1. You check how much change you have before you get in a taxi, because you can’t bear another run to the cash point in the rain whilst an angry driver harrumphs at you, revving his engine.
2. When setting the table for dinner, you put down a fork and spoon rather than a knife.
3. Time is no longer a precise measurement, but a vague promise of when you may be somewhere.
4. Over the year, you get more public holidays than leave days.
5. The concept of walking anywhere has become alien to you.
6. When someone smiles and says yes, you no longer take this as an affirmation. You desperately run through your Thai smile repertoire – is this a confused smile? Angry smile? Couldn’t give a toss smile?
7. There is a secret to squeeeeeeeeeeezing yourself on a full sky train at 8:20 every morning. You learnt this after months of waiting politely whilst smartly dressed ladies with poufy hair slinked on in front of you.
8. You’ve worked out that every stall at Chatuchak Weekend Market (JJ to the locals) also has a branch in an air-conditioned shopping mall in the city, so you no longer spend your shopping Saturdays hot, lost and feeling alone in the crowd.
9. A special walk and look means that tailors, scammers, prostitutes and beggars leave you alone, even in Nana.
10. You know the friendly food stall sellers in your neighbourhood so well that they now prepare your order as you approach, remembering to put the sauce on the side and only include one chilli.
I went to the pub a few weeks ago with some friends, and at the table next to us was another Brit. He was in his 50s and we happily chatted about the craft beer craze that is taking over Bangkok. Then out of the blue he asked me if it was hard to be a woman in Thailand.
Thinking that he meant it was difficult because although women are often the dominant forces in families and communities, and despite the fact that Thailand currently has a female prime minister, women still get a rougher deal here than they do back in the UK. So I launched into a discussion about women’s position in society only to be shot down with a laugh and a bold statement ” no, no. no – because Thai women are so attractive”.
Now this chap was accompanied by a pretty Thai lady who spoke excellent English and seemed to be enjoying his company. But I didn’t sit there worrying that I was in some way inferior because I was western, although I admit I was a teensy bit jealous of her amazing coral pink killer heels.
Who you find attractive is a matter of taste and of course he is entitled to date whoever he wishes. But there was no need to assume that I should be depressed about the way I look. I brush my hair and I occasionally paint my nails. Whilst my eyebrows sometimes look a little mad scientist in the early morning, I always wet them down with a bit of water. Such. A. Catch.
I can only assume he was badly heartbroken by a western woman, leaving him incapable of finding love again with a fair skinned lady. The same thing happened to a senior member of staff at my old office. He announced in a meeting that marrying a British woman changed a man for the worse, and that’s why he moved to Asia. He must have thought I was American or something. But let’s get back to the shallow end rather than get bogged down in emotional detail.
Of course, there are many beautiful women in Thailand. There are plenty of very pretty ladies in London (where I used to live) too – but I never walk the streets feeling like an outcast because I do not fit with his (and we all know he’s one of many) version of attractiveness. I do stand out a little in Bangkok. Sometimes on the sky train I am head and shoulders above most people, and I feel sorry for those stuck in my armpits. My blonde hair makes me recognisable in a crowd, great for when I wander off like a small child.
The definition of beauty is an interesting one and very much down to an individual perspective. But I believe it is the whole package, rather than simply the wrapping. It still annoys me that people like this chap feel that they can go around making sweeping statements about the looks of an entire hemisphere in this way. He was not my type, but I would never ask him if his girlfriend was only with him for his money…
Sadly you don’t have to go far in Bangkok to stumble across a couple in which the woman is with a man for the security he provides rather than for love. I’m not looking to be arm candy, and I am lucky enough to be able to look after myself, although I am perfectly happy for anyone, from princesses to toads, to deal with the cockroach under the sink.
I’m cool in my world, but not so cool about to views he’s broadcasting from his. Because what IS depressing is that women are always being compared and judged against each other in the looks department above anything else.
A few days ago I visited a hotel for a work review and when I was looking at the rooms I noticed that they all had baths. This is unusual, so I pointed it out to the hotel representative “Oh!” he exclaimed “Of course we have a bathtub in every room, we have many many Japanese guests. Japanese guests like to take a bath”.
If this is indeed an actual fact, rather than hotel myth, then hurrah for Japan! Despite living in a country where the thermometer frequently hits the high 30s, there is nothing I love more than a hot bath when I’m feeling unwell or stressed. Sure, I sometimes feel a little faint from all the heat, but when I eventually cool down, I always feel much better. Obviously somewhere in my fuzzy brain there is a association between baths and comfort, a little slice of cosy that is impossible to find in Bangkok’s air-conditioned interiors.
Of course bubbles are great fun, but the reason that baths are so exciting is because here in Thailand, having your own tub is a HUGE deal. Many flats in Bangkok don’t have them, so when we were looking for somewhere to live last November I was excited to find a one bed with a proper bath. In fact it may have swayed my decision to pick this flat, despite what I tell people about the extra window in the living room… Who cares about light, if I keep the blinds open during the day it’s like a greenhouse and I have close them again at night to prevent any weirdos/neighbours looking in.
What I need in Bangkok is a bath!
It’s a bit of a pain in the mornings as the shower is over the bath and the boy has stubbed (well, he claimed it was broken…) his toe clambering over the edge to have a shower. Some people think it’s mad, and can’t appreciate the joys of fancy bubble bath, and others think it’s a bit gross to hang around in your own dirt for half an hour. I just tell them about grandfather used to bathe in disinfectant – although I am not sure if this helps me look sane or just makes people think that craziness runs in the family.
As my bath is not very beautiful, I will share a picture of one in Hotel Muse in Bangkok:
I hope that one day I will also have an Adams Family inspired bathroom like this.
I think a lot of expatriates bring a habit, or item from home that does not quite fit into their new surroundings. I’ve seen men on the sky train in tweed jackets and watched people countdown to their PG tips delivery. I packed so many things that I never used, tried and failed to keep up with British soaps and like to pretend that Bangkok is as easy to walk around as London, even when I am dripping in sweat and jumping over soi dogs. Sometimes a little taste of where you come from, however mad it may seem to other people is enough to keep homesickness at bay.
Being a long-term expat in Bangkok was never going to be easy. In some ways it feels like only yesterday that we stepped off our long flight from London, unused to the heat, smells and bugs of Bangkok. These days it feels so much like home that I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now, even if I sometimes wish I could apparate Harry Potter style to spend time with family and friends, or even partake in a proper cream tea. The Bangkok balance, which for a long time was swaying this way and that has finally reached an even keel, and I feel extremely positive about most aspects of my life (I won’t run through the ones I need to work on!).
We have finally found a new flat, and with this being our third move in 2 years we are keeping it simple and going 10 floors down to a very cute one bed in the same building. I am glad to be putting down tiny roots. If only I could convince Dan to let me get Elvis, my dream Thai kitten with blue eyes and grey fur… Signing a lease means another year here, and I am glad to have that in ink.
After giving up Thai lessons early this year I am probably getting my head around one new word a month. At this rate I will never be fluent, but with such a busy end of year I just can’t find the energy to dedicate myself to something I am not very good at. So instead I have signed up for a great deal on Ensogo for 20 pilates lessons for 2000 baht (around 40 GBP – 2 quid a lesson, bargain). I am so far failing to meet any of my exercise targets, but I still have a few months to work on this, and also to stop looking so pathetic when I try to do a sit-up using my core. I also plan to take a photography class so I can express myself better with images, I am currently struggling far too much with aperture and angles.
With the cooler, sunnier weather finally here, it’s a great time to remember all the brilliant things about Bangkok and start planning my explorations to discover even more.
I am now almost two months into my job and so far it’s been pretty much all fun. It can still be hard sometimes to find the words to express what I want to say, especially when describing food. I have been reading up on food reviews to get some inspiration and so far my favourite (by far) is Jay Rayner. Whilst I am nowhere near his level I know that reading, reading and more reading will help me improve. I still can’t believe I have suddenly had so much work luck. There has not been a second where I have missed my old job – I just don’t think about it. Every week I look forward to going into the office, I am learning so much about photography, websites and Bangkok as well as writing. My first overseas assignment is in a few weeks, five days pounding the streets of Singapore. I am both nervous and excited! Here is a link to some of the cool things the team has been exploring in Bangkok.
Life outside work has been hectic too, and it finally all caught up with my last week and I caught a very bad cold and cough. I hate being sick, it feels like such a waste of time, but my body was not letting me go to work, so I spend the day in bed napping. There is nothing more odd than having a cold in Thailand. Runny noses go with scarves, falling leaves and lemsip – none of which are currently available here. I was feeling so sad and pathetic about the lack of lemsip that my lovely grandmother rushed to post office and sent some out. It will be rationed, so if everyone around me could try and limit germs in my direction that would be great.
We’re fast approaching our two year anniversary in Thailand, and the the longer I am here, the less sentimental I am getting about objects. In the UK my family are considering a move, so I went through my boxes with my dad via Skype. We store all these mementos that will sit for years in boxes and when we finally pull them out we feel nostalgic for about ten minutes then forget about them again. I don’t really need the vase I was given during my first job after graduation, or the books I studied at University. Only a few things made the cut, my set of ‘Little House in the Prairie’ books and my glitter globe collection were selected, but all the classics and old birthday cards got chucked out.
Off to visit the floating market tomorrow, need to be and out by 6:30. Getting up at the crack of dawn isn’t fun, but a morning getting paid to be a tourist sounds perfect!