The Subtle Art Of Blending

Bangkok green spaces! #parks #thailand #skytrain

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If you’ve come here for a makeup tutorial, I’m afraid you’re going to be very disappointed – not just at my serious inability at the art, but also at this post’s lack of anything useful. I’m talking more in terms of our ability, as humans, to blend into whatever situation/geographic location/circumstance we are thrown into.

I’m coming up to two years in Thailand and I walk the roads that once cause me anxiety like its something I’ve always done. I am able to hail a cab and direct the driver without breaking a sweat. I walk past monitor lizards like they are neighbourhood strays. I add P’ (polite prefix that means brother or sister) in front of people’s name and end my  sentences with a ka, even when I’m travelling out of Thailand. I have blended in so much that I don’t even break a sweat at 37 degrees heat, I know the corners of the skytrain to squeeze into during rush hour, and I carry flip flops and an umbrella in my bag because duh, how could you not?

Humans have an ability to adapt to anything, and to do it without even realising it. When I went home for a short break home a few weeks ago, I casually mentioned something funny P’Thor did or that the mister’s favourite student is Boeing. It took me a while figure out that the looks of confusion and the extra jovial laughter was because they still think of Thailand, its quirks and culture, as strange.

I didn’t even bat an eye-lid when I found out that Boeing’s younger sister is called Airbus. I just nodded. It’s now a completely normal name to me. In my new world, evening markets are a norm, mom and pop ramen shops are around every corner, just next to a 7/11. Cats say me-o, trains make a ‘poon poon’ sound, and saying ka does not make you an imitator of crows! I am at ease with people in various stages of transition, and am never confused about what pronoun to use for whom.

Funny this transition from strange to familiar.

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?

 

Just Bangkok Things

I have come across some really bizarre things in my month in Bangkok – enough to know that there is never a dull day in this city. Here are a few things that make Bangkok what it is –

Dry Ice Drink at Steam Pug Bangkok
Smoky Drinks
AIS Scratch Card
Scratch Cards for Mobile Phone Top Ups
Makura Cat Cafe Bangkok
Caffiene and Cats at Cafes.
Rod Fai Market Bangkok
Vintage Bikes at Hipster Markets
Seacon Square Bangkok
Food, so much colourful food!
Secon Square Bangkok
Roosters in Malls
Brewtopia II Bangkok
Nerdy Craft Beer
Brewtopia II
Freaky Graffiti
Seacon Square
People colouring themselves black to represent tribals (no such thing as politically correct here!)
Rod Fai Market Bangkok
Aliens – not immigrants, we are talking about the x-files variety
Rambutans
Hairy, juicy fruits
Quirky Eats Bangkok
Mmmm Pork
Artbox Bangkok
Fish Ice-Cream anyone?
Seacon Square
For all your knife needs. Not dangerous at all!
Chatuchak Market BTS Bangkok
This sort of sunset every night!
Gateway Ekkamai
Erm, yes.
Art Box Bangkok
For when you need to mainline alcohol – the Doctor’s Order. A drip bag cocktail!
Chatuchak Weekend Market Bangkok
When your mantelpiece is missing phallic shaped art!
Artbox Bangkok
Markets! So many markets!
Love at First Sit Bangkok
Toilet Lorries. Beats concert loos any day!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
I don’t even have the words for this!

Stay tuned for more in the series! 😀

The World is One Nation

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I know this blog has taken somewhat of a ‘subtle’ negative tone over the past few months on account of life handing me too many lemons but this Friday, I went for a really nice birthday meal.

It was an Italian restaurant run by a Japanese couple in the IT hub of India who served us complimentary French sparkling wine. It has all the makings of a ‘walks into a bar’ joke but it just filled me with such warmth.

Life is pretty darn okay.

The Odd Even Dilemma

I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a walking talking Indian stereotype. I am 27, unmarried and have a white boyfriend. However, I live with my parents, work in an IT job and love cricket. Whenever I have travelled in India or abroad, there’s always been a good long soul searching session to figure out how Indian I am. The verdict, maybe a 2.5 out of 10.

Streets of India

I truly felt the guilt of not knowing enough about my culture when I was in France as a teen and had to conduct a 2 hour workshop on India. I drew a blank and my peers took over. I had spent so much of my youth trying to get out of the country that I forgot to take a look around.

Shame on me!

I spent the next few years growing to love the quirks that make India who she is. All communities in India are usually divided by language they speak, geography next. The language you do speak is usually an indication of the culture you grow up in. Despite how we are typecast, India is not of homogenous language and culture. We don’t all speak ‘Indish’ or ‘Hindu’. Those are not even languages. It wasn’t till I was at a work lunch that I realised people identify which community/religion you belong to by your surname.

ROTFLMAO

Of course. I don’t have a surname.

And while most situations go like this –

“What are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, Kannadiga, Tamilian, Malyali …”

“Erm, I don’t know”

“What language do you speak at home?”

“English”

“So you’re Anglo-Indian?”

“No. I don’t have a single British ancestor”

“What is your mother?”

“Erm, I don’t know”

“What did she speak at home?”

“Kannada”

“So she’s a Kannadiga? So that means you are a Kannadiga”

“No, she just grew up in Karnataka so they learnt to speak in the local language”

The conversation gets really, really confusing after that. If I were to sum up, we are a non-traditional family. Mum’s parents were from two different communities and spoke two different languages. But, they both grew up in the same state and so the local language of Kannada was their go to language. It’s the same with my parents. Their common denominator in terms of communication is English. So what does that make me? A cultural melting pot of South India with a hint of Malaysia? Or just plain old confused?

My despair at being a terrible Indian has gotten less intense after I started dating an Englishman. I notice everyday how some of our conversations start with me saying “In my culture …” and then I wax ad nauseum about things I’ve been told not to do (or do 3 times a day) because that’s the Indian way.

 The latest in this string of conversations was about the Indian gift giving etiquette. I am visiting the UK this month and I was starting to make lists of presents to take for everyone to the sound of the boy’s great confusion. Apparently, I’m a weirdo for wanting to buy everyone presents because the gifting culture among the youngsters has a motto – ‘meh!’

However, we have very specific rules here. Everyone we meet after ages gets a present. If this everyone stays in your city or country, it’s usually a box of sweets or dried fruit. If it’s someone abroad, it would be something that screams India. If you are just returning from a trip abroad, EVERYONE gets chocolates. Even your colleagues whose name you don’t know.

Raj Kootrapalli Gif

We have this odd rule about gifting in evens. If you don’t want to invoke a butterfly effect type disaster, you have to make sure to gift in pairs. You can’t take just one cushion or throw, it has to be two. I think that this comes from a wish that you won’t ever be alone and that you will always have someone to share it with. So gifting in even numbers is a blessing of sorts. This rule does not apply to money, if that’s what your preferred present is. At weddings, birthdays and any big event, we always add a Rs. 1 coin to make it an odd number. So you would gift Rs. 1001 instead of the boring old Rs. 1000. There is a feeling that odd numbers in finances are lucky and will lead to your wallet being quickly filled up till you reach the next 100 and then another 100.

All this to say that I’m really confused – my Indianess dictates that I buy presents. I am in no doubt though that I am going to viewed as a total weirdo. So just in case, I’m looking up YouTube videos so I can blend in the rest of the time.

Oooh look. Already found one about pub lunches!