This summer I was blessed to be able to travel to Thailand to meet a girlfriend who was on an Asia-Pacific work trip. She was there for two months and I was able to connect with her for a week in Thailand. My first few thoughts about the trip were I’m probably going to melt from the heat, it’s going to be a reeeeaaaaallllly long flight, and it’s going to be weird to be surrounded by Asian people.
Upon reflection now, yes, I almost melted from the heat, dew point, and humidity. I am much more a cool-weather person, and I’ve never been somewhere so hot or sweaty before in my life. Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, and Mexico all during the months of July or August over the years have absolutely nothing on Thailand. It is my new standard for what hot is.
The flights were quite long. I had two connections and one of them was the single longest single flight – 11 hours – I’ve taken in my life so far. But surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. I didn’t even sleep during it. Working half the flight and then watching a few movies kept me awake the whole time. It took about 28 hours of travel including airport layover time on my way there. The 2 layovers was actually helpful so I could really get up and walk around for a couple hours before having to sit for extended periods of time again.
Now that last thought I had while I was planning the trip – that it was going to be weird to be surrounded by Asian people. Let me explain. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and was adopted and came to America when I was 4 months old and have lived in Minnesota ever since then. Well, there were brief stints in Indiana and Iowa for about a year-and-a-half of total time when I was still very young for my dad’s job, but all the rest of my life has been in the Minneapolis metro area. While the Twin Cities is a diverse community and I’ve always known other Korean adoptees, there have only been a handful of times when there have been more Asians around me than Caucasians.
Well, it was a bit odd. Physically, I blended in but mentally, emotionally, and culturally I was set apart. More so during my layover in Seoul, but more about that in a different post. Bangkok is such a gigantic city with so much international business, especially from other Asians country, that the language barrier was a non-issue. As with every other country I’ve been to so far, I’ve benefited from the fact that English is the international language. And when in a pinch, I use one of the language translation apps on my phone.
My stay in Thailand was bookended with a couple days in Bangkok and the rest of the time we were down in Phuket (pronounced poo-ket), the largest island. I am fortunate that I can work from anywhere as long as I have an internet connection. So while I was in Thailand I worked about 4-6 hours a day, most of that late at night and in the early morning hours so I was synched up with customer calls and meetings. That afforded me the opportunity to explore Bangkok and Patong and hang out at the beach and pool at our resort during the day. We were both able to take my last full night in Bangkok off and go the night market which was amazing.
Being in a country that embraces one religion so extensively and blatantly and revers their recently deceased king so much that they are observing a one-year mourning period with shrines everywhere was markedly different from the U.S. The way they run their electrical lines is slightly terrifying. Bangkok has the worst traffic I’ve ever seen – including NYC and LA. There’s a worrying obsession with Hello Kitty. Riding in a tuk tuk is a must. The palace, temples, and shrines are stunning. Thai massages are the best thing in the world. You should have one every day while you are there.
The people are typically polite, warm, and respectful. If you are in certain parts of the night market, go to certain streets in Patong at night, or any other sketchy part of the city I’m sure you’ll have a very different experience. Just like any other city in the world.
Additionally, while we did see some Caucasians, black, and Indian people, it wasn’t very frequently and they almost always seemed to be tourists. The lack of racial diversity to which I am accustomed to seeing was quite noticeable to me. However, I think there was probably more ethnic diversity around me than I could possibly understand. Though some people claim to be able to physically identify which Eastern or Southeastern Asian country a person is from, I’d say accuracy hovers around the 25% mark. At least when those guesses are aimed towards me. From a Vietnamese person I met on this trip, there are quite strong biases and bigotry among the various Eastern and Southeastern countries and cultures. With the most easily identifiable physical racial traits off the table because it’s such a level playing field, people have to look or listen for something else for ugly biases to crop up. People are never going to be free from biases, judgments, and bigotry, but it was quite interesting to see how race and ethnicity play out in other parts of the world. Which is an amazing gift.
My time in Thailand was not enough. It was just a taste. An appetizer. There’s so much more to explore and I hope I wander back that way some day.