Living in Nimmanhaemin, I see a lot of tourists, mostly Thai and many foreign, and these days especially, loads from China. It’s generally all good, business owners enjoy their shares of the pie and the road is a bustling – if bursting at the seams – hub of activity and commerce, great for those of us who enjoy going out and about. It’s adorable to watch tourists take pictures of each other in various poses with a soi – side flower, a sign post…my front gate. (I have wandered out to join them a few times, looking back at my house to see what it was about my plain wooden gate that could possibly be of such interest. It is a mystery I am determined to solve. You would think that since along the soi of Nimman, we have a Godzilla, a giant yellow dog, an English phone box and a Forrest Gump statue to pose beside, my gate would not be a premium point of interest…) However, at the end of the day these social media mongerers are oddly endearing.
But cultural idiosyncrasies can vary from the head-tiltingly cute “awww” to the obscenely offensive. I finally got myself wound up into a snit the other day as, for what felt like the eighth time that week, I had to stop my car and wait, then honk, as Chinese tourists stood in the middle of the road chatting, looking at a map or picking their noses – I kid you not.
I am sure that back home they wouldn’t simply stop in the middle of the intersection to check their map apps. So why do they do it here?
And no, I am not, ahem, picking on the Chinese. Nor tourists for that matter, at least not exclusively. In fact, I have accounted some truly mindboggling behaviour from expats as well: a woman who requested a plastic bag to pour her quarter of a glass of red wine into to take home; yet another who had a bladder of wine in her handbag at a restaurant, ordering one house glass and endlessly refilling it under the table; a man who peeing against my friend’s front gate in the middle of the day! an old man clicking his fingers at a lovely waitress (as my friend who used to own a restaurant would say, “She should have told him that it takes more than two fingers to make her come!”) and most recently, the story of a young university-educated American couple who are dumpster diving here so they don’t have to get a job, going so far as to have stolen a bunch of black bananas from a spirit house a few weeks back.
Yes, it is liberating being in a place where absolutely no one knows you. Maybe you can laugh a bit louder, act slightly more forward, dress with less, be yourself on steroids, wear that really loud t-shirt your friends banned you from putting on at home, or talk to people you would never normally give the time of day to. But walking in the middle of the road is, as our local paraphrasing Gump would say, “as stupid as stupid does.” Taking two sips of wine home in a plastic bag is simply sad, hiding bladders of wine in your handbag is as rude to business owners as peeing on gates is to homeowners and clicking your fingers at someone is just not cricket! As to stealing old bananas from a spirit house…well, there are too many levels of wrong there to even go into.
Then there is the trio of English lasses who were found wandering around Wat Phra Singh a few weeks back in their bikinis! It has nothing to do with cultural insensitivity or ignorance. It is just a willful refusal to give a crap. Their grandmothers would have taken a wooden spoon to their bottoms had they trotted into the local church dressed that way.
I don’t agree with many “guides to Thailand” that tell people to change their wardrobe, speech, mannerisms to extremes when alighting upon the Kingdom of Thailand. Respect is great to receive when warranted, manners should be imbued in most social interaction and conscientiousness is simply sensible when outside one’s own comfort sphere. If you tend to be a bit of an arse back home, then I don’t demand that you be less so here. But common sense and hygiene are fairly straightforward concepts to adhere to, surely.
Having said that, most of the tourists we tend to get here in Chiang Mai are pretty fabulous when compared to those visiting some other Thai cities. We don’t (often) get knife fights, drunken brawls, dodgy “suicide” leaps from condos or any of the other all too common horrors poor Pattaya and Phuket seem to attract.
And while I have heard a lot of griping of late about tourists, there have also been some unsavoury incidents in the media of locals overreacting to tourists’ behaviour. Let’s remember that Chiang Mai generates anywhere up to 39 billion baht in tourist revenue annually. Yup, tiny pieces of that go into many of our pockets. And of course it is only good and right that we are welcoming to our many visitors.
So next time I see a group of map-gazing tourists in the middle of an intersection, I will resist the impulse to wag my finger, scowl, stick my tongue out and honk my horn; instead, I shall sit patiently in my car, smile and offer to help them find their destination. I will, honest!
Okay, I will try…honest.