Daily Archives: June 7, 2005

Don’t be old-fashioned, let’s experience Thai Bus!

Aw..I just came back from my mum’s close friend’s funeral. Too many sad stuff going on so I guess I should give both my blog and myself a break. Let’s talk about something giggling!

Since I have studied here in Triamudom, I usually take motorcycle, buses and sky train (+ a bit walk) to school. Let’s consider this, my home is in Samutprakarn province and my school is in the famous heavily traffic city, Bangkok.. if you try to seek both cities from the map, you’ll see we’re so close but come and joy traffic around here and you’ll know it takes years to travel across each other. People have reported heaps of disadvantages from involving traffic in Bkk i.e. Waiting for the bus at the bus stop for 10 up to an hour, our brain’s cells can be blacken, withered and dead finally or people can get stressed easily from being stuck in the tuna can in the bad bad traffic (Don’t forget, tuna can refers to “very crowded” bus and most tunas just finished working or doing their businesses and trying to catch a bus home..they all can’t smell that good..esp. when AM SO SHORT standing under a tall tall guy..his armpit over my head and of course my nose!!) etc. But to me, taking buses is always fascinating..

“Bus’ coming!! If you want to stay home, you’d better not dress your uniform since you woke up ..now you’re well-dressed so go now or bus will leave you. I suppose you don’t like it when being left!! Don’t make me throw you outta this place! Stop going in and out of the toilet, I won’t smash it down before you’re arriving home in the evening and don’t worry, there’ll also be one or heaps waiting for you at school!!- -> GOOO!!!,” kvetchingly complained mum.

It was only a few minutes late but it was still my first year so I shouldn’t be careless at anything. The fact is traffic in Thailand is something hard to trust. I left home and yeah, I was still in time 🙂 While I was sitting in a bus..in a complete silence (not really but don’t count snoring from somebody sitting behind!) with no lullabys or 1 sheep..2 sheep..3 sheep jumping (the trick some do to help sleeping at night), I began to feel like my eyes getting smaller and smaller then zap! ~ unconciously, I fell asleep :p.

“You!! Girl!!! WaKe UPPP!!!” somebody shaked me.
Then the cop came up, the money keeper started to cry loudly.. “What had happened?!?!” I dazedly asked myself and people around. Noone knew but I saw that the driver already passed out..he was sitting there still with his head leaning in a weird way. The money keeper asked if somebody got candies or anything with sugar.. I was about to save it for my buddy but I gave her my only toffy. She said that the driver’s got diabetes and because of lacking sugar for a while, he fainted. A moment later, MY TOFFY SAVED HIS LIFE, hurray! :p I had to catch another bus anyway and I was late for school. Teacher, like always, asked why I was late. I prouldy answered “Was busy saving somebody’s life :p”..I left the room and let the teacher be confused.

One more time was Friday. We always study only half day at school on Fridays because guys have to study soldier stuff in the afternoon. Lucky me and other girls:D I was excited (cuz I always came home late) so I quickly took on the sky train and caught a bus home right away. Again, I was sleeping happily then I started to smell something weird, thought it was just a dream so I kept sleeping. A while later, it started to give off strong smell ~ trying to get me up so I did. As I opened my eyes, “What the!?”. I saw lots of smokes in front of the bus. The driver and the money keeper kept calming us that it was normal (???). Well, because the bus’ engine’s old and the driver tried to speed up every chance he could (maybe he could read my mind that I wanted to get back home as soon as possible) so it started to be burnt. Anyway, I believed both driver and money keeper + I already paid for the ticket (10bht! I could spend it on some yummy snack so how could I waste it easily?!) so I kept sitting there still..trying to imagine it was a smell from bbq party in summer. At last I could get home safely. See? There’s nothing to be worried about!! Hehe.

I’m sure there are loads of exciting and funny stories about Thai transportations out there from other people including you so let’s share! And to those who haven’t tried taking Thai transportation..do it and you’ll understand there is more in life!

Cars vs. Motorcycles

With so many problems with my car, I had no choice but to have it sent to the garage. The bad news is that it will take two weeks. That is a long time without wheels. Getting around locally isn’t really a problem. I walk to school anyway. Plus the Big C hypermarket is only a five minute ride by songtaew. This used to be a fixed price of 5 baht per trip but it has recently gone up to 7 baht. Further afield I would have to go by taxi rather than public bus. I find it difficult standing up in buses as I have to tilt my neck in order to stand straight. Taxis here are not really that expensive compared to back home. Actually, I don’t think I have ever been in a taxi in the UK as it was too expensive. Here I don’t really think twice.

The only problem we will have over the next two weeks are the trips to the post office. Panrit is the person who makes up the orders for the Thai Hypermarket Shop. However, I have to take him to the post office in my car. He crashed his motorcycle for the last time a year or so ago. So, we decided it was time that the company bought its first vehicle – namely a motorcycle! This would mainly be used for trips to the post office and other local errands. It also crossed my mind that I might use it myself. However, I have never actually ridden a motorcycle before!

The other day, we went to the Honda dealership up near the giant three-headed elephant. Our local motorcycle shop was only interested in monthly payments and I wanted to pay cash up front. Panrit’s father suggested we should try the Honda dealership as they had good prices. In the end we bought a second-hand bike in good condition for 35,000 baht. We bought it in the company name and as I am the company director I also had to show my passport and work permit.

I was still keen to ride it myself so we inquired about what I needed to do to be able to ride legally. I was hoping I could either just use my Thai driving license or at least use that to get a motorcycle license. But, no such luck. They said I would have to take a written test and a driving test! As usual I hesitated about what to do next but before I knew it, Panrit went ahead and signed me up for a driving test two weeks from now! Oh, OK. But you do realize I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle?

My other problem is a helmet. I told you before about my big feet, well, I also have a rather large head. I just cannot buy baseball hats here in Thailand and have to have them imported from abroad. Wearing helmets is now compulsory in Thailand though many people don’t wear them in the evening after the policemen have gone home. Fortunately they had a XL helmet which was just big enough. So, I was signed up for a driving test and I had a helmet. All I needed to do now was learn how to drive. Honda had a two day course which I would do before I take the test but there is no way I am going to show up only to fall off my bike at the first corner!

Later that day, I got back to the office before Panrit. By that time it had started to rain a little. I was sitting there watching tv when Panrit came back and drove the motorcycle straight into the living room. He said there was no way he would leave it outside for people to steal. I made a mental note to buy a chain. I don’t really want people riding a motorcycle around the living room. I know this is Thailand and this is normal practice, but I rather keep the bike chained up outside.

The next day Panrit took me out to practice riding the motorcycle. I told him I wanted to go to Bangsaen 2 which is a quiet deserted location alongside the Gulf of Thailand. I hadn’t been there for a while and so I was surprised when we turned up and found this rather large housing estate where before there was an empty field. These last few years houses have been going up everywhere. Luckily, not all of these houses had been sold yet so we were able to find a quiet stretch of road where I could attempt to ride the motorcycle.

I was confident that I could do it. After all, I had often seen 7 year old kids zooming down the road. If they could do it, then surely so could I! I got on the bike and Panrit gave me a run-down of what to do. To make a long story short, I basically failed my first attempts. I was able to ride it as such but had difficulty changing gears smoothly. I suppose that is something that would come with practice.

I am now in two minds about doing the test in two weeks. Is it going to be worth it? By that time I would have the car back. Also, would I use it that much? Everyone knows that the majority of fatalities on roads are motorcyclists. Then there are the class divisions in Thailand. Some people advised me that someone of my position shouldn’t ride a motorcycle. I hadn’t really thought of that before but it is true. There are certain groups of people that you would never see on a samlor or tuk tuk. They would also never be seen dead on the back of a motorcycle.

At the moment, I think I will do the test. If anything just to prove I can do it. And anyway, you never know when that particular skill might come in use. So, stay tuned for the big motorcycle test! Will I pass or will I fall on my face – literally!!

The Space Between

Long, long ago..okay, about 5 years ago…in a galaxy not so far away, I used to write a column for The Nation’s Femme for Women magazine called West of Campus. It was about life as a Thai student in America, sharing experience and advice about adapting to new culture and how-to guides.

After revisiting my archive site today, it seems to me that some of the pieces could be reverse engineered to fit for foreigners coming to Thailand. In a true Hollywood spirit, I will do a remake of West of Campus here exclusively for Thai-Blogs!

Here’s the first one of the West of Campus: Revisited series.


My girl friends and I do hold hands back in Thailand. We hug each other even. We hold hands with our family members. But all of that touching is for family and people we know well. We don’t really go up and touch strangers for no reason. Well, except for Songkran, I guess.

I thought I had a good idea of what it would be like to live in America, having been exposed to the more touchy-feely Western cultures before I arrived in the US from years of traveling abroad solo. I knew that I would be shaking hands. I knew some stranger is bound to give me a hug and dreaded that moment. I even expected a few pecks on the cheeks as greetings.

Eventually, I got used to all the touchy feely things. I actually am quite fond of giving hugs and getting them. Ask around. 

As I went on to college, I found that the concept of personal space is one of the many concepts categorized under nonverbal communications. It is a subject which people study seriously! Verbal language can be picked up and learned more quickly than the nonverbal cues like body language, gestures, and facial expressions. Personal space and physical contact are the two most prominent and hardest to adjust to of all other nonverbal cues.

Personal Space

What it is: Personal space (Proxemics) is the comfortable distance between one person to the other when they talk, stand, sit, or walk. This personal space concept varies from culture to culture. It is a bit difficult to get used to or to adapt to. Westerners seem to prefer more space between themselves and others. American average personal space is about 3 feet. In Thailand, and Asia in general, our concept of personal space is about 1-2 feet.

Besides, by leaving too much space between you and the person in front of you in Thailand, you might as well yell out “Feel free to cut in line in front of me!”

If you do a little bit of people-watching in a food court somewhere, you will notice the space a foreigner would stay at least one full step behind the person in front, while our native Thai would be about half a step away.

What to do: Understand the concept and try not to be too annoyed or angry with the person behind you in line creeping up on you. Or getting a little too close to comfort on the BTS. (Well, that is also for safety concern for your wallet and belonging. We’re not a crime-free country after all.) And, oh yes, expect someone to cut in your line at least once during your stay.

Physical Contact

What it is: Physical touch (Haptics) in Western culture is definitely different from what we’re used to in Thailand, and you know it. Physical touch goes from a hearty handshake, a salutary hi-fives, to a big hug. As I mentioned earlier, Thais are not all that comfortable with touching strangers. We’ll stand really close to one, but not really touching.

Physical touch between men and women is also a, forgive the pun, touchy subject. Public display of affection is inappropriate. Hand holding, you can get away with that quite a bit. Hugging and kissing: forget about it! Sure, you’ll see someone do it out there. But hey, trust me. Get a room.

What to do: You can still offer to shake hands with Thai folks. But don’t be surprise if they don’t have that firm grip you’ve come to expect. Ditto with a weak, “Um…okay I guess I’ll hug them” hesitating hug.

When I went home the first few times, it took my friends by surprise that I came running to them with open arms, hugging everybody. We’re friends, but we never really use hugging as a greeting. Eventually, I think hugging caught on. It was me who was surprised with a few friends opened their arms first on my last trip home.

The golden rule of nonverbal communications is to observe and adjust. Both parties have to adjust to each other communication patterns in order to converse effectively, from tone of voice to body positioning.

You are doing a little bit of observing of Thai cultures right now, parusing Thai-Blogs. Take our words as your guide, and do a little people watching, not just sightseeing, and you’ll find your experience in Thailand a lot more enjoyable than spending hours in cultural frustration.

Vanitatum Vanitas: a modern-day fable

The Vanity of Vanities
Once upon a time there was a big bad tsunami that killed lots of the resident mice, ravaged the Asian shores and made the lives of survivor mice miserable. Much help was needed from the other animals who luckily lived away from the disaster. Many of these animals, seeing the plight of their fellow mice, donated generously. However, even their combined kindness could not alleviate the troubles entirely. The animals came together to talk about what could be further done. All were clueless, until the smart and good-hearted Thai elephant came up with an idea:

“We gave all we could already, but there are many wealthy animals who don’t want to give anything. How about giving them an incentive to contribute to the good cause?
“And what would that be?” – asked the others.
“Well, we could use one of their most wide-spread weaknesses, vanity” – the elephant said with a Thai smile. “Let’s make some rubber or plastic bracelets from recycled garbage, and sell it to them, say… for a 1000Bt each, with all the proceedings going to the Tsunai Fund, to help our fellow mice.”

The animals were thinking about it for a while (they were not as smart as the elephant), until they understood the idea.
“We could also write some fancy text on the wristbands, like ‘We help tsunami victims – how about you?’ or something like that” – said the bear enthusiastically.
“Good idea” – nodded the elephant.
“I’m afraid that using our local garbage is not gonna make it attractive enough for the hi-so… I think” whispered the rabbit shyly. Can’t we import some garbage from a fancy country that has plenty?”
“Sure, rabbit, good thinking” , said the elephant with a kind smile. The rabbit turned away and her ears became red as she blushed.

The elephant swinged his long trunk back and forth for a while, a sure sign that he is thinking. “The UK” – he said finally. “That’s a land of much garbage, they surely will give us plenty. Also, our Thai hi-so think highly of everything British, so we can even charge twice as much for each wristband.
Okay, animals, let’s get to work!” – he said, and disappeared in the jungle.

Time passed, and everything happened exatly as the wise elephant foresaw. The wristbands, made from imported British garbage, were picked up like candy, for 2000 Bt each. The streets of Thailand, especially the jungle of Bangkok, were full of monkeys proudly prouncing, wearing “nam jai” on their sleeve – or in this case, on their wrist, for everyone to see how rich and generous they are. Many young golden monkeys wore the bands in school. The poorer grey monkeys could just watch in envy.

Something arouse inside these grey monkeys… it was referred to in that land as “khwam yaak”. The sly fox smelled khwam yaak from a distance, and immediately jumped to action. He took local garbage, made it into plastic and rubber bands that looked exactly like the original fancy british imports, and started to sell them on the streets and shopping malls for a fraction of the original price: 50, 40, or as low as 20 Bt each.

That was the time when the wristband-frenzy reached epidemic proportions. Hoards of grey monkeys rushed to imitate their golden brethren; flocks of black ravens were eager to show off their new possession in front of their white cousins, and the whole thing became a meaningless teenage fad, now fading away slowly.

The fox made a large profit – not one satang of that made it to the needy mice, of course – and the wise elephant had to learn one more lesson in his long life: vanity is a double-edged sword. Use it to fuel a good cause, doesn’t matter. Profit-seekers will find their way to exploit any vanity-based plan to their own, selfish end. Let us learn from the elephant’s mistake, and plan our good causes with honesty and integrity – values that cannot be stolen or twisted.

The end. 🙂

The Banana Tree

This is a cheater Blog as I’m copying my daughter’s poem which was just published in an art and literary magazine put out by Stanislaus University here in California. My weak tie to things Thai in this blog is that she’s wearing a shirt I bought for her at The Mall Bangkapi.

I think the line about “bees making honey in the room” comes from a conversation we had last summer with a friend of ours who had bees doing that in her room. The Abbot at our Wat attributed it to the fact that she chanted in her room nightly.

The Banana Tree

The banana tree is doing splendid
we’d thought she’d never make it
her boughs so ripped and brown from the wind
the very image of a sapling in a storm

but look,
her leaves are green and strong
there are little shoots all about her

the bees are making honey in our room
the tiger is watching with curiosity
the flowers are growing in through the open window
the bird is squawking on my head

and I
with so much to do:
paintings to paint,
stories to write,
and books to read

am lying on the front deck
just like that lizard over there in the sun
watching the banana tree grow.