Tag Archives: asia

What is Thai Standard?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    The fam in a tuk tuk

    In the driver’s seat of a tuk tuk

    Soi Cowboy, Bangkok

    Soi Cowboy

  3. 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.)

    Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok

    Not many malls in this shot, but you can see it’s a helluva road

  4. 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.

Garuda, symbol of Thailand

The Thai Standard logo?

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Breakfast in Moscow

I was late packing, late leaving for the airport, got stuck behind a dinosaur in the CVS pharmacy line and a million commuters on the highways to JFK, and as a result my bag and I may arrive in Bangkok on different days. Shrug. Aeroflot wouldn’t let me pick a seat in advance, which was unusual, but now I understand that they had big plans for me in my little seat in the middle of the middle row, between dudes. But I was prepared—I took skullcap & valerian root before belting up, had a cup of wine once in the air, put four albums of Four Tet on shuffle through some noise-blocking earbuds…

And now suddenly I’m in Moscow, drinking a $6 americano, killing the first of 7 layover hours in Sheremetyevo Int’l, and feeling great. No doubt some of this vigor is due to figuring out how to sleep on the tray table instead of upright, head lolling.

Dos americanos and an iPhoneIf I didn’t need a visa to leave the airport, I’d be having this meal with my brother, who lives here, but I’ll see him Sunday in Bangkok anyhow. For the record, I was 7500 km away from him yesterday, am 25 km away now (99.7% of the way there!), and will be 7000 km away tomorrow, before he closes the gap himself. Also, tonight I’ll fly pretty much right over my sister in Nepal.

Air travel is weird.

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