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Thoughts on Thailand – Week 6

There is a saying here: “Same Same… But Different”. That pretty much sums up life in Thailand now.  We’ve largely adjusted to what is different so its a new normal and some days at home it does seem “same same”… but different.

Its hard to wrap my mind around all that is different and all that has happened already.  If you don’t write about it as it happens, it slips away. 3.5 weeks ago I had no idea how living in a house here would be, how to get my electricity turned on, where to buy real food, how I’d get drinking water, etc.  It was daunting moving into this house.  3.5 weeks later (now) it feels completely normal. It took us maybe 2 weeks to adjust.

Our House
Life in the house is very much the same as Hawaii.  But there are differences: We still keep open food in tupperware because of the ants (which are much improved but we don’t want to tempt them back).  There is no dishwasher or garbage disposal so I hand wash all the dishes and set them out to air dry on the counter.

We take the trash out daily because of the ants. My washing machine (which they put in for us) is out back, outside.  I try not to look around much when I go out there because I can’t risk seeing a snake. My dryer is in my kitchen. We have a huge metal rack out front in our carport and that’s where I hang things to dry.  Yes, all our (not dirty) laundry lined up in front of my house for all to see.

My kitchen is tiny – 2 burners, one made to fit a wok.  We do have an oven though which is unusual.  We can’t drink the water so our water is delivered in cases in 1 liter bottles once a week. We use this to drink and cook with.

Our front door is locked with a metal gate and a padlock.  Yes, padlock.  And we have a sliding gate in front of our driveway that also locks with a padlock.  We live in a gated community as well so we nod to the guards every time we go by.

Weather
Its the rainy season and yes, it rains a lot.  Seems to rain every day starting around 4-5pm.  But some days it rains for 24 hours straight.  Some of the rainstorms are unlike anything I’ve seen – like a firehose is pointed at the house.  Its gray and we don’t see the sun much.  Finally saw the sun yesterday which was nice, but hot as heck.

The weather prevents us from doing things and we’ve learned to bring umbrellas and have gotten wet a few times too.  Its also hot and humid here so we spend most of our time inside and many days, the air-con is on.  Far cry from Hawaii where we didn’t have air-con and lived with the windows open 24/7.

Also, the mosquitoes keep you from spending much time outside and you can get some nasty diseases from them.  We’re having to use DEET when we go some places.  We also have no real yard here and no good place to sit so I can’t go lounge outside even if I wanted.

Plus with my aversion to snakes, its hard for me to be out near grass/plants much.  Did you know that Thailand has more snakes per meter than any other country in the world?  I didn’t know that exactly.  Perfect place for someone with a snake phobia, huh?  I’m an idiot 🙂

Most restaurants are open air and we eat at markets walking around so we do get outside for that stuff.  Last night we went to feed the pigeons then walked to dinner and back and probably spent a good 2 hours walking around.

We walk a ton. I’ve never walked this much in my life.

Our Neighborhood
We knew there would be a tradeoff getting a house out of the city in the suburbs.  After reading the blogs I’d been reading, which led to us moving here, I was under the impression that:

  • Many expats with kids live in these neighborhoods so making friends and meeting other English speakers from around the world would be semi easy
  • We’d be close enough to everything that we could get by with motor scooters instead of a car
  •  There were night markets nearby or getting to the ones in the city were a breeze

Well, no, no, and no.

The first 3 weeks we only saw people nearby that weren’t speaking English.  We went to the pool and there weren’t any kids (although we went again and found a few kids).  I really thought I’d take the kids to the pool every day, we’d see other parents with their kids and voilà, we’d start to make friends.  Ummm, no.  The kids did find other kids this week though so now we have them running around the neighborhood which is great!  I still haven’t met a single parent in the neighborhood though.

We’re not far from the city – maybe 15 minutes – but there is no way its convenient to go eat there every night for dinner.  Too far, one ways streets around the moat so you have to go one way then u-turn to come back, no parking nearby, crazy drivers, etc.  We do go, but not every night.

Driving
Forget about driving scooters here.  These people are INSANE.  They really have no regard for their lives and do reckless things: drive into oncoming traffic, drive on the sidewalks, pull out in front of you, pass on the right when you’re making a right turn, drive without a helmet while holding an infant in their arms.  Some drive at night in the rain without their lights on.

They scare me and they zip all around you and it’d be so easy to hit one or get hit.  And usually its the foreigner’s fault even if you did nothing wrong.  There are traffic and helmet laws, but no one enforces them.  Oh and because it rains so much, there is no way we’d be driving home from the store in the rain getting drenched with the kids!!!!

Up until about a week ago, I wasn’t listed as a driver on our rental car so I barely drove. We now have a rental I can drive so I’m driving more and more.  But that’s been most of my problem – I’m not comfortable driving here yet (they drive on the other side of the road too) and don’t know where I’m going or even where to go, so I stay at home while Chuck works until we can all go out.

I’m getting more comfortable and learning where some things are, so in time, I’ll get more mobile.  But I’ve mostly felt stuck at home for chunks of time which doesn’t make me happy. Also, renting a car is crazy expensive – we got one for about $500/month which is a deal but so not what we budgeted, so our budget is now blown.

Eating
Food in the grocery stores is expensive here if you want to eat like an American.  Street markets are beyond cheap but they don’t work for every meal.  Restaurants are way cheaper than the US but we still drop $20 to go out to eat.  So we’re hitting our budget there and trying to come up with meals we can cook in our kitchen that don’t cost a ton.  Say goodbye to any Julia Child recipes for a while.  And forget about baking – I have no bakeware and will have to buy Beckett’s birthday cake for the first time ever instead of making one.

Other Stuff
Toys are either cheap dollar store quality (yet cost $10) or crazy expensive so we haven’t bought much for the kids.  They have bikes now and a few trinkets.  Since we had no board games, I told the kids to make their own so they each made their own board game and we play those as a family.  They’re actually quite fun!

So, what is different specifically?
1. We’re further than I thought we’d be from cheap food markets that have much variety.
2. The variety of food at the markets isn’t that high and I find I’m missing many of my favorite Thai dishes and I eat Pad Thai and satay all the time.
3. We need a car, not scooters which blows our budget.
4. Driving is even worse than I thought and worse than I remember from Malaysia.
5. We don’t have expat neighbors nearby and instant friends.
6. Its harder to find places to go, restaurants to eat at, activities for the kids, etc. than I thought. Google maps is mostly worthless here, many places don’t have websites or they’re in Thai, the location on google maps isn’t always accurate, etc. So we have to find things out a little at a time and fumble through.
7. We weren’t able to buy toys/games for the kids to make it more like home and have more of “our” things so there isn’t much for them to do.
8. Weather sucks enough that we’re inside so much in the air-con.  I’ve lost about all of my Hawaii tan 🙁
9. Chiang Mai is not like I thought.  Smaller, dirtier, more rustic, not nearly as modern as I was hearing.
10. Many activities are American prices and not super cheap. The lego robotics is $150 for 8 sessions. That would be high in Hawaii.  Not at all what I expected.

BUT, there’s also some really cool stuff:
1. $5 massages. Yes, I have had a massage for $5. I’ve been getting 1 massage a week and will probably bump that up to 2/week. They are Thai massages which are their own unique thing – they use their elbows, bend you, stretch you, step on you, etc.  I call it “sweet torture”.  Think of it as a mix of acupressure, yoga, chiropractor adjustment, massage and pain.
2. Eating out is cheaper (except for alcohol) so we usually eat 1 meal out a day at a restaurant.
3. I’m finally fulfilling a dream to live outside the US.  If I’d known Chiang Mai was like it was, I wouldn’t have picked here though. But at least I made a huge leap to come to a country I’ve never visited and am making it work.
4. Street market food is so ridiculously cheap that you can try different things so easily – if you don’t like it, throw it out and buy something else.

What is interesting is how quickly Chuck and I have adapted.  How quickly this became normal.  Even our 3rd week in country we were used to riding songtaew and tuk tuks to get around, paying for things in Baht (their money), walking around mangy streets, communicating with people who barely speak Thai.

Now we’re getting used to paying for things in Baht/kilogram and converting that to Dollars/pound. Things are in kilometers here.  When I went scuba diving, they measure the air in your tank a different way and have different rules.  Easy, but different.  Even simple things like buying trash bags was interesting as we tried to convert centimeters to inches to figure out what the sizes were.

The stores mostly sell products with Thai labels (maybe a tad of English), so finding laundry detergent that didn’t inadvertently contain bleach or finding dish soap were tough.  Now I know what to get and where it is.

Our house didn’t come with a few things so we had to buy our own kitchen knives, a skillet, some dish rags, pool towels, etc. Its interesting to learn what you can and can’t live without. We have no apple slicer.  3 cooking pans.  No bakeware.  And you make it work.  Of course that stuff makes life easier and I wouldn’t want this forever, but it is interesting how little we need.

We did buy a coffee maker though. One of the few must haves for us 🙂

The kids
The kids have had mixed reactions.  There have been very challenging moments where they just don’t want to go out to eat (yet we have to because we were in a hotel or we had no good food options at home) or fight us about going to do fun things like going to the pool.  But other times they walk around the street markets like they’ve been doing that all their life and will go pay for things in Baht or try some new food.  And they jumped at the chance to pet the baby tiger and ride the elephant.

They’ve really adjusted to the differences pretty well, but it doesn’t mean its been easy for them either.  We’ve done the best we can to keep things as normal as possible and explain as much as we can.

 

So there ya have it.  Its not comprehensive but gives you more of an idea of life here and how we’ve adjusted.

There will be more to share as I can crystallize my thoughts on different aspects of things here.  When we go out, I almost always think at least a few times “Wow, we’re not in the US anymore” because of the contrast – lack of safety railings on stairwells, crumbling sidewalks that motorcycles will drive onto when they don’t want to wait in traffic (and will nearly hit you), the street markets do not look that sanitary at first glance (yet we eat there often!), the animal attractions that would never fly in the US like petting baby tigers, how lane markers and red lights are merely suggestions here, etc.

Most of the time I laugh at the differences though and appreciate that I really get to see how another area of the world actually lives which was the whole point.  Its kind of fascinating to me actually.  So in time, we’ll try to write more about all of those things. Partly to share, partly for us to remember, and partly as a documentary for the kids as they get older.

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