Now the culture of the West can make foreigners come across as condescending here, especially as some see Spirit Houses, amulets and some other Thai superstitions as cute. (I just think of John Cleese saying, “Gee, do you guys actually have your own country here? Really! And you do things in funny ways all of the time like this? Brilliant! You’ve even got your own language, aww, bless!”) When I take pictures of these things here it can be seen as crazy (I can hear the words farang ting tong, crazy white person uttered) or a times the Thais can feel as though we mock them. I explained to friends why I take these pictures, we just don’t have these things back home, they are quite beautiful and my friends and family enjoy looking at the photos. That works.
I forget that Westerners have superstitions and odd customs too. When someone sneezes here, nobody says anything. When I say, “Bless you” out of habit I get an odd reaction. So, I started to explain why we say it. The story of one’s heart stopping or the old belief that the soul was trying to escape when someone sneezes began to sound strange even to me.
Speaking of needing to read a book or get some sense I went out to Patpong with some female Thai friends the other night. In Patpong, as with many places, the bar girls (prostitutes) are mixed in with the crowd. Anyhow, one of my friends was propositioned as a prostitute by a group of farangs! She was understandably upset and ran to the bathroom in tears as she did nothing whatsoever to give that impression. No make-up, conservative clothing and out with a group of similar women. If these guys have no common sense, maybe they need a guidebook to tell them this. The men departed soon after their mistake and they may have noticed I was on my way over to demand an apology for my friend, in Thai, girl Thai, complete with wai…hey, if they didn’t read a book they wouldn’t know the difference. It’s a common joke played on foreign men here mostly by bar girls, men speaking, “girl Thai” are then known to the locals as sex tourists.
Afterwards, she asked me what she should say if such a misunderstanding ever arose again. For some reason, Thais sometimes seem to think that there is a perfect English response that I know and they don’t. I thought for a minute and said, “How about, I think you have made a mistake?” My friend shook her head and said that it wasn’t rude enough. “Okay, how about, I wouldn’t fuck you for all the tea in China?” Immediately, all my friends nodded and decided that they found their phrase. So, if you hear a Thai woman ever say this, I probably know her.
Some other useful information can be found in those books that some travelers refuse to read. I went out late at night to go to the 7-11 and on my way are a few of the bars that specialize in bar girls. Women in skimpy outfits stand out front and harass many of the men that walk by, especially foreigners. When the night gets later, the women get more aggressive as closing time draws nearer. I was walking behind an American guy and two of the women pounced, draping themselves on him. He was attempting to politely get them off of him, and that only made them more aggressive. I walked right by and laughed to myself at his predicament. After he finally freed himself, he joked to me, “Why did they only bother me?” I advised him to wear a dress or learn how to say, “I have no money, can you loan me some?” in Thai. (A useful phrase or two can be found…in books!) As no good deed goes unpunished, he then asked me what I was doing that evening (in that how you doin’ kind of way) and I brusquely told him that I was going home to sleep. (And, no, I am not Russian.)
To summarize the other gripes I have with travelers here I will do so in a short attention span format:
Bangkok Travelers’ Style Guide
Put some clothes on, fercripessake!
Yes, it’s hot here; it is the tropics after all. But look around you, if you are dressed more like a bar girl than a local, you’re not dressed right. It’s hardly Riyadh here, just cover your shoulders and knees and everything in between. That fish white belly hanging out beneath your shirt looks stupid back home too.
Spend more than fifty cents on a shirt!
I know you’re just dying to have a beer logo shirt written in Thai. In two minutes, that shirt is creeping into your armpits and showing off your pit stains. Not to mention you most likely can’t read Thai. I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said, “Cat poop like robot.” For all you know, that shirt you want says the same thing.
I did mention it’s hot, riiiight. Bangkok is also a populous city and the folks here generally don’t give anyone too much personal space. At times, I have had to move away from other farangs on the Skytrain because, one: they stink, two: I don’t want folks thinking its me that stinks, three: they really stink! We have plenty of Boot’s pharmacies here that sell British toiletries here at very reasonable prices in case you don’t want strawberry-yogurt-whitening-happy deodorant.
Get a bathing suit that fits!
Europeans at the pool, I am looking at you. For blighting an otherwise nice pool, anyone wearing a Speedo should be shot. Maybe I’m a bit American on this, but anyone who has a gut bigger than mine also has no business in a bikini. Women sunbathing topless is also incredibly offensive to locals.
Read the signs and obey them!
When signs are posted in English about dress codes, the Thais are trying to tell you something. Yes, you, you, you, farang. So if you walk past the sign when leaving the pool that says shirts and pants or skirts are required in the restaurant and lobby, this means you. No matter how good you think you look in your bathing suit, unless your hair is on fire, you should take the time to put clothes on. And if your hair is on fire, heading for the pool is probably a better choice anyway. In temples, you must take off shoes and have your arms and knees covered. Think about how one would dress for synagogue or church. You don’t need to be that dressed up, but think about how offensive going to either of those places in shorts is considered in most cases. This means you.
Spray or get lizard friends!
We farangs are like gourmet foreign food to mosquitoes and right now both mosquitoes and I are in season. Pink polka dots are not a good look on any complexion. Ants also find their way into everywhere and anywhere, even if you are in the penthouse of the Four Seasons, you have ants. Spraying helps but keeping sweets packed away is the best way to curb the problem. Lizards are good, but having too many around also means cleaning up lizard poop. If there’s a way to litter train the guys, please let me know.
© Lin. All rights reserved by the author.