A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

Shockingly smiley

It's alllll true...

sunny 35 °C

April 19, 2009 – 2:02 pm
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Thailand’s tourism tagline boasts that it’s the “Land of Smiles”. I hate to reinforce a cheesy marketing slogan and a sweeping cultural stereotype at the same time, but you know what? It’s true.

Seriously. People here are friendly. The kind of friendly you don’t expect to find in a city of 9 million and change. Genuine. Of course there’s always going to be a few bad mangoes in the bunch who will try and overcharge you, scam you or generally take advantage of your clueless farang ace but for the most part, people really go out of their way to help you.

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Take the all-around-super security guards at my condo. There are two fellows on the night shift and two fellows on the day shift. It’s smoking hot out there and they’re opening doors, touting bags, moving gates, flagging taxis and making sure that the condo residents and guests get where they need to go. And they do it all with a 100-watt smile, a stiff anachronistic salute and a cheery “Sawadee-kap!” Never once have I felt that I was being a bother and not once has anyone held out a hand for a tip. They seem to take great pride in making sure everyone is taken care of.

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My friend Amanda was visiting this past week and each time we ventured out on a tourist trip, all we had to do was stand in the shade as they flagged a taxi down and made sure the driver knew exactly where we wanted to go. This morning at 5:30 am Amanda was off to the airport and the usually cacophonic streets were bare of taxis. So without hesitation the helpful security guard hopped on a bike and rode a few blocks further up the road to a busier intersection to flag one down and send it our way. That’s pretty above and beyond as far as I’m concerned. (As an aside, there’s nothing as endearing to sleep-befuddled eyes as a dignified man in uniform pedaling off into the pre-dawn blush astride a hot pink Hello Kitty granny bike tricked out with bell and basket. Classic.)

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During the recent Red Shirt protesting/rioting/general mayhem, we had one taxi driver who very patiently at a red light took out a tourist map and pointed to where the “angry people” were and drew a nice 40 km circumference around this spot, explaining we were not to venture into this area on our tourist wanderings today. He then went on to helpfully point out all the other safe tourist highlights on the map outside of the no-go zone. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to take the time but he was genuinely concerned that we would inadvertently stumble into an urban conflict zone with our digitals snapping and our Lonely Planet waving.

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Hell, even the Red Shirts themselves were pretty friendly when I had to walk through the street blockade they’d set up in front of my neighbour the Prime Minister’s house! On my way to get groceries, I was confronted with bullhorns and indecipherable placards and a few hundred protesters shouting and waving fists in the air. There was no mistaking that they were pissed. But as soon as I gave them a sheepish smile and an “I’m sorry” on quiet repeat, they parted like water to let me through.

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Another case in point…showing up at the muay Thai (traditional Thai kickboxing) fights last night in the pouring rain, we were met by one stadium employee who darted out with an umbrella and ushered us under the overhang, another who – in flawless English – explained the seating prices and fight schedule for the evening, and then another who guided us through security and picked us the best ringside seat on offer. Our butts had barely hit the chairs before another smiling lady asked us if we wanted a beer. Ummmmm…does it get any better than this?? We smiled back and answered a resounding “Yes!”

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Posted by DenaAllen 02:04 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Moving into the new digs...

Do heads of state lend cups of sugar?

semi-overcast 35 °C

April 5, 2009 – 4:16 pm

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Picture yourself at the Thai version of Home Depot if you will…the joint is choc-a-bloc with do-it-yourselfers, harried moms and weekend reno warriors. There you are choosing soap dishes, plastic clothes hangers, towel hooks and other necessary, well-priced utilitarian household items. Totally tedious.

You’re staring at your rather enormous pile of goods, wondering how on earth you’re going to transport it all on home in a taxi (cos obviously the sky train is now out) when a friendly twenty-something brightly informs you of free delivery within Bangkok when you spend a minimum of 6,000 baht. Ace!! She then offers you a seat at the customer service counter and brings you a bottle of water and a plate of sweets. I’m quite certain no one at Home Depot in Regina is gonna offer you a plate of candies while they sort out your free delivery.

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Same scene today at Central Chidlom department store. With about one sales person per 2 square metre of store space, there’s always someone at your elbow, listing the features and benefits of this or that particular product in shy and halting English. It can be somewhat annoying when you’re trying to rummage through sheet sets and you have three very animated sales ladies flitting ‘round chattering about thread counts and washing temperatures with an enthusiasm usually reserved for fine jewellery or luxury vehicles. But everyone means well. And everyone knows you’ve got foreign currency and an empty apartment.

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So I spend, spend, spend and the special English translator lady in a smart navy suit sporting a bright red “I Speak English!” button on her lapel is called in to arrange the free delivery of my pots and pans and plates and glasses and ironing board…and the list goes on…is 10 am tomorrow good for me? Ka! Kap kun ka!

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My new apartment is fabulous. By far and away the nicest place I’ve ever lived. The neighbourhood is industrial-strength expat. Farangs of all colours and ethnicities running around dodging the kamikaze motorbike taxies. I’m just on the edge of Little Tokyo, and so have about three Japanese restaurants and a Japanese style karaoke bar on my road. (Don’t think I won’t be polishing off a few Toyama-ken karaoke favourites...) But despite all the gleaming marble and glass dropped down smack-dab in the middle of Bangkok’s bustling downtown, we’re still in the old Siam…and I can still hear a rooster giving its lusty best every morning outside my lower-floor-high-rise window.

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Only after moving in did I discover that the Thai Prime Minister lives about three doors down. I figure I probably live on the safest street in Bangkok as a line of soldiers are permanently parked outside his door. I watched him glide by the other night in his gun-metal grey Jaguar and attendant armed cavalcade while I struggled home with two heavy bags of groceries. Didn’t seem prudent to ask for a neighbourly lift ;)

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The apartment building also boasts a fabulous pool, a totally tricked out gym (no excuses for being a lazy ace now!!), a 24 hour office with very helpful office ladies and a resident handyman on the main floor, and a fleet of exceedingly smiley door men who – without a single exception – all insist on calling me “sir”. The only thing that causes me confusion about my new building thus far…in a climate that maintains a steady fluctuation between hot, hotter and hottest…why in the name of Buddha do we need a sauna and steam room?

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Posted by DenaAllen 06:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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