Samui Wining & Dining
STRANGE DAYS
Are you a stranger in a strange land, or are you merely here on holiday?.

Are you a stranger in a strange land, or are you merely here on holiday?.How old are you? I’m serious! Because your years determine your outlook. Even old people (like me) go to the Full Moon Parties. Like we would to Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal. Just gotta do it and go there! But age prescribes activities. Meaning that pensioners don’t usually ‘party’ and uni gappers aren’t known for being particularly sensible. So what you get up to in Thailand has a lot to do with your age and your testosterone levels (or whatever the alternative female thing is).

          

Ever seen the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’? This is a generation thing, too. My (30-something yearold) daughter has, but I skipped it after watching the trailer. I reckon I’m just so much older and that much wiser. But she doesn’t agree. She just thinks I’m old. This is what I meant by ‘the age thing’. My generation is going to fall for Thai fake gem scams. Her generation is going to fall off scooters. But (being old and wise) I reckon that, overall, it balances out. We just fall down in different ways, that’s all.

          

Particularly over here. In Thailand in general, and on Samui in particular. There are things that you ‘just don’t do!’ It’s nothing much to do with some kind of style or trend. It’s to do with staying alive and safe. Or simply not being ripped off. Even if you’re young and here for ten days, how many lives do you have if you are not a cat, but just a cheery teen-twenty foreign tourist? Answer – not so many. Thus this little story is an attempt to clue you in, whether your age is gap-year or pensionable.

          

In your country, in the West, in Europe or any other of the so-called ‘first world’ nations, you have a God-given right to free speech. You can express your opinions. You can demand your constitutional rights. You have grown up in an environment of clearly prescribed laws, and layers of enforcement that provide the order to uphold the law. Now you’re in Thailand for a week or a month. And you have to forget everything you’ve ever known or believed. The role of the police is not the same.Page-62-2 So when dealing with the police, or any other officials, including immigration officers, don’t even dream about your ‘rights’. Be humble, never even assertive. Tug your forelock submissively and allow the official his moment. If you don’t, you may have visa extensions denied or, at very least, find yourself waiting around, frustrated and ignored, for hours.

          

 And, linked in with the role of the police, more advice: don’t ride your motorbike after you’ve been out drinking. Seems obvious? You’d be amazed at the number of beer-swilling Westerners who head to places like Chaweng, drink 10 pints of lager and, having not ridden a motorbike before they got here, decide that they can navigate the twisty island roads at 3:00 am. OK, so you’ll see Thais doing this, but they’ve been on motorbikes since they were old enough to walk. And, goodness knows, enough of them fall off every year as it is.

          

Whilst on the subject of being on the roads – also forget everything you’ve ever learned to expect back home. Here people drive on whatever side of the road they feel like, have no sense of road discipline or positioning, and will often sail out of a side street without even a pause or a glance. The rule: always, always, use your mirrors. Spend even more time looking sideways and backwards then you do at what’s coming in front.

          

Another thing we don’t experience back home is the regard the people here have for their monarchy. Indeed, so revered is the present King that he has now become a demi-god. Whatever your opinions, never, ever, speak critically about the Thai Royal Family. You might like to know that it’s the law here that any foreigner using the internet is logged, just in case they do this very thing. And, yes, email is vetted (from time to time, anyway) and several websites have been blocked by the government. People have ended up in jail for being too outspoken on their blog. It’s all very serious stuff.

          

On a much more day-to-day basis, it’s also worth being aware of several things. Thai people are fastidiously clean and always remove their shoes before going indoors, and this often includes shops. (Look for the shoes outside and follow suit.) Likewise, don’t walk around barefoot, unless beachside. It’s considered dirty, and only the lowest of the low can’t afford cheap flip-flops. Plus then you’ll go inside someone’s house with your black-soled feet!

          

Similarly, know that the head is a sacred part of the body, so try to resist patting people on the head. Feet are considered mean and base: recently a chef appeared in a publication with his feet up on the table – laid back and relaxed. But he had no idea how much he dropped in the estimation of his staff. The lesson: don’t point your feet at people, or publicly display them!

          

It’s a minefield. My daughter has been here a lot, and has had years of instruction from me about the differences in the respective cultures, but she still finds it all difficult, even though she’s now more aware than most. Admittedly, the Thai people in tourist areas have learned to be a lot more tolerant. But always keep it in mind that we are the strangers here, not them. Even though you’re on holiday, in your Western-style resort, outside on the street, you’re still a stranger in an even stranger land!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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