Tuesday, 22 February 2011

BKK, City of Angels or...

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

That's the full name of the city of Bangkok. No joke there. It's the longest place name in the world. They even have a song where the lyrics are made up of just this name! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6wMQr_HHoc

It's unlikely I will ever remember the full name, but I will surely remember the city, its people and its individuality.

I will remember...

...that every pavement seems to have settlements of food vendors at regular intervals. Eating out is a way of life here, not a leisurely activity - everyone does it all the time - so there is less ceremony and more practicality involved. The kitchen is generally operating from a small cubbyhole, or even a cart, and the restaurant is a bunch of small tables and plastic chairs. Customers stop by as they are walking to get to their destinations and decide to have a meal. The order is placed and the food served within minutes; the bill is paid and the customer gone, soon after. It's a quick turnaround.

...that beautiful skyscrapers stand all over the city; they're not restricted to any one modern area but are spread all around. So much so, that the landscape, when viewed from a high level, looks similar on all four corners. Although walking isn't a favoured activity here, it is a pleasure to look up and see some pretty spectacular architecture (that is, if you like modern buildings).

...that an easy mode of transport (if you don't want to take a bright pink cab and be stuck in traffic; if you don't want to take a tuk-tuk and inhale fumes while being stuck in traffic; and if you don't want to or simply can't take the fantastic BTS Skytrain from point A to B) is the 'motor-cy' or the motorbike. A bunch of guys are usually lounging on their bikes at every street corner - they look like they're chilling - but if they're wearing a bright orange visibility vest on top of their clothes, you could stop and ask them to take you wherever you need to go. They immediately spring into action and get you to your destination for a nominal price.

...that women walk around on the streets and pavements, in thin high-heeled shoes, with the utmost ease. They are better at carrying themselves in heels than the women in London - and the streets here are just a little bit worse than the ones in the Big Smoke. So, RESPECT for Thai women.

...that everyone walks at a languid pace, whether they're at a mall, in an office or on the streets. For someone used to the fast pace of a London or a New York, this is unusual and almost disturbing. In fact, the pace is so relaxed here that one has to remember not to be annoyed when Thai waiters take the order at a restaurant and then go away to have a joke with the other staff and just 'hang around'. This is just the way it is - no disrespect is intended. Even 'fast food' comes at a 'slow pace' here!

...that Thai hospitality is a mix of Indian and Pakistani mehmaan-nawazi and then some. Thai people will go out of their way to ensure that your life is simplified, that you are kept safe from trouble and that you enjoy your time in their country. Every conversation is speckled with them trying to initiate you into their culture, give you an understanding of their language and basically invite you 'in'.

...that Thais attach a lot of importance to showing 'respect'. Their language is full of words that show respect to the addressee like 'khwap' and 'kha' and they will refer to themselves with their first name for the same reason. Even their wai gesture incorporates different 'positions' for new acquaintances, elders / superiors, monks and royalty. They spend a lot of time saying 'sorry', 'thank you' and 'please'. They are a very polite people.

...that the King and the royal family is absolutely sacrosanct. To say or do ANYTHING disrespectful towards the Thai royal family is worse than abusing their own family members. The 'King's Song' is played before every single film in the cinemas and everyone must stand to show respect, while it plays. There is a genuine feeling of love and awe for the King - it's not a sham. Along with this, is a fierce sense of national pride, accompanied by extreme humility.

...that this truly is the Land of a Thousand Smiles. Everyone sports a smile with abandon. This is not something you forget easily.

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