If you spend time in Thailand, you may find yourself abusing the word ‘ridiculous’ and all of its synonyms. Don’t get me wrong, Thailand is thoroughly entertaining and fascinating, but here are 12 things about Thailand that rubbed me the wrong way.
#1. Widespread use of whitening cream. Many Thai people cling to the outdated belief that the lighter your skin is, the higher of class you belong to. As a country still stuck in a clash of class, whitening products are a huge industry in Thailand- body scrubs, lotions, creams, foundation- everything has whitening agents in it, and whitening clinics are just as popular and accessible as street food vendors. The Thai love of everything Western doesn’t help; I hate to say it, but my white privilege was embarrassingly evident in Thailand.
#2. Intense nationalism. There is nothing that Thai people love more than… Thailand. However, sometimes it’s a little toooo much. The national anthem, sung by students every morning and played on the radio at 6 every evening, has a slight superiority complex. This homogenous population takes huge pride in the fact that they were never colonized any European power, even though their surrounding countries were. The intensifier is perhaps the Thailand’s unified love for the king, thanks to very strict Lèse Majesté law.
#3. Everything comes in a plastic bag. Soups, rice, fruits, drinks, you name it. Things that are already bagged are put into a bigger bag. It’s all fun and games until you set your soda down on the counter and it spills all over the place. Damn it… I forgot my soda was in a bag…
#4. Disregard for a clean environment. What should I do with all my bags? Trashcans are hard to come by; on the street, there are piles of trash where where trashcans should be. Just throw your trash on the pile, or anywhere! Another popular place for throwing trash is any body of water. This general disregard for nature and a clean environment is quite trashy…
#5. You can’t lose your cool. Ohhhh, but I did. Calm, cool, and collected is the name of the game here. Even in car accidents, fender benders, or amidst miscommunications, you will hardly ever hear Thai people raising their voices at each other, god forbid a confrontation should happen. This non-confrontational nature (aka saving your face) means slapping a smile on your face and swallowing you dissent. Because of this saving face policy, Thai people generally have a hard time saying ‘no,’ especially to vocal, young Americans who could go crazy at any minute….
#6. You can get away with anything. If you have money, you can get away with murder, literally. The fatal hit-and-run of the Red Bull heir only set him back a mere 97,000 dollars, with little punishment, and this is typical for Thai elites. Those who have money are keenly aware that they are exempt from the laws of the country; policemen, government workers, and others who should be positions to uphold justice are notorious for accepting bribes.
#7. The prominence of the sex trade. I don’t just mean bald, Western men are slung over young, beautiful, submissive Thai women. Although many Western men are lured by this idea, they’re not the ones who keep the industry lucrative. The threads of the sex trade run much deeper; they’re woven into the fabric of this male-dominated society, and its success is dependent on political corruption and cooperation.
Louise Brown says in her book, Sex Slaves, “It is acceptable to countries like Thailand to see the sale of their women as a development strategy.” In a country where you can buy women at the snap of a finger, there are huge cycles of female discrimination, exploitation, poverty, abuse, trafficking, and shame.
#8. The music. Talented, live artists light up the bars and restaurants at night, and sometimes they do a great job covering songs. Sometimes. I have heard my fair share of awful, botched renditions of songs that I once enjoyed listening to. However, it’s not just live music that is slain; listening to slow, whiny, high-pitched covers in every store becomes reminisent of nails on a chalkboard. Not to mention, the songs choices are obnoxiously random… Am I really hearing an instrumental version of SClub7… AT THE ZOO?
#9. But first, let me take a selfie. Thai people have no shame when taking endless pictures of themselves, anywhere and everywhere. I can’t help but feel a little strange when I watch individuals take picture, after picture, after picture of themselves. I watched a Thai woman in a grocery store take a good 20 pictures with a jar of pickles, and I can assure you, I felt way more awkward about witnessing this act than she did. I’m all about confidence, but maybe social media has made us a little too into ourselves?
#10. Democracy or lack thereof. The ideals of ‘democracy’ seems to elude Thailand; there is a coup almost every time a leader is democratically elected… Need I say more?
#11. Outlandish outfits. As bashful as Thai people are about anything related to the human body, their outfits seems to scream, “Look at me!” Metallic shirts, poofy watermelon skirts, plastic platform shoes, sparkly purses…The kind of outfits that are normal in Thailand are the kinds of items that I had in my dress-up box as a small child….
#12. Department stores trump dharma. One of the most surprising finds about my time in Thailand is the heavy prevalence of Buddhism and the mismatched consumption of material things. The shopping malls, which are Bangkok’s pride and joy, are enormous, showy, and decadent, and they have produced a population of buy! buy! buyers! This stands in direct contrast to the basic principals of Buddhism, one of which is to be free from the desire of material goods. Can you be a good Buddhist if you spend the majority of your time at the mall? Are you a dedicated monk if you own a iPad?
In Thailand I found myself pondering other questions like, Why are there hot dogs on my pizza? How do Thai people successfully wipe their hands with toilet paper? McDonalds delivers? Why is that 7-11 next to that.. 7-11? And Who came up with the exasperating idea of eating noodles with a spoon?
However strange and irritating these things may seem to me, it’s all part of normal life for a Thai. As Robert Stevenson says, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” But seriously, have you tried eating noodles with a spoon? I mean, come on…
Have you spent time in Thailand? What was your biggest pet peeve?!