Friday, October 28, 2011

Farangs on Parade and Being Adopted

Everything that occurred today I wholeheartedly absolutely planned in advance myself, to make sure my best friend had the most well rounded Thailand experience possible. Of course the preceding line is a bunch of bull.

A couple days back, right before going super hiso at the mega malls, we stopped for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and cooking school by the name of Mai Kaidee’s. You might have heard of it, Lonely Planet raves about it and it’s been on Thai TV. Heck even Dominic Monaghan from the TV show Lost has studied at Mai Kaidee’s cooking school. We walked into the restaurant, stepping over sandbags and other barricades to ask if it was in fact open. We were immediately roped into a traditional Thai dance with the cooking class that was wrapping up.

We dined, and chatted with Sommay, who goes by May or Mai for short, and she asked us if we were free Friday night. She was planning a fundraiser for flood victims. What was the plan? Get dressed up in traditional Thai dress and hit the campaign trail around Khao Sarn Rd. We’re in.

I’d like to think that I’m a philanthropic person, but I have to admit that I have my limits. So getting all dressed up (which is fun) to collect donations? Yes, I can do that.

We got to the restaurant a bit early, around 3pm, so we could eat before our 3:30pm call time. I’m allowed to use the term call time, there were cameramen filming us adjusting our bras. I hope that part does not air. Several people helped wrap us up in Thai garments, adorned us with Thai jewelry, did my hair and then helped me finish the makeup I started. Oh my goodness, did I have the best hair. Photos and video to come, Patience!

At this point we got paper umbrellas, a few decorated donations boxes, and proceeded to parade down Samsen Rd, around Rambuttri and Khao Sarn collecting change and baht notes. Smiles, Sawadees, Khap Khun Kas, smile, photo, etc, repeat.

I have to say, more Thai people opened their wallets than foreigners. I realize it’s intimidating to be approached by someone collecting money. I realize many foreigners are used to scammers in Thailand. But, I think you can have the decency to be polite about declining. Especially if you can afford to sit on Khao Sarn Rd and drink a 100 baht beer when you’re fussing about a 20 baht note.

One incident in particular I felt I couldn’t keep to myself. A trio of Americans were sitting, a 20 baht note sitting under a beer, arguing over who would donate. One of the men said “Well we live here and have to take the brunt of the flood just like everybody else, you’re just a tourist, so you donate.” I looked him straight in the eye and said “I live here too.” “Oh yeah?” as if they don’t believe me. So then the other guys chimes in “So where is the money going?”
“It’s going towards food and water.”
“No but who is it going to?”
“Mai Kaidee is organizing that.”
I wish I’d had the definite answers to those questions; because I understand being leery of how NGO money or aid is distributed. But it doesn’t excuse the other guys’ attitude.

Thankfully, our stop at the Irish Pub yielded the praise of another fellow American, which brought some levity back to the situation.

We got to the end of the road, counted up the money and did some more posing, smiling and so forth. Oh I’m going to be interviewed? Ok then. Thankfully I did not use what Liz has referred to as my “I’m talking to foreigners voice,” that I’ve apparently cultivated since living in Thailand and have not always truly been cognizant of. There’s a fine line between making sure you’re understood and coming off as slightly condescending, and it’s a line I tread poorly at times it seems.

We raised over 9,000 baht, which is over $300 USD, in an hour. Mai Kaidee’s being a restaurant, of course they’re using that money to supply food and water to flood victims, probably a lot of food they cook themselves.

In any case, we got all dolled up in traditional Thai dress, paraded around one of the most touristy places in Bangkok, raised money for flood victims, and oh yeah, we’re going to be on Thai television.

And that’s the first half of the story…

On our way home, we hit a patch of monsoon that required seeking shelter. A Thai family on one of the sois leading to my apartment motioned us over. We had chosen a skinny awning across the street to stand under. They pulled up stools and let us sit. Then we moved inside to watch Tom and Jerry with the family, as father and son both played on smart phones. Grandfather was the one ushering us in and caring for us silly farangs in the rain. They gave us Whiskey sodas, traditional Thai style, and samples of their home cooking. Turns out, they’ve had a family restaurant business for over 40 years. The home cooked soup hit the spot, definitely family recipe, and I’ll be making a point to get home from work early enough to actually have it once in awhile. The two boys of the household came over and politely gave their wais, as we are older than they are. The whole experience was so welcoming and generous, it reminded me that my initial experiences here were tainted of Khao Sarn jadedness and a general disconnect from both America and Thailand. It reminded me about why I came here, and why I’m not ready to leave. More to come, flood preparations and a few other things have cropped up in place of much of what I’ve been alluding to.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Developed World Really meets Developing World

So dear friends, it’s been awhile. As you may or may not have gathered, a third of the country I am an expatriate in is underwater of varying degrees. Over one hundred industrial plants, many of them Japanese, are underwater, several of them will be completely unrecoverable. Not only is that a major blow to industry, it’s put a lot of Thais out of work and is going to hit the Thai economy really, really hard when all the damage is tallied up, especially as companies relocate to drier pastures.

The flooding began in July. Monsoon rains occur every year. Yes, we’ve had more rain this year, but there is so, so much more to it than that. So much more that I could write a doctoral thesis about it, but I’m really not that committed to the subject and I do enjoy this country enough that I want to be able to return. Instead of speculating or delving too deep into politics, allow me to tell you about my day, because it was ridiculous, and those make the best stories.

This morning my dear friend Liz, visiting from California, and I got up with the mission of finding bottled water and other staples. I have photos of the empty shelves at my 7/11. Updating photos has gotten pushed so far back, well, it’s just going to have to wait. So, mission for breakfast and water. We enjoyed western food at Ricky’s, a restaurant that wants to be Mexican, has Chinese d├ęcor and serves up Western breakfast. The owner was running out of supplies, and it going back home tomorrow because her mother is worried. With food supplies running low for the kitchen, why run a restaurant business in a semi flooded area any way?

After breakfast we noticed a truck unloading at 7/11. “Dude! Seven’s got a delivery, and they’ve got water bottles!” Liz and I make a beeline along with the rest of the mad dash. We score quite well. Eighteen 1-liters, and a smaller pack of ½ liter bottles. We schlep our booty home.

Now here’s where things get interesting. We discussed buying books to take to the flood victims’ makeshift classroom my colleague set up; but we didn’t get to that yet. Instead we head for Siam Paragon, because Liz had yet to see that, and after our slightly shaky ferry boat experiences going to and from Koh Samet, we needed some retail therapy. So we hailed a cab (the streets by us were dry at this point, unlike last night, by the way) and went to the mall. I showed off Gourmet Mart. I showed off Kinokuniya. And here’s where our real departure from the reality of the flood crisis all around us comes in.

We went upstairs, and I began the first session of having my underarm hair laser treated, while Liz got a manicure with Chanel nail polish. Yes, go ahead and read that line again. I could sit here and justify myself for a long time, and I will in fact mention the pain and the tech telling me she’d never had to turn the laser up that high before, “for Thai people lower number ok.” I did appreciate she just called to make sure the redness has faded. But really, I decided of all the things I’d throw money at, avoiding the pain of ingrown armpit hair is a noble goal. And it’s been a problem since age 14. OK, I did a little justifying there.

We then proceeded back downstairs, ate sushi bento sets, and stocked up on provisions in Gourmet Mart. The Pocari Sweat we’d double checked was available prior to our beauty pampering had magically disappeared and been restocked with the generic stuff. Those bastards! Right, flood crisis, it’s my own fault my underarms are throbbing, and I’m a spoiled white girl.

Rubber shoes were such a good investment. At this point, we’ve got to go back to spot where my second cell phone was stolen and see if we can persuade anyone to take us back to flood zone, as we’ve discovered my area turns into at night, like a werewolf or something. I agree to the exorbitant 200 baht tuk-tuk fee, because I’ve stood waiting for anyone to take me at that junction for over an hour and a half in normal weather. He balks at the barricades and doesn’t understand my directions to go around, which, granted I really should learn in Thai…so then we catch a bus, as police direct traffic through the barricade any way, and hoofed it in ankle to mid calf deep water until we hit a dry portion of Soi 4, and then back through more water by my apartment. The tailors always hawking suits and dresses offered to make us waterproof dresses. It was some much needed levity for all of us.

And then we came home, where I took a beer out of the fridge to make room for water, Liz started playing Civ on her iPhone, and I began composing this blog post while drinking said beer.

Welcome to my day of privilege and deprivation clash.