Inside Thailand



Disclaimer: The following statements are my observations and opinions. Any time you make generalizations of course there will be exceptions. My observations are taking place in Northeast Thailand (Isaan) and do not necessarily apply to all of Thailand. While I have visited much of Thailand that does not make me an expert. In fact if anyone other than a Thai tells you they understand how a Thai thinks they are kidding themselves. Most falangs who have been in Thailand for many years will tell you the Thai way is very difficult to understand.

I love Thailand but there are some things that are difficult to understand


One Drinking Cup:

When I visited the school and the kids came in off the playground many headed for the water cooler. There was one plastic cup and each would fill the cup, drink it and then the next child would use the same cup. Talk about a good way to spread sickness. Sure enough after the first two days at school two of the young ones in the house were sick. Luckily nothing serious. I have now observed the same situation in the bank lobby and some retail outlets. It is common practice here. 

Thai Time:

Most Thais I have meet have a different concept of time than I do. If I want a Thai to meet me at 2:00 I tell them 1:30 and if I am lucky they will show up by 2:15. This requires great patience on my part because I am a very punctual person.

Thais are extremely patient and do not mind waiting. If you get stuck in a traffic jam, no one honks their horns, they simply wait for the traffic to clear. Thais don’t get upset by slow service. Estimates of time do not mean much. If a Thai says in 10 minutes it could mean anywhere from right now to 30 minutes. I learned this 46 years ago in Mukdahan and found it has not changed. Thais want to please you and will give you the answer you want to hear. They feel they are helping you be happy. In the tailor shop they might tell you they can have something done for you in 2 days. It could be ready tomorrow or a week from now. There was no actual attempt to deceive you, simply an attempt to keep you happy.

Look All Directions:

In the States we always teach our children to “look both ways”. In Thailand you need to look all directions. Look up for low hanging obstructions (especially as a tall falang) and look down for holes and loose grates in the sidewalk. Trust me when I say this is not a “handicapped accessible” country. And don’t count on any vehicle to obey the laws. Motorcycles often use the sidewalks and both cars and motorcycles don’t always travel the correct direction. If they are going a short distance they will travel the wrong direction on a one way street or drive on the wrong the side of the road.

Low Hanging Obstructions:

Thailand is definitely not designed with tall people in mind. I really have to be careful going through the market as there are low hanging ropes, beams, pipes, and tin roofing. I have hit my head many times but so far no serious injuries. I have learned to walk slow and try and watch carefully but sometimes I get distracted by something and “wham” I have hit my head. I am only 6 feet tall and many falangs are much taller than me (my son is 6 ft 4 inches) and it would be really difficult for them.

Early Morning Announcements:

Sometimes as early as 5:45 am the mayor of the village begins playing loud Thai music for a couple of minutes and then speaks over loudspeakers located throughout the village the news and events for the day. This doesn’t occur everyday but at least 3 times a week. The other morning was a very long announcement and I kept hearing her saying names and amounts of money. Phai explained to me that the mayor was announcing how much each family is expected to “donate” to support the Bang Fai parade and rocket launches. For most families it amounted to between three and six dollars (100 to 200 baht). 

No Toilet Paper:

Many public toilet facilities do not have toilet paper in the stalls. If they supply it at all you have to pick up some sheets of it before entering the stall. Then they have a waste basket next to the toilet (for those places that have western style toilets) to put the used toilet paper in because they worry about the toilet paper clogging up the septic systems. Thank goodness they always supply hoses with squirters on the ends so at least you can get clean even if you end up leaving the stall a bit on the damp side. This includes the District Government building in Nong Bua Lamphu. 

No Napkins:

Very seldom do they have napkins in restaurants. If they have anything on the table it will either be a roll of toilet paper or some very thin, very small napkins. I have learned how to ask for a napkin in Thai and they will always bring either some toilet paper or thin napkins to me. The toilet paper is usually in a plastic holder made just for this purpose so it doesn’t look as bad as you might think. I am talking about the Thai restaurants that cater to Thai people, especially what I will term the “roadside or sidewalk” eateries. Of course any upscale restaurants, especially those catering to falangs will be more Westernized.

The Furniture:

Much of the furniture here is made out of very hard wood and is not comfortable. It looks beautiful and will probably last forever. Not only is it hard, the part you sit on is usually very long so that if your legs are on the ground you cannot lean back on it.

Flies:

Sometimes I wonder if the Thai People are thinner because of the energy the expend chasing the flies off the food. Since many homes up here in Isaan do not have screens and keep all the doors and windows open the flies are always present. Most meals we eat out are at open air restaurants and the flies usually try and share our food. 

The Dogs:

I love animals but there are dogs everywhere here. They are very territorial and when I go for walks I usually carry a long stick with me just in case. I have never been hurt nor have I seen a dog bite anyone but that doesn’t mean they don’t approach you while barking and growling. They mostly fight among themselves as I have shown in some of my video footage on my site. I don’t dare pet one or they will become too friendly and because they live outside they can get very dirty. There is a new trend now however of getting what I call “foo foo” dogs. Small dogs like poodles that the Thai will spoil, take with them everywhere and sometimes dress up in cute little outfits or ribbons and bows. I believe this is considered a sign of success (wealth) that you can spend your money on such a thing. It is not unusual for a house to have a street dog that lives outside and isn’t allowed in the house and at the same time have a little foo foo dog that has the run of the house. I feel bad for the dog that is stuck outside but they seem to accept it and often play with the small foo foo dog without hurting it. 

Trash Everywhere:

Thais just don’t seem to worry about how clean it is outside their houses. If you look at many of the photos on my site you may see litter everywhere. Unlike America where we obsess about picking up every little piece of litter, keeping our lawns looking as good as possible, etc. that just isn’t important here. I am not sure it is a bad thing. I began to realize after some time here that I too don’t really notice all the trash and litter. It is just part of the charm.

Smoldering Fires:

It is very common for a Thai house to burn some trash, leaves, etc. outside their house. The problem is that the smoke then goes into the houses around them. Some home seem to have a smoldering fire going all the time. Not sure I understand why unless it is to try and keep the bugs away. They have regular curbside trash pick ups so I haven’t figured out why the insist on burning things. 

Lack of Privacy:

The Thai people living in a village tend to share everything including information. It is hard to do anything here without it being known. I have been amazed how fast Phai will learn of anything I do while not with her. If I go for a walk, she knows about it. It is so different than the isolated manner we have in the United States where we are separated by doors, windows, locks and air conditioning. At home I can go for a walk and no one will even notice or care. Here, everyone is outside and interacts (or tries to since I don’t speak much Thai) with me. Everyone watches out for everyone else. When I was here 7 years ago we had a wedding for Phai’s daughter and two young and very attractive Thai women motioned for me to join them at a table outside in the yard. Phai was inside at the time and I don’t think it took more than about 45 seconds for someone to go inside to tell her and for her to come out of the house and “save me” from these women. She had a discussion with them and then invited me to join her inside the house. I only found out after we returned to the States and we were looking through my photos that the two girls had offered to buy me from her. They told her that she could go back to America and find another falang. I was very flattered until Phai told me she offered me to sell me for one dollar US currency. Talk about bringing a swelled head back to its normal size. 

I Don’t Have A Name Here:

I have only been asked my name a couple of times in my entire time here. Even if I am asked, the Thai’s really struggle with my name “Bud”. They are used to names like “Johnny” or Bobby”. I have decided to tell them “Buddy” and that seems to work. Everywhere I go I hear the word “Falang’ (pronounced fa long) and then I know they are referring to me. However I am almost always asked my age. That is because in Thai society age plays an important role in how you are referred to and who greats who first. When Thais great each other the younger person should always put their hands together and bow their head first. This is called a “wai” and is a beautiful greeting. The higher the hands and the lower the bow, the more respectful the greeting. When a younger person walks past an elder they will lower their head to show respect. Not just age factors into who “wais” first. Social status also plays a role so don’t be surprised if a Thai asks you what you do for a living or how much money you make. They are not prying but simply trying to determine your social status in relation to theirs so they now how to treat you. Even what they call you is triggered by age. If someone younger than Phai is talking to her they will say “Pee Phai” and if they are older than her they will say “Nong Phai”. This can be a challenge for me because it is difficult to gauge the age of a Thai person. The safest way is to use Nong when addressing a female (females of all cultures prefer to be thought of as younger) and Pee when addressing a male.

Thailand’s reputation regarding sexual tourism:

The following three paragraphs are from the web site ThaiWorldView.com and I have included a link to the section of the site that goes into much more detail on this issue if anyone wants to know more. I wasn’t even going to address this subject but since one person has raised the issue I feel it’s appropriate:  Thailand's dark side “Everyone familiar with Thailand, knows of its colorful temples, floating markets, beautiful beaches caressed by clear blue-green waters, fabulous silks, exquisite culinary offerings, monks, Thai kick-boxing, and friendly, smiling people. They may know, too, that Thailand is a proud country; one that has never been colonized.

Most visitors readily acknowledge that Thailand is exciting, exotic, fascinating and a delight to visit. There are some, however, who associate these remarkable qualities with Thailand's nightlife, viz., massage parlors, "go-go" nightclubs, brothels, escort services, etc. This is truly unfortunate because not only does it portray a narrow segment of life in Thailand, but it pushes beyond and tarnishes an otherwise wonderful image of a country and of its people.

For example, if you (a male) tell someone you've been to Thailand, you may very well experience the following reaction. The person will smile --- a knowing smile --- and ask how you liked the "massage." Unquestionably, there are those who have visited Thailand for the sole purpose of sex, and this is their perception of the country. Others have gained an understanding from smutty tabloids, magazines specializing in "startling revelations," and western TV that features programs depicting the seamier side of life. But do these perceptions present an accurate picture of Thailand's culture? Hardly! They reflect nothing more than an aspect of life that exists in all countries of the world. A more realistic view would be gained if visitors, when talking about Thailand, did so with an understanding of Thai culture, history, government, system of education and its economy. But because this understanding is lacking, distortions between fact and fiction develop and grow.”

It is not uncommon here in Isaan for me to see an older and not very attractive falang male with a young and very beautiful Thai girl. I watch the reaction from the Thai people and it is obvious to me that they generally make the assumption the girl has been working in Bangkok or Pattaya as a “bar girl”. They are probably correct but it bothers me because my wife, who is a Thai woman from Isaan, has never been involved with that type of activity nor has anyone in her family. When I am with Phai we don’t seem to get that reaction as often because she is not a young girl and the people in the village who know us know the story of how I met her at a Buddhist Temple in Tampa Florida.

There are many things I really like about Thailand

Respect For The Royal Family:

The Thais love the King and Queen. The King of Thailand (Bhumibol) is an amazing man. Having reigned since 9 June 1946, he is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. At 87 years old he has many accomplishments. In addition to helping the Thai people in many ways he is a painter, musician, photographer, author and translator. 

The King is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, particularly for his works on the alto saxophone. He also plays trumpet and clarinet and not just plays but can play better than many professional musicians. He was the first Asian composer awarded honorary membership of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna at the age of 32. In his travels, he has played with such jazz legends as Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans. His songs can often be heard at social gatherings and concerts. 

I could continue on about the King because I, like the Thais, totally respect him for all he has accomplished personally and how much he has helped the Thai people through many initiatives including the infrastructure and health care. If you are interested in learning more, just google “King of Thailand” and enjoy yourself.

One more thing. Although Bhumibol is held in great respect by many Thais, he is also protected by lèse majesté laws which allow critics to be jailed for three to fifteen years. The laws are  such that criticism of any member of the royal family, the royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty, or any previous Thai King is banned. Jail terms for Thai citizens committing lèse majesté are usually harsher than for foreigners. I was going to put a photo of the King and Queen in this document but in my research discovered that placing any other photo above the Kings Photo is illegal.

The courtesy I am shown:

I have never been treated badly by a Thai. Whenever I go places, alone or with Phai, I am always treated wonderfully. It is not unusual if I am standing anywhere that a Thai will bring me a chair to sit in. This even happens when I am shopping. I sometimes wonder if my height in comparison to most Thais has an influence on this. Many Thais will try to talk to me, even if they do not speak any English. I explain to them that I do not speak Thai and then do my best to speak to them with the little bit of Thai that I do know. Some Thai men will approach me and shake my hand because they know that is a western tradition. 

I Feel Safe In Thailand:

I have never felt threatened in the 19 months I have spent in Thailand. Seven years ago I traveled on my own to a city called Chanthaburi. It is considered the Gem capital of Thailand. Very few tourists visit there and even the staff in my hotel spoke very little English. I walked many miles exploring and photographing the city, even during the early evening hours after the sun had set, and never felt any danger. In fact I think one Thai women and her child wanted me to come to their house and eat with them but she spoke no english and I wasn’t sure so I thanked her the best I could in Thai and politely declined. Also seven years ago I had taken off my gold necklace with a Jade Buddha on it while getting a massage (legitimate Thai Massage) and left it laying on the massage table next to me. I realized it several hours later and even though I was sure I would never see it again I went back to the massage business and the woman who ran it was sitting outside. I told her what had happened and she smiled, reached in her pocket and handed my necklace to me. She asked for nothing in return. I was amazed and grateful.

There are certainly areas in Bangkok, Pattaya or any other major city in Thailand where I wouldn’t walk alone at night but that is true of all cities in the world. When I do hear about violence or theft towards tourists in Thailand it is usually some drunk guy walking back to his hotel at 2:00 in the morning wearing an expensive watch or gold chain. If you are that careless you could be robbed anywhere in the world. Or it is some loud obnoxious men who tend to drink too much and then get very rude with the Thai people. Thais are very slow to anger but look out if you push one too far. All that pent up anger can get you hurt. 

Thai Families:

I have heard it said in the past that the people of Isaan are lazy, the men drink too much, the men treat their girlfriends or wives badly, etc.

What I have observed in all my time in Isaan is that while there may be a small number of Thais fitting that description, most are hard workers doing whatever they can to make ends meet and lead and honorable life. I have watched the men in this family take wonderful care of their children and help with the cooking and cleaning. I watch the wives work along side the men harvesting crops, building houses, etc. and I see family units that live together or in close proximity. My son in law is absolutely amazing in how he takes care of his daughter who is about one and half years old. Most Thai men enjoy their beer and whisky but I would bet that they consume no more and probably less than most of the falangs living here in Thailand. 

The Gas Stations:

I have never seen anyone pump their own gas here. As soon as you drive up to a pump the attendant is there to pump you gas. They are not inside so you don’t have wait for them, they spend their time sitting right at the pumps waiting for customers. Also, nobody turns off their engines while the gas is being pumped. That means you get to stay inside your vehicle and let your air conditioning keep you cool. I am not aware of any problems with cars exploding and there is no law here requiring you to turn off your engine. There is almost always sodas or water for sale in refrigerators at the pumps so you can get something to drink if you want. I haven’t witnessed it here in Isaan but in Bangkok many of the vehicles (especially taxis) have been converted to run on Liquid Propane (LP). Not only is it a cleaner fuel but also cost about 1/3 the price of gasoline. LP is readily available in most of the larger cities and villages.

Florescent Bulbs:

Almost all the lighting here is either florescent tube type or the new compact florescent bulbs. I rarely see an incandescent bulb here. I don’t think it is because of any government mandates but rather because the Thais realize that these bulbs last longer, use less energy and most importantly generate much less heat. 

No Body Oder:

When I was compiling my thoughts for this document I realized that one of the unique things about Thailand is that I have never known a Thai to smell bad. I have ridden on non air conditioned buses crowded to standing room only and still no oder. In my research I found documents saying that many asians sweat glands do not produce the same chemicals that we falangs do. Also, Thai people are very clean people. They tend to bath a minimum of twice a day and use deodorants/antiperspirants or a Thai deodorant Stone. This is a pure natural deodorant crystal that the Thai people have been using for centuries. These stones inhibit the growth of odor causing bacteria. They work amazingly well and are very inexpensive to use. Google “Thai deodorant stone” if you want more information.

Sanook:

This is the Thai word for Fun and it plays an important role in Thai culture. Thais believe you shouldn’t work at something that isn’t fun. They love to have have a good time, to laugh and to smile. I can pick my wife up after she has been cooking for 12 hours and she will come out with the other cook and they will be laughing and kidding each other. My wife may be tired but almost never in a bad mood. Even if the job is tedious and unrewarding, Thais will make every effort to have fun while doing it. 

Avoidance Of Public Displays Of Anger:

Thais consider it very rude to display anger or have a loud argument in public. A quick way to lose "face" and the respect of Thai people is to lose your temper in public, or worse yet, shout at someone in public. Thais are very uncomfortable with public displays of anger and consider it very uncouth. Getting angry at someone in Thailand is unlikely to help you get your way, and in fact merely hardens the other party's stance and any sympathy you may have had from surrounding people is likely to evaporate quickly. Best to keep your cool and a smile on your face. That doesn’t mean that the Thai people speak softly. It gets very noisy in a group of Thais and they all talk at the same time. If the TV is going or loud music is playing they simply talk louder. It is not unusual to see Thai women have a conversation with another Thai woman who is several houses away. They simply speak loudly and don’t care who hears them.

Avoid public displays of affection:

Thais normally do not touch the opposite sex in public. While you may see some of the younger generation holding hands in public in the larger cities it is still rare. It is common however to see a man holding a mans hand or a girl walking hand in hand with another girl. This has nothing to do with sexual orientation. When I was in Mukdahan 46 years ago many GI’s would get upset if  a Thai man did this. Because I took the time to learn their customs I realized that if I was sitting with a Thai man and he put his hand on my leg or held my hand it was a complement, not a sexual advance. This is part of why I was so accepted into the Thai community. 

No Shoes Inside The House:

Never wear your shoes inside the home of a Thai or inside a Buddhist Temple. I happen to really like this custom. It keeps the house cleaner and I am more comfortable in bare feet. Most Thais in Isaan wear sandals, flip flops, or some other type of footwear that is easy to step in and and out of. When I see Thais approach the entrance to a house they slip right out of their footwear just outside the door without changing their pace. I have not mastered that yet but I did finally find a pair of sandals that are very comfortable and easy to get on or off. 

However it does bother me that they have no problem leaving their footwear right in the middle of the doorway. If more than a few people are in the house I can almost guarantee you will have to step over their shoes to go inside.

Thai Legal System:

I do not have any first hand experience but I am told that if you are accused of doing something illegal it is much easier and less costly to pay the police officer making the accusation. If you argue with him and end up at the police station it will cost you a lot more and if you want try and test the legal system in a courtroom good luck, you will need it. You can call it a bribe if you choose but the best way to think of it is you are simply accepting that you may have done something wrong and are willing to pay a penalty for your wrong doing. Even if that penalty ends up the police officers pocket and not in the governments hands. Police are paid very low wages here but seem to do okay financially. This type of thing occurs at all levels in Thailand. If you want to start or already own a business you more than likely will be making payments to multiple authorities off the record, especially if it is a bar or place of entertainment.  Thailand is working very hard to put an end to bribery and corruption but it is difficult to break old habits. 

It is important to never use, buy or sell illegal drugs in Thailand. The laws are very strict and can even carry the death penalty. You do not want to end up in a Thai jail or prison. It is not uncommon for the police to make raids on bars in the entertainment districts. Not the upscale night clubs but the  more seedy go go bars. When they do, they block all exits and entrances and everyone, including the employees must provide a urine sample which is tested on the spot. If drugs are found in your urine you will be in trouble.

Signs in Thai and English:

Most highway and road signs have both Thai and english on them. However as you get more remote there is less english. As I mentioned on my blog, sometimes the bathrooms in the smaller cities not only don’t have english but also do not have the international female/male symbols. By the way, many of the urinals in gas stations are outside on the backside of the building that houses the toilets. At least they are out of sight of the cars using the station.

Industrious and Creative:

Almost all the Thai people I have met are always looking for a way to make money. especially here in Isaan where there is free time between planting and harvesting. They weave rugs or baskets. They buy material and sew clothes to sell. They open little stores in the front of their houses. Phai and stopped and talked to a family yesterday that were all sitting outside assembling fancy flip flop footwear. They were doing everything by hand and when they are finished making all the sandals they will sell them in the market place or wholesale them to one of the other vendors to sell. I see more and more jobs being created in Isaan. For example about half way between our village and Nong Bua Lamphu is a large T-shirt factory. Every day I see hundreds and motorcycles and many cars/trucks parked in the large parking lot under the long carport the factory provides. 

Land Ownership and Jobs:

Thailand really protects its people. It is next to impossible to get a visa that allows you to work here. Only if you are not taking a job that could be performed by a Thai can you work here. For example, it is very easy to get a work visa that allows you to teach English in a Thai school because they want native English speakers teaching. Perhaps that is part of why unemployment here is less than 1% which is the lowest unemployment rate in the world. 

The fact that falangs cannot own land here means I am at higher risk compared to elsewhere should something happen to Phai. However I think it is a good thing that foreigners cannot own land here. While it might be really good for the economy and the current land owners to allow foreign ownership it would cause land prices to escalate rapidly and begin to price the Thais out of the ability to acquire land. It also could hurt the farmers. Most farms here are family owned and worked. I would hate to see foreign money begin to buy up the farms and put the small farmer out of business.

Generalists:

I amazed how the people of Isaan can do so many things. In the States we tend to call in a “specialist” for everything. Electricians, plumbers, Mechanics, etc. Here they do it all themselves including building their own houses. If they need food they can grow it themselves. They know which plants can be consumed and which are poisonous. They can slaughter a cow and prepare all the meat. They catch and cook chickens, lizards, frogs, field rats and many insects. They can sew their own clothes, make their own fish nets, make their own slingshots and do so many things that we have lost the ability to do in the States. If a major catastrophe were to occur they would survive here so much better than we would in the States. They usually have many large bags of rice stored and grow their own vegetables. They have huge earthen jugs full of water. They are used to cooking over charcoal, wood or small gas burners. They don’t need refrigeration because they buy fresh food daily and it comes from local farmers. It has not been frozen and even without gasoline supplies they would use their bicycles to tow carts with food on them to the market. They don’t depend on the internet for much of anything and most don’t have air conditioning so an extended power outage would be far less painful for them. Compare this to the States were we beg people to have enough food and water so they can survive three days. They could survive three months or more here without outside help. 

 


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