Asia is a short but intimidating word. Maybe it’s due to the sheer size or because of TV shows that capture only the craziest of Asian cultures. But we can confirm that this is not Mars, far from it. It is, though, an amazing place that is different enough to be exciting and similar enough to feel comfortable.
You Won’t Fall Off the Grid
If you’re counting miles or hours traveled to get to Thailand, it’s definitely a haul. But it’s not that far digitally. FaceTime and Skype make connecting with family easy. You can get apps to text for free on wifi and, for a few dollars and about five minutes, the local cell phone shop will have you setup on the local cell network. Your email inbox keeps filling up no matter where you go and texting makes it feel a bit like you never left.
It’s Not An Entirely Foreign Place
Everything you’ve read about Asia’s fast paced economies is likely true. There’s lots of new construction and plenty has already been built. Global corporations are often the first to break ground.
McDonalds is in every city. Starbucks is growing. There are probably more KFCs in Asia than in the US! In Thailand, people love good food, desserts, and drinks. They have plenty of their own desserts but DairyQueen is still killing it here.
Thai people appear to love ice cream and, given the heat, I don’t blame them. Mister Donut is everywhere too. I know, you’ve never heard of Mister Donut. It was founded in the U.S. in 1956 but then they figured out that donuts apparently have a big place in the future of Asian culture, smart guys. Mister Donut now has 1,300 stores in Japan, they are growly rapidly in Southeast Asia, and have even moved their headquarters to Japan.
7/11 is also everywhere here. Their big competitor is Japan’s ‘Family Mart’ and there is either a 7/11 or Family Mart on every street in every major city in Thailand. Sometimes, there are two or three within a few blocks. In them, you’ll find that tons of global corporations arrived in Asia before you. You can get Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, and even a Big Gulp!
RedBull addicts, do not fret; RedBull was invented here. It was originally called Krating Daeng. An Austrian discovered it here, partnered with the guy who made it, and brought it in a modified version to the West. You can find its newer form, RedBull, at any corner mart (but it will be in a glass bottle). You can still find the canned version, but it’s usually on the bottom of the shelf.
Similar, but Not the Same
Asia is still Asia, though, and you’ll certainly get that “on the other side of the world” culture most of the time. Right now there are fire crackers going off non-stop outside. For ten days the Vegetarian Festival will fill the city with parades, fireworks, firecrackers, and extreme acts of devotion (click, if you have a strong stomach).
On any day of the year, Asian cities are full of markets but during a festival entire parts of the city become a market. The food options are endless.
Traditions have their place too. I tend to put my feet up, when there’s something to put them on but, in Thailand, putting your feet up is not cool. They consider feet to be very dirty. I think that they may find putting your feet up as unsanitary it as a Western person might view a tourist rubbing their bare ass all over a bench or seat. I’ve been told to not even point at things with my feet. There are many small cultural differences that remind you you’re in Asia. Car horns are almost never used in anger but instead are friendly “beep, beeps” to say “I’m passing you, don’t hit me!”
We’re happy to be here because we love the culture. We love the locals who smile often, are honest, and who are as obsessed with food as us. If mankind finds an alien civilization on another planet, we’d want to visit it and see how it was different. Asia is hardly an alien planet but we’re happy to live amongst another culture that is friendly enough to be inviting. From what we’ve seen, the world is starting to consume a very similar set of goods and overall lifestyle. Nations around the global may be much more homogenous in a few decades. We’re just happy to be stocking up on culture while it’s still on the shelf.