Adamu is in Thailand – some initial thoughts

Hi everyone.

Blogging has taken something of a backseat in my life right now as I work on getting adjusted to my new life in Bangkok, where I’ll be based for the next year or so. I decided to come here and reunite with Mrs. Adamu (who’s working at an NGO here) after visiting in May and seeing that it wouldn’t be a complete disaster for me.

While I’ve traveled to several countries in Asia, this is my first time living someplace other than the US or Japan – the two parts of the world with possibly the highest living standards. Now I am living in a strange country that I know next to nothing about. I’m aware of some of the basic stuff, but certainly not enough to rant about it semi-coherently on this blog. But while I’m here, I’ll give you a list of some aspects of Thailand that have culture-shocked me so far:

Outlets that spark when you plug something into them.
Badly designed infrastructure (random low ceilings on staircases, doorknobs with sharp objects jutting out from them, unevenly spaced stairs, a tangle of low-hanging electrical wires in the streets with the occasional loose dangler) forcing me to stay extra vigilant.
Bangkok, a city the size of New York, has next no traffic lights.
Grime on the street (supposedly caused by diesel trucks and “tuktuks” – little scooter-taxis). The grime turns to grime-mud when it rains, making the streets slippery.
Speaking of the streets, they smell of funky Thai food constantly because they are lined with street vendors selling guavas, some kind of stinky spiked fruit, sausages, chicken, and other meats exposed to the open air and thus made inedible (to me anyway).
Constant reminders of how great the king is. It’s illegal to criticize the king here, but just to let you know I already think the king is great – I don’t really need to be reminded of it every day.
TV shows in Thailand make liberal use of cliched comedy sound effects – lots of slide whistles and BOIOIOING!
Living somewhere where I speak none of the language – but thankfully gesturing isn’t that tough and most Thai people can communicate with you in Tinglish. In fact, I would say that in general Thais’ English communication skills surpass those of the Japanese.
Aggressive salesmanship – tuktuk drivers scream “WHERE YOU GO” at me, the DVD sellers at Pintip Plaza get right in your damn face, Big C (a discount store, Thailand’s got lots of them) employs something like 6 people in their electronics section whose sole job is to approach people and sling them some jive.
There is a general chaos about this city. Thai people seem to like their driving aggressive, their crowds dense, and their food outside and on the sidewalk.

Just to name a few. That’s not to say things are all that bad here. It’s wonderful to be back with Mrs. Adamu, the food is generally pretty good, many people are friendly, and I can find more good American food (Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut – you know, only the best) here than I could in Japan.

I still really need to learn the language though. Thai is a little similar to Chinese in that it’s a tonal language. Right now most people just chuckle whenever I try and say something since I am just randomly stabbing at the tones.

I’ll try and keep you posted on interesting stuff I notice here. I’m especially interested in getting at some of the more interesting aspects of the Thailand-Japan relationship (though supply channels/factory management/FTA negotiations tend not to make great conversation starters), as that’s at least some sort of perspective I can start with.

12 thoughts on “Adamu is in Thailand – some initial thoughts”

  1. bq. some kind of stinky spiked fruit

    Hey! Don’t diss the durian, man! That is some good stuff.

    Sounds like you are gonna have a blast. That is awesome. Makes me want to go back to Bangkok. You are totally right about the language and foreigner amenities (PH, D&D, steakhouses, int’l bank machines everywhere) that are way better than Japan. The reason? Can anyone say… “International Sex Industry”?

    Bangkok has really cleaned up in the past 10 years. If you have a little bit of money you can live quite comfortably (and not like a dirty backpacker…). I envy you man. Canada somehow doesn’t seem that exotic. 😉

  2. I think giving sex tourism credit for international ATMs and Western fast food is pretty absurd. As far as I know, Japan is the only country that does NOT use the international ATM standard, and much like the lesser presence of western fast food than in other Asian countries, this is because Japan actually developed first. They set up their own domestic ATM network before the international standard reached the country and never bothered updating it. They already had Yoshinoya, so western fast food wasn’t quite as impressive as in other countries that did not have domestic chain stores.

    On another note, I’ll be stopping by Bangkok on the 18th of this month for a little over a week to stay with the Adamu’s, so perhaps I will add some of my own impressions when the time comes.

  3. Well you’re right that Japan already had kind of a fast food culture (ramen stands etc) before foreign chains were allowed to open in the 70s, but then so does Thailand, with its countless open-air chicken and sausage stands. Thing about the foreign and foreign-ish fast food chains is part of what they’re selling is a lifestyle to more affluent Thais. The menus are always more expensive than the street stalls and the restaurants are brightly colored and clean, in stark contrast to the filth that surrounds most of Bangkok. Would you like a slice of America with your fried chicken?

  4. Hey! Don’t diss the durian, man! That is some good stuff.

    No, no, I’m gonna have to diss the durian. I bought a pack of durian-flavored cookies in Chinatown once because I wanted something different. Little did I know that after opening the pack, the smell wouldn’t come out of my bedroom for DAYS. And these were just COOKIES, dammit. Thank God I didn’t actually buy one of those wretched fruits.

  5. Hear hear. The smell offends my nose for an entire block sometimes. Perhaps I’ll learn to love it, but don’t get your hopes up.

    Guavas, on the other hand, are pretty good. No smell, almost no flavor, but good with a sugar/chili powder mix.

  6. I’m so jealous. I love the life in Japan, but not a day goes past that I dream of moving back to Bangkok. I don’t know what it is, but there’s some charm to the filth and the smells. Just out of interest, where are you in the city? I was by Phra Pinklao (by the King’s palace and Khao San road), and I knew tons of stoplights on the roads. I guess that depends on location or something.

  7. Actually, the Durian fruit itself (the Thai variety at least as far as I know) is usually sweet. Durian cookies really don’t do the taste any justice…They actually work very very well as a filling in choux pastry or as Durian pudding…

    You know what else is nice? Rose apples!!!! They’re cheap and juice with an interesting erm “spicy” tinge.

    Just came back from Bangkok last week as well…And you know, it reminds me of Taipei. The cityscape and the general colour (grey) of the city…And the stray dogs!

    Did you notice the HUGE drains (and lack of small ones?)

  8. Ohisashiburi.

    I suspect that Japan’s failure to adopt international ATM standards has more to do with MOF’s obsession with regulating competition in the financial services sector than with their failure to bother updating Japan’s ATM standard. Until several years ago, banks were not permitted to maintain 24 hour ATMs and not too long before that had to adhere to strict limitations on ATM operating hours. If they’re that eager to prevent domestic banks from competing, it isn’t hard to see why they might think twice about updating.

    Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to posting something…

  9. Saru: If governmental regulation is what’s keeping the ATM network proprietary, then why are banks such as Shinsei able to international compatible ones? Also, why is every single ATM at the post office internationally compatible? I suppose it could be because they realized that foreign visitors need SOME way of accessing their funds, and as a special public corporation the post office bank is subject to a different set of rules than private banks have been.

  10. And Saru, welcome back to the site. I look forward to see what you choose to post about after such a long absence.

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