1. You carry a sweater even when it’s 100° F out.
Your sweat glands are constantly working overtime, and if you’re a female, you’ve probably never finished putting on your make-up before it’s sliding back down your face.
Yet in this tropical climate with year-round average temperatures of 33°C (91° F), you know it’s still necessary to carry a sweater everywhere. Buildings, offices, and subways all overcompensate for the heat by cranking the air-conditioning to arctic temperatures, so you’re inside shivering and can’t wait to be outside in the heat. Story of your life.
2. You become proud of your spice tolerance…but not too proud.
You’ve steadily increased your spice tolerance from nit nawy to way high. The Thai chili ranks high on the Scoville scale of heat, and at every restaurant table you grab the small cup of nam prik nam pla — a heady combination of Thai chilies steeped in a few tablespoons of fish sauce — and excessively drizzle it over your food. You’re convinced that your meal is bland and incomplete without the heat, and you can handle any amount of spice, right?
Then you have the humbling experience of ordering very spicy som tum, and are quickly put back in your place; chili seeds that have been ground in a mortar and pestle have a much more potent punch. Other side effects of your cockiness include flailing arms, watering eyes, a runny nose, and a burning throat followed by explosive bowel movements.
3. Your head is always bobbing.
You bob your head when greeting someone with a sawadee, when closely passing another person on the sidewalk, when walking into a restaurant…you even throw a bob to the driver who is letting you safely cross the street. It’s a respectful acknowledgment of others and a nod to traditional Thai culture. The only drawback of being respectful is perpetually looking like a dashboard bobble head.
4. You’re a total pro at fire limbo.
A highlight of your life is fire shows on Thailand’s kerosene-drenched islands, and your willingness to participate in the competitive sport of fire limbo has earned you enough shots to be drunk for 3 days straight. And while your visiting friends are hesitant about it all, you’re nudging them to hang a cigarette out of their mouth so that fire twirlers can light it by spinning a flame two inches from their face.
5. You’re acutely aware of your feet at all times.
Even a simple, seated pose like crossing your leg at the knee, is not appreciated, and you definitely wouldn’t want to be caught propping your feet up on a coffee table.
Out of respect for Thai culture, you know it’s important to make sure your feet aren’t pointing at anyone. But sometimes you forget, and just as you trap yourself in cross-legged lotus pose in the airport or on a bus, you slowly unwind yourself, place your soles on the ground, and hope nobody saw that yoga move. Now you only commence funky sitting positions in the privacy of your own home.
6. You accumulate heaps of clothing from street stalls.
Let’s be honest, half of these clothes won’t fit. You may be of average size, like me, but you don’t have anything on the tiny, Thai frame. You have a pile of clothes that just doesn’t quite zip up or the hemlines come a bit too close to your butt. This too-tiny pile is often a blessing in disguise; despite Thai culture being docile, Thai fashion can be frilly and gaudy.
You can gauge the Thai-ness of your outfit on the amount of compliments you get from Thai co-workers: the more fringe, frills and flowers, the cuter you are, dear.
7. You never open your refrigerator.
Or kitchen cabinets. Or turn on the stove. Heck, you don’t even have a stove! And you certainly don’t need to invest in a blender when the best coconut smoothies are just down the street. You learn fast that it’s cheaper (and more delicious) to eat every meal out rather than buying groceries and making your own food.
Pasta, bread, and peanut butter — the kind of groceries you might buy — can be expensive. And your imported, organic cereal just isn’t worth $13 when $2 can buy you rice with stir-fried garlic chicken, a fried egg, and iced tea.
8. 7-Eleven is your second home.
Back home, 7-Eleven was only for slurpees. Now it’s all you know. Need minutes for your Thai phone? Check. Paying for airline tickets to avoid the online credit card fees? Done. Need to buy a quality bottle of alcohol or beer on the cheap? Got it. Already drunk and need to sober up with a box of laab flavored Pocky to munch on? 7-Eleven is your spot. Good thing you’re always within a 5-foot radius of one.
9. You sharpen your ladyboy spotting skills.
You’ve honed your eyes (and ears) for spotting the illustrious ladyboys of Thailand. If you see a face with masculine features, fake eyelashes, and heavy makeup, you subconsciously complete a body scan. Your eyes automatically drop down in search of an Adam’s apple or a prominent chin. They move further down to check for irregularly perky breasts and defined upper arms. But your visual checkpoints may not always hold up.
Thai men have the advantage of a small frame, and sometimes, androgynous features. You then become that annoying child eavesdropping on conversations for hints of a deep voice. If all your checklist items are indistinguishable, you’ll spend the rest of your day wondering if that beautiful woman was always a woman.
10. You have a drink in your hand at all times.
And I don’t just mean alcoholic drinks — milky green tea, coffee, all flavors of bubble tea, chai yen — at any given time, you’re bound to be slurping on a drink that’s been slung into a plastic carrying case so you can carry it around like a handbag. With the addition of sweetened condensed milk, your drink tastes like a mouthful of candy, but the melting heap of crushed ice tames the sugar with every sip. Yum.
11. Thai massages are your favorite luxury.
Your life is now incomplete without the regular pleasure and pain of a Thai massage. Thai women use their body weight to bend and stretch your body until every bone has popped. They crawl around on top of you using their heels and elbows to dig at your sore spots. And it makes you feel like a new person EVERY TIME.
12. You savor your sabai sabai life.
You learn not to get worked up over the small things, because Thailand doesn’t take anything too seriously. Sure, there are days where you’re frustrated and annoyed — your Thai just doesn’t cut it, simple tasks don’t feel so simple — but it doesn’t take too much to remember that you’ve got it good.
There’s hot weather and Thai street food right out your door, and you’re a bus ride away from beaches and islands that many only dream of. With a fresh coconut in your hands and your feet in the sand, you’re entertaining the option of living in Thailand for the rest of your life. Sabai sabai: this life isn’t so bad after all.