I remember my excitement for this trip.
It was my first time to travel outside the Philippines. I have been travelling within my country for quite some time, and to experience other culture is something that I always look forward to.
At 2 in the morning, we landed at Bangkok International Airport, commencing my journey with my close friends in the captivating countries of Thailand and Cambodia. We planned to stay in Thailand for a few days, explore the city then backpack towards Cambodia by bus.
Arriving at Thailand airport already had an effect on me. I was amused at how the structure reflects the Thai culture, unlike our airport way back home which is just basic and plain.
The Woman In Black
As we booked a hotel (or just a guesthouse) in Bangkok, we also availed their airport pick-up service. That makes sense, being in Thailand for the first time, it would make our lives easier if we had someone to bring us to our hotel.
But things did not turn out as expected.
The hotel personnel instructed us to proceed to pick-up point number 3 and a man would be waiting for us carrying a white paper with the name of my friend who booked the reservation. But upon arrival to the meeting place, we couldn’t find the man that we were looking for.
Of course, there were tons of people holding some paper, poster or whatever you may call it. But we couldn’t find the one with my friend’s name!
So we searched the place. I even volunteered to check the entire alley but just like everybody else, I also failed.
After doing whatever we could, I decided to seek help of an airport staff at the customer service counter. But the woman was having a hard time, understanding English. Being a patient person, I have exerted all my effort for her to understand my question and request. I made my statement really slow and emphasized all the phonetics. I didn’t even mind doing some pantomime for her.
In the end, she gave up.
I appreciate her willingness to help us, but she just couldn’t take it anymore. At least she was apologetic and kind. Few minutes have passed, she dialled the phone. I think she was trying to call a friend (like the game show you know).
But further help was unnecessary as a roaring voice of a woman came to the rescue. It was a shout in high pitch saying, “Talk to me!”
It was dominant, like a shrieking voice of a terror teacher shouting at her students to listen and keep quiet. Oh man, that voice. It was really quite a character.
When I turned left, lo and behold, I saw the woman behind the voice. She’s petite, wearing some exaggerated make-up with straight long hair. By just looking at her you would notice the black eye-liner at the end of her eye, making her feistier.
She was wearing all black, I think it’s their uniform at the airport. When she walked towards us (in character of course), I noticed the woman at the counter was making face, rolling her eyes, as if saying “here we go again.” It was obvious they were not in good terms.
She repeated her iconic statement in high pitch when we were about face to face. “Talk to me!”
I would really want to tell her to take it easy… but I was able to contain myself. Instead, I just told her my problem, that we were looking for the man who would take us to our hotel but since we couldn’t find him maybe she could help me contact our hotel.
I gave her the printed hotel reservation, and as she read it, I remember she was talking to herself constantly repeating the hotel’s name. “hmm… hmmm Smile Buri.” Of course in her high pitched voice.
Since I wanted to break the awkward moment, I tried to repeat my concern since I wasn’t really sure if she understood it because after shouting at us at the beginning she did not say anything.
While I was explaining to her, she shouted at me again, “I know!”
Well, I couldn’t understand why she has to shout? I was thinking at that time, is this really how they talk to foreigners here? Or maybe she doesn’t treat me as a foreigner since we are both Asians (Thais and Filipinos sometimes look the same) Or is this just an isolated case? Or maybe the woman was just really in a bad mood.
I later realized that it was maybe an isolated case, since after traveling to Thailand for a few days I have come to realize that Thai people are also very nice, they just have a different way of dealing with visitors speaking English.
Thailand is not an English-speaking country. It must be hard for them to try to communicate with foreigners, unlike for Filipinos who are able to speak the language. So being a traveller in their land, I must be more understanding.
One Important Lesson
I’ve come to realize that my decision not to show my frustration and disappointment at her shouting turned out to be a good one.
My decision to stay calm indeed paid off, because she wasn’t really harsh after all.
I think it was just her way of talking to foreigners which can be sometimes perceived as unpleasant. She’s not that fluent in English so with her limited vocabulary, she couldn’t really express her true intentions. That maybe instead of saying “I can help you with that or how may I help you,” all she could only say is “Talk to me.” (in a high pitched voice) LOL!
After spending days exploring Bangkok, I also realized that this is just how Thai people talk. It is usually in high pitch. You’ll also notice that when you visit Thailand.
People have different ways of dealing with foreigners who can only communicate the language. A lot of them are nice, they will really do their best to understand you, help you. At times, they will seek other Thais’ help, those who can speak the language.
But there are also some, who would just walk out of you when the conversation becomes unbearable. Usually, it is harsh to walk out of people, but surprisingly you understand them. You’ve come to realize that you are the visitor, you need to adapt by being more patient and understanding.
And surprisingly, you are also not offended when someone walked out of you. Weird right?
In the end, the airport assistant, the woman in black, was able to help us.
She dialled the number of our hotel and coordinated our concern. Just after a few minutes, the driver showed up. He was indeed holding a bond paper with my friend’s name on it. He was very sorry. It turned out that he arrived an hour earlier and had some miscommunication with the people from the hotel.
It was my first time to visit a foreign country and also my first interaction at the airport, but it has definitely given me learnings to ponder.
That traveling to a different country will definitely open your eyes, to be more understanding, to embrace a different culture.
Travelling to Thailand made me realize how big the world is, that yes, we are different but we can co-exist… by letting go of your own judgements.
If I’m in my country and someone would shout at me, of course I would react a different way. I could have asked, “what’s the problem?”
But since I am in a different country, I’ve learned not just to be more patient but be open…and embrace our differences.
Just like the woman in black who appeared to be harsh and unpleasant, but the truth is, she is a kind person with good intentions.