4 Months Later: Bangkok Expat Update

It seemed like the right time to update my perceptions of Bangkok and life as a Bangkok expat. My first impressions were from a quick weekend trip over a year before moving here and although I jotted a little letter down as I came out of the first honeymoon phase of the move, I am quite out of date. My culture shock here has definitely been more dramatic in some ways than my move to Singapore. The ups and downs in Bangkok have been considerably more frequent and severe.

Expat Culture Shock chart

Bangkok is still very intense. I would still use the word “ferocious” for the town. From traffic, to sights and sounds, to the sheer volume of options (for everything) it’s intense. Turns out that isn’t only a surface impression for me. But for all that, I like my life in Bangkok. I like it quite a bit. It’s much more fun and more of an experience than Singapore. And it’s a lot more ‘foreign’ and a great challenge, which is part of why I like it so much.

The traffic alone may drive me to the brink of insanity though. It doesn’t help that I live on one of the busiest roads in all of Bangkok. It’s unpredictable, wasteful, and generally constant. Except when it’s not. Bangkok traffic is quite possibly a living and potentially-sentient being. One which I must consider and accommodate whenever I want to do anything. Truly, it may drive me mad.

Bangkok traffic

Luckily, I’m nearly healed enough now to get back on public transport. I no longer need to fear being thoughtlessly bashed about by 50 people per square meter on the trains. All of whom are on their phones playing Pokemon Go. I am actually looking forward to that.

Farangs (foreigners in Thailand) have done a wonderful job of building a horrific reputation. I’ve actually watched this obnoxiousness first-hand and had to pay for it as well. A European heroin-chic model couple strolled to the front of the motorbike queue the other day. They proceeded to take the next two motor taxis for themselves because apparently they felt they didn’t need to stand in line with locals. Oh, and I discovered seconds after they left that the woman they had bluntly cut in front of was pregnant. They were so privileged that they needed to cut a line of locals (plus me) AND do it blatantly to a visibly pregnant woman. These folks are clearly “special.”

Weeks later I needed to buy water at the store. I was still healing, in a sling, and had only one good arm. Plus, I was exhausted. Unintentionally, I created a comedic sketch worthy of Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig just trying to get the water jug into my tiny nimble cart which kept rolling away from me. A Thai lady stood five feet away the entire time and ignored me (which is not a typical friendly Thai attitude.) Thanks ever so much privileged-European-couple and those like them.

Unfortunately, tourists are often even worse. Luckily, most of them can be spotted as quickly as school-children by their uniform of hemp bracelets, slouchy tank tops and most importantly, elephant pants. Although I rather enjoy the wonder in the expression of the more optimistic tourists.

I also miss Singaporean bureaucratic efficiency. It took half a dozen trips to various visa and immigration offices to get my residence status, work permit, and visa sorted out. Each trip seemed to need 50 documents, all with original signatures on every page and our company chop. Imagine a visit to the DMV. Six times. Every time I need to get a package from the post office it requires my passport. Transferring money at the bank requires five forms, my passport, and other paperwork. I seem to have the worst luck at Suvarnabhumi airport, and every time I travel I stand in line for an hour at immigration. Nothing is ever simple. Or fast.

You might wonder why, then, I like Bangkok.

It’s an incredibly creative city. Many cafes and restaurants look like they fell out of a Pinterest board. My fingers itch for my camera non-stop on my morning drives. This is a street photography paradise. Every little side street, the quieter shops or the walled and greened lanes are perfect. There is dappled sunlight, children in smart school uniforms, interesting graffiti, and people completing normal tasks with an interesting background everywhere. It is so stimulating.

I adore the Thai sense of cleanliness. I didn’t realize it at first because Bangkok is polluted and the streets are relatively dirty. With the heat, it seems like all the people must be sweaty and dirty too. Not so. I have come to absolutely adore the sprayers next to nearly every toilet (a kind of bidet setup). A cool shower after wandering the alleys perfectly also matches the contrast between high-rise condos and modern offices versus earthy streets with aging infrastructure.

While in the hospital, the nurses helped me shower before my surgery and every. single. day afterwards. I don’t know that there is anything else on this planet that can turn around the frustrating sense of weakness, malaise, and pain from illness than a nice shower. I know sponge baths or “half-baths” can be a bit more popular back in the US. So please send me back to Thailand if I manage to break myself again.

Finally, I should mention just how nice Thais are. “Land of Smiles” is a well-earned moniker. The bank teller is sweet and polite (and sympathetic) as I wade through a dozen forms. I have to seriously consider feedback from other staff at the office that one of my employees “showed emotion.” A frown, or huff of frustration here is the equivalent of a peer yelling in the office back in the US. My driver smiles every morning when he sees me, and I have learned to laugh with him at motorbike theatrics on the road. Every smile is always answered with a smile.

In general then, life in Bangkok isn’t so bad. Except for that traffic.

🙂 Me.

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