Thailand is that rarest of mixtures, a place that, to the untrained observer, appears to be a fully-functioning modern nation with all the trappings of success and iconic cultural identity which that implies. Then, there’s the other stuff…
Picture, if thou will, a typical evening in my beautiful Isaan homeland. I may wander the road-side stalls looking for such bargains as my inner-child deems indispensable. A Thai-flag coloured kite was my latest purchase. Upon getting it home, I discovered it had neither a tail (not a major problem, admittedly) nor a string with which to fly it. Ah well, it looks pretty, stretched across my desk at work.
As hunger takes hold I may avail myself of a quiet corner of a local Korean bbq house. The term ‘quiet corner’ has a somewhat different meaning here, as the television blares out cartoons watched by adults and, if one is truly lucky, the owner’s children will be celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent by lighting fireworks and throwing them onto the road in front of oncoming vehicles. This, I am lead to understand, is in place of dinner music, which, after all, is so yesterday. I usually eat alone, and as the plate of vegetables is quite large, I take a little and donate the rest to a nearby group of eager diners. Never once has it occurred to the owner to make a half portion for single customers. In fact, he has now taken to pointing to the table he feels will be most appreciative of my left-overs.
Act of charity duly performed, I saunter off to wet my whistle at a local lakeside bar and eatery. To do this I have to tightrope across a half-submerged bamboo gangplank and past the room with a clearly visible double bed in it. I guess the waitresses get tired during the evening, I’m not sure.
The next day, as I realise that my motosai’s 3 month ‘servit’ is approximately 18 months overdue, I head in to town to the very friendly Honda dealership. There I am greeted by the mechanics wearing (what else?) bright, white overalls, and quoting me 112 baht for the service. Not a problem. “Aaah, eckuse me Teesha, this plice not collect. Plomotion: 29 baht.” So my two-stroke chariot enjoys a well-earned and well-overdue service, and I enjoy the labours of a white coated Honda technician working on my bike for an hour, for the cost of a bottle of Leo. Sounds fair.
On my way home I see the Boys In Brown have set up a roadblock across the main road, the only access to my apartments. I realise it’s the end of the month and rules that have not mattered for three weeks suddenly become all-important. I have my Licence on me, so I cruise up fearlessly to see what the deal is. I ride straight through, as do the other riders, some with helmets, some without. There appears to be no rhyme nor reason to this practice. Perhaps they were only stopping cars today. Or perhaps only people wearing blue. We may never know.
One of the great joys of travel is to experience the exotic; to find oneself immersed in a culture which holds little or any resemblance to that which we call home; to that which we call ‘normal’. Surely then, in Thailand, we have truly found ourselves a paradise…