Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ten Things that have Surprised Me About Bangkok

Here are ten things I’ve found surprising since moving to Bangkok.  Now, I've already heard from some folks on the online ex-pat community forum I participate in here that I am nuts for thinking some of these things, that I'll change when I've been around a bit and I am so showing my greenhorn status with these observations.  

So be it.  Like I said, these are subjective observations that are based on my and mine alone previous expectations.  I'm not saying they're ultimate truths, just some things I've noticed. 
  1. How quickly I’ve acclimated to the heat.  97 degrees, 90% humidity every single day.  It doesn’t bother me except for the inconvenience of anything I’m wearing becoming soaked in sweat if I do much walking or exertion in the hot part of the day.
  2.  How used to expats people are in Bangkok.  Like with most of my expectations coming here, I’m comparing my experiences here to those I gained living in Indonesia 20-something years ago.  Back then, even in the relatively cosmopolitan capital of Jakarta, wherever I went, people stared at me.  If I were someplace by myself, people would come up to me and say hello, introduce themselves and want to be my friend, and not for nefarious reasons either. They were simply curious about this person who looked so different than they did.  Out in the provinces it was even more the case. I’d be walking down the street and people in their homes would call out to me (in a friendly way).  I’ve experienced nothing like that from Bangkokians.  Any extra attention one does receive is mostly from Tuk Tuk drivers trying to get you into their taxis, from the ladies hanging out on the steps of the massage parlors or the counterfeit phone vendors at the mall.  In all three of these cases, the attention is driven out of wanting to make me a customer.  

    In Bangkok, there is little to no interest in you as a foreigner for that mere fact alone.  They’re completely accustomed to us.  Even the children rarely stare. People treat you the same as they do the locals, which is both good and bad; it’s certainly surprising to me.

  3. How few vendors sell the foods that are sold in every Thai restaurant in the West.  When you think of Thai food, what’s the first thing you think of?  Pad Thai…It’s the number one thing on every Thai restaurant’s menu back home.  I thought it would be sold on every street corner. It is, in fact, not very common. Now, it may be more prevalent and I just don’t know how to find it, but since it’s cooked on a very distinctive, large round cooking surface, it usually stands out. Maybe you think of satay…that delicious meat on a stick with peanut sauce.  Again, very rare.
  4.  How clean the streets are.  Bangkok has cleaner streets, sidewalks, gutters and parks than any large city in America.  No one litters. There is a very active public works organizations that do things like sweep the sidewalks.  Now, the waterways are another matter, but I am very pleasantly surprised on how very clean this city is.
  5.  How quickly I am losing my English.  I got to keep writing to keep my native tongue sharp!  I should say my English is changing. Half the English speakers I talk to speak with one of those funny accents and use different idioms. I’m picking those up, mate.
  6.      How few smokers there are here.  Part of the cleanliness thing, one doesn’t see cigarette butts all over the streets like you do pretty much anywhere else in the world.  The stereotype of Asians is that they’re heavy smokers.  That’s true in Indonesia, and I hear it’s the same in Korea and Japan, but in Thailand, not so much.  It has been portrayed as very lower-class thing to do here.
  7.   I’d say there are twice as many McDonald’s per square mile in BKK than in the big cities I’ve lived in in America.  There are about 5x as many KFC’s and about 20x as many 7/11’s.  Seven Eleven Thailand is so successful that they recently made a bid to acquire Seven Eleven USA.  There are literally 7/11’s on every block and sometimes facing each other on opposite sides of the same street corner.
  8.  How bitter and negative so many of the other ex-pats who live here are.  I’ve been told that Bangkok can make anyone that way in time, and I don’t want to be negative about other people’s negativity, but the attitudes here can really be surprising.  Now, they may just be venting to other ex-pats because with each other we have the chance to talk about the down sides of the living here.  We can say things about and Thailand & Thai people that we might not say with the natives.  That said, you run into people with whom talking to is like talking into a black hole of black irony, complaints and criticism. 

    One might say something like. ‘Wow, it sure was a nice day today,’ and you’d get back, ‘Well, yesterday was shitty, and I’ll bet tomorrow will be even worse!’  In talking about students, I’ll come in full of sunshine and positivity: ‘I had a great class today. The students participated, they were well behaved and I felt like I really taught them today!’  Invariably, I’ll hear something like this in response: “Well, sometimes you’ll get that at the beginning of the semester, once they figure you out, they’ll be out of control.” Okay, I’m not going to let their attitudes effect mine own (and if you’re an expat in Thailand who thinks I will, you’re one of the people I’m talking about).  One of these days, I’m just going to ask one of these neg-pats, “If everything about the people & culture here is so ridiculous and worthy of your scorn, what the hell are you doing here?”
  9. That I would be made happy to see a grown man eating rice with a spoon.  Staying on the subject of ex-pats, my fate here since training in Phuket has been linked with that of Will, another American on the same program as I who happened to be placed in the same school as me.  I’m fairly sure Will would admit with little reservation that he hasn’t been the quickest to dive head first into the local customs and ways of doing things.  That’s fine; everyone has their own speed, but my instinct to help has found me telling Will on probably too many occasions ‘try it this way… do it that way’ as we both adjust to this new country.  One example would be how Thais eat.  They eat with a fork and spoon.  The fork is used to shovel rice and fixins on to the spoon, and the spoon goes in the mouth.  Americans eat rice like they do everything else, with a fork, which if you think about it, is a really poor instrument for that predominant food stuff here.  Up until yesterday, Will was still eating his rice with a fork.  Today, he was doing so with the spoon.  It made me feel good to see my training buddy coming around.  First the spoon, next, the bum gun (although I hope I don’t witness that acclimation.
  10.  How sexy the girls are. *sigh*


Tonight's video is spread out over two nights.  On the first night, I entertained my first visitors here in Bangkok.  I've known JD & Tracy going back some 6 or 7 years now, and we met on MySpace back in it's heyday of 2007-2008. We've never lived in the same town, but have been the kind of online friends that whenever we're in each other's vicinity, we connect.  I believe this is the third city I've recorded JD and I hanging out.  

It was late at night after we'd had dinner.  My plans for taking them on a boat ride were thwarted by the fact that the river boats don't run at night in Bangkok.  We were in the heart of downtown, so I took them to Nana Plaza... The World's Largest Adult Playground where Tracy wonders: "What do they do with their cocks?"... don't worry; I edited the video to make it PG.

The second half of the video is from my birthday night and an open mic compilation.  Enjoy! 


  1. Wow, you found an open mike in Bankok! I agree about not listening to the negative expats. You are there, you should look to the positive. I was going thru my collection of recipies yesterday and saw one we clipped from the Mercury News some years ago for Jai.

    Bet it would be impossible to find Chop Suey in China, or a California rool in Japan.

  2. Hope you had a great birthday Gil.

    A few years ago there was a special on Bangkok. It featured the girly-boys. Very interesting. BTW they tuck their "package" to the back.

    With your outgoing personality I can see how your time there could turn into a profitable tour-guide business. Hopefully you would not take it in the direction that would get you arrested when you come back to the states. ;-)

    I hope you find a girlfriend. Sounds like you would like to, just go for quality not quantity. And not one you have to pay. You are a cute guy, you don't have to go that route.

  3. About ex-pats and their negatives and complaints. I have to ask if they are N. Americans or British, Australian or New Zealanders. I have found that Americans tend to be friendly and more likely to be positive in outlook. British, including Au. & NZ have this fear of saying anything too positive in case they are seen to be happy chappies or something. Maybe they are afraid of frightening the good things away so use some kind of reverse speech/superstition/psychology. Coming back to NZ after a holiday in USA is like having a cup of cold water thrown at you as you listen to the general public. I love my home but we dress in black and too often have glasses that are less than half empty. We call it being real. Just saying!

    You have a quick wit. Many of the people who speak negatives respond well to a little bit of repartee. Have some fun with them.



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