Culture shock of a different kind.

28th December 2016

After four months in Laos, and now spending New Year in Bangkok, I’m really feeling the differences between a more developed and less developed South East Asian location.

  • matilda in Bangkok
    People try to understand you – a little bit of Lao, a little bit of Thai (not so different) and English language gets you by. Taxi drivers do their best to understand where you need to go, shops have people outside to help you with your bags and hail a taxi, AND explain to the taxi driver where you need to go.
  • The hospital/health system. Incredible by comparison.  We went to Stoilet controlsamitivej hospital and each counter we went to, they were able to explain what was required and where we needed to go.  The toilets serve you well too – western style toilets with the
    additional service of rinse and blow dry, front and back, and a temperature control thrown in.  I have an appointment to return for my chosen doctor and a dental check, for very reasonable prices.  I have a piece of paper that has my appointment details, doctor etc, in English and Thai.
  • Taxis have meters that seem to offer very reasonable prices. The airport has a taxi service that gives you a price and helps you to find your taxi – I even got escorted to the smoking area by the friendly guy who got our taxi for us, who then shared a smoko with me.  The taxi drivers do everything they can to help you locate your destination.
  • There are also motorbike ‘taxis’ – you agree on a price and off they go. The first (and only) time I did this I had a heavy backpack and found a rider (they wear flouro tops and seem to hang out in groups in particular places).  He was amused with my Lao (he was from Laos) and typically first tried to rip me off big time, then I got him to agree to my price.  I got on the back and spent the next 10 minutes or so holding onto the back of the bike for dear life, half expecting the weight of my pack to pull me off backwards, as he charged off first at all the lights – in the dark and heavy traffic he rode like a madman but as usual, got me (feeling shaken but very relieved) to my requested destination.
  • The roads (sort of) work. There are crossings … best to cross in a group, perhaps put a hand out to let them know they need to stop/slow down, but people drive on the right (left) side of the road and obey the traffic signals.
  • The BTS – skyline up for skytrain rail service works really well. Clear maps to get around, no traffic to contend with, not long to wait, and clear instructions to stand on the side (with guiding arrows) to let passengers off.  People even line up to get on!skytrain family

 

skytrain inside

  • I later discovered how to use the local bus and underground railway systems. Bargain prices, efficient services – links up with BTS service (which services all of the large main shopping centres) and easy trip to/from the airport.  Most of the bigger bus stops have multiple buses stopping but there will be a person in uniform who I found was a great help and source of information when required.
  • Hot water comes out of the taps!
  • Cigarettes have (really ugly) warning messages on them, and cost much more than Laos…
  • The prices are high by Lao standards, but this is what ‘development’ equates to. Better wages, better health care, a more educated population.  Being able to get out there and get what you want, and be understood in our mono-lingual ignorance inevitably costs us!
  • no warm beerIt reminds me that Lao PDR still has a long way to go to achieve its 2020 goals to move out of ‘least developed’ status.  There are so many challenges, and generational change is a long slow process.  I love Laos, I love the people, I love the friendliness, I love the passion that I see in people who want better.  But change is gradual, change is slow, and change is not all good.  Savannakhet is such a perfect place for me to be right now because I love the pace, I love the ‘small town – everyone knows everyone’s business’, I love my home and the family that looks out for me, the hotel/café around the corner where they all know me and greet me, and are happy for me to sit and use their wifi, some days for a very long time!  I love being one of the very few Australians in the area, and being able to talk to anyone I see in the street or sit down with in a café or restaurant, and always be interested in the stories they have to tell.

Another week or so here in Bangkok may spoil me, I don’t know.  I’m not really one for big city life, and would rather be happy with any small achievement like finding Vegemite in the one shop in Savannakhet that sells it (at 7).  Nor can I afford to stay too long, but will drink up even the time to sit in my wonderfully kind friend Bob’s apartment and chill, along with being able to access his wifi while my daughter sleeps.

Loving Life.  Tilly with view

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New Year Reflections…

Midnight (or so…) 1st January 2017, Bangkok, Thailand

The Big ‘ol time clock has just clicked over to 2017.  And what a year it has been!

So many deaths – celebrities, innocent civilians around the world, refugees seeking asylum, so many needless deaths of those who happened to be born, or to be, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  I   am sorry for so much loss, for so many.  Somehow, I am still here and so grateful for all that I am, all that I have.

At the beginning of 2016, I worked as a casual academic in a Melbourne University.  I desperately tried –for more than 10 years, to apply for the ‘holy grail’ – to be a tenured – ongoing academic, doing what I loved to do, improving what I was doing, and to just have someone say – give her a go … she deserves it.  But it was never meant to be.  In my 40s I was energetic and passionate, I would have done anything to be what ‘they’ wanted me to be.  OK, I never did establish my ‘expertise’ in any particular genre or discipline, I just wanted to work at something I felt passionate about – I could have become whatever ‘they’ wanted me to be.

In March of 2016 I turned 50 years old and actually felt very happy to be where I was.  I was never sad about what I hadn’t done, I was proud of what I had achieved, and particularly proud to have two incredible children, to have achieved my PhD, to have a house to live in and food in my fridge.  I paid my bills, I had savings in the bank, I lived near the beach and I had opportunities to follow another of my dreams, to volunteer again – this time in South East Asia.

I finished my work at the end of 1st semester, and prepared to pursue my next dream – my escape?  My saving grace?  An adventure that I so missed?  A real challenge?  An opportunity to take a chance and to draw on my experience, my passion, my abilities, my desires, my spirit?  I had finally managed to succeed in a job application to work as a volunteer in Laos.  With thanks and eternal gratitude to Pol, my daughter’s father and guardian, and Rani, my son who would now have to look after himself (and my house), I was able to pack my life away in the shed and embark on a dream.

So at the beginning of a New Year, I am so happy about the last, and hold so many hopes for the next.  I just ask for more of the same – joy, adventure, challenge, gratitude, and good (enough) health to get me through.  I give thanks to my family and friends – old and new – and want only the best for them too.

Thank you.