After more than three years of living here, it is becoming even trickier to figure out what the unique features of Thailand are anymore. That’s when having visitors or eavesdropping on tourists comes in handy. Or remembering what the things that used to get on my nerves, but don’t (usually) anymore, were. I have decided to document some of Thailand’s unique features again this week, many of which had almost become unnoticeable to me. (See back issues: Uniquely Thailand, April 22, 2002: http://www.bangkokpost.net/kat/archives/220402a.html)
Do you or does anyone you know use a feather duster to keep his or her car clean? As silly as it may sound, breaking out your feather duster and giving your car a good once over is not considered strange at all in Thailand. Feather dusting cars seems to be most popular in intensely polluted Bangkok where the very idea of having a dust free car seems like the biggest uphill battle one could ever choose.
As bathrooms in Thailand can be very rustic affairs indeed, I always get excited when I spot the occasional sink, proceed to wash my hands in it and then get really annoyed when the water empties directly on to my feet and trousers. I am destined to fall for the ole ‘sink without the drainage pipe’ trick again, as it gets me every time.
A friend’s recent visit held some unexpected events and calculations at a travel agency. He wanted to go on a full-day tour of handicraft villages and was offered the following deal: “If one person goes, it is 800 baht (US$20) per person, but if two people go then it is only 500 baht for both of them.” He proceeded to introduce his imaginary and invisible friend ‘Fred’ to the confusion of the clerk.
Thailand has tons of watering holes and restaurants but don’t assume that all of these establishments keep beer or food on hand. It is a surprising fact that customers can sometimes bring food and drink along with them. On top of that, occasionally you may order a beer or a hamburger only to have a waiter or waitress run around the corner to fetch the item from a different store and serve it to you.
Most Thais like to look their best at all times but this can be made impossible during a big rainstorm. Many will find themselves without an umbrella. Some will choose to buy a new one in order to make it home in a semi-dry state. This is why you often see ‘hip people’ (tourists included) walking around the country holding electric pink, yellow or baby blue umbrellas with Hello Kitty, baby ducks, laughing teddy bears, pink hearts or chuckling panda bears on them.
It seems that most everyone has a mobile phone in Thailand. One ‘uniquely Thailand’ feature of these phones is that they come with a large variety of flashing lights as decorative features. But another unexplainable phone phenomenon simply involves answering. Person one answers the phone and says, “Hello?” Person two says, “Hello?” At this point, person one repeats, “Hello?” and person two answers with “Hello?” This can go on for up to twelve “Hellos” each.
Speaking of telephones, an article in the Bangkok Post recently reported that Thailand’s emergency number (191) gets 10,000 prank phone calls a day, many from children. Boys tended to report events such as “a fire burning…at the end of matchstick” or a dead body spotted “at a funeral” whereas girls rang up “just to say hello.”
Temperatures have been falling as Thailand gears up for official ‘cold season.’ That means that when the thermometer reads 28 degrees Celsius everyone breaks out the thickest jacket or sweater they can get their hands on and proceeds to walk around for the day declaring, “It’s freezing!” Yup, I’ve lived here too long. Here I sit with hat, sweater, socks and winter shoes. And it’s 24 degrees Celsius out.
And in closing, Thailand recently celebrated National Police Day. I didn’t know this and eyed pickup truckloads of SWAT policemen holding automatic rifles, with huge smiles on their faces, with some alarm. It all became clear that evening when I attended (by accident) a huge policeman celebration in the centre of town. All the (mostly amateur) policeman bands were allowed to play on stage and were given lots of dry ice for extra effect.
Brass knuckles and knives were on sale by the police and policemen that weren’t formally in a band simply sang karaoke at various information booths. The gruesome photographs of decapitated bodies, DUI casualties and motorcycle accident victims (on display to deter future such happenings) didn’t dampen the spirit of the celebration. “What a great day to commit a crime!” my friend said, as it was apparent that the entire police force was busy having a grand time.