This is simply a post of my own personal musings of Thailand. A run of ideas as they come to me – just run with it.
I am sitting on a train leaving Bangkok. I love to travel by train. You are offered a chance to observe the real world – not the picture perfect, organised tourism world that surrounds us when we travel. I am amazed by these people who live right up to the tracks, in their tiny houses made from nothing more than a few bricks and corrugated iron panels. How they can establish themselves with so little. I guess it shows how adaptable humans are, how survival is coded deep within our genes, and what little we actually need to survive.
The small rivers that run through towns and cities are blue-grey-black in colour, yet somehow amazingly they still manage to sustain some aquatic life and, in turn, the small groups of fisherman, woman and children that dot the banks of these veins of water – if you can still call it water.
This is a land of hawkers that spend hours walking up and down the train selling drinks and all manner of foods. A land of people walking and working in the sticky, sweltering heat of humid Bangkok, standing all day behind a charcoal grill made from half an iron drum. They will wear long sleeves and jeans, hats and face masks and gloves to avoid being touched by the sun. Not because they are sunsmart, but because they do not wish to be seen as stall workers, or field workers or other such labour jobs that would suggest a particular social class despite it being an honest days work. A man will grow his nails long to show he is above labourious jobs.
There are shops that sell everything – literally filled to the brim with every piece of crap imaginable. A shop of plastics habouring any particular shape or design or function will be found on every street.
Plastic bags are God. Bags and bags and bags and bags. Anything you buy will be put in a bag. Buying something in a bag even gets put in a bag. Food is packed directly into plastic bags and tied with air. Drinks are poured directly into plastic bags to be carried, as per usual, by the handles and served with a straw. Soups and other hot foods are bagged for takeaway convenience. People caught out in the rain without an umbrella tie plastic bags around their heads. Consequently, plastic bags also litter the waterways and roadsides.
Stalls pop up everywhere. There are markets for one thing, and markets for everything. They are set up on the side of the road and often on the road itself, and no one tells them to leave. There are shoe cobblers and dressmakers on the side of the road – things are fixed and reused, not thrown away and bought anew.
The food is sweet and spicy. Drinks are sweet. Meat is sweet, super processed, and often indistinguishable. Rice is their bread. It is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bottles of soy milk are bought and drunk in the heat – despite the heat. Anything that moves can be eaten. Fruit is tropical and weird. It is pink and spikey, or orange and spikey, or red and hairy but it is sweet and delicious.
This is a land of devotion. They love their King and Queen – criticism of whom is forbidden and heavily punished. All this despite the different and grandiose life they lead compared to the rest of the country. Monks are highly respected. They are offered the first seat in the bus and others do not sit with them – especially not women.
People pray everyday. They wai when they pass a temple or shrine. They leave offerings on trees, temples, shops, stalls – often strawberry fanta (weirdly enough), water or yoghurts. They pray and bless their stalls at the beginning of the workday asking Buddha to bless them with good business.
Public transport is slow, delayed and hot. Road rules are not obeyed. If they even exist they exist just as rough guides – much like the painted road lines. Indicators are just another useless commodity on a vehicle. Cabs, songthaews, tuktuks, motorbikes, rickshaws require continual haggling for a decent price – however this is said lightly as few trips cost more than $4-$5.
Sex is a taboo subject yet phallic images and amulets are abundant. Homosexuality is not accepted but ladyboys are an accepted part of the culture. Insofar as being completely integrated into all areas of society. Their title is even used in a non-derogatory way.
The ‘Thai-bride’ is a common but complex situation. It’s hard to tell if a marriage of convenience is more convenient for her – lifting herself out of poverty – or him – the older, ailing, or socially awkward falang husband who is a king in these parts but unrecognised in his own lands. From the many couples I have observed, the husband speaks little or no Thai and holds the upper hand in the ‘contract’. One even proudly proclaimed how he found his bride on the internet, for everyone in the vicinity to hear. He, however, had no dominant hand in his relationship. She ruled the roost, and promptly criticised him to her friends.
The results of such marriages – in the form of cute children with almond shaped eyes, and fairer skin – add to a sensitive issue growing ever more prominent in Asia: White is wealth. A lot of advertising uses fair skinned Korean or Western women creating an unrealistic image for these women – and now men too – to follow. Females in these parts use dangerous bleaching creams and treatments in a bid to look more ‘Western’ and appear wealthier and from a higher class. They use umbrellas and wear long sleeves to avoid the sun tanning their skin. Almost all creams have a whitening agent in it – even deodorants – and some are so expensive that those without money turn to dangerous bleaching creams sold in markets that have not been manufactured properly nor tested. The girls look strange too with their white faces and rosy cheeks, but their brown arms and legs, and it highlights their imperfections much more than it would on their natural skin.
Thailand is easy and accommodating. It has embraced tourism perhaps a little too much. There is a spot for everyone no matter age, stage or creed. Beaches, mountains, jungles, lakes. Yoga, massage, muay thai, full moon parties, half moon parties, ping pong shows, buckets, tattoos, t-shirts, beers, diving, snorkelling, trekking, relaxing, cooking, eating, enjoying. Same same but different.
The people are gentle and welcoming, and they make a killer pad thai.