Wednesday, August 22, 2007

สวัสดี ประเทศไทย - Hello Thailand

Some observations about Thailand

Day 1- Bangkok

Passport Control:

  • Although I am embarrassed to show my passport at most airports because of America’s “world cowboys™” foreign policy (Let it be known, for the record, that “world cowboys™” is my term and the patent is pending ;), it is damn good to be able to bypass the 3 hour visa line reserved for citizens of developing nations and get an instant & free 30 day Mr. Money Bags, rich-foreigner-about-to-spend-lots-of-money entry stamp.
    • Perhaps India should consider instituting a similar Mr. Money Bags visa policy rather than spending billions of dollars on tourism ads and then deporting rich foreigners without visas back to Singapore to spend their money in the giant sprawling capitalist dreamland of underground malls.

Hotel at the Westin Grand Sukhumvit:

  • Being a platinum Starwoods member rocks ->
    • Fruit basket, free breakfast, free cocktails, free snacks, fresh flowers, “early” check-in at 6am when anyone else would have to pay for an extra night = goooooooooooood.

  • Although I’m sad to be missing cute cultural nuances by staying in a 5-Star hotel, it was more than made up for by my oatmeal, jasmine bath with jets in a marble tub.

  • Note, however, that the concierge at said hotel will always propose the most expensive option possible for any activity/query you put to him. Said concierge should be weaseled for information with non-committal responses, and then ignored. Especially when he asks for your email address to “keep in touch.”

Out and About in Bangkok:

  • There are a lot of lonely, socially-awkward old men.

  • Most of these men have moved to Thailand.

  • These are the single, lonely equivalent of those obnoxious 60-something Hawaiian-shirt & hip-pack-wearing men, generally named Maury or Barry, generally to be found on cruises bellowing across the entire restaurant that their steak is too well done (“I said rare – you know, still mooing!”) and bragging with their wife Edna about the fact that it’s their 8th cruise this year and it’s only February.

  • Replace Edna with a 17 year old Thai prostitute named Bu, and you are picturing at least one table in every restaurant in Bangkok.

  • These men think that Thai prostitutes like them.

  • These men also like to start conversations with me in elevators and continue to talk even when I don’t respond.

  • I hope that these men aren’t reproducing.

  • There are tons of Muslims in Bangkok, particularly Arab Muslims. I don’t think a ton of Arabs live in Bangkok, but tons vacation there and there are restaurants everywhere with signs in 4-5 languages common to Muslims, such as Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Hindi, and Malay.

  • My taxi driver to the airport, Mr. Tan, in between trying to teach me Thai phrases (ko kum kaa), explained that for the fall months all moneyed people from Qatar and the UAE come to Bangkok to shop.
    • The men come to “shop” for something other than clothing or handicrafts.

  • Even Thai street food looks and smells really good, except when there is raw chicken from hawker stand umbrellas.

  • Good Thai tailors aren’t actually that cheap.

  • Nor are they Thai.

  • The best Thai tailors are Sikhs. One of my tailors was a fourth generation Thai citizen who wears a turban and speaks a mix of English, Thai, and Punjabi. He speaks to his wife in “Thai-Jabi”(patent also pending;).

  • It is possible to bargain in a completely calm and quite manor and still get a good deal. This observation clearly does not apply to India.

Day Two – Pattaya

Trannies in Thailand:

  • I had the opportunity to go kayaking with a transgendered Thai woman (formerly man). I didn’t, although it would have made a great story.

  • There are tons of transvestites and transsexuals in Thailand.

  • In general, they are more socially accepted than other places in the world.

  • Despite popular belief, they are not all prostitutes. Many transsexuals are from normal sectors of society.

  • There is a famous Muay Thai boxer who retired from boxing and became a woman.

  • Many Thai transsexuals look waaaaaay more like women than white transsexuals.

  • I’m quite sure that the promoters of the “sex tourism” to Thailand would like to keep this fact under raps.

Other Pattaya Observations:

  • The fact that Arab men felt it was ok to make clicking sounds at me on a private luxury hotel Thai beach when a) I was not in an Arab country and b) I was not scandalously dressed, enraged me beyond all reason. They’re lucky I didn’t go Thelma and Louise on them.

  • Thai iced tea isn’t sweet, although it is very, very orange.

  • There are no taxis in Pattaya, just pick up trucks with benches in the back. This is really weird for a place that depends on tourism. Although, they are nice pick-up trucks…

  • It takes 3 hours to get to Pattaya from Bangkok without any traffic, not the 1.5-2 hours listed in every tour book and stated by my hotel concierge.

  • Thai beaches are unsurpassed, too bad they were all destroyed by the Tsunami. I wonder what they looked like before.

Day 3 – Back to Bangkok

Pattaya to Bangkok:

  • It’s possible to get pick-pocketed in the 30 seconds it takes between paying for your bus ticket and sitting down in your bus seat.

  • Lucky for me, I was wearing a money belt.

  • I hope that whichever rich white tourist stole the 400 Bhat in my pocket ($13.33) uses it to get a Thai prostitute who turns out to be a transvestite.

Bangkok Airport:

  • Airport food is greasy and disgusting, even in Thailand.

  • Despite what airport staff tell you at the Bangkok airport, you can check into your Thai Airways flight 6 hours in advance.

  • You should do this.

  • The Bangkok International terminal is the most ridiculous airport I’ve ever seen.

  • If they had more trolleys people would shop more, rather than lugging heavy bags around the terminal for 30 minutes looking for a trolley.

  • Most of the trolleys are in use by tiny Asian women who are pushing around 5 pound Louis Vuitton handbags.

  • My shoulders really hate these women.

The Flight Home:

  • On a flight of 180 people, there were 6 women.

  • The dregs of Indian society go to Thailand.

  • They are generally there for sex.

  • They can’t hold their liquor. They have one drink and act like 16 year old football players at a party when the parents aren’t home.

  • I now know why alcohol is banned on Indian domestic flights.

  • Alcohol should be banned on Indian International flights too.

  • Lucky for everyone on the plane, alcohol makes men who haven’t slept in 3 days sleepy.

The difference between Thailand and India:

  • Thailand is not a third world country, India is.

  • Thailand has modern infrastructure and a vibrant, extensive middle to upper middle class.

  • Generally, there are not animals wandering the streets of Bangkok.

  • Bangkok has 7 modern modes of public transportation:

    • Skytrain – the nicest public transport I’ve ever taken in any city in the world.
    • Subway – mostly for Thai commuters, reduces traffic on the roads
    • A/C buses – as nice as any bus in Europe, nicer than buses in America.
    • Moped “taxis” – can weave through traffic on modern mopeds, sitting behind the driver, helmets are provided.
    • Taxis – nice, a/c Japanese cars with drivers who don’t size you up when you get in like they do in India.
    • Aero-bridges for pedestrians – allow you to walk across entire parts of the city 40 feet above the road, clears traffic and makes street crossing safe. Crossing the street in India is more dangerous than yelling “Go Pakistan” in a crowded Indian cricket stadium.
    • Cars – which are generally in nice condition, although traffic in Bangkok is still bad, it’s nothing compared to India. Roads in Thailand are completely modern as are the freeways.

  • And two modes of not-so-modern transportation.
    • Tuk-tuks, the onomonpoeiadic name of the Thai version of auto-rickshaws – these are generally much, much nicer than Indian auto-rickshaws and don’t generally belch black smoke out the back.
    • Nasty old gross buses used by poor Thais, look very similar to Indian buses, but don’t have bars on the windows.

  • You can generally drink the water in Thailand, but if you don’t want to, there is reliable bottled water everywhere.

  • Firangis can’t drink the water in India, even in a 5 star hotel.

  • There are prostitutes everywhere in Bangkok, I have never seen a prostitute in India – they are better hidden.

  • Thailand features the good aspects of India – fresh jasmine, exciting foreign culture, bustling markets, cheap awesome silks and textiles, fantastic curry, atmospheric auto-rickshaws (cutely named tuk-tuks) – without many of the bad aspects – 100 men to every woman (at least in public), traffic blocked by livestock, corruption so bad that roads can’t get built, loud intense bargaining/haggling, pollution (to the same degree), impassible traffic (there are traffic jams here too, but see above for the modern alternatives Thailand has come up with to sitting in traffic), and men sizing me up every time I enter a room, sit in the back of a car, or do any other activity that may involve me being seen by non-google or non-expat men. Thai men don’t generally do that, although plenty of foreign men in Thailand did.

  • The Thai word for white foreigner is Firang, the Hindi word for white foreigner (with derogatory connotations, similar to the Spanish gringo) is Firangi. There is a flower called Frangi Panni (Foreign Water – also the name of a popular bar in Hyderabad). Some linguist must have written a PhD about this topic. If they haven’t yet, expect to read it in the Norwegian Journal of Flower Etymology and Social Linguistics (or some similarly important and obscure periodocal that exists to publish groundbreaking dissertations such as this) in about 7 years.

  • Thai curry is waaaaaaay spicier than Indian curry- you’ve been warned!

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