Uniquely Thailand

April 22, 2002

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 contains unexpected twists and turns at first. I have decided to document some of Thailand’s unique features; it is only a matter of time before they will become unnoticeable to me.

Let’s start with going to the movies. Movie theatres offer excellent bargains, fluffy seats, and the most excruciatingly loud sound systems and intolerably-cold air-conditioned temperatures I have ever experienced. 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 begin to have full-volume conversations with each other or on their mobile phones while the movie plays. Hence the need for the blaring soundtrack.

Another unique feature of Thailand is220402k1.jpg the ‘nasal refresher.’ 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.

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. 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!220402k2.jpg 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.

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 not220402k3.jpg sure if this is a matter of vanity or practicality.

Karaoke machines in strange locations are another wonder. They pop up in supermarkets, video parlours or get stuffed into the smallest of restaurants. Singers of every age can be found belting out tunes throughout the day. Some karaoke booths are of the open-air style, while others are like phone boxes with seating.

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. Most visitors refuse to believe this when I tell them.

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.

One of my personal favourite ‘uniquely Thailand’ features would best be called “The Restaurant Sitting In A Lot Strewn With Garbage.” As roadside eating venues are popular and sometimes space is short, tables end up being placed wherever they can possibly fit. My neighbourhood boasts such a venue and it is always jam-packed. Luckily, the garbage is of the non-stinky plastic variety and poses no threat other than the non-aesthetically pleasing sight it provides.

These are some of the reasons why still to this day I never tire of gazing out at Thailand.

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