Almost every restroom I’ve visited in Thailand has had an unexpected feature: American Standard fixtures. American culture is all over the place, as expected, but this is where I’ve seen the word “American” the most. So I suspect that a typical Thai’s interaction with “American” is pissing on it. I’m happy for American Standard’s success, but I can help but be amused by the suggestion that the American standard is the capture and redirection of various types of effluent. Certainly, there’s a lot of crap being moved around in America—truckloads of consumer goods crap, books full of ideological crap, pipes overflowing with actual crap from all that crap food we eat too much of. I hope other countries interpret the ubiquity of American Standard fixtures as a tacit admission that, yes, we produce a lot of crap, and as a partial apology for it. But that’s the deal: you buy our crap, and we’ll let you piss on us!
Compare that to another national standard, say, Russia. Russian Standard is a vodka brand. Of course. My brother tells me it’s also a major bank. While Americans are producing and moving crap around the world, Russians are doing business and doing shots, at the same time. There’s a king-size movie-theater popcorn bucket full of truth-kernels in that metaphor.
I haven’t seen a Thai Standard brand, but after a week in the country, a few “standards” have stood out:
- Nobody wears sunglasses. In NYC, wearing sunglasses in public is almost de rigeur, and it’s less about keeping away pesky UV rays than putting some psychic distance between oneself and the surrounding crowd. I find riding the subway much more pleasant when you can look around without having to play eye contact games—if you can’t see my eyes you can’t see me. It was on the Skytrain, Bangkok’s new elevated rapid transit system, that I noticed the disparity. I got on with my shades on, as usual, but when I looked around I was startled to be peeking so deeply into people’s souls. When I got off, I noticed that nobody on the streets was wearing them either. I asked a Thai friend about it. She said that she save her shades for the beach.
- Tuk tuks are super fun, and their drivers will lie to you for money. As we approached the different parts of the Grand Palace, these guys would tell us that this one was closed now but would be open again in an hour, then offer to take us somewhere else in the meantime. We never took them up on it, politely insisting we wanted to go anyway, but the ubiquity of this trick was surprising. Must be a lot of novice travelers passing through. On the other hand though, being conned into a tuk tuk ride can’t be the worst thing. Flying down the streets of Bangkok in a open-air cart is a far more titillating than many of the tourist attractions (Soi Cowboy included), so meticulously groomed for foreign viewers.
- Sukhumvit Road has more huge adjacent high-end shopping malls than I thought possible. Who goes there? How many people can shop here how much to support all these high-end brands? It’s like NYC’s 5th Ave, Madison Ave, Soho and Union Square curled up on themselves and side by side. They have huge food courts (where you can eat cleanly-prepped “street” food), movie theaters, direct walkways to Skytrain platforms, plazas for golf one even has an aquarium, the largest in the country). Some have attached hotel/condo/office towers. The only big breaks between them are the spots where the new malls are under construction. It’s crazy, but a good place to ease into a different culture—I was rarely more than a stone’s throw from a Starbucks. (Speaking of Starbucks, it’s more expensive here than in the states, very much a luxury purchase. I understand that this is the case in a lot of cities, in Asia and elsewhere, that exploded into the 21st century.)
- Thais are extremely polite. One language guide I read said hello is not correctly pronounced without a smile. In most cases (in shops & restaurants), we observed you also need to place your palms together at heart’s center and bow slightly. Perhaps the effect of this is dulled by familiarity for the Thai, but for us westerners, it’s a joy to experience. Genuine smiles from strangers really lift the spirit.
So what is Thai Standard? So far I’d say it’s a tuk tuk ride to nice mall with a clear-eyed girl for a cup of coffee. And some mango sticky rice! Now that’s a brand I can get behind.