SUN DODGERS: Thais are generally dark-skinned and live in a tropical country. So why are they scared of the sun? It is a bit like Eskimos being frightened of snow. At the merest hint of an ultra-violet ray, you will see Thais running for shelter or pathetically trying to shield their heads with a newspaper or handkerchief. The more organised of the natives permanently carry an umbrella with which to repel the evil rays, even though centuries of acclimatisation mean the sun can do them little harm. Meanwhile, white-skinned farangs lie on Thailand’s beaches developing skin cancer.
UNOFFICIAL BUS STOPS: In normal countries, catching a bus is a simple process – you stand at a bus stop and wait for it to come. Not so in Thailand. If the locals decide they don’t like the location of a bus stop, they start an unofficial one. Near Sukhumvit Soi 60/1, there is a world-class official bus stop. It is sheltered, has about 20 seats, palm trees and a pleasant green area at the rear. By Bangkok standards, it is a world heritage site. Yet the locals won’t use it, presumably because it is 100 metres away from the footbridge over Sukhumvit Road and it would take them too long to zombie (see Part 1) their way there. Instead they congregate at a dangerous junction, blocking traffic and pedestrians while sweltering in the sun and holding handkerchiefs above their heads. It is pointless even going to the official bus stop now. I have tried that and the buses just sail past with the drivers giving me dirty looks.
ALABS LIKE BIG MIL’: This is a favourite phrase of bargirls when discussing Middle Eastern visitors. It took me a while to work out that they were saying that Arabs apparently enjoy a lot of milk. I had never really considered Muslims as dairy enthusiasts and whenever I spotted an Arab in a coffee shop, their milk-shakes didn’t appear to be supersized. The penny dropped as I wandered past the Grace Hotel and saw very large-breasted Thai girls with their Arab escorts.
THE MOP LADY: Whenever I walk into a shopping mall or a public toilet, a woman with a mop usually tries to knock me off my feet. She always appears to be mopping a perfectly clean surface. I have never worked this one out.
STRAWS: These were designed for children under five and hospital patients with their mouths wired. Any adult using a straw in a bar or restaurant looks like they shouldn’t be allowed out without their carer. Yet you will find straws being hurled at you from all directions in the City of Angels, especially in the 7-Elevens, where the ratio of straws provided to drinks purchased is usually 6:1.
THE JOBLESS BUT EMPLOYED: Thailand’s unemployment rate is apparently under 2 per cent – not surprising when you realise that half the population is composed of army generals, security guards, civil servants in inactive posts and bargirls. The figure is also kept down by a ridiculous level of overmanning. My local frozen food store has about six staff supervising a few freezers. I appear to be its only customer, so on each visit I get an overwhelming level of customer service. The staff wai when I enter the premises, one carries my basket and another gives me a running commentary on the various products in very stilted English. “It’s OK,” I protested last time. “I think I will be able to get some chicken wings on my own.” My minder looked hurt but insisted on unloading my items at the checkout, which was being operated by three girls. Bless them.
THE BEGGING FLOWER SELLER: You have to feel for anyone who earns their living by tramping round bars trying to sell flowers to drunken farangs. Most are perfectly pleasant and disappear as soon as you say you are not interested. But one guy always tries to make you feel guilty by giving a long discourse on how he has not sold any flowers that evening and he cannot feed his family. He knows how to spoil the party atmosphere.
THE NANO-SECOND MENU CHOICE: I have lost count of the number of times in Thai restaurants when a menu the size of the Bombay telephone directory has been thrust into my lap while the waitress hovers, pen in hand, impatiently waiting for my choice before I have even opened it. Usually I crack under the pressure and order chicken fried rice.
THE NEW 2-BAHT COIN: Can anyone distinguish it from the 1-baht coin? No. The giveaway is that many now have the number 2 written on them in indelible ink.
ME GIVE YOU POWER: When solicited for mattress gymnastics by deeply unattractive bargirls and freelancers – an almost daily occurrence in my case, sadly – I try to let them down gently by explaining that I have no power. This strikes me as less confrontational than saying: “If I had wanted to shag fat slappers with tattoos, I would have stayed in England.” But my policy never succeeds. “Me give you power,” they reply with a leer.