Where’s the Wheel?
Most of the time I drive our scooter but, four months in, when I have to get in the car I still walk around to the wrong side. That’s odd because I think of myself as adjusted to life here. I’ve switched to thinking in baht (not dollars), scootering feels like second nature, and eating Thai food everyday feels normal.
Adjusting to Thailand
Culture’s an odd thing. Adjusting is hard and easy at the same time. Phuket is very developed, so it’s not as though we have to forego things if we don’t want to. We get pizza once a week and have started going to a German place once a week. The rest of the time we eat Thai and love it.
Weird stuff happens, but you just roll with it. One day Brianna walked into her kindergarten and looked at the work left on the board. The previous teacher had been teaching numbers. For five she drew five cups. For seven, she drew seven leaves. For six, she drew six guns.
Great culture stuff happens all the time. The other night I bumped into a friend. He’d just replaced his scooter’s engine. He bought it two months ago and apparently it had no oil in it. The next day I stopped at a random mechanic’s shop to get my oil checked. An old man with grey hair, no shirt, no shoes, sweatpants, and a full belly came out. It turned out he could speak numbers in English but not a single other English word.
I pointed to a can of oil and he handed it to me and said “120 baht”. That’s $4 USD. I mimed that that I’d like him to empty my oil and put new oil in. He took the can of oil back, got a few tools, and changed the oil. As the oil drained he tightened my loose back break and put air in my back tire. He had also noticed my bike was sputtering and mimed that I should put “95” instead of “91” into my tank (which I later did and my bike runs perfectly now). Ten minutes later he finished with the oil and I pointed to my money signaling “how much?” He replied “120 baht”.
Western Culture in Thailand
McDonalds is here but it’s hardly ever busy. KFC is usually packed but that’s because fried chicken was loved here long before KFC. I see far more people buying milk tea and coffee from a cart than from a 7/11. Hershey bars are on the shelf, but I have never seen a Thai buy one.
Some Thais go to see Western movies, but the line is out the door when a new Thai movie comes out. Thai movies are quirky and playful. It’s a light hearted culture where adult women wear “Hello Kitty” shirts and purses. I think a lot of Western brands put shops in Thai malls to try to penetrate the market but I’m not sure that they are very successful.
Culture is An Economic Advantage
That fact that Asian culture is so different is what gives them a chance at keeping Western corporations from eclipsing Thai companies. We can’t make Thai movies or video games as well as Thais can. They don’t find the same things funny or cool. Thai style is different. Thai food is different.
This is good for Thailand because a lack of culture difference can be a disadvantage. It would be difficult for Australia or the UK to have a successful equivalent to Hollywood. U.S. supply of movies very adequately meets their demand. Even countries like Sweden and Germany have cultures similar enough to the US for most American films to hold appeal.
Asian culture is too different. They love anime and silly, almost corny, comedies and clothing styles. They spend less time in bars and more time among family. They care more about respect. Many Asian cultures seem to love fish flavors.
Long term all the little differences will create a barrier that gives Asian entrepreneurs an advantage over Western corporations. Frankly, I’m glad it’s this way. I’m not a fan of big corporations taking over the world and I love culture differences that prevent the world from becoming homogenous. Bring on the weird!