Tackling Apprehension in Bangkok
So. We’re here. We arrived at around midnight local time, which meant 3a.m. back in Oz, which meant that I was paying so little attention as we checked in that, this afternoon, I attempted to get into the wrong room and had to go to reception to ask what our room number was (embarrassing anecdote collection begun – check!) I spent the day trying to take the advice of some very sweet people who have got me through the past several days, during which I have been almost crippled with fear about this move, and feeling quite childish about it. This post is for those expat wives who might be reading this when they are going through a similar thing and, like me a few days ago, are desperate to find someone who had been through it and got out the other side (so far – this is honeymoon part of the cycle, after all!) I had today to myself because the people Michael will be working with wanted him to spend a couple of days with them, and I opted to have only one day house-hunting without him (tomorrow). Thus, this morning, after checking how #storycraft had gone without me (perfectly well) and putting up the transcript, I found myself in the hotel room facing a choice: let my apprehension guide me and stay in the air-con all day, “recovering from the flight” or; pluck up some courage and get out there and see for myself whether all these dangers that I’ve allowed to fill my bucket of Thai knowledge, actually come upon me. Rain – bullet-like, tropical rain - gave me an excuse to put off a decision for a couple of hours, but I’d left a bag of carefully decanted, 100ml portions of shampoo & such at home, so when it cleared I headed out with a goal, but no particular time frame.
I didn’t take a camera on my promenade, so apologies for no pictures but I find that I feel that I’m hiding, or at least setting myself apart, when I’m taking photos and that would have defeated the purpose.
So here’s a list of things I saw and did in my few hours walking around on my first day in Bangkok.
I crossed a Bangkok street. Okay maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it was only a two way street (not including parking lanes) but this was one of the things I was worried about – so I decided to do as often as possible on my journey toward the Skytrain station (where I assumed there would be some shops.) Here’s how the first crossing, right outside the hotel went: The traffic was solid (but moving at a good 50km – no grid lock) so I ducked in front of a tuk-tuk, which was going the right way, and waited in the middle of the road for a gap in cars doing the same but on the other side of the road, then, just as I was thinking it was something of an anti-climax, I had to dodge two motorbike-taxis which were winding between cars, just as I was (but much, much faster,) heading to park with their mates at the rank across from the hotel. Perfect - tuk-tuks moto-taxis, trucks and cars all navigated - check!
Saw why some have called Thai electricity scary. The wires that are strung between poles sag, some of them so much so that Superman would have to duck if he were walking on that part of the footpath, and the wires at intersections criss cross each other in a way that makes me want to spend some time with my Engineer father in-law (does he get to be Jor-El, in my silly anonymity game? Except if he’s also Batman’s Dad, then he’s dead… sorry) so that he can explain to me why they don’t spark each other and start fires. Did you notice that I said, "the wires that are strung between poles"? Well, some aren't, they are sort of coiled in the way one coils an extension cord, and hung on hooks on the poles, with their ends either going back to the top to become part of the string again, or just hanging free. There will be photos.
I saw and smelled my first street food. Boy did it smell good!? (I NEED a font with an interrobang) I’m not going to risk street food this trip, we’ve been told to ease our stomachs into that (and mine is so damned fragile) but I’m looking forward to it when we are living here.
Walked ON a Bangkok road with the traffic Maybe this is another ‘so what?’ but this is all about addressing how wimpy I’d become in the past few weeks, and remember? So this felt like an achievement, because I could have crossed to the other side, where there was a footpath. Basically, there was a large block boarded off for building and the boards enclosed the footpath, a string of street food vendors had set themselves up in the parking lane, so the only place to walk was with the traffic. Moto-taxis were riding right up to the vendors and buying food, so I thought for a second that maybe it wasn’t a place for walking but then I thought: I’m a great big white woman wearing an enormous, cerise* shirt, I might as well BE a traffic cone, no-one’s going to hit me. A couple of moto-taxis swerved in front of me rather close, but they knew what they were doing.
Discovered that there is something called “Visitor’s Gold” “Vistor’s Gold” gives you 5% off when purchasing some items, thus reducing the 7%VAT to 2%. I assume it’s some kind of ‘duty free’, which I’ve never quite understood, and I don't really care about such things but the writer in me grinned at the image of doubloons for visitors. For those who are interested, it was applied on a purchase moisturiser at Clinique but not at Boots (a chemist), so I don’t know what it applies to – though I do know that even without it, the moisturizer was cheaper than it was at Duty Free at Sydney airport.
I found a shampoo that works for me! For those of you yawning, this one is for Augusta and anyone who has lived in Japan and found it impossible to get shampoo that doesn’t stick your hair to your head (I mean literally, some of them stuck my hand to my head!) I wonder if the Thai women don’t die their hair as much? /shrug.
Some things I learned today:
- If you stand still for even a moment, a taxi, tuk-tuk, or moto-taxi driver will slow to offer you a lift but not in an aggressive away at all, just hopeful and when you smile and shake your head, they just wave, or nod, or smile and go on – maipenrai, I guess.
- The advice to watch were you walk, and especially to avoid walking on man-holes and other such covered openings on the ground is advice that the Thai’s, too, take. I saw many people carefully stepping aside and even waiting their turn rather than step on the kinds of cement hole covers that we’d happily walk over in Australia.
- This is the big one as I was approaching the hotel on my way back, I realised I was quite enjoying the weather. Yes, it was hot and muggy and, yes, I was hot and “glowing” but not through clothes or anything, it actually just felt like a nice, balmy day. Even my asthma was fine. I think the trick was that it was still overcast, had the Sun seared its way through the cloud layer, I’d have been miserable, as I was during the Japanese Summer, but despite it being a very wet heat, I found it was actually a little like walking through silk.
So, that was my day and, I hope, the end of my apprehension and the beginning of the honeymoon part of the culture shock cycle. I’d particularly like to thank Tim and Margaret at ICC (no anonymity, here, they deserve a plug because helping expats is exactly the work they do and boy do I appreciate them even more, now) and Mark Willis (who also deserves a plug for the work he does, but selling diamonds isn’t exactly relevant to soothing the mind of a distraught woma- hmm, then again…) each of whom took the time to help me out in different ways, with the assurance of future support, personal enthusiasm for Bangkok and even talking me off the “I’m going to go back to Melbourne and make audiobooks, instead” ledge.
*Re: the cerise shirt: any linen was hard to find in Sydney in Winter – don’t judge me!