1. Getting around is much easier than we expected. If you Google "transportation in Bangkok", odds are you'll find at least a dozen travel blogs and TripAdvisor reviews warning against Taxi scams, pick-pockets and winding, unmarked streets. Nah. With an extremely efficient mass transit system, Uber, and just a little bit of assertiveness if you must utilize a Taxi, you'll be a'ight. A little preliminary research on the soi numbering system helps with navigating the streets and as always, if you aren't stupid about how you carry your stuff (nod to you, guy with the transparent money belt loosely fastened on the outside of your clothes), you're probably going to be safe. I've been walking all over this city, sometimes ending up in shady places (usually in search of boat noodles or those steam buns with the egg custard...mmmm) and I haven't once felt unsafe.
2. Things are not as cheap as we thought. Everyone pretty much knows that anywhere you go, if you live like a local by eating local food, buying local products and taking mass transit, you're going to save money. Imported stuff is hardly ever cheap. Jonathan and I do our best to live locally and when we can, it's pretty cheap. At our favorite little restaurant (so far) an extravagant meal is about 215 THB (about $7 US). Pretty sweet. Sometimes, however, you just need a beer and a burger.... which is more like 2000 THB (about $60 US). Or you want to go check out this famous expat bar which supposedly resembles works of H.R. Giger (it doesn't). Or, your wonderful, kind and loving husband realizes he does want his bass which he left in America even though you spent two months trying to convince him to bring it on the flight but he refused and you have to promise the soul of our first born to the Underlord to cover the cost of shipping (love you, Babe). Yeah, not everything is cheap here.
3. People are even more friendly than rumored. Thai people are notoriously friendly. Thailand is known as the "land of smiles." The country draws backpackers, families and retirees from all over the globe with it's welcoming culture. Being naturally skeptical people and well, American, we figured the whole "nice" thing was probably a tourist marketing gimmick. It's not. I got escorted across a busy street by an old lady yesterday. (Note on that- crosswalks are not a thing and illuminated indications of when it's safe to cross the street do not exist here. Ever played Frogger? Yeah, it's like that. Anywho...) Complete strangers are quick to step in to help with the language barrier (when they can) or provide directions. Vendors eyes light up when you express interest in a local vegetable (apparently Farang don't buy a lot of local produce here) and in our experience, most people are really encouraging and polite when you ask questions.
4. English is not widely spoken. I suppose the term "widely spoken" is subjective. I personally feel the language barrier is greater than I expected. When we were researching Bangkok, chat boards and travel bloggers generally iterated that English is commonly spoken by locals. This is true if you live in the touristy or expat-heavy parts of Sukhumvit. Just a few BTS stops away from the Holiday Inns and Marriots- get ready to play charades if you don't speak Thai.
5. It is friggin hot. Growing up in Southeast Georgia then living in Phoenix, Arizona, I thought I'd be prepared for the climate. I was wrong. You cannot prepare for this amount of butt-crack sweat. I'd like to say you learn to live with it but...yeah...stay tuned on that one.
6. One does not simply "adjust" to extremely spicy food...at least we haven't yet. I'm just going to be real here so if you're squeamish or offended by toilet talk, skip this paragraph. The diarrhea struggle is real. So are the cramps. It's been about a month and my guts pretty consistently turn into a gnarled, burning ball of hate 8-12 hours after I eat yummy food. Every. Single. Time...still. Do I stop eating spicy food? No. Do I wake up an hour earlier to provide myself a buffer when getting ready for work? Yes. #priorities
7. Settling in is scary easy. Before moving here, we were told we'd need all kinds of documents and connections to set up phone service, get a condo and open a bank account. We spent hours worriedly pouring over information about work permits, visas and real-estate laws. Meh. The hardest part is know what things are called and how to find the office. If you can figure that part out and you've got a little money in your pocket, you're golden.
8. We are even more American than we thought. To avoid getting soap-boxy (for now), I'll just give a few examples of lessons we've learned by experiencing a different culture:
- Personal space: there is none. These people will cram themselves into trains, onto escalators and down grocery store isles like hungry pigs at slop time (again, from Georgia). After missing the train and getting our spot stolen in the check-out line a few times, we learned to get over our ingrained needs for personal bubbles.
- Comfort is a luxury, not a necessity. We didn't realize how middle-class American we were until we found ourselves surprised at all the extremely happy people who live here without spending money, air conditioning, beds, multiple changes of clothes, or cell phones. I'm not talking about people in poverty- these are just regular, employed people who live happy, simple lives with very little. Lessons to be learned.
- Immediate gratification. We didn't realize we were so spoiled by online shopping and megastores. God forbid you have to walk around a little bit or go to a few places to pick up "needed" items for the week. I used to dread going to Frys once a week for groceries because I thought it was so inconvenient to get in the car, drive to the store, walk down the isles, and interact with a human to pay for my stuff before I could retreat back home. Now, I'll happily walk two miles to find my favorite som tam vendor. We've figured out that if you're not willing to work for it or wait for it, you probably don't need it. Inconvenience has saved us money and helped us align our purchasing habits with our values to a surprising degree.
- Dieting is not really necessary. The portions here are much smaller than in the US. The Thais tend to eat little bits of whatever they want when they're hungry. Food doesn't seem like a big deal...and there are a lot less fat people here...just sayin.
9. Liquor sucks here. Please send Malibu, Grey Goose and good scotch for Christmas. Please and thank you.
10. The expat community isn't as tight as we'd hoped. Honestly, the Thai people have been a whole lot more friendly and helpful than other Americans or other nationals. You'd think there'd be exchanging of knowing glances, sharing of resources or at least a friendly nod here or there. Not really. We were pretty surprised by that.
Hearts and Stuff,