Monday, July 30, 2012

Back in Thailand, Always Learning

Whenever I've arrived in a new country, I've had to re-learn basic skills. 

In Indonesia, I had to figure out how to take a taxi.  The first men who approach you at bus stations yelling "taxi!" actually drive private cars and will quote you double what you should pay.  Official taxi drivers wear uniforms and use a meter to determine how much you owe.  By contrast, bus drivers and workers do not wear uniforms.  You have to get used to trusting the guys in cargo pants who tell you which bus to board by yelling destinations.

On the way to Gunung Bromo on Java - Probably not the best way to flag down a cab
In every country, you have to learn a new currency, a new exchange rate, new prices.  You have to figure out which country's coins are significant.  Thailand has 10 baht coins; Indonesia has 1000 rupiah coins and 1000 rupiah bills, which I never understood.  Some countries' bills look similar: Malaysian 1 ringgit bills and 50 ringgit bills are both blue, so it can be expensive to confuse the two.  After a short while, it becomes second nature to mentally transcribe local prices into US dollars or recognize right away if someone is trying to rip you off.

Malaysia ringgit - I'm always a little jealous of countries with colorful money.
It takes effort to learn the habits of local people, too.  In Cambodia, no one will accept crumpled dollars and since banks won't take $2 bills, everyone wants to get rid of them.  You have to check your change at restaurants to make sure you didn't get unwanted and useless bills.   (This does raise the question of how many Americans show up with $2 bills in their wallets in the first place.) In Indonesia, ATMs give out 100,000 and 50,000 rupiah notes, but no one ever seems to have change.  It can be tiring to be constantly figuring out how to do simple things, such as guessing where best you can break a 100,000.

Returning to Thailand was a huge relief in part because I feel like I know how little things work.  There's always more to learn, of course, but at least I know how to take a taxi here.  Tuk-tuks usually cost more and taxis are legally required to turn on their meters.  I'm familiar with the fact that to get a taxi in Bangkok, especially if I'm carrying a massive green backpack and am asking to go to the train station, I will have to ask at least three drivers to turn on the meter before one will.

Gratuitous photo of Thai food - pork and broccoli with rice
(Yes Mom, I ordered broccoli and it was delicious!)
I didn't realize how happy I would be to be in Thailand again until we landed in Bangkok.  We walked down familiar streets, ate at a favorite restaurant, and stayed at a guest house we already knew we liked.  Some things had changed in the two months since we'd been gone, but I didn't feel like a newbie.  It had been one of our homes on this adventure, and it was good to be back.

In the two months since we left Bangkok, this got packed up and put away.
Not even kidding.
What kinds of things have you had to re-learn while traveling?

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