Learning to Love the Roosters, and Other Expat Survival Tactics

June 1, 2016

The American rooster goes “cock-a-doodle-do”. The Thai rooster goes, “ake-e-ake-ake”. I have a few Thai bantam roosters and they in fact really do say “ake-e-ake-ake”.  Thai is really good at onamonapia, maybe because it is a tonal language, so I wasn’t surprised by that.  What I was surprise at was how Expats and Thais respond to a rooster’s crowing.

Thai roosters do not only crow at dawn. They crow all the time. Midnight, 3AM, dawn, noon, 1PM, 6PM, all day. And there is a big cultural difference in how Expats and Thais respond to this sound, or noise, depending on which side of the hen house you are on.

All the Expats I asked about this said that they really hated the roosters crowing. Some grumbled that the screeching poultry woke them up, and kept them awake all night. When I asked Thais the same question, 100% said that they really liked the sound. It reminded them of the “old days” and it gave them a feeling of peace.

So how does this affect our retirement here? Expats everywhere find cultural and environmental differences in their adopted homes that they sometimes have a hard time dealing with. They are things that get on your nerves, things that you’ll hear Expats complaining about whenever they sit down for beers together. But like the roosters crowing at 1AM, these aren’t things that we can do much about.

The Thais aren’t about to change their culture just because it gets on your nerves. My advice, do like the way I dealt with the rain in Seattle. Since I couldn’t do anything about the weather I just learned to love the rain.

When it comes to roosters, see if you can learn to love the music of the roosters crowing, like the Thais do. If that doesn’t work just learn to ignore them. In doing this you’ll be able to get through the day without complaining about things that you have no control over.  And you’ll be happier.

"Ake-e-Ake-Ake". Whether you love it or hate it may depend on your cultural background.

“Ake-e-Ake-Ake”. Whether you love it or hate it may depend on your cultural background.

 

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This is not a posting of my complaints. I don’t complain. Complaining makes me unhappy.  Look at this example of a real complainer on ThaiVisa.com who wrote aboutFrogs Driving Me Crazy“. If the poster can’t figure out what to do then his life here will be miserable. And it is just some croaking frogs.

What he can do about it: You live in a house right next to a pond so you’re going to have some frogs around. Complaining about them won’t help much. First of all, stop complaining. You decided where to live. If you can’t figure out what to do about the croaking frogs , just catch them and eat them; they’re pretty tasty. Or you can just learn to love the sounds they make. It’s a simple way to make your life happier. I live next to a pond and love the night music.

Until then, enjoy this.

Here are a number of other things that tend to drive an Expat in Thailand crazy. Let’s stop complaining about them like the frog guy is doing. I have given some suggestions about what to do about them, basically, how to “learn to love the roosters”.

 

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Driving

Just the word drives (no pun intended) most Expats furious, fast and furious. Thailand has the second highest number of road fatalities per capita in the world, and Thai roads are really dangerous places. Sometimes things happened on Thai roads that can make a peaceful Expat search their glove compartment for their hand gun (Oh, forgot, I’m not in America anymore.)

One way you can solve the Thai road problem of course is to not drive in Thailand. That would solve one problem but would create others. So if you do drive, remember, you can’t make the others on the road good drivers, but you can drive defensively, real defensively.

Here are just a few examples of differences on Thai roads that you will encounter here and some coping mechanisms. Expect road-craziness and you will be less prone to road-rage.

Turning right from the left lane – This usually occurs when you are approaching an intersection or a highway U-turn and someone on your left, usually a motorcycle, cuts across 2 or 3 lanes and then cuts you off in order to make a right or U-turn. This of course causes you to slam on your breaks and spill your ice coffee all over you lap.

What to do: Whenever approaching a right or U-turn intersection expect someone from your left to cut right in front of you, but don’t expect a turn signal. And put that ice coffee in the cup holder.

 

Turning left from the right lane – This usually occurs when you are approaching an intersection where one can make a left turn and someone on your right, usually a car or pickup truck, cuts right in front of you to make a left turn or sometimes just to park. This of course cause you to slam on your breaks again.

What to do: Whenever approaching a left turn intersection expect someone from your right to cut right in front of you, but don’t expect a turn signal. But someone may just cut in front of you simply to park. The concept of slowing down, letting you go first, and then making a left turn from behind never crosses anyone’s mind, so it shouldn’t cross yours.

 

Merging without looking – Vehicles will often, and motorcycles will almost always, merge into traffic from the left without ever looking at the oncoming traffic.

What to do: Always keep your eye on what is happening on your left, especially a merging lane or a left hand road. If you see a motorcycle you will be sure that they will merge right in front of you without looking, so slow down and let them. Otherwise you’ll be picking up pieces of a broken bike and explaining what happened to the police. Better to let them go first.

 

Tailgating – If you are going down the road at a comfortable and safe 80 klicks, you’re sure to encounter someone from behind who wants to go 100. They will approach from behind until they are literally inches from your rear bumper waiting to pass. And when this is some huge articulated dump truck barreling down on your tail it will scare the bejesus out of you.

What to do: Don’t freak out. Just ease over to your left, slow down, and let them pass. If it is a busy highway it might take a while but it is better than having someone inches from ramming your butt.

 

Zigging and zagging – Almost always motorcycles will do this but occasionally someone who has just bought a new sports care will zig and zag through traffic.

What to do: It is much better karma to try not to visualize (or sometimes even hope for) the terrible smashup that is about to happen.  Just pray that the driver doesn’t end up winning a Darwin Award by taking himself out of the gene pool. You don’t want that on your conscious. Stupidity should not be, but on Thai roads often is, punishable by death.

 

Walking across the road – Almost no one here will give a pedestrian the right of way and stop to let them cross the road. They will never let a pedestrian cross the street in front of them. The Thai pedestrian knows this, it is a cultural law, so it is no problem for them. They don’t know that in other countries pedestrians do have the right of way, so here they will just wait patiently until all traffic has passed before attempting to cross the road.

What to do: If you are the pedestrian, just wait. Remember, in Thailand you do not have the right of way if you are on your feet. When all traffic has passed, first say a prayer, and then cross.

 

Fruit drinks

I don’t know how many times I have ordered a nice cool lemon aide or a fresh-squeezed orange juice in Thailand, taken one big sip and then almost barfed it all up. Why? Unlike westerners, easterners love salt in their fruit drinks. And that wonderful sweet and sour tasting lemon aide you were expecting will also have a very unwelcomed salt water ocean flavor.

What to do: Make sure every time you order a fruit drink you tell them not to add salt. They might look at you funny and wonder why you don’t want that lovely salty flavor but will usually comply (although a few times they just ignored me thinking that I must be mistaken because who would want a fruit drink without salt.)  Or, you can change and like I have gotten lately, I am beginning to like the salty taste. Weird, but not bad.

 

Hot food

There are some wonderful Thai dishes that would be so great if it weren’t for the fact that Thais make them so hot with chilies that you feel you might be getting pepper sprayed on a protest line. One example of this is chicken with hot basil over rice, with a nice fried egg on top. The hot basil is more than spicy enough without the chilies. But one time I ordered this dish and I was only one number away from calling 911 (191 in Thailand) and getting an ambulance there to save me from passing out. I am sure my blood pressure was over 200. I had burning poop for a week. I later counted and there were more than 30 chilies in the one dish.  Som Tum, or unripen papaya salad, and Tom Yum spicy soup are other dishes that if you aren’t careful might have you considering an emergency room visit.

What to do: Learn this Thai phrase “mai pet”, “Not spicy”. But you might want to add something like “one chili” or “no chilies”. I usually order Som Tum by telling them not to add any chilies at all. It will still be hot because the mortar that they use to pound the ingredients together will still have some chili oil on the bottom from the last order. That is more than hot enough for me.

 

Running water

I have lived in places where the water stops running once or twice daily. There is always construction going on or ten-wheel trucks driving over those plastic water pipes. I once live next to a rice field. The water pipe crossed the field and in the dry season, because of the condensation around the pipes, the ground under them would get wet. Just the perfect place for a herd of water buffaloes to wallow, and break my pipes. And of course this always happens at the hottest part of the day, right between the time I have done some heavy exercising and when I want to take a bath.

What to do: Get yourself a large plastic garbage can, put it in your bathroom, and fill it up, when the water is running of course. Learn how to take a splash bath. And when the water comes back on fill it up again.

 

half full

 

Drinking water

Flint Michigan in the U.S. had that drinking water problem where the water was contaminated by lead.  Well, I don’t trust tap water in Thailand either. But those poor people in Flint seemed to have the hardest time figuring out that if your tap water will kill you then maybe you need to be using bottled water – like just about everyone in Thailand does.

What to do: We get a delivery of large white plastic bottles of clean water every Saturday, and that’s enough to last the week.

 

Electricity blackouts

Expect frequent blackouts, especially during thunder storms. They usually only last for an hour or two, but almost always happen when it is pitch black outside and just before you saved your work on your computer.

What to do: Flashlights and candles at the ready. Save your computer work often. Keep your phone or tablet charged. Snuggle.

 

Dual pricing system

One thing that drives most Expats up the wall is the dual pricing system Thailand uses at various tourist attractions, national parks, etc. They say that foreigners have more money so they should pay more. Sounds logical but not very comforting.

What to do: If the dual pricing system makes you nuts, don’t go there. All I want to do is go to a nice waterfall or picnic area without screaming my head off. Dual pricing is unfair, true, but I do have more money than most of the Thais going to this place, so what’s a few dollars more? It is worth it to keep my blood pressure down.

 

Farang

The use of the word “Farang” by Thais drives most Farangs ballistic.

What to do: Learn the history and etymology of the word “Farang”, and know that this word is very infrequently used in a derogatory manner. The “F” word is not the equivalent of the “N” word. There are a lot worse things you can be called.

 

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These are just a few of the things that can drive you crazy if you let them. Don’t let them. Forget about complaining and wishing that the Thais or Thailand would change. That ain’t gonna happen. We can change ourselves though, and when we do, we will be much happier here.

 

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I have been a bit lethargic lately and have not been posting as often as I used to. Maybe 2 months of temperatures over 104 degrees F (40C) here in Chiang Mai had something to do with it. But after over 100 postings I am finding it a bit more difficult to come up with original ideas. So, maybe you can lend me a hand.  If you have any ideas for a posting, or any questions about retired life here in Thailand, send them on to me (either through the retire2thailand.com website, or as a comment here) and I’ll try to make a posting out of it.  Thanks.

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11 Responses to “Learning to Love the Roosters, and Other Expat Survival Tactics”

  1. Another nice blog, Hugh. It might be impolite/impolitic to go too deeply into this, but one thing that often puzzles me is how Thais react when silliness happens at the wats- like those dolls, recently.
    And I wonder if there is any destinction made by folks that men “buat” a.) because it is the custom – “awkphansa” (sorry) and life returns to normal…, b.) for sincere study of the Way…., and c.) because there is, nowadays, so much money involved…?
    Finally, from a ‘civilian’s’ viewpoint, is there a sense that the sometimes expensive and overdone things the wat gets into when there is poverty or hardship in the same neighborhood are a poor choice for using the offerings people so generously make?
    I don’t intend any criticism (hopefully), but am curious about how the your friends and neighbors feel about this.

    • Hi Pete,

      You know, those crazy spirit dolls that became such big news in the U.S., I have never seen them, nor did I hear any stories about them until they appeared in the west. It seems like one of the soap opera stars had a doll that she bought an airline ticket for so it could sit next to her. Sound like publicity stunt to you? The western press bought it hook line and sinker.

      As for temples and such, I try to follow the teaching of Lord Buddha, therefore, I usually avoid going to temples, especially the new sect of Dammakaya (pronounced Ta ma kai) where they teach that if you donate large sums of money you will become unbelievably rich. I am not exactly sure where the Lord Buddha said anything like that, but it is a fast growing sect here, but considered by many to be heretical.

      I also don’t criticize but I do choose to do the things I like in Thailand, and avoid the things I don’t. Works for me.

      See you in 2017 at our reunion I hope.

  2. Nice posting sir, bringing a wry smile to my lips as I remembered my own initiation(s) to Thai life. As a country boy, roosters never disturbed me but I have been on camping sites in Europe where people were decidedly outraged that roosters were permitted to be roosters.
    Anyway, what I am getting at is the way in which some people never really adjust to Thailand, I am guessing that most of these live in Pattaya and Phuket, grumbling into their beer and getting indignant when you suggest they should maybe learn a little more Thai than what you can learn in a bar.
    So what stages do we go through in acclimatising? I can well remember my first panic stricken, white knuckle drive into town 5 years ago, I drive into town twice a day now on my school run and think nothing of it, I can even drive down Sukhumvit, Bangkok with only a mild sweat. I no longer ask why people have completely blocked a road with tents, forcing me turn around and take a diversion that only locals will know about. I no longer stop when I see an elephant, photos that I took years ago (tangles of electric cables, naked wires laying about on the pavement…) tend to get deleted from my Google Drive, family fotos come to the fore. I have Thai friends that I have to use Google translate to understand ( up to a point) on Facebook.
    Some of the process of acclimatisation of expats includes the concepts of euphoria/ culture shock, denial, indignation, mostly negative items if you believe what you read on Thaivisa. In my case all this was mellowed by having a lovely, patient, down to earth Thai wife plus a great family that helps us and that we help when we can. People like me that “try to be Thai” are scorned and mocked by many Thaivisa guys, there again, probably people that went to Isan once and didn’t like it. (Read: got ripped off).

    • Hi David,

      There is a real psychological phenomenon that hits just about everyone who moves to a foreign county. It is called “culture shock”. It usually appears a few months after you have arrived, after the excitement of living in a new place wears off and the reality sets in.

      It causes depression, anxiety, and is when so many of the complaints we have about our new home come to the fore. For some it is so bad that they have to go home. For others it gets better and life becomes rather normal and even those things that are so different from our own culture and drive us crazy stop bothering us. Seems like you are further along than I since I would never drive in Bangkok.

      People who have the hardest time enjoying their new life, you know, the ThaiVisa.com crowd, are usually people who have a hard time enjoying life anywhere, even back home, which is maybe one reason the left in the first place.

      Enjoy and drive carefully.

  3. Margaret said

    We have just started reading your blog as we are planning to retire to Chiang Mai in August. We are finding it very helpful. Thank you Hugh.

  4. Amy said

    Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to check out your blog
    on my iphone during lunch break. I love the knowledge you present here and can’t wait
    to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone ..

    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, good site!

  5. steven shimmin said

    Thanks for all the great information. Hope to be over there soon.

  6. Lani said

    I had a friend who wanted to shoot the roosters, as he lived right next to rooster heaven (you know what I’m talkin’ about). And my friend J likes to use her motorbike horn – liberally.

    It takes all kinds…all kinds.

  7. Rhys said

    Insights always welcomed

  8. Sherlyn said

    This page really has all the info I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask. http://thegreenparent.co.uk/member/388996

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