Public transport, hair dye and all things food
17.06.2012 - 17.06.2012 34 °C
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!
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!)
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!
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.
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.
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.