Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quirky aspects to every culture, Thailand no exception

One of the wonderful things about travelling to other countries and experiencing other cultures is the chance to see quirky little things, expressions and ways of doing things that are different than my own culture. Mind you, living in Vancouver provides me with the opportunity to see many different cultures right here; however, there's nothing like experiencing it firsthand in the country where a culture originates.

Take for example, eating quirks. In several Andean countries in South America, guinea pig - or "cuy" as it's called there - is considered a delicacy. I've had cuy in both Ecuador and Peru. I preferred the Peruvian version, as the cuy I had in Quito was deep-fried while in Cuzco, I ate a con fit of cuy as part of an appetizer.

Anyone in the mood for some frog skins?

Of course, in many cultures, bugs are considered good sources of protein. I admit to eating ants in the Amazon jungle - just tiny ants, popped into my mouth from a tree, tasting a bit citrus-y. However, I never did work up the nerve to try the cicadas or beetles that were on sale in some food markets in Thailand. Ditto, the frog skins or snakes.

Food is not the only quirky aspect you'll see in other countries. The rituals surrounding the use of bathroom facilities can also be interesting. Sometimes the facilities themselves can be quite interesting.

How about some nice, fresh beetles?
One of the aspects I really liked about Thai bathrooms (or at least the ones in the hotels and lodges where I stayed) is the presence of what I call a "poor man's bidet." It's a small shower head and hose attached to the toilet, used to clean yourself after doing your business. Very sanitary, much more so than just toilet paper. I wish they were standard equipment here in North America, or for that matter, everywhere.

Of course, if you happen to be hiking or doing some other outdoor activity where there are no toilets, you have to go behind some bushes. Thais have a couple of really quaint expressions for this: if you're a man, you have to go "shoot a rabbit;" if you're a woman, you have to "go pick some flowers."

I was really tickled by these expressions - and even more so when I went to use the toilet facilities at a café where we ate lunch. Outside the two sets of washrooms was a bas-relief mural that left no doubt where the men's and ladies' washrooms were located.

Shooting a rabbit, picking some flowers:
Guys on the left, gals on the right.

Of course, every culture (including our own) have some quirks that are not as nice.

For example, in Thailand, you can often find people in the markets who will have animals like birds or fish captive in cages or water bowls. For a small fee, you can purchase the "release" of said animals and gain karma points.

The problem is, those same birds are often re-captured by the seller in order to re-sell their release and help others gain karma points. So I don't know that it's really doing what it is supposed to do. Buying the release of an animal just so it can be re-captured and re-released so the seller generates profit seems to go against the whole spirit of Buddhism, in my mind. It's not really released - so how do you gain karma points?

Maybe there is an explanation. Until I hear it, though, it's one of those weird, culturally quirky aspects of Thailand I'll continue to ponder...


  1. Bidets are now being used in the US, aren't they? Or probably, there are just parts that don't install it yet?

  2. I live in Canada, iamcrystal, and I have yet to see a home or hotel bathroom with a bidet. Ditto, any U.S. hotels I've stayed in during the last 8 years or so. I wish they did have them, though... :-)