Sunday, February 9, 2014

New Norms- Life in Thailand

I guess you realize that you've really begun to adjust to the foreign culture when things that used to be weird and annoying start to feel normal. Most of this stuff has felt normal for awhile, but sometimes I get caught up in the mom stuff and forget to write about the Thailand stuff. So this is for anyone who is curious about life in Thailand. And if you're really curious feel free to pay us a visit! :-)

Here are some examples of new norms (and yes the first three are all potty issues!):

1. Not being able to flush your toilet paper at many public restrooms. It's all too common to see a sign in a public restroom that says "please do not flush toilet paper" I'm now pleasantly surprised when I'm in a public bathroom and there is no sign and the little waste paper can isn't filled with soiled toilet paper. It leads to some bad smelling restrooms...There are even some bathrooms that say "urine only". I guess if you need to go #2 you are out of luck.

2. Or all too often there are no public restrooms. Sometimes it's really hard to find a bathroom. If you're out and about and feel a potty crisis coming on, you start brainstorming where the nearest place that is likely to have a public restroom is.

3. No toilet paper. It's always good to have your own tissues with you because public restrooms often do not provide it. Instead there is often a little water hose connected to the toilet that you can use to "refresh" yourself. Or sometimes a person standing outside selling toilet paper.....

4. Driving on the left side of the road. This one is just second nature now. Occasionally when I am the driver I still get into the passenger side of the car though and sit there for a moment, like "hey where's the steering wheel?" Not too often anymore though.

5. Stray dogs- they're everywhere. I used to be appalled that they just sleep in the middle of the road in the middle of the day. Now I just drive carefully around them or in some cases rev my engine to let them know they better move. And actually most of them aren't stray. Almost all of them have some sort of caretaker, but they are allowed to roam freely for much of the day.

6. No central air. It's pretty much non-existent in homes in Thailand. Most people don't have air conditioning in the main area of their homes at all which is odd considering this is a country that only really dips below 90 degrees for 2 months out of the year if that.

7. No heat. Okay based on what I said about average temperatures in the last one, this isn't that surprising, But on those odd nights where it drops down to 50 degrees and your car and house both don't have heat, you are shivering a little and there is nothing you can do other than layer up.

8. No central water heater. Individual showers have individual water heaters that actually heat the water as it's coming out of the nozzle. It actually amazes me that it can heat it fast enough for showers, but it does!

9. No dishwasher. I realize there are plenty of people in America that don't have dishwashers....but in my experience they have become pretty standard among middle class Americans. Here it is crazy exceptional if you have one.

10. Line drying. Okay this one could almost be left off the list as a decent number of my friends now own clothes dryers. We are not one of the lucky. Occasionally it crosses my mind that we should buy one, but the sun does a really good job of drying our clothes 9 months out of the year. The other 3 are the rainiest parts of rainy season and sometimes it becomes a challenge and we end up with drying clothes hanging all over our bedroom while we blast the air conditioner. Sadly the sun is pretty harsh on our clothes and I do think it shortens the life span of many of our clothes....especially anything with spandex or elastic in it. If I can convince Josh it is a good idea we might someday splurge on a dryer.

11. Speaking Thai. Okay really my Thai is still terrible, but I'm thankful that I feel closer and closer to being able to express what I want to occasionally.

12. Having a maebaan (English translation: house helper or house mother). This was super weird to me at first. Why would I hire somebody to clean my house when I always cleaned my own house in America? Just because it's cheap didn't seem like a very good reason to me. That was before I realized that this country is just plain dirty. And every day your floors end up super dusty. And hanging each clothing item on the line one by one takes a LONG time (especially if you cloth diaper like me). And doing all the dishes by hand takes a LONG time. And making every single food item you eat including salad dressing and stuff Americans take for granted FROM SCRATCH takes a long time. And bathrooms need to be cleaned way more often as most of them are the kind that the entire bathroom gets soaked each time you take a shower. So yeah houses need to be cleaned way more often and everything takes way longer. Unless you've been here and seen how quickly everything gets dirty, it's hard to understand. We have one who helps us clean, cook, watch children, or do laundry 3 days a week.

13. Monks. We see monks walking around in orange robes all the time, but one thing that was really weird at first was their morning ritual of walking around the neighborhood with their little pot receiving food offerings from people who bow down and chant in front of them. It's my understanding that they believe they will be blessed in return for giving the monks food. The monks cannot say anything about the type of food that is offered, it all just gets mixed up in their pot and they eat it later. I always want to take a picture when I see this, but I wonder if it's super disrespectful so I never have. The guy pictured below was just taking a walk, he was not doing one of the morning food walks.

I know there are so many more things I could add to this list but these are the ones that came to my mind right now.

Some of my comments might sound like complaining, but that was not my intention as most of this stuff just kind of rolls off of me lately. Here are a few more pictures of odd but normal everyday sights in Thailand.

Buying a crib mattress for Hailey. Yep we couldn't find one so we went to a foam factory and had a piece cut, and then took it to a seamstress to have a cover made for it. It was cheaper than a real crib mattress, but a lot less convenient and there is no safety standard....

These giant snails are everywhere during rainy season. You will frequently crunch them under your truck or foot...

I suppose this isn't all that different than a farmer's market in America, except it is....really different. Vendors line the streets for about a half mile behind our neighborhood selling their stuff and really congesting traffic once a week. There are many similar markets open every night. 

I have actually seen way more people than this in the back of a truck this size many times but never have my camera ready. Just know that this is not that extreme. 

And this is also not the most overloaded truck I have seen...

This is the cutest cow I ever saw in the back of a pickup truck! :-) Love the big floppy ears cows have here! 

And that's all folks! We love Thailand and all its differentness. Although somedays the differentness still stresses us out slightly! Even after 2 and a half years! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Life as a Bystander in a Country in Turmoil

We are on the eve of a controversial election here in Thailand.  If you have been following the political scene in this country for the last decade (or perhaps century) you know that this is nothing new.  Nineteen coups since becoming a constitutional monarchy.  For most Americans, the idea of a coup is quite foreign.  A U.S. President has never been forcefully removed from office (assassination aside...) and replaced by another, un-elected official.  Here, it happens once or twice every ten years.  The last iteration was in 2006, when Thaksin Shinawatra was removed from office by the military, and charged with corruption.  He is still living in exile, but his sister is now the current Prime Minister.

The current crisis still revolves around the class feud that led to the 2006 coup.  Thaksin built his political machine around policies that beneftted rural areas, gaining him large amounts of support among the poorer regions of the country.  The middle class and urban elite in Bangkok resented his policies, as they bore the brunt of the financial burden.   He also represented a threatening shift in the traditional power base.  I'm not going to go into more detail regarding the past seven years.  There is plenty of information out there about the aftermath of the coup, and the events that have brought us to the current standoff.  The recent protests were sparked by an attempted amnesty bill, which would have forgiven criminal charges against every politician in the last eight years, Thaksin included.  It was a seemingly blatant attempt to allow Thaksin's return, and his political opponents were infuriated, sparking months of protests in the streets.  The opposition party resigned, crippling the government and effectively forcing the current Prime Minister to resign or call new elections.

So here we are...the election is tomorrow and the two sides are growing increasingly violent.  The anti-government protesters are blockading polling sites in an attempt to sabotage the election.  If they can prevent enough people from voting, there may not be the quorum of elected officials needed to form a new government.  The pro-government forces wish to exercise their right to vote, and keep the current government in power.  Gun skirmishes and bombings are being reported in Bangkok regularly.

As foreigners, we obviously have no vote.  We are also legally barred from participating in any political activity.  I can sympathize with both sides to a limited extent.  The protesters feel that the current government is ruining their country by spending billions of borrowed baht on policies they feel exist only to cement their grasp on power.  They also feel powerless to stop the political machine that has seemingly "purchased" millions of votes with government funds.  On the other side, if we were in the United States I could not imagine supporting a group that was trying to sabotage a democratic election.  Mostly though, it seems that this is a power struggle at the highest levels and in the end, none of the players really care about the people that are affected.

Today we celebrated Hailey's 1st birthday with many of our close friends here.  It was a lot of fun, even if baby birthday parties are short lived.  One by one, we watched as parents made their exodus with wailing children as the sugar overload and skipped naps took their toll.  Later, after our children graciously napped, we went to mall where we found a huge Hot Wheels track, live ponies walking around in an indoor pen, and an empty stage with blaring music for Colby to dance on.  It was a really fun day.  Near the end of our time at the mall, I wondered what tomorrow would bring.  I never had thoughts like that before we moved here.  Most of the time, back home, it is easy to take normalcy for granted.  Things certainly do change, but it tends to happen at a slower pace.  We really don't know if this current crisis will be resolved peacefully.  We have heard talk of moving the government to Chiang Mai, splitting the country in two.  Some journalists have hinted at the prospect of civil war, but I think it is mostly fear-mongering.  It seems that a vast majority of the population wants nothing to do with the violence.  At the same time, reconciliation seems a long ways off.

There are many more things I want to say here, but I feel they are best left unsaid.  What it all boils down to, for me, is the human condition.  The Bible says that we are all fallen, and without the redeeming work of Christ in our hearts, we will remain this way.  Our fallen nature manifests itself in various ways, and to me, that is the center of the current struggle here.  Greed, corruption, pride, and fear...driving a country to the brink for what reason?  No good ones come to mind.

All that to say, please join us in lifting up Thailand.