Unreliable Bangkok 2: Street

Photograph of street art in Siam Central district, Bangkok

I read somewhere that when it comes to culture shock, little things have the most impact. So on my second day in Bangkok it still smells different, people speak Thai not English, but I take that in my stride.

In our emerging global culture, though, there’s also much that’s familiar. In this photo, for example, the style of street art is much like home — and I’ll publish a nice selection later this week. The office worker in her neat grey dress could be from any major city, anywhere.

So what are those little differences which matter most?

Here’s what I noticed on our first day in Bangkok, on a trip to the Siam Square shopping district:

  • Security staff on the Bangkok Skytrain are busy, courteous and helpful, whereas Sydney’s CityRail equivalents are slow-moving, fat and rude.
  • The streets are clean and generally well-maintained.
  • On a footbridge over a busy intersection, two women with a bucket of soapy water were washing the railings methodically. In Sydney, footbridges are filthy.
  • Stallholders don’t grumble if they have to change a large banknote, even first thing in the morning.
  • Yes, electrical and telephone wiring really is strung randomly all across the city in ways which would be illegal in Australia. Nevertheless, I felt that I could see a method to the madness. After a while, my brain decided they were just exotic vines and they became invisible — until low-hanging loops nearly choked me.
  • Even though Thai traffic drives on the left of the road (well, at least in theory — I’ll have more to say about the traffic another day), on a footpath or staircase you walk on the right. It took a lot of collisions and polite apologies to get my head around that one!
  • Beggars are generally people with an obvious and often disturbing physical disability, rather than just plain lazy.
  • Pepsi dominates the city, not Coca-Cola.

I also noticed something important about curved shapes, but I’ll save that for its own essay.

And what’s the same as Sydney?

  • Shopping malls were the same brand stores as everywhere, and the staff were the same bored-looking kids. I avoided them wherever possible.
  • The cool, arty café Oc-Co-Bots held the same slacking-off university art fags and their hags as those I remembered from my own time at uni in Adelaide.
  • The higher the price of the coffee, the less service you actually get. Not that I’d actually go to a Starbucks in Bangkok, I’m not there there to experience American franchise businesses.
  • Tourists are, in general, loud and ignorant self-centred wankers. Except for me, of course. Oh, yes, and you.

This post is part of my series “Unreliable Bangkok”. Why not explore the others?

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