In Thailand, my sister and I saw many ambulant traders and peddlers – busy and happy selling their wares – inside the villages, in the markets, in commercial hubs and in the highways. Most of those business people use vans or small pick-up trucks or the usual Third World business vehicles – motorcycle or bicycle with an attached cab for carrying the goods. In the cities, many shops appear to be family-run affairs. An onlooker could easily spot several members setting up shop for the day – one member lifts up the shop’s railing, another checks the inventory and another attends to the costumers coming in. Such scenes seem to be common.
Those manning the stores have very similar features, they are kins, haha. Am guessing, most entrepreneurs probably consider it more expensive to hire extra hands, it is the family members that run the enterprises themselves. In the Philippines, it is mostly start-up businesses and young couples that adopt that kind of set-up. The moment a business gets going, hired helps are immediately taken in and the children are let free to concentrate on their studies and play. The trend here in the recent years seems to be in the direction of weaning the children away from the vagaries and the nitty-gritty of running a small and messy business. Business attitudes of entrepreneurs appear to be different in Thailand or at least, that is how they look to me.
We did not see many beggars and hangers-on loitering in the city and making occupations out of just standing by. Many local folks appear to be busy, employed and yes, Thais help each other out, apparently. In the Philippines, particularly in the low-class districts of the urban areas, idlers abound – in front of sari-sari stores, by the lamp posts in side streets and just about everywhere in the metropolis. With more than 20% unemployment rate and also a high percentage of underemployed – Filipinos do hang around and idle by the bunch. People waiting around for odd jobs, for small opportunities to make a few pesos or for some rare chance of fate smiling luckily down upon – these happen to be typical scenes in our country. On the other hand, in the busy hubs and centers of Thailand, idling people turn out to be just resting or merely taking their customary breaks from their duties.
Inside the subdivisions in Thailand, drivers who have been greeted by passersby stop their vehicles and roll down their car windows to greet back the ones who greeted them or bowed to them. I found that rather peculiar. I commonly observe such scenes in provincial settings in my country. But there’s a difference, even… In the Philippines, the driver either just slows down the car and shouts a jolly greeting to the acquaintance in return. Or, he merely presses the horn and waves in recognition of the person on foot who greeted him and drives merrily or nonchalantly on.
The greeted motorist and the greeter on foot in non-highway parts of Thailand chat awhile, for a minute or so. As though they both have time in their hands, as if such a simple gesture were important. As though, a fellow or an old acquaintance were of value. Really… There was one young lady driver who even motioned the walking woman and her kid to come over by the car’s window. She looked like an educated person. I saw her hold the hand of the older, listened very politely to the woman who appeared to be a manual worker and even held the arms of the woman’s child before she drove on to the direction of the highway. I was mystified. What was that? The incident piqued my interest keenly.
When greeting somebody, the Thais usually put their hands together in front of the face – but not touching the forehead, with fingers pointing upward – smile plaintively or gently and then they bow, very courteously. At times, their bows are quite low, almost like genuflects – as though fervently asking people their pardon – for the intrusion, for having disturbed, or, for having gotten in the other person’s way. The greeted person, the one disturbed, acknowledges the bow or the greeting in the same respectful and courteous manner. “Fare thee well, wherever it is you are going,” seems to register in their facial expressions, in the joviality of their smiles and in the twinkle of their eyes. They mean you well, they seem to… And, it must be strange that I found that strange. Isn’t that how things are really meant to be between and among people? I don’t know…
Our second hotel is called Novotel Impact, a four-star hotel closer to Bangkok in the Muang Thong Thani district. The hotel’s website says that the place has 380 rooms – that many. I did not loiter around that much to see how a place that has more than 300 rooms looks like, haha. We do not have that many rooms in the hotels in the Philippines, no. * But we have four-star and five-star hotels aplenty, chains and independent ones, and I have stayed in many of them, over the years. Some of them are really lavish, glossy and showy, especially the lobbies…
Novotel Impact appears new, clean and spacious. To me, it isn’t very grand in the way that some hotels in the Philippines are. But the sibling and I enjoyed our room, very much – better than a couple of five-star rooms in the Philippines that I’ve stayed in for conferences and seminars. There are less freebies and free items for occupants but anyhow, it is the kind of room one would stay in, rather than go out to wander, haha. Our hotel is huge, modern and right in the center. The members of the staff are alert, courteous and professional in their demeanor. They do speak and understand more English than the staff in our previous hotel, haha. What impressed us were the welcome drinks – very refreshing and served at the information desk as we were checking in – two small glasses of pandan-flavored tea. The tea and the gesture charmed us instantly, haha.
Our new temporary abode is no longer the private and quiet corner near the airport. This one’s tuned in to a more international set of clienteles and has a rather business-like atmosphere to it. Even the bellboys, the attendants and the porters carry themselves a bit more professionally, are more citified in their appearances and look as though they have been in the business of hospitality far longer. They seem to know how to be of service in a not in-your-face manner and do not appear to be expecting tips after every gesture they have done for a tourist. In the Philippines, I have encountered many such impolite hotel staffs. I remember one exception, though, to this day – an encounter in the city of Bacolod, a couple of years ago. Hotel people there seemed to be truly welcoming, helpful and respectful.
The Impact area is probably similar to the Mall of Asia (MOA) complex in the Philippines, although the former seems to occupy wider grounds and appears to me as something that has been built more sensibly? I really do not know but the Thailanders’ real estate valuation, their idea of urban spacing and their concept of livable lifestyles must be different from ours, Filipinos. In another perspective , the area is also similar to the PICC complex in the Philippines’ Roxas Boulevard area – the cultural and business convention complex built by our famous former First Lady. Impact has a more modern touch, perhaps. It offers plenty of conveniences to visitors, is people-friendly in design and feels inviting in many ways. It is not crowded and not intimidating at all.
The complex is composed of a series of huge buildings – a newly-built arena, a shopping complex, an exhibition and art center, a sports complex and several hotels and convention centers – in one area. They are built next to one another, a visitor could access them just by walking – if he is patient and so desires. One also has the option to take the shuttles plying the vicinity, for free. Things are actually convenient and tourists-friendly. Except, there they still do not have those “Look to your right” and “Look to your left” street signages that I so appreciate in Hongkong.
And sadly, the menus in the restaurants and fastfoods of Thailand do not have English translations. That, to my sister and me, appeared to be a problem as we usually did not know the recipes of the foods we were ordering. Most of the time, we just looked at the pictures in the menu and trusted our instincts, haha. And as we could read the prices – in baht terms – and are assured that the prices are usually the same as in the Philippines, or even cheaper, we usually just ordered away and experimented, ahaha.
My sister and I agree that the Thais are not as prone to excesses as we, Filipinos, often are. Their food courts look almost the same as those found in the Philippines but theirs seem cleaner, more orderly and look just about right. The foods may not be as superbly or as elaborately prepared as in Hongkong’s special restaurants, maybe. But the kitchens are not as untidy, either, haha. We also observed that the local folks do not order or stack food in their plates more than what they could eat at a time. Sadly, many Filipinos, here or abroad – whether in roadside eateries, classy restaurants or posh hotels – conduct themselves opposite.
Oftentimes, most of us, we get too much of everything – gravy, sauces or dips – as though we couldn’t have enough of them or the supply’s going to run out anytime. At times, one would see a group of five (5) Filipinos at KFC – binging on two buckets of chicken, 10 cups of rice and several side dishes – mashed potatoes, corn and carrots and five (5) orders of spaghetti, haha. And it’s nobody’s birthday, see? We were not treated to such curious tendencies or coarseness in Thailand. Except for plus serving of chilis, the locals put in just enough sauces in their dishes, even if those extras were free and available in big bowls for everybody.
In the theaters, the Thais seem to observe the lines and patiently wait for their turns. People also crowd in near the entrances, but I guess that is to be expected anywhere. But we did not see any of them pushing or trying to pull an act to get ahead. This was in the Impact Arena, where they hold locally-sponsored international events. Perhaps this is the equivalent of MOA Arena in the Philippines.
While there, my sister and I got an up close look into Thai society’s folks from different walks of life – students and professionals, young and old, poor and rich. There also seem to be Western influences on the young, specifically the upper middle class urban youths, the preppies – in their clothes and sense of fashion, in their gadgets, etcetera. Again, we observed none as loud as Filipinos, ahaha – no excessive gloating or flaunting of wealth and tastes. Moderation and grace appear to be commonly observed…
The billboards in the highways we passed by surely got our attention. For one, Thai models and endorsers look like Filipinos, haha. Only, they are fairer in complexion, seem to have smoother skin than ours and some appear to have marked Chinese or Vietnamese features in them. But otherwise, their models and actors could be mistaken for ours, lol. There is one young model who is a spitting image of Philippines’ Rica Paralejo. My sister and I guffawed over that. Also, we had a good laugh over another who looks a tad too like our Sara Geronimo, haha. And we saw them not just in billboards above, but also in magazines and record stores, ahaha. Maybe, it is also worth mentioning that billboards in Thailand are much smaller, simpler and not too Western. Their advertisements are not too conspicuous, not interfering and not too hard sell, either…
The malls in Thailand are spacious, well-built and carry various products as well, but they look simple, functional, neighborly and useful as facilities. In short, very Asian… I did not see anything too grand or excessively, insanely beautiful. It seems that Thais do not build to bedazzle, or to lure or to fool people into coming in and spending this way and that, no. In the Philippines, one is not only treated to billboards bigger than buildings in the highways, but also to huge posters of Guess pants, Nike shoes and Technomarine watches inside our department stores, haha. 😉
* I was at the Diamond Hotel in the Manila Bay area very recently. Said hotel has around 500 rooms. I stand corrected about this piece of information – October 22, 2013.
Last part of the Kinder and Gentler post will also be published immediately. It will include bit discussion on comparative economies, cultures and politics between Thailand and the Philippines. Thanks for reading. Happy weekend! ^_^