Comparisons & Confusions between living in Thailand & UK
Street Dogs in Chiang Mai:
The Thais relationship with their animals is a far cry from what we know, the link between animal and human is not nearly as strong as at home in England.
Street dogs or Soi dogs as they are called here, roam freely, crossing busy roads at will, lying in the shady spots on the pavements, some in better condition than others.
It breaks my heart, having a pampered pooch myself and seeing all these dogs that need at bit of tender loving care, lying dejectedly on the stony ground.
We named this guy scratchy
Some of the dogs seen on the streets wear collars and look pretty well looked after, this is because, in Thailand even the pet dogs are allowed to cruise the streets, taking themselves off for walks and little adventures.
There’s a dog that lives at the top of our road, who I’ve recently named Rufus, he lives about 10 houses down and is always wandering, having a sniff around and going for a leisurely stroll, just out on the road by himself or swimming in the lake.
I could never let Eden out of the house by herself, for one she’s not very worldly wise and has no road sense! But other than that I feel a duty to protect her, she’s not just our pet, but a part of the family and is very much loved and an important part of our little unit.
Which is why we couldn’t bear to leave her behind when we made this move.
The thought of letting her out to fend for herself is ridiculous to me, but it is how pretty much all dogs are brought up here.
Many of the Soi dogs are bought as puppies, then grow too big as the owners just don’t realise what they are buying, so just set them free when they don’t want them anymore. When the dogs have outgrown the puppy stage and are now demanding lots of food and attention.
Stories of people moving house and just leaving their dogs behind are common.
Many of the Soi’s are cross breeds, with large numbers of the dogs not neutered or spayed, breeding numbers grow.
Apart from the cross breeds, I’ve seen many beautiful Huskies, by themselves gathering up the street dust in their Siberian fur coats. Akitas, incredibly cute fluff balls in the first few months, then notoriously strong and wilful, living the bachelor life on the streets. A lone Dalmatian padding down the road side in the gutter looking for scraps.
A lot of the dogs hang out around Wats and Temples as they get taken in by the Monks and given food and water.
There is a charity and re homing centre set up in Chiang Mai to help these dogs www.carefordogs.org
No matter how much I talk about it and no matter how many times I ask, re homing another doggie is not an option for us at the moment.
As much as I would like it to be!!
There weren’t really many bugs in England that I couldn’t handle, a rogue wasp in the summer was about the worst it would get, here in Thailand, there are many.
There are Cockroaches. Big ones. I detest them.
Luckily where we are living now there doesn’t seem to be many, however in our first month living closer to the city, they were everywhere.
One of the creatures used to live behind the sink in the bathroom, waiting until just the moment I wanted to go in there and wash my face to poke its head through the sink hole and show me its roving antennas. I would retreat quickly, shivering at the site of it.
Mosquitoes fly stealthily through the air at dawn and dusk looking for fresh blood, annoyingly within a few days of being here, my body was covered with 15 itchy bites, making the initial acclimatisation all the more difficult.
Luckily there’s no malaria risk unless you are right up near the boarders of Myanmar or Laos.
However a good mozzie repellent is essential, as is my little pot of pure gold, my tiger balm. I discovered it since being here and is simply the best thing I’ve bought for the last couple of months!
A secret recipe over a hundred years old and originating from China, it cures all kinds of ailments, aches and sprains, decongestant and most importantly, relieves insect bites and itching.
It really is amazing for those bites once you have them, and you will get them!
Geckos have free reign throughout our house, they run up the walls, hide in cupboards, behind the window blinds and pictures, but we like them. They do no harm, are quite cute plus they eat the spiders! Having a wild anything, especially a lizard running around your UK home would i’m sure be a bit of an issue and have to be hastily addressed!
English wildlife is documented in a way that makes us animal friendly. Even the frogs, toads and snakes get a good reputation in stories such as Wind in the Willows, The Animals of Farthing Wood, one of my favourite books turned T.V show whilst growing up, with the pastel illustrations and softness, making all of our animal companions seem so friendly and lovely.
I don’t think however, anyone has ever invited a cockroach to tea.
One afternoon Chompoo, the little girl from next door came skipping into our house, ready to play some games on our laptop and armed with her afternoon snacks. A packet of unsalted peanuts and a tube of roasted sunflower seeds.
As she settled down offering me a seed, the child friendly sunflower on the bright orange pack grinned at me.
My mind immediately thinking to the products aimed at children at home, Chompoo’s tube of seeds replaced by a tube of multi coloured, sugar coated chocolate Smarties. The packet of nuts altered into a packet of cheesy puffs.
Whole entire aisles of large supermarkets in England dedicated to children’s confectionary, rows and rows of sweets, jellies, chocolate and crisps, especially made to entice our younger generations. Here in Thailand at our nearest supermarket the snack aisles are indeed full but with nuts, seeds, dried meats, rice crackers, seaweed and lots and lots of fish based products.
You can buy sweets and chocolates of course, just not in the vast quantities available to you in the UK. Savoury snacks are the gold medallists here.
The biscuits and chocolates that we know and love can be found, Lindt, Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, but if you really want that box of Ferrero Rocher, you’re going to pay for it.
Over £10 for a single box of imported pleasures, works out to a lot of baht!
Chocolate bars I’ve noticed, are small. In England, there’s always a larger version, the Kitkat chunky, the triple Bounty, man sized Yorkie bars fill the shelves. Here the Snickers and Mars bars are what back at home would be considered ‘fun size’
At the checkouts also there’s no impulse buys of chocolates and sweets to temp the weary shopper, instead, mints, chewing gum and batteries await to be purchased.
Not quite so tempting but with far fewer calories!
S is for Sausage:
Walking around the Wednesday night market close to us a few days ago, stalls brimming with food stuffs tempted us. Yet to have our dinner, we wandered with the aim of buying some stuff to take back to the house.
Pretty much everything will be sold to you on a stick here, the other day I even saw 5 flattened frogs, impaled onto a wooden stick ready for nibbling on.
The theory I’m sure being chuck it on a stick and someone will eat it! It instantly adds appeal, making the disgusting all the more appetizing once it’s on a skewer.
Without being able to read a word of Thai, going only by our instincts and familiar sights, we came across a stand selling what we could only imagine were delicious sausages, being grilled in front of us.
All different sizes and styles, yet a sausage is a sausage right, you can really go wrong!
So after picking out our chosen ones we headed back to the house and our leftover rice.
Just about to tuck into my dinner when J already munching away starts laughing…’its sweet and its full of rice’
Wanting to see for myself I took a bite, and indeed, the ‘sausage’ was full of tiny rice like grains and glass noodle with a sweetness to it that I would have only expected if it had been on a dessert menu.
So the moral is, a sausage isn’t always as it seems, and yes, they were on sticks.
(Not a Sausage, but chicken on a stick…..)
Cinema in Thailand:
A couple of weeks in one Saturday night, Jmayel and I decided to go out for dinner and a film. Having been to the central airport plaza, a large shopping mall that would put shopping centers like Lakeside and Bluewater to shame in England. We had discovered the Major Cineplex and wanted to check it out.
Not having been to the cinema for a while due to the extortionate prices now charged for the privilege of watching a motion picture in the UK.
We stood in line for our tickets, marvelling at the plush surroundings, before heading to the snacks counter, a rarity as in England we would smuggle goods into the film from the local supermarket to avoid paying the debt reducing price tags put on the popcorn and drinks.
Pleasantly surprised that we can now afford to have both popcorn and a drink, each! With a choice of 3 flavours of popped corn available to us, original, sweet or cheese, I opted for the Original, J the Sweet. Original popcorn to me is always salted, sweet being the alternative option if you’re not feeling quite so savoury.
There’s nothing quite like real cinema popcorn to keep you going while watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, making the whole experience that little bit more special and complete, the joy of seeing the simple kernels sitting mounded happily in the cardboard box, some gripping precariously onto the side, my eyes willing the little puffs of delight not to fall to the floor before I can rescue it.
With my original corns tightly gripped in my hands, the warm popcorny smell taking over my senses, we made our way into the darkened screening room to find our pre chosen seats.
Sitting down in the surprisingly spacious & comfy chairs, the adverts began. Reaching towards my popcorn supply, mouth beginning to water at the anticipation, I recoiled suddenly as the corns entered my mouth, turning towards Jmayel, whos face I could see, even in the dark, was scrunched up, mouth full of the unusual snacks.
Original it turns out, is not salted as I had hoped it would be, but bbq flavour mixed with the odd cheese one here and there, having escaped from the other batch I can only assume.
Jmayel’s sweet corns, were not as we knew them to be either. More burnt caramelised toffee, than sugary sweetness.
The unexpected flavours meandered over our taste buds and slowly worked their way into our systems.
As the adverts came to an end, an announcement flashed up on the big screen, all around people started to rise, within seconds every person in the theatre was on their feet, standing in respect.
The short movie and photo montage that followed was dedicated to a man the Thais hold incredibly highly, their King.
This happens before each and every film shown in cinemas though out the Kingdom of Thailand, the royal anthem playing.
As me and J rose with the crowd, it was clear to see the respect the country has for this man and his family.
To stay sitting down during this time, even if you are not Thai, would be a massive insult.
There are actually laws in place for anyone wishing to disrespect the monarchy and many people have faced jail for speaking ill of the King.
Seeing everyone around me with such a sense of national pride and a love for king and country, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if an image of Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles, our future King were shown right before a movie anywhere in England.
Would we rise to our feet for a person that wasn’t even present, would the mobile phones be put away, would the groups of teenagers stop flirting and turn their full attention to the message displayed before them?
I doubt it.
Since I’ve touched on National pride, I have woken a few times now to hear music drifting through the air, unaware of where it was coming from or what it was for.
I have since learnt that the Thai national anthem is played every day at 8am and 6pm. It is played through loud speakers in villages and towns, at train stations, schools and universities and on all of the radio and television stations.
Just like a Mosque calls its people to prayer, twice a day, the Thais are called to show their respect for their country. Something like this, just as standing for the King in the cinema, would be unheard of in the UK.
Recycle no more:
Back in the UK I was very much into recycling and tried to be green and environmentally friendly as much as I could. Eco light bulbs, buying products with less packaging, saying no to plastic bags ect.
My recycling collection bags were always 3 times bigger than the rubbish.
Always putting food scraps and peelings into the compost bin. I just had to do it.
Guilt would pour over me if I didn’t recycle. I had to do my bit for the earth.
Here no such thing exists. I found it very hard the first couple of weeks, throwing away cardboard boxes and glass bottles.
Making a pile of their own by the side of the bin, until I realised, it was all going to the same place. Rubbish is rubbish and there was going to be no separate collection for recyclables.
In the City, the rubbish bags are piled onto the pavement at allocated spots along the street, there’s no science to where it should go, just look for all the other bags of waste sitting in the sun, growing larger each day, sometimes having to walk into the road to go around it, meeting points for the cities rats and roaches. Until the bin men gather it up and take it away, for the piles just to start a fresh.
Here at our new house, thankfully there are no smelly piles discarded along the roads and streets, rubbish is collected from outside the house, just like in UK.
Unfortunately without the recycling, way behind the western countries, being green is yet to stamp its importance in Asia.
Sun, Sea and Shade:
From experience, when on holiday at beach resorts, rows of burnt British bodies lay frying on the sand, turning a tender pink but all aiming for that golden glow, trying to darken pasty white skin, tan tan tan, the only thing on their mind.
Even the tanned are there, topping up with more UV rays.
Products fill the shelves year round, sprays and lotions of fake tans, in all different shades. Tinted moisturisers and bronzers, all to give you that ‘holiday glow’ while sun bed salons fill up the high streets.
It seems, in the UK, all we want is a tan.
In some parts of England, the ‘oranger’ you are, the more attractive you are…. it’s very much to be debated, but never the less, it’s still all about the tan.
You go away for a week and come back to remarks of “oh you’re not very tanned, didn’t you go out?” “Wasn’t the weather very good?”
Well yes, but the only place that you’re guaranteed to get a decent tan in a week, is if you holidayed on the sun itself.
I have been laughed at before for having a factor 30 sun cream, in fact it’s hard to even find in the shops around holiday season, low stocks brought in as no one will want to buy it, you won’t get a tan!
Instead factor 8s and 10s everywhere and the evil sun tan oil takes precedent over any sun cream that will actually protect you.
We love to expose ourselves as well…the moment the glorious sun pokes through the clouds in the UK, off come the t.shirts, the males, tucking the material into the back of their jeans, ready to whip it back on when the sun goes back behind that cloud.
The girls pull out the skimpiest of dresses, as much skin on show without getting arrested……The sun must touch my skin.
Convertible owners appear from nowhere, even when the sun has yet to make the break through the atmosphere, with a chill still in the air, if the suns out, the roof comes down.
I guess they need to check the mechanisms work somehow.
In Thailand, a different view on the sun has evolved completely. Everywhere, in drug stores, supermarkets, street stalls and markets, all the toiletries are for whitening the skin.
Deodorants, face wash, body moisturisers, cosmetics, even the male grooming products have whitening agents.
Adverts on television and billboards promote lighter skin.
Here in Thailand, people walk around with umbrellas over them to keep the sun off, mainly the females, who are the worst culprits for a tan in the UK.
Just walking from a car, into a shop a few feet away, a coat of protection is put over their heads as they make a run for the store, bags and purses are held up to faces as they walk to keep the suns rays away.
People opt to sit inside or in the shade, Thais want to keep their sun exposure to a minimum, tanning and darkening the skin here, is just not done.
Even with the vehicles, we can’t wait to jump in convertible cars, driving with the roof down when the sun is shining. Not in the North of Thailand. I haven’t seen one drop top, with sizzling temperatures and all the sunshine you could want, there is not one roofless car to enjoy it in.
Most of the cars on the roads are large pick up’s, with blacked out windows, protecting the driver and passengers from the sun’s harmful rays. If the cars windows don’t have at least 66% UV protection and arctic cold A/C installed, it’s not worth driving.
Sitting outside in the sun on an English summer’s afternoon, with a picnic or a beer and packet of crisps is a much loved past time, all the shady spots in the beer garden usually left till last.
The Thai field workers and people selling wares by the side of the roads are covered from head to toe, just eyes peeping through the shrouds they have covered themselves in as protection from the burning sun.
One of the reasons behind this obsession to be lighter is status.
There is a clear divide between the classes and stature in Thai society.
The poorer citizens, like the previously mentioned field workers and street sellers who are out in the sun all day, the lowly farmers and labourers toiling the land are the ones with the darker skin.
Royalty and upper class citizens who don’t need to even go outside or get their hands dirty have a fairer complexion.
In Thailand lighter, paler skin is considered more attractive.
To the Thai people, it is not only Snow White who is the fairest of them all…..
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home
If you missed the first installment of Comparisons & Confusions, you can read it here:
Comparisons & Confusions – Life in Thailand vs Life in U.K – Pt.1
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