About Thailand: Katsjourney Around the World: 23 April, 2003

Subject: About Thailand…
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 08:15:49 -0500
Greetings! Islands internet cafe

I hope everyone had a nice Easter.  And if you don’t celebrate it, I hope

you are having a nice Spring/Autumn (depending on your side of the equator).

I have been a bit out of commmunicado, but wanted to let everyone know I am

alive and well and trying to make the most of my time before immersing

myself back into the reality of the proverbial “rat race”.

Just in case you don’t know much about the Thai culture, here are a few

interesting notes…

HAPPY NEW YEAR (Sawadee phi mai)

The Thai New Year or Songkran Festival happens every year in mid-April.  I

was fortunate to find myself in the middle of Bangkok during the

festivities.  During this time the locals and the farangs (foreigners)

alike, are sprinkled with water as a blessing.  First, of course, Buddha

statues and elders are sprinkled, but then it moves into the streets.  The

“sprinkling” has turned into a dousing over the years, as folks use buckets

of water, hoses and those commando super-soaker water guns.  They also mix a

type of powder with water to make a paste that they rub on your face. At one

time I had three little boys eagerly covering my face, ears and hair with

the dreadful mixture.  It is all in good fun and a great way to cool off

during the hottest month of the year.  Did you know that Bangkok is listed

as the hottest city in the world?

Ban Songkarn Festival water

Khao San Road, a Bangkok’s backpackers enclave, transforms itself during the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) into a massive water fights zone with thousands of Thais and foreigners armed with water guns (loaded with ice water) and cans of beer, battling both the heat and each other. Many Thais would also perform one of of the oldest Songkran traditions – applying the white powder to various parts of the face, neck and torso of the others, for protection and promises to ward off evil. Children with huge water guns roam the streets or sit in the back of their parents’ pick-up trucks, which are loaded with buckets of water that is dispensed on anyone who happens to be within reach. “Splash water! Splash happiness!” as the Thais say.

Or at least that is what the guidebooks

tell you so you don’t get too upset when you and all of your belongings

return to the hotel dripping wet!

KEEPING FACE

They call Thailand “The land of smiles” because the locals are amazingly

friendly.  Those of you who have been there know what I am talking about.  I

did talk to a bartender who told me that it is not all that it appears toThai face

be.  Like in many Asian cultures, Thais have a happy “public face”, but can

be quite different in the privacy of their own home. They also expect

foreigners to put on a face.  It is a huge embarrassment for anyone to argue

in public in Thailand.

FOOD & EATING

The food is Thailand is some of the best in the world.  They make great use

of their natural resources from the ocean and rice from the land and have

borrowed their version of curries from India and noodles and sauces from

China to make a unique fusion food.  Thais do not eat with chopsticks.

Instead, they use a fork in the left hand and a spoon as a shovel in the

right hand to eat. You see Thai people on the street and at work eating allstreet food

the time.  Lots of small portioned snacks out of little plastic bags from

street vendors.  I have yet to see any natives overweight.  I learned in my

cooking class in Ko Lanta that everything is very balanced in the

diet…

Meat vs. rice, sweet & sour vs. curry, chilies vs. coconut milk, and

lots of fruits instead of fattening desserts. They must be doing something

right with a nation full of healthy bodies.

TOILETS/BATHING

(Don’t worry, this is not about MY personal habits!)

Most Thais to not have flush toilets, nor do many restaurants or public

places.

The toilets are usually porcelain squatters with a hole in the

floor.  There is not typically toilet paper, unless you are at a place

catering to westerners.  There is usually a large container of water next to

the squatter.  With a cup floating in the barrel of water, you rinse off

your private body part/s and then pour the water down the hole to “flush”.

It can be a bit of a challenge being a girl and wearing pants (or shorts)

and holding on to a beach bag since the floor is soaking wet.  You get the

picture!  Most Thais do not have hot water either.  Of course, the weather

is so hot that it is not completely necessary.  Many people still bathe in

rivers and canals.Bathing in canal

PROSTITUTION

No, I a not considering a new career.  But I am currently reading a book

titled “Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia”.  So much for looking

for a little “light” reading on the trip.  Prostitution and sex

entertainment is BIG business in Thailand.  You often hear of western men

coming to Bangkok or Phuket to buy “escorts”.  These types of Go-Go Clubs

are very obvious and out in the open.

Interestingly, there are also very private or secret clubs that cater to

Asian men, particularly Japanese.  The Asian sector has the most demand for

prostitution.  In many Asian cultures, the girls are expected to be virgins

when they marry or not only do they shame the family they may never be able

to marry as they are labeled as “damaged goods”.  With the lack of free sex

partners for Asian men, many turn to prostitutes for sex.  It is quite

acceptable for married men as well.  As you might expect, some of the true

life accounts in the book I am reading are pretty horrifying.  Many young

girls are sold into brothels by their own families.

SHOES

It is customary to remove your shoes before entering any palace, temple,

home, or even business.  Most Thai people eat sitting on the floor.

Therefore, they find it disgusting when foreigners wear shoes through the

threshold. islands shoes at door

I have been respecting the culture, but have found the practice

rather time consuming since I have been wearing Tevas(a sports sandal with

velcro straps).  I finally broke down and bought some flip-flops!

I could go on and on about this wonderful and strange new world, but I

imagine this is a long enough newsletter!  It is an amazing country and a

place I would suggest as an exotic and VERY affordable holiday destination.

Take care of yourselves.

Love,

Kathleen

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