Comparisons & Confusions between living in Thailand & UK
Naturally when you live in a different land to what you grew up in –things immediately begin to spring out at you, the un familiar glares at you from every corner, seeping into your alien being.
You see the world with new eyes, what would be insignificant in your previous life now becomes a ‘thing’ you notice, as if it was wearing a rainbow coloured leotard on a snowy day.
Yet each day these new ‘things’ trickle in, becoming less absurd and part of your every day life, making you that little bit more resident.
The spoon take over:
One small thing I will kick off with is cutlery – a somewhat trivial matter and not on a person’s mind for much of the day I hope, but like I said, it’s the little things that stick out.
In Thailand a fork becomes a knife and a spoon becomes a fork.
Rarely will you be given a knife in a restaurant or cafe, instead a spoon and fork are the happily paired couple. Forks taking the place of knives, used to cut and push the food onto the spoon.
Even when buying cutlery in a supermarket, packs of spoons and forks abound, knives are positioned on the lowly bottom shelf, if there at all.
A lonely single knife in a pack, feeling sorry for its self.
A Thai friend once told me that curries should be eaten with a spoon, in England it didn’t register, laughing at the thought, spoons are for cereal and ice cream!
Now in a land where rice is born, it does make more sense to consume with a spoon, sorry forks.
I wouldn’t have considered empting my cutlery drawer of its knife content, using one every day in England. Now for the past 5 weeks, I have yet to use one, nor do we own any. The cutlery knife has become redundant.
KFC Thai Style:
When hunger strikes and the ramen shop is full where do you turn…as much as it pains me to admit this…KFC, the ramens western neighbour.
The good old Kentucky Fried Chicken has made its way across the waters and set up shop in Thailand, just not as we know it.
The Colonels secret recipe has been modified to fit the Thai palette, with much more spice added.
Instead of a bargin bucket I opted for ‘khao yam kai zab’ fried chicken salad with lime zest served with rice.
Jmayel went for the traditional KFC we all know and love, the familiar deep fried coated chicken but covered in a Thai green curry with peas and rice.
There was not a chip in sight.
I have to say it was finger lickin’ good!
Ice Cream Van turned Cart:
When I think of an ice-cream van, a large lorry like vehicle comes to mind.
The ear piercing, brash, abrasive songs you can hear a mile away, long before they have sped up the street.
The brightly coloured vans displaying their wares on every available space.
An ice cream van in Thailand is a different story.
A man cycles slowly along the street playing a merry little ditty from a radio or gently rings a hand held bell, almost as if Tinkerbell herself has moved on from Peter and the lost boys and is now in the ice lolly business, spreading joy and fairy dust all around.
The choice of product from a UK van is vast, there’s not only lollies and ice cream with different cones and wafers, there’s numerous toppings and sauces, crisps and drinks…here the single ice chest on the side cart of the bike is full of simple lollies, sometimes there’s no choice at all, with all that’s on offer being coconut ice milk.
A sun umbrella protecting the seller as he rides by, giving a smile as he passes.
Crossing the Road:
If in England, you come across a person, young or old, waiting patiently at a zebra crossing and you fail to touch your foot to the break, instead carrying on as you were driving straight on over the allocated crossing, there is a pang of guilt.
You may say a little “oopps” perhaps some of you would even apologise as you pass them by without stopping “oh sorry, I didn’t see them there”
A zebra crossing does not mean a thing, in fact, I think the only situation where a car would stop is if there were actually real life zebras lined up waiting to cross the road. Real ones, from Africa.
Not just a lone random black and white stripy mammal having possibly performed a nifty escape from the local zoo, But a whole herd of Zebras, then maybe, just maybe the cars would come to a stop.
A traffic light too – Pah, they laugh in the face of traffic lights, and when it is teamed with a zebra crossing, it becomes a game.
A crossing the road, cat and mouse, playing with your life kind of game.
When back at home, you stand for a while, waiting for the little reassuring green man to tell you it’s ok to cross now, there’s nothing to fear, the traffic lights are red.
The cars are all a safe distance away from you and they ARE. NOT. MOVING.
When you stand by the side of a road here, you’ve pressed the button, like you were always taught to do, you wait.
The red lights come on and the green light flashes with a count down letting you know you have 10 seconds of safety to cross the road.
Well in theory, all should be well. That is more than enough time to make it across a 2 lane road.
10 secs…9 secs…8 sec…I’m still standing at the road side, cars are flying through the red lights, not caring that I am there. 7 secs…6 secs…there’s a slight gap in the traffic, no wait, there’s a mob of speeding motorbikes coming my way…5 secs…4 secs… I’m going for it. I take a step out onto the crossing…3 secs…to hell with it, I run across the road, looking to my right at the cars still moving towards me…2 secs…I’m almost there. I start to get ecstatic.
With just 1 second remaining on the flashing countdown, I am across, safely on the other side of the road.
I feel like punching the air triumphantly with my fist, YES, I win!
The cars drive by as if I was never there, the traffic lights have turned back from red to green and the vehicles continue just the same as before.
It makes me wonder if the crossing lights are an illusion, a secret beacon that only a pedestrian can see.
Is it possible that they are put there to gather all the ridiculous people walking the streets of Chiang Mai into one place so we can all be mowed down together to teach us a lesson.
Buy a car. It’s too hot to walk!
Whilst on the subject of traffic, one major thing I have noticed while being here and probably the most significant difference, is the way Thais are with motorbikes.
In a city with a limited public transport system, a motorbike is the way to get around for the majority of Thais. They are necessities and thought of in the same way as we would think of a mountain bike.
65% of the vehicles on the road in Thailand are bikes, they are THE way to get from A to B and back again.
Whole families of 4 or 5 individuals straddle a single bike. Children riding up front at the handle bars, or squished in between the adults, no helmets are worn for protection. Flip flops on feet, bare arms and legs as they travel along the tarmac roads at white knuckle speeds.
Does this mean Thais have a lesser regard for their lives? Do they love their children less than we do? These are the questions that have been argued over in internet forums for countless years. There’s no stigma attached, there’s not the same fear of bikes here like there is in England.
I’ve seen 12 year old boys riding Harley Davidson sized 200cc Honda Phantoms with their little sister on the back to go to the local shop.
I’m sure there is many a western mother out there who would go grey instantly at the thought of her baby riding alone and unprotected on a beast like that.
The moment their son turns 16 and says he’s going to get a 50cc moped is probably a day most UK parents are dreading as soon as they hold the child in their arms.
Not here however, young teenage girls ride side saddle on the back of their boyfriends mopeds, on the phone, looking in the mirror at the traffic lights to check the condition of hair and make up.
Hence the reasons for not wearing helmets.
They are considered geeky and unfashionable. The young girl getting helmet hair is unthinkable, People will laugh at you if you wear one, how is it possible to look cool if you’re wearing a helmet? All things I am guilty of saying when I used to ride my mountain bike with friends. I wasn’t going to be the only one with a safety helmet on, not unless I fancied getting ridiculed that day!
Looking good is more important than anything else, for most boys, girls, men and women.
Even if someone has made the effort to put one on their head, more often than not, it isn’t done up, just plonked on, ready to fly off at any given moment.
Sometimes you see the helmets dangling over the handle bars or sitting in the basket at the front, there for effect than anything else.
Imagine seeing a person riding down the M25 with a laundry basket full of washing on his lap or riding one handed with a ladder in the other hand. No helmet and a pair of worn flip flops adorning his feet. Police would be on him instantly and we would all be thinking, “what an idiot”. Yet no one bats an eyelid here, everyone’s doing the same thing.
Even though there are laws against not wearing a helmet, never have I seen anyone being given a fine or anything actually being done to prevent this.
Despite the high death rate on the roads and the fact that most people don’t even have a license to ride their bikes, bikes will always be a huge part of Thai life.
Leave your life in the hands of Karma or don’t ride at all and never get anywhere.
Stay tuned for part 2 – coming soon…
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home
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