There are many unique features of life in Thailand that become harder and harder to discern over time. Most undertakings are distinctive adventures in the first several months of living here. Going to the movies or going to dinner always involves unexpected twists and turns. I have decided to document some of Thailand's unique features since it is only a matter of time before they will become unnoticeable to me.
From the showy lights and glitz of downtown Bangkok to the smallest rural village Thailand is a visual delight.
Let's start with going to the movies. Movie theatres offer excellent bargains, fluffy seats, yummy snacks, recent films, and the most excruciatingly loud sound systems and intolerably-cold air-conditioned temperatures I have ever experienced. On the plus side of the blasting noise from the sound system, you can’t hear your teeth chattering. An anthem for the King will be played with its accompanying video before the main show. The audience will stand until it is completed, take their seats and then in the past they would begin to have full-volume conversations with each other or on their mobile phones while the movie played. Now they are reminded to turn their mobile phones off before entering. Hence, in the past, there was a real the need for the blaring soundtrack. Now, it is a bit annoying, but in support of my adopted, and beloved Thailand, I found the same to be true the last time I visited the States. In fact I stuffed small bits of wadded up napkin from the greasy popcorn in my ears.
Another unique feature of Thailand is the 'nasal refresher/inhaler.' People like to carry around little Chapstick sized tubes of menthol or herb scented powder or liquid with them. When the surrounding air gets stinky or they simply wish to smell something nice and feel refreshed, they hold up their tube to their noses and take a good sniff. And from the smiling, spaced out expressions on their faces you begin to suspect that those little nasal tubes just may contain something more potent. Must admit that I have become an addict myself and have them scattered all over the house for a quick nasal fix.
Next, on to the platform shoe as this is the cornerstone of many a Thai female's wardrobe. I am no fashion guru but for me the platform shoes of Thailand are some of the silliest things out there and looking at them makes my feet hurt even though I am not into drag. Sure, women do tend to run on the shorter side here but strapping on six-inch disco inspired footwear seems a bit drastic. Driving while talking on a mobile phone or wearing platform shoes may soon become illegal in Thailand. This should be a good indicator of just how gargantuan some of this footwear can be.
The mobile phone is a subject to itself. Mobile phones are immensely popular here and none ring in the good ole' fashioned 'Ring! Ring! Ring!' way. Jingle Bells, Reggae tunes, Happy Birthday and the United States national anthem can all be heard. Flashing antennae, cartoon character accessories and unique carrying devices abound. Mobile phones are not an accessory, but rather a vital and necessary part of life. And the most recent innovation is calling a friend and receiving a long recorded interlude. Are they busy, talking to someone else, or perhaps down the street picking up a quick snack? There doesn’t seem to be any indication of what is happening – just some free music. The Thai start carrying mobile phones as young as 5 or 6 and those 90 years and older jabber on them incessantly. No doubt when they die no one will be able to pry their phone from their fingers and it will be cremated along with the body. Not even the monks are immune, and be photographed an any intersection with a mobile phone glued to their ear.
Fashion comes and fashion goes; this year has brought two trends that hopefully will fade away. The first is the 'bandanna-with-the-fake-bright-orange-and-yellow-hair-attached-to-it' accessory. This is very popular with younger females, but sorry to say, makes wearers look like they are part of a circus troupe. The other funny fashion trend is T-shirts declaring, "I am single!" in Thai. I wonder if this trend will follow its wearers as their lives progress, on to "I'm dating!" "I'm married!" "I'm pregnant!" and "I'm divorced!" T-shirts, whereupon the "I'm single!" T-shirt could be worn again.
Paying attention to how you look is also important. Many people place mirrors on their desks so that they may gaze at their reflection throughout the day. Actually, I am not sure if this is a matter of vanity or practicality. And motorcyclists whizzing down the road at 100 kph can often be spotted checking out their teeth or facial features in their rear-view mirrors.
Karaoke in strange locations is another wonder. They pop up in supermarkets, video parlors or get stuffed into the smallest of restaurants. Singers of every age can be found belting out tunes throughout the day, night and into the wee hours of the morning. Here in Chiang Mai most regular karaoke parlors are of the open-air style, seem to occupy every vacant lot not containing a permanent structure, and each contains an amplification system worthy of a football stadium.
Even going bowling is an adventure in Thailand. Full-service restaurants and bars are on hand and the shoes come out of vending machines. Unfortunately, taking pictures inside the bowling alleys is not allowed, as management seems convinced people want to document and copy their architectural feats and not just take pictures of their friends being silly.
Even traffic lights have their own way of doing things here. At major intersections policemen sit in little booths at the corner and are in charge of manually operating the traffic lights at various times during the day. Most visitors refuse to believe this even when they see it in operation. But it is soon evident that no mere dumb machine could cause this much traffic confusion and chaos.
The 'song-taew' or 'two bench' pick-up truck is a form of public transport commonly seen in Thailand. Drivers of these vehicles follow set routes much like busses do and people simply pile on and off these vehicles as they go. If there is no more room left, dangling off of the tailgate while holding on with one hand is a valid option. Here in Chiang Mai the city recently spent millions of baht installing a new bus system to compete with the antiquated song-taew system. Then they put the busses on little used routes and eventually complained that the bus system wasn’t making any money. Duh???
One of my personal favorite 'uniquely Thailand' features would best be called "The Restaurant Sitting Alongside The Highway." As roadside eating venues are popular and sometimes space is short, tables end up being placed wherever they can possibly fit. Near my home Hang Dong Road is a major thoroughfare that during the day has the normal number of banks, hardware stores, and shops of everything from video rental to car sales. Suddenly every evening at about five o’clock it suddenly becomes a many miles long eatery as thousands of tables and small cooking centers magically appear from nowhere. The aroma of sizzling spit-turned chickens, grilled fish and gastronomic treats of every possible sort line the street. And this scene is repeated all over the city, and indeed the entire country. The Thai obsession with food is indeed unique and unequaled.
These are but a few of the reasons why still to this day, and I have been here going on 8 years, I never tire of gazing out at Thailand. God how I love this country!
And last, but not least, a young girl, a baby, a dog and woman with a red purse all on a bright blue motorcycle. Visually stunning and uniquely Thailand !