We’re Okay!

Other than being utterly shocked, the boy and I are totally okay. The shock factor comes from the fact that the explosion happened less that 400 meters away from where I currently work. It’s also absolutely terrifying to think that I have passed the shrine many times before for lunch and yesterday could’ve been one of those days. It also opens you up to a lot of unpleasant ‘what if’ thoughts.

Erawan Shrine Before After Bomb

The above is a photo I took that morning. Below is the photo of the devastation caused by this absolutely senseless act of cowardice and violence.

The streets and the BTS is eerily empty and our bags are being checked at the entrance and exit of every building. I am all for being extra careful especially in the wake of the news that another bomb went off near the river a few hours ago (no casualties reported!)

I hope people find the strength to continue on after this disaster and live life without fear ruling it. What a terrible tragedy for those who lost their lives and who were injured for no apparent reason.

Packing Essentials – Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

I am a great advocate of packing light and making do with bare necessities because let’s face it, if you wanted to travel to another country to experience all the things you love at home (re: McDonalds), then you might as well stay home. To be fair, I make it a point to try the local KFC meal just because. This is what it looks like in Bangkok.

KFC Thailand

(Expert’s note: When they say spicy, they really, really, really MEAN IT!)

Jokes aside (but seriously, the word ‘Spicy’ in a meal is a warning, not a description!), there are somethings that you should carry with you no matter how large or small your luggage space is. It has helped turn travels into journeys into unforgettable adventures and the best part of it all is that they are ABSOLUTELY FREE!

In no particular order, I give you my packing essential list.

Packing Essential #1 – An Open Mind

Bucket Cocktails

Shady Bars

Right alongside your handy travel adapter (even though being phoneless can have great perks!), bring an open mind. There will be times when you are called on to drink cocktails from shady bars in buckets, there will be times you will have to drive on the other side of the road, times when out of sheer hunger you will say yes to the man selling roasted scorpions. These make great icebreakers when you’re on your next adventure but mostly you will remember having the time of your life!

Packing Essential #2 – Patience

Zanzibar

If you don’t have an annoying sibling, find an annoying friend or go stand in the queue at Nilgiris (a supermarket that just can’t bill your products without also making you wait for 500 hours) in India. It will help you develop this great thing called Patience which is also free but you won’t believe the things it will help teach you. That delayed sky-train ride, those long hours being lost in translation, those cancelled flights, those times a terminal becomes your second home – these are things that help you live a realistic day-to-day life in a foreign country. It could lead you to holidays you never planned for – like an island trip to Zanzibar or breath-taking views because walking through dangerous hills was your only chance out. When you aren’t trying to follow in Bill Murray’s footsteps, life happens to you.

Packing Essential #3 – Greetings 101

I have always been the kind who doesn’t read much about the place or its culture till I am actually smack in the middle of living it. It is not always a good idea. There’s always a chance that somebody speaks English and will help you out, but it could just as easily go the other way. If you are like me, just observe the words that are being said in greetings. Saying hello is a big deal in all cultures and even if you speak no more than the word for ‘whats up?’, you will find your journey that much more easy because of it. It gives off the impression that you are trying (which, of course you are) and it helps you make friends with the locals which can lead to even more moments you won’t soon forget. Find a way to bond and if you can get them to smile (or laugh) back at you, you are set!

Packing Essential #4 – Manners

Tanzanian Kids

While not all rituals seem logical to you, when in a foreign country, it is good to practice your manners. They do things different two streets down from where my parents stay and yet, when I’m in their neighbourhood, I respect their way. As a guest, it is your duty to be mindful of what goes and what doesn’t. Keep your eyes open and read body language where you can. Take your shoes off where you need to, cover up where it is expected, and stand up for the anthem even if it is in the cinema. At the end of the day, good manners will take you where your money won’t go.

Packing Essential #5 – Curiosity

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This great characteristic to develop is deadly to cats, or so I hear, but great for us humans. Wanting to know what that particular shrine is, or what is down that colourful street is a great way to discover things that aren’t on a Lonely Planet Guide or on Trip Advisor. Yes, you can see and do and all touristy things that your heart desire, but there is something appealing about finding a canal and pointing and ordering the greatest dish you have ever tasted. Forget the taxi and get on that rickety boat. You never know what treasure you will find on the other side!

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What’s in a Name?

I am lucky to have always had a place of work that doesn’t require elaborate escape into your own world plans. In my previous office, I was for the first time subject to people who tried to kill each other every afternoon. Now, work does that to you – makes you a monster. But this was on a whole new level. When they weren’t busy playing TF2, they were busy creating ingenious words.

In this office, and apparently it’s a Thai thing, I work with Rong, Champ, Bird, Apple and One (Can you imagine how many ‘The One’ jokes you can make with that?). People’s names are so hard to pronounce that they adopt a nickname. In my three weeks here, not a day has gone by where I’ve dreamt of turning Thai (if one is allowed to change one’s culture and race) just so I could adopt a cool nickname.

This also means that I get the pleasure of having such conversations –

Colleague – Who conducted the meeting?
Me – It was Long!
Colleague – No, I mean WHO conducted it, not how was it!
Me – Yeah, that’s what I mean. It was Long.
Colleague – ARGH!

Me – I’m really struggling with this CMS. What do I do?
Boss – Don’t worry. P’Phol will lend you a hand whenever you have trouble.
Me – People are great and all, but how are they going to help me with code?
Boss – P’Phol’s a she, not a they!

Friend – How was your first day at work?
Me – It was amazing. I got to work on a Magazine. Thor really helped me with that!
Friend – Oh yes, you’re a regular Avenger now.

Thor

That’s another thing I have discovered. People add ‘P’ in front of name to mean brother or sister. Someone who is of your generation but slightly older. This in itself is fine but when you combine it with unfortunate nicknames (e.g. Now) you can imagine how hilarious it would be. Juvenile, yes. Still, hilarious.

On the other hand, if ever I get bored of learning about Thai etiquette and culture, I can always Google cool nicknames. What do you think of ‘Her Majesty’. I quite like the sound of that!

Jack the Ripper

Going with the ‘never a dull day in my life’ theme, we got duped out of money in a food court at a TESCOs. Yes, of course it would happen to us in a place where people would bet their lives that you will never get duped. The last time I was here, the cab guy charged me twice as much for a ride and happily gave me a receipt for it. Luckily, this money was refunded to me by work and so I thought nothing of it. And you hear a lot of stories about being duped by cab drivers and so it’s a little less embarrassing.

One of the many, many, many, many SUPER MALLS!

One of the many, many, many, many SUPER MALLS!

How it works in Bangkok, and it seems the case in a lot of the super malls, is that you get card for the food court and you put money on it. I quite like the idea of a cashless transaction – no more fumbling for change, translation problems etc. You go with your card to any counter your stomach fancies and you pay by card. You get a bill in Thai so you have no idea what it says on there. But it gives you details on how much your meal costs and how much balance your card has.

I got my meal in 2 seconds. The boy went to get his meal and the lady swiped the card and then looked utterly confused and said something in Thai. We just stared at her trying to figure out what she was trying to say. Often, you can get the gist of the conversation through gestures and body language. She pointed at the card and said no and did the thumb and index finger rub to mean money. So I went back to the cash counter and put more money on the card.

Money

I returned to find the boy really flustered. Having worked at the bookies, he’s more astute than I am with money. I just thought he was throwing one of his tantrums because he’s a bit stingy careful with money. She swiped the card, it worked. She kept the card with her afterwards, which I found strange. So I asked her for the card – she kept saying there’s no money so there’s no point. I insisted she gave it to me and we went to try and find a table.

At this point, the boy was huffing and puffing. He pointed out that even if there was no money on the card when she swiped it, there should have been a balance of 25 because of the amount we had put in that day. Luckily they give us bills at every counter and so he was able to show me that we were duped out of an entire meal. She basically charged us twice for one meal. It wasn’t a big amount but the fact that we were cheated at all made me really angry.

cheated

I am the kind of woman who rode a bike in Bangalore because I couldn’t be arsed to put up with auto drivers who always charged above the metre level. Ignoring the fact that the boy would probably be embarrassed by how confrontational I can be, I walked to the cash counter and proceeded to tell the lady our story, showing her the bills for proof.

She didn’t understand a word I was saying.

Confused

She kept responding in Thai and I started to despair. It is frustrating when you can’t communicate, yes. I get more agitated by it because I thrive on communication. I pick up languages because of it. Being new here, it seemed an impossible situation. After a few back and forths (in which she absolutely denied doing any such thing), she gave us our money back. So the opening sentence of this blog is sort of misleading. Still, it left me with a headache.

To be fair, this is the only instance this trip where we were taken for a ride. I have never had the experience of being charged more than what I’ve purchased, cabs included. We decided to go to the food market instead, because of this experience. We sat down and waited for a good 10 minutes, during which time the chef and the people at the other tables ignored us. Faux pas #1. Potentially the most embarrasing moment of our time here. I bet they still giggle at those two silly farangs who sat at a table doing nothing.

What I’ve learnt about Food Market Etiquette so far-
1. Point at what you want (don’t expect them to know English)
2. Find a seat and wait
3. Pay
4. Enjoy!

You, if you don't switch to a health washer instead of loo roll!

You, if you don’t switch to a health washer instead of loo roll!

Sawadee Ka

The last month is a blur, understandably so. If I have to look back on it from where I am sitting right now, in office, in Bangkok, it’s just a dizzying mix of suitcases, clothes, family, work, food, salary, emotional goodbyes and presents. Lots and lots of presents. I made a deliberate attempt to not think further than the ‘right now’ and it helped me in ways you can never imagine. For one thing, I didn’t panic. I did, however, pack a towel  just in case.

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I am finding the city a bit overwhelming – while Bangalore is considered a city, it has none of Bangkok’s busy vibes. Bangalore just seems more laid back, less concrete jungle, more smiley people. But then Bangalore is home and so there could be a lot of bias in my views. To make up for it, we found a lovely condo near a ‘swamp’ but the views of the sunset and the sound of the birds in the morning just make it worth it (Kidding! The house is lovely! And the best part is, no cockaroaches!)

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People think I’m crazy for spending 30 minutes on my commute to work. I get a golf cart to the BTS, take a fully AC sky train to work and get off into my office. Compared to the 1.5 hours (one way) that I used to spend on the road in Bangalore, this is heaven. I hope I never take it for granted!

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The food is a revelation. It’s spicy in a different way and I have coughed far too often from having a chilli flake stuck to my vocal cord. You can just walk into a night market (which is about 300m from where I stay) and buy cheap and yummy food. Bangkok so far is great for your stomach. The clothes, the shoes, the quirky souvenirs, I hope they don’t make it a slimming diet for my wallet.

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Market Scene


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It is not the first time I have moved to a non-English speaking place (re: France, Tanzania) and so the problems in communication are more challenges I look forward to. I enjoy trying to dicipher special things that make a country what it is. In a week, I have already figured out the two most important English words in Bangkok – ‘CAN’ and ‘CANNOT’.

Example Conversation:
Me – Should I be attaching these photos to the email before I send them?
Colleague – Caaaaaan!

Me – Does this pass work on the subway station as well as the skytrain?
Stranger – Cannnnot!

I have quickly added these two words to my vocabulary so the next time I reply with a simple can or cannot, instead of a yes or no, you’ll have to forgive me. While I have made a fool of myself both in France and Tanzania, I have never had to pick up a language that has 5 different tones. You can take one simple word and have it mean totally different things based on just intonation. I am looking forward to learning more about the language and hopefully not become too much of a laughing stock.

Until next time