I’ve uttered this phrase more times in the last year than I ever have in my whole life. Since different countries each have their own unique customs, living abroad inevitably comes with its fair share of bizarre experiences. As my time in Thailand comes to an end, I thought I’d share some stories about the absolute weirdest things that have happened to us here.
Shopping at Robinson’s
The first week we arrived, we realized we were going to have to go shopping for some more work-appropriate clothing, so the four of us went to Robinson’s, a huge department store in the mall (basically like Macy’s in the U.S.).
We were a little put off from the beginning because the store clerks rushed over and hovered right behind us, following us as we skimmed through racks of blouses. When I found one I wanted to try on, I was directed to the dressing room and luckily it fit! I decided I would buy this shirt.
However, I wasn’t finished shopping yet. I wanted to hold on to it while I searched another part of the store, but apparently that’s not how it works here. I was unsuccessful in trying to get my point across with sign language and was herded over to the cashier to pay for the shirt.
OK fine, I get it. Things work differently here. No problem!
However, as we looked around and found more things to buy, we were forced to pay for each and every one individually. It seemed like each part of the store had its own designated cash register. If you bought a shirt of one brand, you had to pay for it separately from a shirt of another brand.
We continued to try to communicate, “pay later” to the cashiers, but to no avail. We spent at least an hour peeing our pants laughing at the whole thing and needless to say, we never went shopping there again.
Happy New Year
Very quickly, we got used to strangers coming up to us anywhere and everywhere, grabbing our arms and yelling, “Suay mak! Suay mak!” meaning “So beautiful!” However, it reached new heights around New Years, when we took turns being paraded around the school to deliver gifts to each academic department.
We presented baskets of oranges, which are believed to bring good luck in the New Year, and posed for photos with the teachers. Then they turned to us and said, “OK tell them ‘Happy New Year.’”
“Happy New Year,” we repeated with a smile.
“OK now speak Thai,” they commanded.
We politely said, “Sawadee pee mai,” and stood there while they laughed and talked about us in Thai.
I felt like a trophy being shown off to the rest of the school. They seemed to be saying, “Look at our farang! Aren’t they beautiful? Isn’t it cute when they speak Thai?”
Honestly, it was quite humiliating, but by then we’d already learned to let things roll off our shoulders. Thai culture is all about keeping up appearances, so we went along with the show.
If there’s one thing Thai people love, its karaoke.
Around the holidays, we had an English Department party at a local karaoke bar. There was a ton of food and beer, and of course, singing and dancing. It was hilarious to watch some of our most timid teachers belting out Thai pop songs. Obviously, we also blessed them with our incredible rendition of My Heart Will Go On.
Later on, Richard Marx’s Right Here Waiting started to play. It’s important now to note that while the words are flashing across the TV, there’s always some kind of music video playing in the background.
As the song begins, the video shows a woman with 80s hair running down the beach in a bikini like something out of Baywatch. Then, she tantalizingly lays down in the sand and starts caressing herself. We all just sort of looked at each other, hoping we weren’t about to see what we thought we were about to see.
Sure enough, the chick with the mullet takes off her bikini top, and for some reason, no one seemed phased by it except us. While our Thai teachers were singing along, we were in the corner giggling like kids.
One of the only male teachers in the department hears us laughing, so he tries to join in by pointing at the TV and chuckling, “Ha ha, fake boobs.”
Well after that, we were in stitches we were laughing so hard. Never did I think I’d see something like that in such a conservative culture, let alone surrounded by all my middle-aged co-workers!
A few weeks ago, one of Emily’s friends from college was in town visiting. In an effort to show her a good time in our quiet little city, we took her out to the club on Saturday night.
After crushing a bottle of Thai whiskey, we decided we wanted to commemorate our college days by taking tequila shots. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen tequila in Thailand, so I’m not sure what made us think that this was going to work, but I confidently marched up to the bartender and tried, in my broken Thai, to tell him what we wanted.
He nodded and gave us the thumbs up and I was honestly kind of surprised that it had worked. He totally seemed like he got the message!
He went and grabbed a few glasses and came back with a bottle of something that was not tequila. It was (drumroll, please…) espresso-flavored vodka. We watched with horror as he poured three glasses (yes, glasses, not shots) and topped them off with a splash of Sprite.
He could not have been farther off the target, but it made for a very hilarious night and some awesome selfies.
So this one didn’t actually happen to me, but it’s definitely still worthy of being on the list.
When Emily’s friend was in town, she tried to take her to this cute restaurant called A Garden (yes, it’s in a garden). We’ve been there a handful of times before for yummy smoothies and nice views of the river, but when they arrived, they found the restaurant had apparently gone out of business.
Businesses come and go pretty often here, so while it was disappointing, it wasn’t hard to believe. The bizarre part was that not only had the restaurant closed, but it had been turned into a bunny farm.
That’s right, a bunny farm.
“What is a bunny farm,” you ask? I have no idea. All I know is that wild bunnies now roam where a restaurant once stood.
And as weird and random as all these experiences were, that’s just life in Thailand. It’s unpredictable and inexplicable and spontaneous and wonderful and everyone just goes with the flow, even when your favorite restaurant is now a bunny paradise.