There is no shortage of foreigners living here in Bangkok. I am one of them. I believe there is no book, cultural preparation class, or catalogued form of knowledge that can fully prepare one for the leap into the big mango. This city is a living, breathing organic mess and is not easily categorized like a butterfly collection. Everyone seems to have a different version on how to cope with living here and what it all means. Your best personal chance to make a sense of it all is to simply make your own version and keep an open mind. I have had several “epiphanies” here which have totally changed my perspective and even my inner being at times. Let’s start from the beginning.
Life in Thailand in the beginning means: strange and sometimes horrible smells, getting your head blasted off by spicy food, being stuck in traffic and/or expecting to die in an accident at any minute, staring in awe at unsanitary conditions and daredevil motorbike riders, spending six hours in a Thai supermarket trying to figure out what it all is and what you should buy, feeling lost in the chaos, and very overwhelmed.
Life in Thailand also means strange forms of transportation: mopeds carrying families of five and all their shopping bags, dinosaur busses painted in brilliant colors, the most interesting forms of street vending motorized apparatus, and the slickest and most expensive of modern automobiles all go whizzing by. People who may not care to shift gears and who also do not believe in the concept of lanes, curves, red lights, or pedestrians are in the driver’s seats.
Thailand is also an explosion of architecture. The 30-room mansion or 27-story skyscraper exists comfortably next to huts built out of thatch, bamboo, cement, and beer, and soft drink billboards. This creates a shocking visual spectacle of juxtaposition with the middle class being almost non-existent and blending itself in between the extremes.
Thailand is also in a totally different time zone. Not in the simple sense that we are 11 or 12 hours ahead of the eastern coast of the United States. Here it is a different era, a different world, and perhaps a different planet. Time, like the Thai people, simply has its own way of getting things done. The seasons of hot, ridiculously hot, and hot with downpours of rain add to the confusion of the four-season veteran. And getting things done, anything done, takes more time.
In the beginning, Thailand leaves you pulling your hair out, banging your head against a wall, and praising the virtues, efficiency, cleanliness, and order of life “back home.” Nothing works correctly, the refrigerator breaks, the water is shut down, and nothing in your homes electrical system is grounded. The man who comes to install the computer line simply takes a big hammer and smashes a two and one-half foot diameter hole which gradually reduces itself into a small computer line sized hole into the side of your house. And then you have to pay him.
Welcome to the first months in Thailand. There are so many strange feelings inside including a dash of confusion, a pound of frustration, and one gallon of absolute bewilderment. Don’t forget to add millions of Thai people, an occasional elephant, and one gigantic language barrier.
Basic questions include: Why the h@!* am I here? What the h@!* is going on? What is the matter with this place anyway? Statements include: I think I might just like to go home now, and DOROTHY, YOU AREN’T IN KANSAS ANYMORE!
There may also be visions of grandeur, of your hopeful ability to transform and entire ‘dysfunctional’ nation and get the whole thing operating ‘your way.’ Well, this is only the beginning of your rollercoaster ride with the entire nation, so hang on.
Especially in the beginning, living in Thailand is a feeling of being out of step, out of time, like a zit-faced teenager tramping on your partner’s feet. But at least your partner is smiling, because your dance partner is Thailand.
Don’t worry. Time will reveal there is no better partner to dance with.