I’m heading to the airport in about an hour to leave for India, after a great eight days in Thailand.
Figures at the Bangkok airport
I got in Friday night a week ago and stayed with my daughter Jessica over the weekend in Bangkok.
Monday I flew up to Chiang Mai to spend a day with Compassion Thailand (and my report on that is here)
and then flew back to Bangkok on Wednesday, staying with Jessica again. I saw Peter McIntosh, Asia director for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and got a denominational perspective on overseas missions. I was going to meet with a missionary family but there was illness in the family and that meeting fell through. I spent Thursday and Friday in the classroom with Jessica, and did a talk about Canada to all the grade four students. Because of my fiasco getting a visa that I needed, I did not yet have my Indian visa, so I went to the Indian visa office Monday morning and picked it up Friday night. It was close, but my sabbatical plans continue to unfold as planned and I’m all set for Kolkata and Delhi.
Observations about Thailand
Here are some observations about Thailand:
- The most noticeable thing about Bangkok is the traffic. It is incredible to watch. My heart was in my mouth for the first few days (particularly because the taxis do not have seatbelts!), but after I saw how it worked, I have felt perfectly safe ever since. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a six lane road divided into three lanes each way with an island in the middle. You would think that means you have three lanes of traffic. No, actually you have nine lanes of traffic: three real lanes, two shoulders, the solid lines between the shoulders and the road, and two lines marking the three lanes. All are in use. Let’s say the lanes and shoulders are in use by five cars abreast. How more crowded can it get? Well, the lines are all wasted space, and nothing is wasted in Thailand. The lines are really thin lanes for motorcycles. But it gets better. You are at a stop light? The space between you and the car in front is also a lane. At right angles to the flow of traffic of course, but a lane nevertheless. Motorcycles will cross at right angles right in front of you to get to a lane where they can advance further.
Let’s say you want to change lanes and there is a bus beside you. No problem. Just slowly start edging over, and the bus will edge over and so on. Traffic flow is not rigid in Bangkok. I would say traffic is quite fluid. There is a continual shifting of cars between lanes. Many cars drive on the lines too. No one stays in the same lane for longer than a minute or two. Just a constant shifting. The drivers must be far more aware of what is going on around them than we are in Canada. You want to get out into traffic from a side street? Don’t wait, just push your way in. Cut someone off. But the Thai drivers expect that and everyone just adjusts and flows around you. The only horns I heard came when someone did something rude – instead of a gentle nudging over or cutting in, they made a sharp turn cutting across in front of a car. That will get a horn. You want to cross the street? Don’t wait for the traffic or the chicken will never get across the road. You just step out and start walking. But don’t run. You’ll get killed. Keep a steady pace and just walk, and again, traffic will just veer around you. I can imagine a Thai pedestrian wouldn’t last long in downtown Toronto, and Thai drivers would create chaos in Canada. I only saw evidence of one accident while here and surprisingly I saw no vehicles with side scrapes! I have never had so many cars come within less than an inch of mine, no exaggeration, and not scrape us. (I was in taxis the whole time – I wouldn’t dare try to drive here.) It actually became fun to watch the flow of traffic.
- I love Thai food in Canada and I ate a whole lot of it here. The food seemed to be the same as what we have in Canada, but it only comes with one temperature – spicy hot! It will burn your tongue. At home we have mild, medium and hot, but those choices don’t exist here. There are some mild dishes, but once they put the spice in, watch out. They also have very unusual combinations of food. No kidding, three scoops of ice cream in a hot dog bun! Corn is considered a sweet thing here, so you’ll find it on ice cream, in pies and on a salad. The most surprising place I saw corn was on a Canadian pizza. Ham, mushrooms and corn. Why not? They mostly have it for dessert, not as part of the main course. They don’t have breakfast foods here, so a breakfast buffet is really a dinner buffet, except it is at breakfast time. In the hotel in Chiang Mai, because it catered to Westerners, it did have some breakfast cereals.
- The people are very polite. When you negotiate, don’t be forceful at all. Just gently ask if there is a discount and look disappointed if there isn’t. You can suggest a price, but do it in a very polite and friendly way. If you start acting dismissive, hostile or in any way try to use power or threats (“If you don’t come down, I’ll just walk away”) the seller will just decide not to sell to you.
- Chiang Mai contains a lot more people who speak English than Bangkok does. I don’t know how I would have gotten around Bangkok without Jessica to guide me. Very few signs are in English anywhere. I registered to vote at the Canadian embassy and went to the Indian visa office, but I don’t think I would have found either on my own. Also, not one taxi driver out of the many that I’ve had, spoke any English.
- I haven’t done any tourist things this week because I’m coming back with my whole family (Yes! We found a time when everyone can get off work and is willing to fly to see Jessica), so I’m saving the touristy things for then.
- Church last week was great. It was all in Thai, but there was translation in English. The first worship song only had Thai words, but it was beautiful. All the others were songs we sing in Canada, but they were sung in Thai. But the first one, oh I wish I knew what it was about. I wish it was translated and brought to Canada. It sounded celebratory and glorious at the same time. I’m pretty sure it was about the wonderful greatness of God. It just lifted my spirit to hear it sung.
- The temperature in Bangkok is in the low eighties, which is unseasonably cool. The senior pastor said in his sermon that the world was filled with strange unnatural events these last few months, and he said “Why, it has been so cold this month that I have turned “the hot weather maker” on five times!” The ‘hot weather maker’ is how whatever he said in Thai was translated into English. But turning on the heat when it is in the low eighties! Really. Then in Chiang Mai, where it was in the low seventies, they said it was unseasonably hot and more like May, which is the hottest month of the year. Topsy-turvy.
- I am amazed at how much food is sold from street stands. It’s everywhere. It is cheaper to buy food on the street already made and take it home for dinner than it is to go shopping and buy the ingredients and make it yourself.
- I treated myself to a traditional Thai massage. Don’t believe that last word. It is not a massage. It is a stretching and contorting of your limbs to the limits of your range of motion. It was the best stretching exercise I’ve done, but it certainly is not a massage! However, it did feel good to stretch like that.
Thailand is a lovely country and well worth seeing. Just be sure to have a guide.