Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cell Phones

With the recent exodus of my cell phone on Khao Sarn Rd, I decided it might be time to address the Thai attitude towards cellular communication.

As previously mentioned, cell phone usage at my school drives me absolutely nuts. Not the least of which because I have a rather personal disdain for the things to begin with and there is absolutely no rule against them at school.

I’ve come to realize it’s not just school. I read on another expat’s blog that if you see a Thai girl without a cell phone, run because there is something wrong with her. And while I first viewed this assessment as harsh, it’s become apparent that taking out exceptions for extreme poverty (and even then, phones are much more affordable here), that pretty much every Thai person has a cell phone. And I mean everyone – the monks have cell phones. What on Earth a monk needs a cell phone for, I don’t know, but then again I have yet to figure them out, and some of the ones in Bangkok are just in it for the free ride.

Boundaries of appropriate times and frequency with which to call also seem to be open to interpretation, though I realize that is an individual thing; I’ve run into it in a variety of contexts. Can I call you every day? No. Blank stare. Can I call you every day? NO. Blank stare. Lost in Translation, even with translation.

I went to the gym today for the first time since before Songkran and as usual I noticed the high volume of people texting while on the treadmill, with eyes glued to their iPhone while lifting weights with their quadriceps, or merely sitting on various pieces of equipment, eyes glued to their phone. I think their thumbs are getting a better workout than the rest of them.

I’ve learned that, in Thai culture, what is polite is to answer your phone immediately, regardless of what you are doing, even if you are busy enough to say you have to call the person back. A colleague of mine confided that he had gone native enough to do this in a job interview back in England, realizing just a moment too late wait, This Is NOT Thailand. Yes, it cost him the job.

So while in the United States, we confiscate student phones (I am allowed some leeway in this here) and force parents to pick them up, and remind the students that an employer will not allow you to sit and play on your phone; here in Thailand, that is exactly what everyone is doing in moments of down time, students, workers, Immigration officials… Nothing can be ‘mai sanuk,’ after all. I suppose there isn’t any harm in this in moments of down time, generally speaking. I am a little leery of the motorbike taxi drivers on their phones while driving.

Aside from the complete opposite take on cell phone usage, cell phone decoration is quite lucrative, and options are many. However the moment I decide investing in rhinestone-studded accessories and/or a Hello Kitty cell phone is a great idea is the day I’ve been here too long. Though to be fair Hello Kitty has no age limit here.
So cute!


  1. LOL about the colleague, totally understandable habit to develop! I admit to being absolutely addicted to my smartphone and the internet. I suppose if I interacted more with people I liked I wouldn't be as addicted.

  2. over hello kitty- since your a little past that- i would opt from something a little more up your alley- like super woman or carebears :)

  3. I still want to talk on my phone. Yeah, just talk. I know it can do all kinds of other things, but still. I am old fashioned. Just talk. Uncle Ed