Thai Spirit Houses

No I don’t mean bars or breweries although there are plenty of both here. While it is tempting to hit one to deal with the stresses of everyday corporate life (CORPORATES ARE EVIL!), I am talking more about a little cultural phenomenon I almost overlooked. It is so easy in the daily grind to forget that I am actually living in a foreign country and while I have moved here for work, 90% of the appeal of moving to Bangkok was the opportunity to travel and explore more of a culture that is alien to me.

One of the little discoveries are Thai Spirit Houses. Every building – house, mall, giant condo, market – has a miniature house-like structure that is draped in flowers and surrounded by incense. You will know these to be Spirit Houses when you see a couple of fruits and opened bottles of cola with straws lain in front of the mini building. Inside the building, you will sometimes spot statuettes, figurines of humans, dancers and gods. I just assumed they were little external prayer houses.

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Curiosity getting the better of me, I soon found out that Spirit houses aren’t Buddhist tradition as I originally thought. The practice goes back to pre-Buddhist times when people believed that all land is occupied by spirits of our ancestors. In encroaching their land and building your own structures, you are rendering them homeless and as such, are probably bringing bad luck to yourself.

To counter this, everyone builds a miniature home for the spirits in the corner of the property so that the Spirits can continue to live on the land but also have proper shelter to spend their days in comfort. The house is built on a prominent spot and a lot of people build it so that the shadow of whatever structure would soon occupy the land will not fall on the Spirit house. In addition to this, people leave the spirits food offerings. If the cola bottles are anything to go by, the Spirits seem to have an affinity for Strawberry Fanta!

When the room land-mates of the Spirit House decide to build a new mini-house, a colourful ceremony is conducted so that the Spirits may travel to the new house peacefully. At the end of the ceremony, the old house is discarded near a temple.

There is just something about this simple tradition that has really captured my imagination. If I ever settle down in one place and own a house someday, I might have a Spirit House of my own. Would you?

 

I am a Social Butterfly

Never thought I would say that, ever. I am quite the hermit and quite content to be so. In fact, The Oatmeal drew a comic about me (allow me this dream!)

My colleague dragged me to a Girl Gone International event. She is social in a way I will never be but I felt obliged to give her company. I am not one of those women who bitch about how hanging out or working with a group of women is a nightmare. Quite the contrary, I had worked with a bunch of women in my previous office and I grew to love every one of them. So while I wasn’t afraid of making friends the way she was, I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself out there. The night went well enough. I clicked with two other ladies (an Australian and an American) and since they were both married, gave me a chance to see them again via the age old ‘triple date’ phenomenon. We met them a few times for dinner and it wasn’t the nightmare that I thought it would be.

Cut to a few months, I volunteered to go to another meetup. This time there was free alcohol and my brother’s girlfriend was visiting. You see how this works?

Lesson 1: I need multiple compelling reasons to actually go out somewhere social. I don’t mean travel, I love travelling. I mean the act of actually making an effort and talking. I am very good at it. But it tires me out like no physical activity can.

The night was a success on her part – she made ‘connections’. It was a success on my part because I didn’t spend a dime (when you suddenly find yourself supporting 3 people on one income, you find yourself feeling more stingy than you actually are). There’s even photo evidence that I hung out with a big group of brave and interesting women of all age groups from all over the world and had fun.

Bangkok Girl Gone International
Spot me!

Lesson 2: It doesn’t literally kill me to be social but I am yet to find a compelling reason to push myself to it. I’m not the kind to want empathy or the kind to share deep secrets. I do talk to a select few people who’ve caught my interest and whom I think would help me see a different perspective on life. I am sometimes have blinders on so I like having people around who are polar opposites to me in many ways and in many ways the same and yet with a different set of priorities.

Lesson 3: I am more convinced than ever that I am an introvert. Not to be mistaken by its identical twin, shyness. I am not shy, I just find I expend a lot of energy when it comes to talking to people and hanging out with them. I often find I need a couple of weeks to recover.

The Hive, Bangkok
Beautiful meetup locations

Lesson 4: I actually enjoyed the idea of Meetups. Apparently they exist all over the world and they help you participate in interesting activities in a group and there is absolutely no pressure to meet up again. While I am not a big fan of ‘girl only’ or ‘boys only’ meetups, I do love the other activities that come up. You can go volunteer for the weekend, you can participate in workshops, you can play tarot as cards and not the future prediction thing. In fact, the boy and I went to a brilliant Open Air Cinema and watched the Rocky Horror Show! It was amazing.

Open Air Cinema Bangkok

Lesson 5: I am still learning about myself but there is something about being abroad that accelerates the rate of learning.

I am curious to hear your thoughts about going out and meeting other people. Is it something you like to do? If you are self-sufficient, do you even bother? Leave a comment!

We’re Okay!

Other than being utterly shocked, the boy and I are totally okay. The shock factor comes from the fact that the explosion happened less that 400 meters away from where I currently work. It’s also absolutely terrifying to think that I have passed the shrine many times before for lunch and yesterday could’ve been one of those days. It also opens you up to a lot of unpleasant ‘what if’ thoughts.

Erawan Shrine Before After Bomb

The above is a photo I took that morning. Below is the photo of the devastation caused by this absolutely senseless act of cowardice and violence.

The streets and the BTS is eerily empty and our bags are being checked at the entrance and exit of every building. I am all for being extra careful especially in the wake of the news that another bomb went off near the river a few hours ago (no casualties reported!)

I hope people find the strength to continue on after this disaster and live life without fear ruling it. What a terrible tragedy for those who lost their lives and who were injured for no apparent reason.

What’s in a Name?

I am lucky to have always had a place of work that doesn’t require elaborate escape into your own world plans. In my previous office, I was for the first time subject to people who tried to kill each other every afternoon. Now, work does that to you – makes you a monster. But this was on a whole new level. When they weren’t busy playing TF2, they were busy creating ingenious words.

In this office, and apparently it’s a Thai thing, I work with Rong, Champ, Bird, Apple and One (Can you imagine how many ‘The One’ jokes you can make with that?). People’s names are so hard to pronounce that they adopt a nickname. In my three weeks here, not a day has gone by where I’ve dreamt of turning Thai (if one is allowed to change one’s culture and race) just so I could adopt a cool nickname.

This also means that I get the pleasure of having such conversations –

Colleague – Who conducted the meeting?
Me – It was Long!
Colleague – No, I mean WHO conducted it, not how was it!
Me – Yeah, that’s what I mean. It was Long.
Colleague – ARGH!

Me – I’m really struggling with this CMS. What do I do?
Boss – Don’t worry. P’Phol will lend you a hand whenever you have trouble.
Me – People are great and all, but how are they going to help me with code?
Boss – P’Phol’s a she, not a they!

Friend – How was your first day at work?
Me – It was amazing. I got to work on a Magazine. Thor really helped me with that!
Friend – Oh yes, you’re a regular Avenger now.

Thor

That’s another thing I have discovered. People add ‘P’ in front of name to mean brother or sister. Someone who is of your generation but slightly older. This in itself is fine but when you combine it with unfortunate nicknames (e.g. Now) you can imagine how hilarious it would be. Juvenile, yes. Still, hilarious.

On the other hand, if ever I get bored of learning about Thai etiquette and culture, I can always Google cool nicknames. What do you think of ‘Her Majesty’. I quite like the sound of that!

Jack the Ripper

Going with the ‘never a dull day in my life’ theme, we got duped out of money in a food court at a TESCOs. Yes, of course it would happen to us in a place where people would bet their lives that you will never get duped. The last time I was here, the cab guy charged me twice as much for a ride and happily gave me a receipt for it. Luckily, this money was refunded to me by work and so I thought nothing of it. And you hear a lot of stories about being duped by cab drivers and so it’s a little less embarrassing.

One of the many, many, many, many SUPER MALLS!
One of the many, many, many, many SUPER MALLS!

How it works in Bangkok, and it seems the case in a lot of the super malls, is that you get card for the food court and you put money on it. I quite like the idea of a cashless transaction – no more fumbling for change, translation problems etc. You go with your card to any counter your stomach fancies and you pay by card. You get a bill in Thai so you have no idea what it says on there. But it gives you details on how much your meal costs and how much balance your card has.

I got my meal in 2 seconds. The boy went to get his meal and the lady swiped the card and then looked utterly confused and said something in Thai. We just stared at her trying to figure out what she was trying to say. Often, you can get the gist of the conversation through gestures and body language. She pointed at the card and said no and did the thumb and index finger rub to mean money. So I went back to the cash counter and put more money on the card.

Money

I returned to find the boy really flustered. Having worked at the bookies, he’s more astute than I am with money. I just thought he was throwing one of his tantrums because he’s a bit stingy careful with money. She swiped the card, it worked. She kept the card with her afterwards, which I found strange. So I asked her for the card – she kept saying there’s no money so there’s no point. I insisted she gave it to me and we went to try and find a table.

At this point, the boy was huffing and puffing. He pointed out that even if there was no money on the card when she swiped it, there should have been a balance of 25 because of the amount we had put in that day. Luckily they give us bills at every counter and so he was able to show me that we were duped out of an entire meal. She basically charged us twice for one meal. It wasn’t a big amount but the fact that we were cheated at all made me really angry.

cheated

I am the kind of woman who rode a bike in Bangalore because I couldn’t be arsed to put up with auto drivers who always charged above the metre level. Ignoring the fact that the boy would probably be embarrassed by how confrontational I can be, I walked to the cash counter and proceeded to tell the lady our story, showing her the bills for proof.

She didn’t understand a word I was saying.

Confused

She kept responding in Thai and I started to despair. It is frustrating when you can’t communicate, yes. I get more agitated by it because I thrive on communication. I pick up languages because of it. Being new here, it seemed an impossible situation. After a few back and forths (in which she absolutely denied doing any such thing), she gave us our money back. So the opening sentence of this blog is sort of misleading. Still, it left me with a headache.

To be fair, this is the only instance this trip where we were taken for a ride. I have never had the experience of being charged more than what I’ve purchased, cabs included. We decided to go to the food market instead, because of this experience. We sat down and waited for a good 10 minutes, during which time the chef and the people at the other tables ignored us. Faux pas #1. Potentially the most embarrasing moment of our time here. I bet they still giggle at those two silly farangs who sat at a table doing nothing.

What I’ve learnt about Food Market Etiquette so far-
1. Point at what you want (don’t expect them to know English)
2. Find a seat and wait
3. Pay
4. Enjoy!

You, if you don't switch to a health washer instead of loo roll!
You, if you don’t switch to a health washer instead of loo roll!