A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3: Thailand

Public transport, hair dye and all things food

semi-overcast 34 °C

Public Transport

After travelling to a wholesale shopping centre near my host family's home (where I purchased Ray Ban sunglasses with prescription lenses for $150 less than in Australia), Kao and I traveled by public bus to the large shopping centre where we were to meet Nicole and Tang Tang. The bus, among other aspects foreign to me, had a plastic bag filled with Thai literature hanging from each pair of seats. The notion that a public bus system would provide reading materials for passengers perplexed me. With bus tickets so inexpensive (approximately 10 Thai Baht = 30 Australian cents), why would the bus pay for reading materials? Why provide a means for passengers to not be bored on their trip? Is this another example of Thai hospitality going above and beyond the expectations of people from other countries?

Shopping Centre and Hairdressers

The highlight of my festivities at the shopping centre was the food. From sweet wrapped crepe-like items filled with syrup, ice cream and fruit, to delicious passionfruit juices and a main lunch meal of traditional Thai food for less than AUS$3. The inexpensive nature of the food in comparison to in Australia was a pleasant surprise to my wallet, but not to my waistline!

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Nicole and I decided that Thailand was the perfect time and place to get our hair dyed...despite not being able to communicate with the hairdressers except through gestures! Despite having my hair thinned without my permission, the result of the experience was my hair about two inches shorter, thinner and a beautiful, bright red colour. :) My previous experience with hair dye had never produced such a nice red result, so despite my apprehension during the process (and the strange order of events - wash, dry, cut, dye, wash, dry, fix up the trim!)

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Amusingly, Nicole and Tang Tang (the two other students in the program, plus Kao and myself), seemed to keep disappearing while we were shopping! Kao and I found ourselves calling Tang Tang to find out where they had disappeared to. In the end it became amusing, as Kao and I would look at each other, say 'not again' and laugh!

Driving

It is popular in Australia to refer to Asian drivers as being dangerous on the roads. Coming to Thailand (or China, for that matter), it becomes immediately clear that driving revolves around a different set of norms and involves a completely different style of driving. The differences that I notice most often are: the lack of seatbelt wearing (and sometimes the lack of option to do so), riding in the back of vehicles, ignoring lanes/speed limits/indicating, rarely doing head checks and tailgating...just to name a few! :P

Asian driving may appear dangerous in Australia, but similarly, my driving would likely be dangerous in Asia! My driving style matches with that of Australia, not that of Thailand, where is appears that everyone is 'on the same page' regarding driving customs and this allows for the driving system to function. Despite this, Kao did mention that there are very frequently minor crashes on Thai roads and most cars display scratches and dents bearing witness to this.

'Man power'

The minimum wage in Thailand, at least 10x less than in Australia, results in a different perspective determining the 'best' way for things to be done. For example, rather than having a machine to provide tickets on the bus, or for the bus driver to do this, a person has the job of collecting money and distributing tickets. Similarly, in central Bangkok, 'sky train' stations have a booth where a person exchanges your money (that's in the form of notes) for coins. Of course, such a thing could easily be done by a machine, but where the cost of labour is cheaper than the cost of a machine, situations are handled very differently.

Respect

I have learnt how to say hello (sa-wat-dii khâ) and thank you (khop khun khâ), in conjuction with the 'wai'. The wai is the Thai greeting which consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. I have found the level of respect conveyed within Thai culture to be very interesting, with such a polite and formal greeting used in a wide variety of situations. Such occasions include: to elders, to shop keepers and to people that they are meeting for the first time. This seems like a very high level of respect for other people, especially in comparison to that shown in Australia. Prior to my experiences in Bangkok I would have thought that I would not enjoy such formalities, but I have surprised myself, with the set greeting providing comfort in situations where it may have been unclear what the appropriate greeting would have been in Australia. This traditional custom appears to have continued within Thai popular culture. This is suggested by the consistent use of the wai by youth, by television presenters on popular programs and by actors within Thai films. Popular culture appears to have supported the continuation of the wai through integrating it into modern Thai life.

Posted by ruth'stravels 23.06.2012 08:40 Archived in Thailand Tagged food shopping public_transport buses hair shopping_centre dye hairdresser ray_bans Comments (0)

Day 5: Thailand

Cabaret, Korean Make-Up, Japanese Buffet and Safety

rain 34 °C

Safety

It seems that, in general, comfort and fun are prioritised higher than safety. This seems to be the case when discussing and observing the choice to rarely wear a seatbelt, helmets, protective gear and riding in the back of a vehicle! Personally I have found this decision to take quite some getting used to. I am making a conscious effort to wear a seatbelt whenever possible, but, in line with Thai priorities, they are frequently unavailable. For example, in my host family's car, one of the back seats has had its seatbelt clip replaced with a DRINK BOTTLE HOLDER! Fun and convenience over safety? Is popular culture supporting the notion that everything needs to be fun and that safety should take the 'back seat'? Despite the lower safety standards that I've noticed, within the Nonthaburi suburbs there is an abundance of speed bumps, which keeps the traffic from driving above safe speeds in these areas.

Hospitality

Continuing Thai hospitality, today Kao's mother gave me a necklace. This gift surprised me, as I'd never expect someone to give me a gift when staying in their home...in fact, I'd expect it to be the other way around!

Central/Downtown Bangkok

Today's festivities included a visit to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, getting my make-up and curls done in a Korean style and my continued failure to find a leather case for my camera. The Bangkok Art and Cultural Center is best described by photographs, though I will say that I much preferred the art in the section that His Majesty the King of Thailand had chosen, than the art I have seen in exhibitions in Australia. I think the style of art that I prefer must be more popular in Thailand, as that entire exhibition had absolutely amazing pieces of art. The interactive nature of the other exhibitions within the center appear to be influenced by the global trend for artwork to move away from the traditional and to instead encompass interactive modes. It was interesting to see the choices made by the artists in creating their artwork, as I found it difficult in the interactive sections to note the specific popular cultures that would have influenced each. I suspect that this is due to a lack of knowledge of the very specific influences, rather than a lack of influences. Contrarily, in the section chosen by the King, the vast majority contained images of the King himself. This shows that Thai popular culture and art is still thoroughly interested in the monarchy and the King's role within contemporary Thai society.

In Paragon Shopping Center in central Bangkok, I had the opportunity to have my make-up done by the Korean brand 'Skin Food'. This experience showed the way that popular culture has shaped the view of beauty in Korea and throughout Asia to preference pale skin and large eyes. Following this experience, I had my hair curled at a nearby hair salon. I noticed quite a difference between hair curling in Australia and in Thailand. It seems, based on how they did mine and the style that I have seen in the streets, that the hair is curled from approximately mid-way down the hair. This is quite different to in Australia, where the hair would be curled from much higher. It seems that the way that it's done in Australia attempts to convey that the hair is naturally curly, whereas the way it is done in Asia appears to disregard the fact that it will look unnatural. This notion seems to extend to appearance in regards to plastic surgery, where this has negative connotations in Australia because it is not natural, but is more acceptable in Asia, where it is okay to look 'natural' through having plastic surgery and other 'fake' things done.
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Calypso Cabaret

Tonight's festivities included interviewing two Calypso Cabaret dancers, followed by watching the Calypso Cabaret performance.

Kao, Tang Tang, Nicole and I had the opportunity to interview two of the dancers and their creative manager, Hans. Hans was quite a character, interrupting the interview, speaking in a condescending manner, lecturing us regarding his assumptions of our views and contradicting himself. For example, after lecturing us on the innappropriate nature of the term 'ladyboy', he then continued to use the term to refer to the women that we were interviewing. A further example of contradiction: he lectured on his hatred of the assumptions of the 'majorities' (e.g. heterosexuals) regarding the transgender dancers...but then he condemned me for being 'white, female and heterosexual' - oh, the assumptions! His tone of voice was incredibly frustrating, as we were given no opportunity to convey acceptance of the transgender people, nor to correct his rude assumptions about us. In summary? Hans was quite a harsh, overpowering man, who would not pause for breath during his tyrades.

Despite the incredibly harsh and rude nature of Hans' lectures throughout the interview, he did reiterate some points made by the women during the interview. Such key points made by the women during the interview included, that they do not need others to fight for their rights for them, that they wish to be viewed as people rather than pidgon-holed and stereotyped through the use of labels (such as 'ladyboy' or 'ka-theouy') and that both of them have or are studying at university (that is, being in cabaret is just a side-job for many of the dancers). I found it very sad when they spoke of each of them being discriminated against and jested during cabaret performances, as well as everyday life.

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Posted by ruth'stravels 20.06.2012 09:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged food bangkok japanese korea thai hair curls calypso cabaret make-up lady_boys Comments (0)

Day 4: Thailand

Live television, radio and an amazing restaurant

rain 33 °C

Food

Thailand...the land of unidentifiable dried foods in plastic bags? It certainly feels this way. Local markets have a wide array of bagged foods, at times including drinks and sauces, but always in the same type of air-filled plastic bag. I suppose this is just a different way of storing food, a method which allows the contents to be easily seen.

What I find much more interesting is the issue of food hygiene! Why are foods that, by Western standards, should be kept hot or cold, are frequently keep at room temperature? With the room temperature within un-airconditioned houses and outside in the local stalls and markets being in the low 30's (celsius) with high humidity, it appears to be a breeding ground for bacteria!

I presume that Thai people have become accustomed to this high level of bacteria. Of course, as an Australian in Thailand for a short time, the bacteria concerns me greatly. Similar to many other travelers, I am in a constant battle to avoid food poisoning from the very different food preparation and storage methods evident. Luckily for me, I have not yet had any ill effects from the local food, despite eating a range of street food and food from 'shifty' looking shops (hopefully I'm not jinxing myself by typing this!).

For dinner we went to an amazing restaurant on the Chao Phraya River. The atmosphere, live music, view over the river and food combined to make a wonderful night. Darm sought out the opportunity to sing a Thai song, through which he proved his talent for singing! :) I found the Thai song very enjoyable, which makes me think about Asian music in Australia. It seems that Korean and Japanese music have a bit of a following in particular Australian sub-cultures or groups of people, but this is not the case for Thai music. What is preventing Thai music from becoming popular in Australia? Presumably the language isn't the issue, as Korean/Japanese music is usually not in English, though I have noticed that many pop songs from these countries include a few English words in the Chorus (possibly to entice English-speakers). If Thai music reached Australia it would have a very positive effect for Thailand, with increased interest and tourism to the country. Personally, listening to amazing songs in Thai makes me want to learn some Thai language...so bring on the Thai songs in Australia!
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Animals

In line with my thoughts about the elephants that I had seen in concrete enclosures the previous day, today I noticed that my host family (Kao's family), has a pet dog. As I noticed that the dog was to be left in the concreted 'front yard' area, I decided to breach the topic of dog walking with Kao. Her response felt against the grain for an Australian possessing views of high conditions for animals, but similarly brought up a range of questions regarding how the popular culture of Thailand may be supporting or altering the Thai view of animals. In Kao's case, their dog is never walked because in Thailand the concreted space is considered sufficient. Contrasting is the popular view within Australian culture that pet dogs should have a grass area in the yard and receive frequent, if not daily, walks for exercise (due to believing the the yard is not enough space for a dog to spend all of its time - even if this space is relatively large and grassed).

DJs and Radio

Easy FM and Virgin FM were the focus of our attention for the bulk of the day. Easy FM plays mainly international music, which means that the vast majority of the music played is in English. Whereas, Virgin FM plays mostly Thai pop music, with a sprinkling of the most popular international songs. Our interviews with the DJs for these stations, as well as the manager of the company that runs both of them, raised questions relating to the popularity of Thai, Korean and Western music compared to each other, as well as why Korean pop music is more popular internationally than Thai pop music. It was suggested that Korean pop stars are a package: they can sing, dance, act, be beautiful and advertise products. On the other hand, Thai pop singers were conveyed as just being attractive and good singers. It was further suggested that in order for Thai pop music to become a product that Thailand can successfully export, the singers need to be 'the whole package'.
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Live Television

The evening provided the opportunity to interview Salinee (a famous DJ, television host and music producer) and then for her to record an interview with us for her television program! During the interview Salinee suggested that in order for Thai pop stars to compete with Korean stars they need to have the same thorough training in all areas of entertainment so that they are the 'whole package' too. She stated that plastic surgery is done by all Korean stars and that Thai stars need to embrace this if they are to reach the high level of international popularity achieved by Korean pop stars. This issue of plastic surgery was a confusing one, as it appears that its very common but not full accepted by the general public. I think that this will be a very interesting topic for the forum that we are hosting on Monday. Salinee also made a controversial statement that the Thai government needs to provide further support to the arts in Thailand, including music. She believes that this is a contributing factor in Thai music lagging behind the popularity of Korean music. While this was controversial, and expressed using colourful language, this was also implied by the DJs and manager interviewed at the radio stations earlier in the day.
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Posted by ruth'stravels 18.06.2012 02:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged restaurant river dogs pets station radio television dried_food food_in_bags food_hygiene Comments (0)

Day 1 & 2: Thailand

Hospitality, elephants and dancing

rain 33 °C

Flight from Melbourne to Bangkok

My reaction when I saw that our flight was leaving Melbourne at 11:30pm was, 'Oh, that's convenient. I can have dinner at home, go up to the airport and sleep on the plane'! Could I have been any more wrong? Well, what I have learnt from this flight:

  • Thai Airways provide nice food
  • Exit row seats certainly do have great leg room and individual televisions - despite their conspicuous location and Nicole initially giving away her seat!
  • I will never, and I repeat, never, be able to sleep on a plane! If I cannot sleep on a plane, even with a busy day prior to the flight, an abundance of leg room and not having a stranger next to me (Nicole had that lucky seat!)...then I NEVER will!

Weather reaction

The humidity hit the moment we exited the plane - even the airport was humid, with no attempt to reduce this via air conditioning. Initially I thought that the humidity was 'not so bad', but as time lapsed, so did my acceptance of the humidity! Luckily there is an air conditioner in Kao's room, so I can combat the heat and humidity in order to be able to sleep at night. :)

Airport style

Why is it that Singapore airport, and as I've discovered today, Bangkok airport, attempt to provide a welcoming airport atmosphere where the flora of the country comes to meet you? Is a higher value placed on making a good impression on foreigners?

Personally, I appreciate this extra effort and it allows me to feel like my exposure to the country and its wonderful flora is beginning the moment I step off the plane. But why doesn't Melbourne do that? Do Melbournians not care about making a good impression in the airport? Maybe feeling as though foreigners will love Australia, so we needn't make the extra effort?

This seems to link to the importance that Thai culture places upon hospitality, which I had only read about until my experiences today.

Kao's family

As my stay in Bangkok is through participation in the Talkback Classroom project, my accommodation is home stay with Kao, a Thai student who stayed with me for some of the Melbourne part of the project.

I feel that the best way to convey my feeling staying in Kao's family home is through a focus on famous Thai hospitality. Thai hospitality was clear from Kao's mother's manner and provision of everything that I need. Despite a slight language barrier, we ate lunch together (home cooked foods that I wouldn't be able to identify, except that they were 'very Thai') and she gave me a tour of the Chinese Buddhist temple nearby. This temple was amazing, especially when Darm informed me that all the gold was REAL and commissioned by the King! The intricacies, colours and standard of finish were amazing... too amazing for my camera to sufficiently capture the beauty.

I found it interesting to see portable fans throughout the house. This looked initially strange, but was a godsend once the humidity became too intense for me. Another difference that I noticed was that food was left out on the table, simply covered by a wood/reed basket! In Australian culture this would be viewed as allowing bacteria to grow, and is certainly not allowed according to Australian National Food Safety Standards. Nonetheless, this practice is used in Thailand and I presume that people are not perpetually ill because of it!

Lengnoeiyi Chinese Temple, Bang Bua Thong, Nonthaburi

This temple showed the amazing wealth of the Thai royal family. The King of Thailand commissioned this temple to be built approximately 5 years ago. The standard of the temple is a welcome surprise, with all gold in the temple being real gold and with the colours and intricate details being impeccable.

I found it interesting to see the variety of ages preying at the temple. It appeared that many of the people I saw preying in one room would then be seen in a later room praying again. Darm explained that this is due to each of the rooms/statues representing something different. For example, the only female statue represented luck.

Lengnoeiyi Chinese temple

Lengnoeiyi Chinese temple

Siam Niramit

The evening spent at Siam Niramit was full of surprises. The paths within the beautiful traditional Thai garden led to a variety of traditional houses from different areas of Thailand. At each of these houses, or 'check-points' (as they felt), there was a Thai person demonstrating something from that specific area. I found this most interesting, as I had not realised the depth of variety within Thailand. I believe that a contributing factor to this is my lack of knowledge regarding the variety of housing used by the Indigenous peoples of Australia or other countries. It feels like this leads to an erroneous assumption that countries are uniform in culture.

The stage performance was engaging, humerous, surprising and intellectually stimulating. As cameras were not allowed into the theatre (all attendants were required to deposit them at one of a series of desks), I have no footage of this highlight of Thailand. Unfortunately, I must advise that all add this to their Thai cultural holiday's to-do list!

Prior to the stage performance, the dancers performed a range of traditional Thai dances. These dances were complemented by the accompanying traditional music and the backdrop of elephants and traditional Thai garden. It was during this time that I took the opportunity to feed an elephant! I paid 30 Baht (approximately AUD$1) and was given a small woven basket filled with tiny cucumbers. I was quite hesitant, as I was unsure of the protocol for feeding the elephants and was not able to communicate with the elephant handler due to the language barrier. As can be seen in the video further down the page, it was an amazing experience.

Note: Prior to the beautiful backdrop for the elephants, the had been kept chained in concrete enclosures adjacent to the car park. Initially, I was captured by the exotic nature of the elephants, but this was paused by my awareness of the situation. Animal rights in Australia are relatively strict, with local zoos conveying the views of the public through providing animals with enclosures as close to their natural habitat as possible. The conditions for these elephants made me feel as if I was stepping back fifty or one hundred years and observing popular views on animal rights. How do Thai people feel about the conditions that animals should be kept in? Well, one Thai person viewing the same elephants responded that many Thai people are not concerned by the situation, though noted that it is illegal to allow one's elephant to roam the streets of cities. Such a situation is very thought provoking and may be a source of popular culture questions asked throughout my time in Bangkok with the Talkback Classroom project.

Posted by ruth'stravels 17.06.2012 07:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged home culture flight thailand bangkok sleep siam stay popular niramit Comments (0)

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