Working

One thing I’ve noticed here… people really like to work. Or at least, they expect to work for every cent they make. For instance, I’ve been talking to a phone company (low-level) customer service representative over the past few days and she has emailed and called me at all hours of the day, even in her free time and from her home and personal phone, to try and fix my problem.

Another example was that today, I asked my students to design the “perfect job” for them. I was surprised that many to most of the students mentioned working really long hours (10-11 hours, 6-7 days a week!) as part of their “perfect” job. When I asked them why, they said it was so that they could make more money. It seemed that it hadn’t even occurred to them to increase the salary while still doing the same amount of work (or less). Even in a “perfect” job world, they couldn’t imagine being paid more than they deserved.

And finally, looking through work contracts that I’ve been offered, they state that you work for about 9 hours a day but are pretty much on call for anything else the school needs you for. Now, that may just be bad schools trying to take advantage of stupid foreigners, or it could be another clue to the working culture in Thailand. The bottom line is that from what I’ve seen, I’m going to have my work cut out for me as a Thai employee…

Ayutthaya

Oh man. Last weekend I went with some friends to a really cool place called Ayutthaya (the ancient city). It’s the old capital of Thailand, and there are ruins scattered all over the city. It’s sort of eerie to walk around, because everything has burn marks on it– several different groups of warriors came through and burnt down the city at various times. Then the people would rebuild it, and then it would get burnt down again… finally everyone decided to leave. Also, the warriors who came through the area cut the heads off all of the Buddha statues in the town, so there are a bunch of headless Buddhas everywhere.

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The city is really nice because you can bike around to all of the different archaeological sties. There are also elephants for the lazy.

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On the final stop of our bike trip, we went to a floating market. There were all these huts, and boats would dock on the edge of them to sell stuff. You can get stuff like coconut ice cream (in an actual coconut!), refreshments, and fried snacks.

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Money, taxis, and other exciting stuff

I tell ya, knowing Thai is really important to getting a good deal on stuff. Vendors will often quote their prices in English and Thai, with the English price being twice as high— so people who don’t know their numbers are screwed. They also try to jack up the prices on stuff only foreigners use, like cereal (I’ve seen some for 6 dollars! Whereas a Thai meal is about 60 cents.) Some people must be really gullible.

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(illustration by yours truly)

 

There are also plenty of tuk-tuk (open-air taxi) scams. I was lucky to be part of one on my first day here. I got into one and it started going– then a block away the driver turned around and asked if we could make a stop real quick at a jewelry shop. Luckily I knew what was happening… these guys take you to the jewelry shop, make it hard for you to leave, and then trick (or force) you into buying a bunch of gems that are basically worthless.

It’s hard enough to get around without those guys trying to trick you. Taxis can be pretty difficult– here, if the driver doesn’t want to go where you’re going, he will just keep driving. One night a friend and I were trying to get home, and we literally went through about 10 different taxis who didn’t want to take us. Some of them, when we said where we were headed, would slowly turn their heads away and drive off, without giving a reply, or waiting for us to close the door!

 

Walking isn’t much of an option either… the streets are so confusing, and a lot of them are only a few blocks long. I’ve spent hours looking for a place before. And the worst part is that when you ask a Thai directions, he/she will point you in some direction whether they know where the place is or not. I’m not sure whether it’s because they don’t want to be impolite by turning down your request for directions, or because they just want you to scram…

 

Anyhow, I think this concludes my rant about money, taxis, and other exciting stuff.

Uh oh…

Well folks, I got robbed.

I guess I was totally asking for it… I had my wallet sitting out on the table while I was eating (in the food court of the building where I’m studying, which had always seemed pretty chill…), and someone took it while I was looking the other way.

Thailand had felt really safe up until now, this is a real wake-up call to remind me that I’m in a third world country. Most of all, I feel pretty humiliated… it seems like several of the workers sitting there in their stalls would have had to see this happen. It feels like a conspiracy against the foreigner… no one was on my side to say “wtf are you doing?” And worst of all, I feel like that person probably hangs out there a lot… so I’ll be seeing them everyday and they’ll get to laugh knowing that they stole my wallet and I never figured them out.

Blech

Normally, I think that interracial couples are beautiful. But there’s one particular setup over here that just doesn’t sit right with me. Since I’ve been in Thailand, I’ve seen countless crusty old white men holding hands with young Thai women. It’s so gross! I swear, the group of expat men here is the most unimpressive, homely group of men I’ve ever seen in my life. And oh, do they love to brag about the amount of attention that they get from the young Thai women. Come on, they have to be aware that if they weren’t buying everything for them these women would shrink at their touch. What’s to brag about here? I feel really embarrassed for these poor dudes… I bet most of them had felt undesirable/incompetent with women their whole lives until they came here and experienced some positive attention (even if it is contrived!) It’s an embarrassment for everyone involved, really.

They can go ahead and have their fun I suppose, the women are just as responsible for perpetrating this system… All the same, I wish these creeps wouldn’t then get such an inflated view of themselves that they start looking at EVERY woman around here like they are goods in a market that can be bought for the right price. Or to get the idea that every unremarkable comment they make should amaze any woman, because we’re all dumb/helpless. A few bucks may have you spoiled over here, but never forget that in the rest of the world you were just a nasty old sketcher.

Thai Food

Where to even start. The food here is amaaaaazing!

 

 

The streets are filled with restaurants– most people in the city, from what I can tell, eat out pretty much every meal. Ingredients at the market end up being more expensive than having someone cook for you. Noodle stalls are really popular– vendors display their ingredients in a glass case and you decide what type of noodles and meat you want in a pre-made broth. Roasted meat, fish balls, and fresh fruit are also popular stands. Then there are my favorite stands, which have 5-10 dishes laid out on a table and you pick whichever one looks the most interesting. Although I often don’t recognize the ingredients, it often turns out to be something yummy, like fish and Thai eggplant in sweet coconut milk broth. Though, I got this dish the other night, and I would challenge you to tell me what kind of meat was in there. I’m pretty sure it was something like praying mantis, or snail. It was unreal.

 

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One thing I’ve found is that the more you spend around here on ANYTHING, the less you really get. If you go to touristy restaurants, they will take out the majority of the spices in the food in order to “play it safe” and not offend any foreign palates. OR you can go to a street vendor and spend about 60 cents on a delicious meal, and get to talk to some really sweet, down to earth locals.

 

(This is true of things other than food, too– you can go to the famed “floating market” Damnoen Saduak, and get ripped off on a boat that will most likely just take you to shops that will harass you to buy stuff… Or you can travel to Amphawa, a more local floating market 30 minutes away, and spend practically nothing to go on a boat tour lit by thousands of fireflies!)

 

But, I digress.

 

The Thai cooking philosophy is quite interesting– the idea is that every dish should balance sweet, salty, spicy, and sour flavors. This can go extremely well, such as it did in my lunch today; half the plate was filled with pineapple marinated in a spicy, sweet tomato sauce, and the other half was full of salty pickled cabbage. When done right, I think these four flavors can balance each other out nicely. Other times it can go horribly wrong, in my humble opinion. An example was when I decided to try this bag of fruit that I picked up at a fresh fruit stall:

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I thought I was about to have some kind of fruit with brown sugar crystals on it. Maybe a sprinkling of cinnamon or some other nicety. Dead wrong.

 

I about had a heart attack when I bit into the first piece. It was fruit, but it was covered with fish sauce, flaked chili peppers, and enough salt to knock you out. Some surprises I could do without.

 

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the spiciest food I’ve ever tasted in my life. Sometimes I’ll be chowing down at a restaurant, and the food slowly gets spicier and spicier until I feel like the apocalypse has hit. At that point I usually stand up from the table and run around the restaurant flailing my arms and causing a scene. People stare, and they laugh, but I know they feel for us Westerners– sometimes even they have a moment when they might lose it from all the spice.

 

There is a pretty good reason for using so much spice, I’ve learned, and I’d never thought of this before– it’s to kill germs. In a hot and muggy climate, when refrigeration, sanitation, and hygienic food preparation are often not the greatest, adding a lot of spice to the food helps kill bacteria and helps the food keep longer. I could never understand before why someone would subject themselves to such spicy torture on a daily basis, but this one reason motivates me to keep on chuggin’ and try to raise my spice tolerance.

 

 

I just stepped …

I just stepped out onto my balcony for a moment to take in the beautiful city skyline, and the sweetness of the evening breeze, and I was struck with how amazing life can be.

In only a week’s time, I’ve established a new home, a group of friends that I really admire and feel close to, and best of all, I’m completely engaged in every second of the day.

It’s crazy, and awesome (in the deeper sense of the word), how much can happen in such a short period.