7 Things I’ve Learnt After Living 7 Months in Chiang Mai

1. I’ve found the most annoying and irritating sound in the world.

I’m somewhat asleep and I’m woken by the high pitched fly-by buzz past my ear of the much hated mosquito. This has caused me to slap my head a bit too hard on more than one occasion in the hope of getting that little blighter. Worse still I’ll then be fully woken with numerous itches and have to get up in a quest to hunt down that bugger till it’s dead.

2. I find riding a Scooter quite pleasant – despite all the warnings otherwise.

Apart from a half day basic training course I took a week or so before coming to Thailand I’ve never driven a Scooter before. I’m so glad I did, as it took some slow shaky learning and a minor fall on some quite streets in the UK before being unleashed with a hire bike in Thailand, even then I had a couple of cautious hours until I got the swing of things.

But I have one huge advantage to most other tourists in that I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles in UK which also drives on the left, my years of carefully honed spatial awareness has certainly helped when I’m one of 40-50 bikes around a few cars at lights all turning right but like a flock of birds we all seem to keep just far enough apart and speed off to leave the cars in our collective dust (there’s a lot of dust here as well!)

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Britain likes to follow rules especially in traffic but I soon realised the rule of self preservation is the only one followed here. It’s not unusual to see:-

  • Scooters driven in the hard shoulder (it’s safer away from cars & trucks)
  • Scooters driven on the pavement to get past traffic queues.
  • Scooters driven the wrong way against traffic on the hard shoulder.
  • Jumping red lights – if safe to do so – why wait in the sun.
  • No helmets, especially if the youngsters have done their hair for a night out.
  • 3 people and a child on one bike or more – with no helmets
  • A ridiculous amount of shopping or such stacked & balanced on the bike
  • Traffic not stopping at zebra crossing unless they might actually hit something.
  • Flashing the full beams means here I am, watch out! Not allowing you to pass.
  • Cars blocking walkways/pavements as they wait for traffic to give them space.
  • Scooters and cars slowly turning left into moving traffic, expecting the on coming traffic to move over and give way.

The vast majority of car drivers started out on a scooter and they seem to be aware of how a bike might manoeuvre and generally give enough space for bikes to pass, not like the UK where car drivers will deliberately close a gap so bikes have to wait behind them.

If you’re a confident driver that’s aware of what’s around you and have at least a minimal amount of experience on a scooter then go for it. If you’ve never used one before you’ll have a steep learning curve on not only how to use a scooter (practice in the car park before the road) and how the traffic flows here in Thailand.

3. Find the shade whenever and wherever you can.

I didn’t at first but it was fairly cool and pleasant winter but as soon as it heated up anywhere from 27c to 44c  I soon learnt to find the shade.

I’ve pulled up an waited under the shade of a tree somewhat away from the traffic lights until they turn green. Driven around and around trying to find shade to park in – it’s not nice to sit on a hot hot seat and wear a hot hot helmet any time of day. Of course I cross the road to walk in a sliver of shade. I regularly see the pillion passenger with a coat over their head and the driver holding up a magazine to shade their face as they drive.

If you come from a cooler climate it takes about a month to adjust to the warmer temps. Some ex-pats call unseasoned tourists “sweaties!” but I still can’t get used to temps above 27c and most Thais complain as the temperature rises above 30c.

4. It’s fairly easy to live a western lifestyle and eat western foods.

There’s plenty of western style places to live with western furniture and fittings the only main difference is the little bum wash hose they have in the toilet, oh and air con (thankfully). With the right gadgets and gizmos you can access your home countries TV, movies, radio and news media.

There’s plenty of western food restaurants dotted around, okay maybe It’s not exactly just like home but it’s not spicy papaya salad. In the various supermarkets you’ll find all the main western products and big brands, I’ve found the Waitrose range! You can get all the main basic ingredients (at a price – cheese is surprisingly expensive) to knock up what ever is your favourite dish,  but I don’t see the point unless it’s a special occasion, when there’s so much fresh local produce and excellent cooked Thai food not that far from your front door.

There’s plenty of English language cinema screenings, all the main clothing stores and the big mall shopping experience, but they don’t stock shoes above size 45 or clothes above a western Extra Large.

5. Nearly all local food has extra added sugar.

I’m not surprised there’s so many dentists they must be coining it in.

It’s hard to find a savoury product, sauces, pizza, bread, sandwiches, soup, pastries are all aimed at the sweet tooth of Thailand. Even if the product packaging says 100% ‘whatever’ it will include 5-10 % sugar. Unless the fruit juice is imported the 100% juice brands elevate the natural sugar content to above 20%. The only soft drinks with no sugar is the hard to find Coke Light/Zero or the even harder to find No Sugar Japanese Green or Oolong tea.

The condiment tray, whether its the street food stall or a chain restaurant will have sugar but not salt. Sugar is automatically added to iced teas, a new trend is for bubble drinks which are a sweet milky tea with bubbles of sugar flavour added.

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6. If you gonna speak to Thai’s in English do so in Thai grammar.

English grammar doesn’t translate directly, so most Thais will talk in what appears to be simple broken grammar but it’s more akin to them directly translating into English how they would speak in Thai, once I picked up on this many Thais said they understood me much better and I could easily get across what I was trying to say. Here’s some examples

It’s He or She nothing else like him/her, Me/I or You and what’s even more confusing is they will get these easily mixed up and could be talking about themselves but say ‘you’ throughout the conversation. It’s ‘Have’ or ‘not have’ not I don’t have or had, it’s ‘blue colour’, ‘green colour’, ‘red colour’. It’s ‘like’ or ‘not like’. It’s ‘before’ not last week, last year or yesterday.

So a sentence in English like,  “Excuse me,  may I buy that red t-shirt please” might go in broken ‘Thanglish’ (if that’s a word)  “Sawaadee Krap (hello), Me/I have, red colour t-shirt, – krap” I know it’s far from perfect but less will be lost in translation.

If you can learn numbers and some basic phrases it helps a great deal.

Men say krap and ladies say kaa at the end of sentences as a sign of politeness, there’s very little ‘please’. I started by copying what was said to me so for a while I was ending my sentences with an effeminate kaa, after a few giggles I twigged what I was saying wrong.

Some words are doubled for some reason, sure-sure, ok ok, joop-joop boom-boom! it’s perfectly okay to say – I go pee-pee/poo-poo, instead of “excuse me I need the toilet.”

Use simple words and simple grammar, use the words and phrases that they know already even if it means it’s a very poorly structured sentence.
“Before Chiang Mai, I go Phuket, have bike, have condo, not have car. I eat farang food.” If you’ve spoken to Thais you’ll probably have heard:-  What you do? What happened? Help me. Up to You? Kaput.  “I’m full, would you like to finish that last slice of pizza?” Will get a blank look but “Help me” as you point to the pizza is understood.

And because Thai is tonal it’s easy to express one’s intent or feelings. Thai will express yes, no, like, dislike, surprise, shock and question all with tone of voice which is extremely hard to type but here goes, urgh-urgh, ehurgh, eeee,  oowwwe, aaahhhh. etc etc. you’ll get the idea.

7. Thai’s have a lucky, positive outlook on life.

Thais see good or bad fortune in most things that we might pass off as coincidence. I had the same room number in 2 different hotels, after mentioning this to the reception it was seen as good luck.

Phone numbers that have supposed lucky numbers are displayed and sell for much more than none lucky numbers, lottery ticket numbers are displayed by a row of individual sellers and Thais will pick out from the hundreds on offer what they consider lucky.

After a stall holder sells one of their trinkets to a passing tourist those notes are waved over the rest of their goods as a good luck charm. ‘Bring me money, bring me money’ is the chant.

Amulets, blessed by their favourite ‘lucky’ monk or guru are worn, protective and lucky tattoos are often all across a persons back.

 

Some might say they put their destiny purely in the hands of their gods, they seem  surprised they didn’t find a job or find a rich husband even though they went to the temple to pray for it, got the tattoo, gave many donations to the monks, wore the amulet etc. But didn’t follow through with their many intentions with some positive actions, but it’s a small minority.

The positive attitude shines through and if anywhere in the world personifies the good advice of -smile and the world smiles with you it’s Thailand.

 

 

 

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