I thought I was headed for a beach town, but Ranong isn't quite on the beach. It's close to the beach, but my hotel is in town. I feel like I've landed in the "real" Thailand. This town doesn't look or act like a tourist destination. In the two days I've been here, I've encountered maybe 6 other farangs (Thai word for people of European descent). I went for a long walk yesterday to check the landscape and didn't see one restaurant that catered to Westerners. Maybe the farangs are at the beach resorts close by.
The restaurant in my hotel seems to be the only one in the vicinity that has Western menu items, which is ironic since none of the wait staff speak English. I was trying to get a napkin yesterday and no one knew the word. Pantomime worked this time, but my gestures for runny egg yolk failed at breakfast this morning. Somehow I ended up with "hot pan eggs" baked in a pan in the oven, instead of the poached eggs I wanted. This is my first encounter with hot pan eggs. I guess my request for a napkin made some kind of impression, because now there are packages of napkins on every table.
At dinner last night in a Thai open air restaurant, complete with a bevy of flies, I was the only farang around. Being the "only one" of anything is a bit uncomfortable, because people stare at you. There were little children who couldn't seem to take their eyes off me. I placed my order with a server and was trying to find out whether they made egg rolls, but the server didn't understand me at all and I couldn't think how to pantomime an egg roll. She called over the one server who understood English and he told me no. I learned, after waiting for 30 minutes, while everyone else in the place got their food, that the first server hadn't turned in the food order I gave her, although she did turn in my drink order. She had apparently told the second server to take my food order, which he tried to do, but I told the second server that I had given my order to the first.
"When in Rome" has pretty much been my mantra since I arrived in southeast Asia. Since I'm an "elder" to most people I encounter, I'm usually greeted with a "wai"--a bow with hands in a prayerlike position. I learned that my response, as an elder, should be a nod or smile. I take my shoes off when I enter another person's home or a temple and some stores (wherever you see shoes outside the door). Wearing sandals with straps is a distinct disadvantage here. I don't touch monks--never feel inclined anyway--and you see monks everywhere here. I learned from my friend Connie not to point any part of my foot at any person (this is when I was reclining on a chaise lounge, and my foot was directed at a Malaysian woman who was apparently feeling very uncomfortable). I don't expect things or people to be on time. Most transportation services operate on schedule, but patience is a great virtue here. I try to use my right hand when giving or receiving, but this is hard for me to remember since I'm left-handed. I should also eat with my right hand, but it's very awkward for me to do this and I usually drop food in my lap.
I make sure to dress respectfully when I visit a temple--about all I need to remember is no bare shoulders, because I don't bare my midriff or wear mini skirts. I eat Thai food for almost every meal, specifying "pet nit noi" (not too spicy), except breakfast. I just can't bring myself to eat hot soup or other lunch and dinner like dishes for breakfast. I've only had two burgers since I've been here and wish I hadn't.
No matter how careful I am to respect social customs, I still stand out as a farang. Even though getting a bit of a suntan makes me fit in a little better, my height is a definite giveaway, as well as the blond hair. I'm taller than most men here. So I amble around town like a blond giant, and I guess it's no wonder that I attract attention. I'm more of an oddity here than other places I've been in Thailand. I'm surprised since this is a popular place for farangs to make a visa run to Myanmar, which I will do tomorrow.
Farang is also the Thai word for guava. So I suppose there are a lot of Thai jokes about farangs eating farangs.