My sister and I went to Thailand recently, a first time for the both of us. For her, it was to attend an activity. For me, it was to see if the Thailand folks really do look like us, Filipinos and vice-versa, and, if their cities look just like ours, ahaha. Thing is, I have a friend who used to live in Thailand as an expat. For three years, she provided me with stories of how the country looks, how the people live and how foreigners like her can’t seem to master the language, haha. So, I went there finally, with the sister, to have a first-hand view and feel of the country. We never got the time to go to Bangkok, unfortunately. But that could probably wait. In the meantime, we saw enough to make our first impression of the people and the place. I hope…
First off, the landing. The aerial view is better, comparably speaking, haha. At the risk of sounding like I’ve tossed my nationalism or what would pass off as some such sentiment, allow me to say that the view from above Suvarnabhumi sky looks better than what greets the eyes upon taking a peek at Philippine soil. This airport in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan Province, is Thailand’s new international airport, about 25 km. east of Bangkok. A visitor could not help but notice that Suvarnabhumi or Golden Land has been planned – there are patterns in the structures and highways built and being constructed, the buildings of the locality do not crowd out each other and hey, the panorama does not look crazy and confusing from high above.
Apparently, this Asian urban center is not too busy, too frenetic and too highly-industrialized. The traffic of the people and the vehicles, not at the dizzying level yet. There’s still plenty of room to move, or so it seems… Visibly, there are constructions going on – high rise buildings, condominiums, supplemental roads, etc. The proverbial cranes and lorries can be seen from 200 feet above. As a city, it looks more like the moving kind, but not in a way that is hurried. There’s development, but perhaps not the kind that is based on ruthless efficiency and mad rush for glamour and glitter. At least, that’s my impression of the surroundings…
Suddenly, plainly, I missed the roofs of the buildings and houses in Paranaque (the immediate vicinity of our metro’s airport), full of used tires and whatnots, waving to visitors upon landing (I hope the Philippine tourism authorities do not sue me or put me in their hunt list, lol). No, it wasn’t envy I felt at that time, just simple acceptance, maybe, of our Third World standing as a country, the laggard of Southeast Asia. We still have a long way to go towards mustering a good and decent front for the travelers, from near or far… When I was a freshman in college, the raging discussions in the social science arena was development – missing the take-off, leapfrogging it (’twas a cool term, back then) or remaining in the so-called periphery. That was more than 20 years, by the way. Oh, well…
In Suvarnabhumi, we stayed at an airport hotel called The Cottage. Yes, there’s a service van to pick visitors up from the airport. The staff are friendly and polite. The ambience of the place is private and quiet. The elevators work wonderfully well, there’s a small pool with lounging chairs and plenty of bean bags around, yehey! But what I appreciate most about the place is the hotel’s patio or veranda. It’s a thin strip actually, just outside the hotel cafe. But the atmosphere in that corner is such that it brings a lounger peace and quiet. There’s a soft piped-in music that plays in the background and a kind wind that blows from above. If anybody would ask me what I want to take back to the Philippines from Thailand, I’d say it’s the loving and generous wind from the patio of The Cottage.
First morning, I took a walk in the street of the village where our hotel was located. It looks to me just like any subdivision in an urban center in the Philippines. The houses look curiously the same as those that can be found in my country – the apartments look the same and even the house fronts do not look any different. I observed (I observe a lot, so other people notice, lol) same house plants, same fruit-bearing trees (I even stole two tamarind fruits from the wayside, there’s just too many of them) and same breeds of house dogs, true . Except, the Thais usually have this small worship corner in front of the yard that looks Buddhist to me. In the Philippines, we also have one such corner with the statue of the Virgin Mary instead. We call it grotto – a patent reminder of our Catholic faith and three hundred years of Spanish influence.
And yes, same look of people, indeed. The Thailanders look very much like us, Filipinos or we, Filipinos look a tad just too like them, haha. Except, they speak less English… Most people who saw me walking greeted me – either with a smile, a bow or a Good Morning in Thailand language. Whenever I muttered good morning in return, they would tell me, “Speak Thai?” And when I’d say “No,” there’s a pitiful but kind expression that runs in the face of the one who put the question. It’s like saying, “Oh, but we could engage in a longer conversation if you do. But then, go ahead wherever it is you are going.” They’re amiable and polite – our Malayan cousins in the old country of Siam.
On the streets in the village, I saw a lot of vendors – on foot and on vehicles. Some sell street foods like dumplings or rice cakes, some sell trinkets and souvenirs and some sell fruits. Entrepreneurship is all around, one could see and sense it. Plenty of homes have two cars in their garage – a pick-up for the small business and a car for the family. Some yards are steeped with products to sell or what remain of their inventories. The residences do not come as your typical middle-class households settled in their statuses. At least, they appear to me to be still up and working on it. Houses seem to be peopled by folks still building up their middle-class arsenals – busy as bees with loans and mortgages and tuition to pay perhaps, but ready and willing to face the challenges. I saw several family-type businesses – single proprietorships with a dash of help from what? Office-based professions, probably.
There’s a small pick-up truck that passed me by, selling fruit common in the Philippines in the months of August and September – lansones. I went closer to the vehicle as it stopped for a man in front of his house. The woman at the back of the pick-up scooped the fruits very fast and weighed them – one kilo for 20 baht. The driver, probably her husband, was looking at her from the vehicle’s mirror. Marveling at the price, I decided to buy a kilo of the produce myself. At the exchange rate of 1:1.5, what I bought approximately cost 30 pesos. In the Philippines, lansones usually sells for 70 or 80 pesos. When I examined and tasted my purchase, I found out that it’s a variety slightly different from what we have here – theirs has thicker skin but yes, sweet. It’s a rather good purchase, actually. And the fruit’s called longkong in Thailand, a man in another house front would explain to me, later.
The streets, yes, the streets in Thailand… They look pretty much like the streets of Metro Manila, minus the mind-boggling traffic that we have, haha. The one that first-time visiting foreigners usually describe as “crazy,” haha. Yes, that one… But then, we discovered (much to our chagrin) that Thailand is another right-hand drive country. Gee whiz, I miss the “Look to your right,” and “Look to your left,” notices painted on the street grounds in Hongkong, for pedestrian visitors unfamiliar with the place. There are no such helpful signs in Thailand, for tourists from the boondocks like us. Also, it appears to me that their sidewalks are not so wide. Or, they’re not wide enough in busy, commercial centers that we visited.
So it happened in our adventure that we were about to cross, looking to our left side of the road when cars sped us by from the right. Another time, we were looking to the right, when we nearly got sideswiped by cars coming from the left. Shocks, those were close! And we were not particularly absent-minded, awed or touristy at those times. Just used to the left-hand drive country that we come from, haha.
The motorists or the drivers in Thailand do not appear to me as snobbish, as rude or as smug as my countrymen, though. Pardon me, but generally that is how I would describe many, if not most, of vehicle-owning Filipinos. They dash on the streets in their cars, jeepneys, buses, vans etcetera, in an almost unforgiving way, as though pedestrians were nuisance on the streets. The Filipino pedestrians, on the other hand, have found ways to get back, haha – either walking very slowly like strolling in the park, or crossing without signalling even in non-pedestrian parts of the roads, or, being just that – nuisance. Hey, am not trying to sell my countrymen cheap, I’m just saying that we manage to display our spite for one another in ways that are very creative, haha. In the parts of Thailand that I saw, both the drivers and the pedestrians give courtesies to one another. Did I say that they bow a lot? Oh, yes, they do.
And the pink taxis, I love them. So pretty, one could indulge one’s love for pink past her childhood and teenage years. Of course, there are also yellow cabs, yellow with green stripe ones and the bubble blue taxis – the latter there to match the ubiquitous pink, I suppose… For some reason, those pink locomotives do not hurt the eyes of the beholder. It probably helps that most of them are Japanese brands, recent models, and they come as, yes – uniform and standard. Happily, the fare isn’t very prohibitive, in my estimation. The roads of the places we visited look just like what we have in Metro Manila, only cleaner, I guess, haha.
I did not see dilapidated buildings as old, as ill-maintained or as decrepit as we have in the Philippines, lol, just the old temples and places of worship – very ornate in design, quite historical and much revered among the local folks. What strike me are the similarities in the two countries’ physical environment. I did not really feel like I was in a different country while I was in Thailand. Aside from the people there looking uncannily like us, dressing like us and smiling a lot like we do, I observed that there aren’t too many high-rise structures. Medium-rise buildings are more prevalent in commercial hubs and in less dense areas, low-rise structures. And there are still plenty of houses built on the ground, with fences and gardens, as in the Philippines. I mean, compared to Hongkong and Singapore where city dwelling normally means living in a building, Thailand’s real estate situation (in non-Bangkok parts) seems to proclaim that such scenario is still for the future.
Even the roadside restaurants and eateries look the same here and there. But Thailand’s highway eateries usually occupy bigger spaces, about 200 to 300 square meters on the average, designed like almost sprawled to the ground. Oh, yes, the ones we tried look like the classic eateries – with 10 to 15 tables, with the old Coke posters hanging side by side with the Buddhist icons and, there is always a small fountain by the entrance, cool. I mean, literally and otherwise… Need I say that their Tom Yam soups are chili galore? No, I guess, there’s no need for that, haha. They use at least four(4) varieties of chili in their dishes and they even serve extras in a small bowl or saucer. Talk about spicing up your life, haha. The food servers are usually gays, like in the Philippines, although they seem to me, less loud and a bit more courteous. 🙂
To be continued…