It's alllll true...
19.04.2009 35 °C
April 19, 2009 – 2:02 pm
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!”