Thailand: Culture Shock

After too few hours sleep in a Bangkok airport area hotel I climb back on a jet for a morning flight to Phuket. No caffeine for me, I don’t want anything to get in the way of an afternoon map.

The airport is clean, air conditioned and orderly. Staff speak English at levels from acceptable to excellent and know the answers to my sleep deprivation fogged questions. When the check in clerk realized that I was not following her simple directions to over sized baggage check in (my umbrella is not a mini) she elaborated on them, pointing out the landmark where I had to turn right. Despite brain fog I came to the slow realization — this was customer service. I vaguely remembered such a concept.

The road was smooth as was the traffic. People stopped for traffic signals. Passing was orderly, no kamikazes here. And there is something missing, what is it? Holy smokes, there are no trucks or jeepneys belching clouds of diesel that would make a mosquito fogger envious. And no motorcycles modified to turn the mufflers 90 cc motors into aural torture devices. The Toyota Camry taxi was cleaner than many of my friend’s cars that I rode in back in the states. The AC worked well, the radio was on at background levels and the driver didn’t act as if he was a frustrated race driver. The ride was enjoyable. Public transit rides in the Phils are endured, not enjoyed.

The roads, buildings, vehicles, tree farms, fields, resorts, etc. that I passed told me that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Thailand has twice the GDP of the Philippines and half the people. Even I can do that math in my head. Just about everything I saw in my first hour here confirmed that this third world country (Thailand) makes that third world country (Philippines) look like a, uh, third world country.

I am in Hat Kamala, a beach town on Phuket island. If you know Phuket it’s 5 km north of Sin City (Patong). It also faces west which means many of the buildings along the beach front are new, courtesy of the 2004 Tsunami Redevelopment Act of God. The location is not of my choosing. It’s a small, quiet town. A little too quiet. I’m here to meet a friend, he picked it because he came here mostly on business.

The guidebook describes the lodging options in Hat Kamala as “a string of mostly overpriced (from 1000B) dilapidated sleeping options along the north end of the beach”. It’s off season here, so I have third floor room at the Benjamin Resort with it’s own balcony (where I am writing now in a chaise lounge positioned in the shade) for one third for the high season rate. Dilapidated? Maybe. Sure not worth the rack rate but for what I’m paying it is a better deal than anything in the Phils in the same price range.

The bathroom surprised me. Most showers have hand nozzles with a bracket for hands off use. This one has two, one on each end. Usually two means one for the shower and a waist high mounted one for personal hygiene. This has the waist level one but two high mounts. Water wars, anyone? Darn, I’m traveling alone.

What surprised me more was how clean the shower was. In the Phils shower mold was a given except in the places at the high end of the mid price range. It’s as if they never heard of a hand pump spray bottle and diluted bleach. Not a speck of mold in this dilapidated abode. I’ll take that kind of culture shock any day.

The last part of the initial shocks were the prices for restaurants and Internet. This is a tourist area and prices reflect it even in the low season.

I had some Indian vegetable masala with Naan and bottled water for 215B, about $6. A plate of vegetables and some carbo in the Phils would run about $2.25 away from the tourist areas. But the veggies would not have been fresh, the cauliflower would have some black spots on it, the sauce either from a can or made so long ago that it tasted like it and it would have taken the kitchen 45 min to produce it, even if the restaurant was empty and they had nothing else to do. The water, naan and main dish would have arrived at three different times. If they had arrived at the same time odds are that only one of the items temperature would be what I hoped it would be.

Internet is $ .50 an hour in the Phils for AC and no gamers, down to $ 0.25 for minimal AC and all the shouted game tactical consultations one could ever want. There are two net cafes within walking distance of my hotel, both are 100B and hour, which is about $ 3. That will give me more motivation to stop reading about American politics.

I hope the local Internet places have decent speed because I don’t think my photos are worth 100B an hour to upload. Maybe I should add a poll with two choices asking if I should post my photos: 1) Yes. Your travel photos are much better then the dreck I see from other people’s vacations, and 2) Yes, you cheap bastard.

I tried to keep a count of the number of foreigners walking by on the beachfront boardwalk below my balcony since starting this post. I counted five. Yeah, it’s low season.

Oh, that reminds me of a funny text exchange with a girl in Cebu. It took several rounds for her to understand that when I said ‘my hotel’ I was referring to the one I was staying in, not the one I owned.

4 Responses to Thailand: Culture Shock

  1. Ellen says:

    Is there such a thing as a laptop aircard that works internationally? That way you’d just pay by the month and not have to worry about the cost in internet cafés, security issues on all those different networks, or screaming gamers.

    ???

  2. fourletternerd says:

    Never heard of an international one. My netbook does not have a card slot so I have not paid much attention to such hardware.

  3. Ellen says:

    You don’t need a slot, you can use a USB modem.

    • fourletternerd says:

      True, if my netbook were a PC. The XO-1 from the One Laptop Per Child foundation is not a PC. The built in networking hardware must be used, it was designed that way. None of the Linux geeks on the net have been able to figure out how to use any external hardware. Which is a shame because the internal isn’tthat good.

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