Most visitors to Bangkok will have been on the Skytrain at least once, even just out of curiosity. Over its relatively short life it has already become an integral part of the Bangkok landscape, physically and socially. It connects parts of town that otherwise would have involved a gruelling journey by bus/taxi/ferry. As well as providing a valuable transport link it has also provided Thai comedians and TV script writers with a valuable source of comedy, portraying everyday scenes and overheard conversations from the elevated concrete giant.
My first such experience was during one of my first trips to Thailand, 5 or 6 years ago now. I was standing by one of the doors with the train screeching round the corner towards Sala Daeng station, sat down opposite was a scantily clad German lady holding her baby. The baby, as is the way in Thailand, was attracting lots of attention and coo-cooing but then started crying. Lo and behold down went the lady’s dress and out came a breast and she started feeding the baby. Something which probably wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows in Germany but drew a fantastic reaction here! Lots of open mouths (guppy fish at feeding time!) followed by whispering and embarrassed laughter, but of course everyone too polite to say anything out loud. After going through Sala Daeng and Ratchadamri stations (more people getting on the train, more disbelieving looks) events took a surprising turn and one brave Thai lady walked up to the mother and commended her on this act, and her commitment to her child. Mothers all have the same instinct, whichever country they come from.
Tourists to Thailand are probably familiar with the idea that too much contact and public affection between a couple is generally frowned upon. However there does seem to be one exception to that rule, as witnessed on that same skytrain route as above! The relatively common pairing of attractive, slim, long haired Thai girl with a more butch, short haired (also Thai) female partner seems to be able to do what other couples cannot. Getting very touchy feely and kissing would normally get you some rather frosty looks, but not for this couple, nobody batted an eyelid. Thailand and especially Bangkok constantly contradicts itself, but this is a Western state of mind that doesn’t seem to exist here. This allows temples to exist next to huge shopping centres, a government run lottery to exist in a country where gambling is illegal and poverty to exist next door to great wealth.
A more uncomfortable moment than even these two events involved a couple of young American girls. Probably just out of college and fresh off the plane, they were stood in a carriage having a rather loud conversation involving many swear words. It was apparent that they thought these Thai people couldn’t understand what they were saying, how wrong they were! Thai people see enough TV and films to know our swear words! I had a kind word in their ear, whether it made any difference or not I’ll never know.
Whenever Thai people hear a foreigner speaking Thai it always draws a smile and more than a hint of surprise! A fairly elderly American gent was minding his own business riding between Chit Lom and Ploen Chit when his phone rang. Imagine everyone’s shock when he started speaking in fluent Thai, I could see a few embarrassed faces of people thinking “I’d better apologise for what I just said about him, thinking he couldn’t possibly understand”!
And how we all miss the camp train drivers making the station announcements! Those days are gone as it’s now a sanitised recording, the days of drivers mistakenly announcing the wrong station are long gone!
There are many more encounters, too numerous to list here; suffice to say that a journey on the Skytrain isn’t always as mundane as just getting from A to B!