Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thailand True, False and Huh?

Women don’t sit next to monks on the bus. I knew this ahead of time thankfully. Though I was a little taken aback the time a monk boarded the bus I was on, I was sitting in the ‘reserved for monks’ spot, and the bus fare collector grabbed my arm and moved me to another seat proclaiming “you, here.” I guess of the ways that could have gone, that’s not too bad.

“It’s more polite for women to wear skirts,” this is not a suggestion this is required. While not all occupations require women to wear skirts as of the last few years, and possibly not even all schools – mine does. Certain official places also require women to wear skirts – see Throne Room post. Thai culture training even suggested it was necessary to dress as professionally as you do for teaching even for simple grocery shopping in case you meet student’s parents. Uh, no, too bad, I’ll be polite, I’m not wearing a skirt 7 days a week.

The Thais don’t do anger, publicly. This really results in everyone bottling up their true feelings – but anger, in any capacity, literally short circuits Thai culture. It’s the land of smiles – but that doesn’t mean someone isn’t angry with you and keeping a lid on it. This is one area being ‘farang’ doesn’t matter – you can’t be angry. Talk about vicious cycle. And no, I haven't managed to never be angry. In the words of my colleague - "to Thais, there is nothing scarier than an angry farang."

It’s more important to look like a teacher than to have experience, credentials, etc. (You could always just buy some credentials on Khao Sarn). If you smell, wear the wrong shoes, or don’t fit the image, you could be fired for that. You probably will be fired for that. Thailand is working to be more strict about getting good teachers – but it’s still very much about what you look like. Look ‘too young’ to teach? Also going to cause problems. Look like a teacher but don't have the credentials? If they like you, they'll work around that. If they decide they don't like you, watch out. I have met some African American teachers finally – it is possible.

You don’t need sweaters in Thailand, it’s a tropical country. FALSE. Residents of Central Thailand enjoy aircon so much that they keep it set low enough for everyone to wear their favorite sweaters, scarfs made in handicrafts class, etc. No, I won’t get any sympathy from anyone reading this back home. But, you do need sweaters if you are working in Bangkok.

Thailand is so cheap. Half/half. Many things in Thailand are cheap. Other things are really, really expensive. Bedsheets, for example, are considered a luxury and subject to the luxury tax – and you only get a fitted sheet and pillow cases – Thailand doesn’t do top sheets. Plus if you’re foreign, you’re almost always going to pay more. The baht is strong compared to the dollar right now and you’re going to pay more than you expect for almost everything. Yes, western teachers get paid more than Thai teachers, which helps with farang overcharge. Out and about people will assume you have an expat bank manager’s salary. Learn to haggle like a pro, shop with a Thai that can haggle like a pro or avoid it altogether.

~Lactose-infused soy milk, brand name Lactasoy.
~Soy-infused Rice milk. This is the best I've managed so far.
~The day my boss asked me, “why don’t you drink milk like the other Americans, to keep your skin so white?”
~The Thai proverb, paraphrased: “better to strive to be average, than to embarrass your neighbor by being better than him.”
~The Thai superstition that, "if you expect something to go wrong, it will go wrong." This is used as justification for hardly anyone wearing seatbelts, etc. We were also told of the driver who quit his driving job - and explained "my American boss always made me wear my seatbelt - and I was afraid something bad was going to happen to me because of it."

The above two are the 'my brain is fried, cognitive dissonance' proverbs I alluded to from Thai culture training. I will not be going native enough to skip a seatbelt (when there is one) or merely strive to be average as to not embarrass someone. I'm working on holding my temper.

Other tidbits: that store with all the photos of celebrities? Yeah it's a wax museum. Duh.
Banking Abroad - difficult. HSBC is global that's a great plan - if you have 15,000 USD to open an account you can have a local currency account. D'oh. Moving USD to Thailand - ok. Using a US credit card when in a jam, fees but ok. Withdrawing baht in Thailand, lots of daily withdrawal limits but ok overall. Moving baht to the States to then pay US card down - Good Luck. Since the 1997 Asian Market Crash, Thailand has clamped down on money moving out of the country as much as possible. It's not impossible, but exceedingly difficult. My British colleague moves money via Paypal, which can be a cheaper option for moving small amounts of cash than bank transfer. And don't get me started on the racket that is Western Union, not doing that. Apparently Thai banks (mine at least) and US banking institutions (Paypal at least) haven't come to an agreement to play nice. Paypal account frozen, flagged as fraudulent by Bangkok Bank - what a mess. This one will take awhile, and I'll be happy if I can simply take my Thai bank off of Paypal and restore my American Paypal account to functional. Possible? We'll see.
I'm also looking into opening a different Thai bank account, I have to bank with Bangkok Bank as required for my University to pay me, but there's no reason I can't open another account now that I have a work permit. This would be better for actually saving any way, since in Thailand your account is debit and savings all in one - there are not separate accounts for individuals and checking doesn't exist if you are not a corporation. I've also read on various forums that the bank I'm considering is slightly more foreigner/transfer money home friendly. As for moving money home, I'll figure it out. It's just going to take multiple phone calls to Paypal and multiple trips to the main bank branch on weekdays between very specific hours. And don't try to go on Chinese New Year's Eve; talk about traffic jam.
Though Thailand is paranoid about money leaving the country causing the country to have another market crash, there is one thing they understand about sending money home. Supporting family. All Thais, even the most poor - send money home to support their family. So when I do decide I have the patience to smile my way through this conundrum, the key phrase is: "I need to send money home to support my family." These magic words might actually allow money to go through. Maybe.

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