When I first arrived in Thailand, I tried to write as much and take as many pictures as possible, because I knew that everything that seemed so novel would fade into the background after I adjusted. Here’s a list some strange things that have become normal, some which would in fact be alarming if they happened in the US.
Casual rat sightings; on the street, in your backyard, at your favorite food stall…
The first time I saw a rat a mere 3 feet away from my favorite food vendor in Dan Chang while she was cooking my Pad Kra Pow Gai, I was extremely grossed out. Rats in Thailand are big, ugly, and are scarily not too afraid of humans. Now I see them all the time, usually near where I’m eating, and I give them a nice friendly wave and move on with my life. Sup Master Splinter, nice to see you again, how’s your arthritis going? Find any good trash bins lately?
Somehow I had made it though my entire 21 years of life without seeing a cockroach in person before coming to Thailand. Now I find mini roaches dead in my room after I’ve been gone for a while, next to my desk at school, and even on the walls of my hostels and I don’t even make the effort to get rid of them.
2) The “F” word
Thai people are hilariously blunt. I think it’s because the Thai language is such a simple language(they only have ONE word for beautiful), but that’s an entire other post. Therefore, Thai people do not think twice about saying someone is fat, and they don’t think it’s offensive. I have a friend who was told by her boss “Your motorbike keeps breaking because you’re too fat” and her boss didn’t see anything wrong with it.
I’ve also been asked by my students if I’m pregnant, along with many of my other American teacher friends who are RAIL thin, and it doesn’t even bother me anymore. I’ve heard my co-teachers refer to other co-teachers as “the fat one,” used simply as an identifier, not an insult. In defense of every person under fire in this section, the Thai standard for fat is like the American standard for normal, Thai people are TINY.
3) Seeing a family of 4 on 1 motorbike
This still scares me when I see a mother with her 2 year old just sitting on her lap while she drives down busy road. Especially when she’s on her cell phone.
Note the family of 3 on the left side of the picture. You can see a small child wedged in between the two adults. Taken in Dan Chang.
4) Walking through the market and seeing pig heads, dangling organs, and fried bugs.
The smell of warm organs and meat will probably haunt me for the rest of my life, but the open market in Dan Chang has definitely cured a lot of my squeamishness.
5) Public transportation that moves slower than walking
When I took a bus to Chiang Mai, I arrived 4 hours late. When I took a bus to Krabi, I felt early arriving only 1 hour late. When I have to take multiple government vans to get home, I expect them to take at least 2 hours longer than calculated. Thai transportation does not move with a purpose, especially not by American standards.
Tuk tuk tuk tuk.
Songtaew, and friends smiling through getting stuck in said songtaew for an hour and a half during rush hour.
6) Transvestite sightings
I’m not using “sightings” in a negative way, I’m just comparing seeing transvestites frequently to almost never seeing them in the US. “Ladyboys” or transgendered men are very common in Thailand. The first time I saw one in little Dan Chang I was a bit taken off guard, but after being here for sometime I see them almost on a daily basis. I’ve even been able to pick out some of the better-disguised ones. They’re just normal in Thailand, I’ve even seen students dressed in drag at school assemblies. No one questions it. I was at Tachalong, the bar in Dan Chang(notice “the” and not “a”) with my friends recently and a group of about 10 lady boys in full-sequined drag paraded in. This is a small bar in a small town in a country where people have no shame staring in public, and not a single person turned their head.
A ladyboy show I saw in Chiang Mai.
7) Children cleaning my school
This is specific to people teaching in Thailand, but public schools do not have janitors. Every morning I see children taking out the trash, and when there’s excessive bird poop in my classrooms I’m supposed to ask children to clean it. In the US people would call that child labor, but honestly it’s not a big deal. My only complaint is that an actual janitor might get rid of the green mold in the staff toilet, or the massive spider webs in the only air conditioned classroom. They also serve us teachers refreshments during school assemblies, I swear on my life.
8) Finding bugs in my food
Last week I was sitting at a food stall and there were literally flies floating in the ginger sauce that was on the table. And you know what? I still used the sauce, I just worked around the flies. And I SURVIVED. At UConn people would post really irritating scathing pictures on University Facebook groups of 25,000+ people if, god forbid, they found a freaking fly in their salad. You can control a lot of things at a restaurant, but where the bugs decide to crawl is not one of them.
Pad Thai at aforementioned food stall where I’ve seen rats. Also the best Pad Thai that I’ve had in Thailand. Would you let bugs hold you back from this? No? Same same.
9) Ordering what I think is one food item and being presented with another
I’ve just accepted at this point that 90% of the time I’m here I’m not really going to know what I’m eating. And I’m totally fine with it for the most part, as long as there are no organs involved. And even then a selective group of organs would probably be fine. Last week I tried a different satay skewer at my town’s weekly Monday market, and I’m pretty sure they were like chicken knee caps or something because they seemed like they had bones in them, but they were too round to be chicken feet. And they were damn good, I ate them all.
Just 2 of many Green Teas I’ve tried to order, mistakenly thinking they were regular plain old Green Tea. These puppies instead came loaded with sugar and Carnation sweetened-condensed milk.
10) Thai people staging full-blown photoshoots in public with absolutely no shame. NONE.
In Thai culture(and a lot of Asian cultures) appearance is very important. As a side effect, trends spread like wildfire, and social media is even bigger than in the US. Even at the reservoir in Krasiao, I’ve seen multiple Thai people taking model-like pictures of their friends with DSLR cameras with absolutely n0 shame. Whether it’s at Krasiao dam in Dan Chang or in the middle of Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok, people do not care who sees them making kissy faces or doing different poses with their trendy outfit.
Once I even stumbled onto one of my students doing a photoshoot, and now I see him post pictures from it on Instagram all the time. They’re usually accompanied by some emotional dramatic teen captions written in English, ex. “I just want to tell you you’re special, because I don’t think anyone ever has.” I giggle every time. Which brings me to my next point…
11) (Teacher specific) Being friends with your students on social media
To any average American, if you go through my Facebook and Instagram right now I probably look like a pedofile. I’m friends with a tonnnnnnn of my studetns, and they like my pictures all the time. Every time I’m tagged even in my friend’s pictures, they like them. And if there’s a picture of me, Callie, AND Nicole(my roommates/American co-teachers) hoooooooo the likes roll in like no other. My students even inbox me on Facebook sometimes.
I always respond so they can practice their English, but sometimes it’s a little strange. Here It’s very normal for students to tell teachers they’re beautiful or comment on their appearance, and I’ve had students inbox me to tell me I’m pretty. It’s a nice ego boost, but my American self still feels a little uncomfortable. Based on the advice of Calli, my roommate/co-teacher, I’ve started just responding with
random emojis when I’m unsure how to respond.
12) Casual monk-sightings
Monks smoking cigarettes. Monks driving cars. Monks riding in the back of pick-up trucks. The first time I saw a monk randomly, I was at Krasiao Reservoir, I was a bit taken aback at how a monk was just casually wandering around in public. This however soon changed, as I see random monks on almost a daily basis. This shouldn’t be that shocking, it’s just that in the US we don’t really see religious figures in full garb randomly in public, and monks are very noticeable due to their bright orange robes. This kind of makes sense, as all men in Thailand are encouraged to spend time as monks at least once in their life, before they get married.
The time my school randomly bussed in 3 truckloads of monks for an assembly.
This has no age minimum either – some of my 14 year-old students have come in with their hair and eyebrows shaved already. This means that they have either been doing something for a month or are spending time learning as monks.
So there you have it. If you think you’re laid back and chill in a western country, Thailand can make you immune to caring about an even wider variety of things.