Moving to Southeast Asia definitely comes with a certain amount of culture shock. For Alexis and I, our move to Thailand was exacerbated by a two week old military coup and three day old nuptials. It was a big change and a lot to get used to, but that’s all part of the fun of being nomadic newlyweds. After 10 months in Thailand, most of it in the northern city of Chiang Mai, and trips to Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar, we present the 5 most bizarre things we have come across.
Monks in daily life. Getting a Slurpee at 7-11? Monks do that. Catching a bus somewhere? Monks do that. Hanging out with the tough crowd? Monks do that. Laughing at selfies. Monks do that. Chatting on your cellphone. Monks do that, too. Even something as simple as seeing a monk walk down the street with an umbrella seemed a little bizarre at first. Why would a monk need an umbrella? Doesn’t his holiness just keep him dry?
Temples are open for worship or for peeking in on daily activities such as this. Photo Alexis Rose.
We had always perceived monks as these ultra-holy beings, removed from society, and not tied to the dealings of the common man. Seeing them in daily life acting just like anyone else truly is one of the most bizarre things about SE Asia. Here, culture bridges the spiritual and secular divide that seems to only be widening in the West.
One drain to rule them all. Another example of how the West likes to keep things separate comes in the less serious form of storm drains. Back home, the storm drains that lead down to the subterranean sewers are there to prevent flooding. In South East Asia, they’re seen as just another multi-purpose drain. Brushing your teeth? Spit it out into the sewer. Washing your wok? Dump the dirty water into the sewer. We’re used to it now, but seeing people do things in public that we consider private back home was certainly a little bizarre at first.
Is that… dog? This one is more of a stand alone story and will take two to tell.
Alexis: My school had a New Year’s party where they advertised roast pig.
David: I was looking forward to it. Back home in Hawaii, I always ate kalua pig, which is roasted for hours in an imu, or underground pit. What we saw when we showed up was certainly not a pig. We started a process of elimination… “ok, no way that’s a pig, it’s way too small to be a cow; could it be a goat? Or a lamb? Those legs are so long though, not like a goat or lamb… could it be… no, don’t say it. But… is that… dog? It can’t be, right? But what is it?”
Alexis: After much deliberation among ourselves and my coworkers, I finally went up to the Thai guys cooking and politely asked with my limited Thai what kind of meat it was. They swore it was a “little cow.” I really hope so…
David: Whatever it was, it was delicious!
The “pig.” Photo Alexis Rose.
Kids boxing. Any fighting fan will have heard of Muay Thai boxing, which is a big deal in Thailand. Every single weekend there are multiple events at multiple areas around Chiang Mai. We went to one a couple months ago and what we saw may have crossed the line from bizarre to disturbing. Kids, no older than 8 years old, were in the ring fighting each other. With vicious kicks to the rib cage and flying punches, these kids weren’t holding back.
Top: Kids no older than 8 duke it out. Middle: 5 teenagers in a blindfolded battle royal. Bottom: An unfortunate teen fighter leaving on a stretcher. Photos David Rose.
One Tambon, One Product. (That’s tambon, with a B). This Thai economic program, more commonly known as OTOP, was designed to highlight one unique product from each tambon, or sub district, of the country. This concept has morphed from that original idea into a more general sense of how Thai businesses operate. In practice, tambon doesn’t necessarily mean sub district, but rather a more general area of business. Meaning, if you walk to into any mall in Thailand, you’ll notice that businesses are grouped by floors. The second floor, for example, will be all spas and cosmetics stores while the third floor is filled with electronic stores. Head to the popular street markets and you’ll see the same — vendors selling the exact same item will group together. Just down the street from our apartment sits three pet stores back to back to back. This certainly makes it easy for the buyer since if you don’t like the prices at one place, all you have to do is go to their neighbor and ask how they charge for the same item.
Southeast Asia is one of the most popular tourist regions in the world for good reason. Prices are dirt cheap, natural and cultural wonders abound, and the differences in culture make for some truly bizarre, yet priceless experiences.
Feature photo by Alexis Rose.