The irony is not lost on me that the very yogic effect I enjoy so much was this morning achieved by something so un-zen as killing a fellow living creature. With poison – the weapon, as they say, of women.

As it turn out then, I am a grown woman, who lives alone and takes care of business; I can take care of myself and my home… by offing, in the most cowardly fashion, a tiny, injured creature that had infinitely more cause to be afraid of me, given he was entirely less well armed.

I am not so smug anymore.

Wonderfruit festival: outlandish outfits and budding romance

I spent the last weekend of 2014 in a field in Chon Buri with ALL of Bangkok’s hipsters, a lot of whisky and some yummy food. Noteworthy appearances were made by, y’know, Little Dragon, De La Soul… no big deal.

de la soul live in thailand

For about 72 hours, those present willfully flung normal behaviour out of the window and pranced, cavorted and caroused, dressed like this:

festival fashion at wonderfruit

I feel it’s safe to assume that such conditions probably sparked a few romantic moments. And, I imagine that if Wonderfruit had a daily newspaper, the ‘missed connections’ section would read something like this:

‘You were dressed as a Pokemon, I had the Indian headdress, our eyes met across the drum circle. My heart pounded louder than the congas. I looked for you at the wood-bending workshop the next day… Let’s whittle something together sometime.’

‘To the guy in the velvet fez I snogged in the Green Quarry on Friday night: I overheard you in line at Kuppadeli in the morning, ordering soy latte and complaining about all the ways Burning Man is way superior. Lose my number.’

‘You appeared like a sprite in the middle of Woodkid’s set, covered my face with glitter and whirled away. I’ve never seen a man wear sparkly leggings with such panache before, take me shopping?’

‘To the guy in the neon green boxers  who made it all the way to the end of the Greasy Pole and gracefully swan dived headfirst into the lake – I hope the bleeding stopped eventually.’

‘Cute folk-dancing girl from the vineyard – you can stomp my grapes any day.’

‘Hey, hot blonde from the beach bar, I like the way you hula.’

‘Hey stilts-guy, you look like you could use some head.’  …(ZING!)

wodnerfruit festival in thailand

Romance in a field, among loonies

Meanwhile, back at Wonderfruit HQ, I imagine the ‘lost and found’ notice reads something like this:

lost items at music festival

 

It really was an unforgettable weekend, well done Wonderfruit. And you, did you go? Did you dress up? Find love? Steal an air conditioner?

Big thanks to Christian Hogue for the use of these gorgeous photos. Check out more of his stuff at: farfromthemaddeningcrowd.com

Bangkok backpackers: the new breed

‘Ugh – Khao San – Ugh!’ Is not something you will hear from me, no siree.

I for one, am a big fan of the service Khao San Road does us all. I enthusiastically applaud those clever town planners of ye olden days who came up with the master stroke of including a special designated backpacker area WAY away from the rest of the city! We NEED Khao San, people, to separate the normal inhabitants of Bangkok who are merrily going about their day-to-day working lives, from the sarong wearing, chlamydia ridden, great unwashed army of passers-through. It’s better for everyone this way.

bangkok map

Now, in fairness, I’ll admit, I’ve been known to cross over to the dark side and partake in a little debauched, shoeless fun once in a while – snog a couple of inexplicably be-dreadlocked white boys, why not? And so, I shouldn’t begrudge these intrepid fellows a little exploration in return. However, the unfortunate but undeniable truth is that the classic traveler of yesteryear, the harmless, drifting, ukulele-playing, hemp-wafting, bumbag toting hippy has been replaced by an altogether more sinister beast. The traveling bro-dude. And their tip-toeing through no-mans land (Patpong) and behind enemy lines (Sukhumvit) is something we need to keep a close eye on lest this city descend into real chaos.

Even their website comes with a warning:

Khao san road may harm your computer

Tis riddled, I tell you!

Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs, some useful red flags to instantly warn any unsuspecting Bangkokians that they may have stumbled upon a douche-packer out of their confines. So, here is a handy guide on how to spot this alarmingly pervasive species.

Let us first consider their uniform. There will usually be a vest, almost certainly blaring the logo of a local beer – often neon and with enormous arm holes so as to display side-pec aplenty. This alluring garb is often teamed with island pants – you know the ones – low crotch, elasticated waist, printed with batik elephants. A winning combo I’m sure you’ll agree.

uniform of travellers

Behold: in all his finery

Desporting themselves thus, they demonstrate some rather telling proclivities:

– an unhealthy enthusiasm for Sangsom- particularly in buckets (see above)

– a fondness for tuk tuks unbefitting of a proper city dweller

– a predilection for tattoos in cursive script: it’s the Celtic bicep band of the new century and it foretells of unsavoury behaviour. Avoid.

ugly neck tattoo

I just…. no.

Finally we come to the aural markers that will alert any eavesdroppers that lurking nearby are escapees of Buddy Bar. The rule is very simply this: any phrase that could be emblazoned across the back of matching polo shirts or hashtagged in caps lock is almost certainly the brash declamation of a hostel-surfer. Examples include #LADS #LADSONTOUR #WhatHappensInBangkokStaysInBangkok #IThinkSheLikesMeBruv

With all this being said, last month I was at a party, deep in Sukhumvit, as far from Khao San as it is possible to be. People were wearing jeans, there was not a flip flop in sight. And then from out of nowhere came a young lady who looked as if she were a finalist for Miss Koh Phangan. Bra-less, in a tie dyed smock, hair clumped into braids by sun and salt water and carelessly barefoot, she twirled onto the dance floor, a whirling dervish of light, flailing freely to her own inner beat. And we were swept up in her nomadic magic. So, don’t lose hope – the real backpackers are still out there. Sift ye through the orange tans and Havaianas and ye will find the proper hippies.