When in Thailand

Guys, I can drive!

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_on_Vespa_in_Roman_Holiday_trailerBut I wear a helmet, of course. In light of this achievement, I would like to present you with a list of things I’ve encountered in Thailand (like driving) that have made me appear to be a cultural ignoramus:

1) The Bum Gun

Perhaps you’ve heard rumors of Thailand’s infamous bum gun. Perhaps not. Either way, you’re in for a surprise if you ever visit Thailand, because there will be a hose and spray nozzle next to virtually every toilet (unless it’s a squat toilet… more on that later). Also, flushing toilet paper is forbidden. You can only imagine the utter confusion this caused me.

2) The Squat Toilet

Just no. These shouldn’t exist. Not in rural Thai gas station bathrooms or anywhere. Ain’t nobody got thigh muscle for that.

3) Dining Utensils

The spoon is the dining utensil of choice, with the fork used to get food onto the spoon. Many a meal I’ve had to stop and deliberate on whether or not I’m eating correctly. And let’s not forget about chopsticks, the favored utensil for noodle dishes such as Pad Si-Ew. My one packing regret is that I didn’t bring my chopstick cheaters.

4) Road Rules

A topic I’ve covered before, but one I just can’t wrap my head around. In review: driving is done on the left side of the road, entire families cram onto a motorbike, it is permissible for hoards of people to ride in the bed of a pick up truck, there is really no road rage aside from the occassional warning honk, motorbikes are encouraged to ride between cars to establish themselves at an intersection. I’m beginning to master the art of weaving; I think it’s all the practice on my bicycle at school.

5) Songthaews

Again, I know I’ve expressed my love/hate relationship with songthaews in other posts, but they’re just so quintessentially Thai. You stand on the side of the road, desperately searching the horizon for a red pick-up truck and wave when you see one, cringing as it cuts across three lanes of traffic and nearly mows down a legion of motorbike drivers. After some charades and wild hand gesturing, it may or may not deliver you to your destination. I’ve had two hour songthaew rides that should have been 20 minutes, euphemistically dubbed the “around the world” tour. Once, a songthaew driver had me sit in the passenger seat and direct him to my destination. The dashboard was crammed with Buddhists shrines and flowers hung from the rearview mirror. The Thai taxi driver favorite, Hotel California, blasted from the eight-track as my driver grilled me.

“Germany? Australia? England?” he queried in broken English (for some odd reason, no one thinks I’m American here. Not even other Americans).

“Nope, United States!”

He was delighted when he learned I was studying in California and immediately replayed Hotel California. He pointed to a Buddhist temple and asked, “in America, same same?” Each building, vehicle, and landmark we passed merited the same question. Bowling alleys, taxis, restaurants, motorbikes (“baby motorcycle, no same same!), moats, and street vendors. In his enthusiasm for knowledge about America, he missed nearly every turn while I frantically gestured, crushing flower petals and sending his shrines flying. Finally, we cobbled enough English and Thai together to get me home. He dropped me off right at my driveway three hours and $1 later. One of my more entertaining songthaew rides.

In conclusion, I promise a non-list post next week when I get back from the border!

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