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Saturday, June 23, 2012

That's normal

In the June 10th 2012 Bangkok Post, Andrew Biggs writes in his column Sanook, about how after a time things that at first caused him pause, have become normal to him now, and how he cannot recall how this happened.

Well, today was one of those type of days for me, when at some point, I stopped and said, "this used to bother me, now it's just normal". In a few months I will go back to Canada for a few weeks, and I am beginning to inventory the things I now take for granted, and how out of place it may be when I am back in Canada. How my new normal, may seem, well, abnormal, to my friends and family.

I have been having to make a trip to the bank to adjust some issues around my bank account and access. It is one of those things that you need to do, but in your mind you allow yourself hours to complete what to you is a simple process. There will be requirements for passports, photocopies of documents, multiple forms to fill out longhand. This will be proceeded by the smiling young person pulling out a 3 ring binder and plopping it down as they go through a checklist to see if you are allowed to do what you want to do, and then a checklist on how to do it. Clive recently decided to go do what he had to do. It took 3 hours, lost of photocopies, a 2 week wait for the mail, a problem with the mailing, resulting in an additional 2 weeks of waiting, only to find out a box on one of those forms had not been completed, thus halting everything. It is presumed you will follow-up, when after a time you do not see anything happening. It is not uncommon to do a follow-up only to be told why the process stopped somewhere between here and Bangkok. It seems everything that may in any way be official, is affected by a policy document ,or law, has to go through a desk in Bangkok.

So off I head to the bank. It is very civil inside the bank, with nice seats to sit at, while you take a queue number, wait for your number to flash on the television set, which is playing cartoons, the nature channel of predators at work, or music video's. At about the time the cheetah had the young zebra run to exhaustion, my number flashed, sparing me from the details of what happened when the two did finally meet up. The bank staff, all look like they just walked out of the their morning ablutions. Sparkly clean, big smiles, clothing that is very clean, pressed and stylish.  Even the money is stacked in nice rows on desks, as the clerks place banded stacks of 1000 baht bills into a canvas bag for the customer next to you. They are about to walk out the front door with 250,000 baht, and no one blinks an eye.  Now a days, neither do I. Had I been in Canada, I do not ever recall seeing anyone walking into the bank line-up, taking out $250,000 cash and go get on their motorbike.

The clerk listens to my request and sends me back to the seating area, where the TV is now playing a childhood cartoon, I used to watch 50 years ago;  Hercules, but now, in Thai. A few minutes later another clerk comes to take me to her desk and find out what I want to do. She asked for a few pieced of identification, walks me to an ATM and proceeds to walk me through a series of screens. She then thanks me for coming to the bank. I leave feeling like, "this cannot be all there is to this", get home and check and sure enough, everything is working as it should. Whereas Clive, 2 months ago, spent literally hours to do, I was in and out in under 3 minutes. I know from experience that just getting an ATM replacement in Canada took longer than this did!

And so I headed over to the local department grocery store that carries some western food ingredients, as I wanted to do a specific western style dish for dinner. I began as i usually do, with my list. Normally from this point, you become creative, no matter what store you go into. They will or they will not, have it. In this case, I was looking for pork sausage mix, and headed to the large clean fresh meat department. I stood checking out the showcase and could not see what I was looking for. There was a fair amount of activity behind the counter, that I was particularly oblivious too. After a while, I began to look for a clerk to try and explain and try to see if they had what I wanted or some other substitute. As I glanced up, a very fey young man was walking past and I said "excuse me", at which point he jumped in the air, let out a loud scream, turned, smiled at me and said, "yes, may I help you?". As my order is being prepared, my new flighty server, is engaged in verbal banter with the others behind the counter. It is only then that I realize, upon doing a head count that there are 16 staff behind the counter. A quick inventory has 6 of them sending text messages or surfing the web; 1 is getting her hair corn rowed by 2 others; 2 are practicing Muay Thai boxing moves; 2 are reading the latest Thai Soap opera TV magazine together; and the last 2 are flitting between the various activities commenting, critiquing or assisting and doing each others makeup. And I think to myself, this is pretty normal.

My next stop is to the vet offices to get food for the dogs. In previous posts I talked about how the vet office came to be in the first place. I am happy to report that the business is going well, and I believe there are between 6 - 12 employees there now. The routine is now common to me, as I walk in and one of the staff picks up a shopping basket and walks alongside me, taking whatever I have chosen and putting it in the basket. Pointing out the special promotions and spending a fair bit of time examining my purchases. I try to engage in conversation, and a look of panic comes across their face, as they say "moment please", put down my basket and walk away, only to return with someone else, who speaks English, somewhat, who now joins my little shopping team. We make our way to the front of the shop, and there is a lineup. My assistant asks me to take a seat please ; a very common term here used in many places. And I do, as I have also come to know that the simplest procedure will inevitably be the most complicated and time consuming. Many places actually get you a glass of lemonade or water while you wait, there is always somewhere comfortable to sit, with a/c or a fan, and for sure there is always a television set and something to watch, no matter where you go, including the police station. On this particular day the TV station was Much Music Asia, I found myself doing self-karaoke and singing along inside my head to the tunes. At one point I stopped and said, I am sure they just said the "f" word. So now I paid more attention and realized that Much Music Asia plays the uncut versions of songs in the top 40. And so lines that I had heard on the radio in a song by Cee Lo Green,  said things like "forget you", is actually "fuck you"; followed by Lily Allen and her classic hit song Fuck You, the lyrics are pretty catchy and I can think of many times to replay this line in my head whenever I have to deal with an idiot..."fuck you, fuck you very very much, do really enjoy living a life that's so hateful, fuck you  fuck you very much". I then usually scan my immediate area, because I will guarantee that someone is close by doing the same thing, but lip syncing, or actually singing out loud, in that unique Thai-English accent. About six songs into the show I am called to the cash register, and begin to process my order. There is a panic expression I have come to recognize instantly. The person locks into a stare at the object, such as the cash register screen. They have zoned everyone and everything our, and require a decision. The look is recognized universally, as the lady boy vet assistant rushed to the till, in her 5" stilettos, and began to chatter and then asked me did I pick the treat up from the wall display or the box by the cash register. It had been about 15 minutes and I recalled it was the wall display. At the same time I looked at the box that had been referenced and noticed the exact same packages I had taken from the wall unit. And they both had the nice red ribbon sale sign on them. "Sorry mister, please have a seat", and so I returned to my music show, and was duly called back up, and the order was ready to proceed. Now I will admit that I had two options here. Firstly, I had a 1000 Baht ($30CDN) note for a 595 Baht order. But secondly, I had just cleaned out the savings envelope from our weekly allowance and had the same amount in 20, 50 and a 100 Baht notes. As I began to count out the money into hundred baht piles, the panic look flashed on my cashiers face. This time it required a dialogue with the vet, who apologized to me and asked me to have a seat. I handed the 595 baht to the lady boy and went back to my show. I was just getting into the Carly Rae Jepson song, without swear words by the way, when I received my 5 Baht change. I finished watching Carly Rae, and headed out to my Scoopy, and had one stop left.

There is a major chain department store, that has divested into 24 hour mini supermarkets, The closes one her, I had nicknamed "Stinky's". That too is the subject of a previous post. But whenever I have visitors, I insist on one stop at Stinky's, as part of the cultural ambiance. I have learned to breath through my open mouth as I make my way past the meat section. I swear to god this is the most foul smell, and it varies in degrees dependant when they last did the bleach wipe down, which normally is evident by the instant tearing that occurs as you go past. Today I would have to use all my survival skills, as I needed to purchase cheese, and it is located immediately adjacent to the meat counter. Now, I will freely admit, that I knew what I was doing, but decided i had a 50/50 chance of being right, and breath the air or take that gamble, I headed to the cashier. The shelves had been stocked and the price tags do not necessarily correlate to the product. I have gotten good at reading bar codes and matching the Thai words on the product descriptions. Usually pretty good at matching, with the occasional new taste sensation created by getting fish sauce instead of palm oil.
I was elated as I got to the front of the store and saw 6 cash registers open and no customers. I scanned, as I checked to make sure that there was someone not texting, surfing the web, checking make-up, but looking like they yearned for a customer. And I found her. she was quite chipper and cheery, and then, the panic look. She called to someone who came with her hand mirror continuing to check herself out, and then told me "sorry mister cannot sell you". Apparently, as I saw the store manager looking from his glass perch overseeing the tellers, the product had not been entered into the computer yet, so there was no price, so she could not sell to me...sorry mister maybe tomorrow you come back". And so I would go back tomorrow, which actually turned into three tomorrows, apparently someone in Bangkok is to blame, but I will eventually have that cheese I wanted And that's okay, I think that's normal.

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