Friday, February 10, 2012

Travelogue Bangkok: Land of Smiles

We always prided our country has having the friendliest people. We sell the idea of warmth and hospitality to the tourists, as a draw for them to visit Malaysia. I do believe it is so, to some degree.

But man, I think the Thais beat us to it.

Take the conference itself. The national oil company of Thailand was the host of the event. By the end of the conference yesterday, everyone has only the highest compliment for them, calling them the ‘perfect host’. I’ve been to a couple of international and local conferences, but I’ve never been to one that takes pride in making the guests feel so comfortable and showcasing the best that they have to offer, especially the richness of their culture. It was nice that they also converted two small meeting rooms as the prayer room for the Muslims, and I did not see any pork served during the lunch as well (the other meat dishes are probably not halal as well, in terms of the slaughtering, so I eat the veggies or seafood only. But at least I am less squeamish if I did not see pork next to the vegetable lasagna, as example). If they were to host again soon, I will definitely come back even if I have to pay the conference fee myself, hehe.

Then of course, the ‘sawadeekap’ gesture, where you press the palm together in front of the chest. I absolutely adore that. Sometimes I will be the first to do so before the hotel staff or the shopkeepers, haha. That gesture, and the Korean bow (I watched Music Bank on KBS which is something like Muzik-Muzik, and find it so cute that all those modern, hip-looking artists - guys with eyeliners and perfectly coiffed hair and girls in short shorts and mini-skirts – bow to each other after the winner is announced) and the Muslim gesture of pressing the right palm on the chest, are so humbling and welcoming. I observed that the speakers, even the dignitaries, did these, towards the audience, before they took the stage. The younger staff will also do so when they approach the table where the more senior ones or their bosses were seated. Once, I got into an elevator with two high school kids, still in the uniform, and as they got off the escalator before me, they bowed to me before they walked out. I felt like an Empress!

I often heard how the King is revered, and it is only so evident once I am here They do think highly of the monarch. His huge portraits are everywhere – in the public park, shopping mall – and even the kids that participated in the science competition in the conference talked with so much respect of the King when I visited their booth display. Once, on my way back to the hotel after the conference, I wanted to take the BTS (the Skytrain, much like our LRT). I had only walked into the ticketing area when I realized something odd. Everyone was standing still. The guy in front of the ticket machine, the lady manning the booth, the guard at the turnstile, the passengers. Everyone. Did I just walk into a Twilight zone? Is this some sort of Inception movie thing? Or am I on Candid Camera? Then I heard some patriotic-sounding song over the speaker, which I assume was the national anthem of some sort. Ahhh, now it makes sense why everyone was frozen at their track. I wonder if KLCC played Negaraku in the middle of the busy lunch hour, will people stop whatever they were doing, stand straight up and stay still? Hehehe…

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