Saturday, September 26, 2009

Same-same, but Different

If you've ever been to Thailand or Laos, you will be familiar with the phrase that is this blog post's title.  Emblazoned on t-shirts that sell for about 100 baht (roughly three bucks, American), it comes from a very common phrase used in both languages to indicate that while two things might be similar, they are in fact quite distinct.  For example:
  • the Thai and Lao languages--same-same, but different
  • rugby and American football--same-same, but different
  • Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise--same-same, but oh-so-very different
We have been in Thailand a few days shy of two months now.  One of the early themes of our experience here is how things are similar, but different from our previous life.  We very quickly decided that the differences are usually neither good nor bad, better nor worse, they are just different.

What follows is the second written series of Mali's observations of life in Thailand, taken from an e-mail and built upon the foundation that life here is, in fact, same-same, but different.

I sure miss grocery shopping in the States.  The movers packed maybe four cans of Wegmans cream soda with our HHE (household effects--the big shipment of most of our stuff that came two weeks ago).  We were so happy to drink the soda and it made me totally miss Wegmans!  In my pantry I have cans and packages from WalMart, ALDI, Wegmans, and Costco, and every time I go in there to get cream of chicken or whatever, it makes me kinda sad that I will be without many of these items for two years when I run out.  We are savoring and saving Wegmans' mac and cheese for special occasions.  We can get mac and cheese here, but it's really expensive and not always on the shelves.  So, the next time you make mac and cheese, think of the Soderborgs in Bangkok and how lucky you are to eat mac and cheese and only have to pay $0.50  per box instead of $ 1.75!  Perfect example of same-same but different, right?  Brent says that from now on we're eating mac and cheese on the good china.

They have several familiar fast food restaurants here--McDonalds, KFC, Subway, and even Pizza Hut.  They are all very definitely same-same, but different.  You can get the usual staples at each place, but then there are uniquely Thai aspects.  For example, have you ever had a McShrimp value meal?  How about fried rice instead of mashed potatoes with your Extra Crispy wing-and-thigh combo?  And spicy KFC is the rule, not the exception (we like it!).  All of these places deliver, right to your front door!  The delivery guy uses a motorcycle with one of those big thermal bags strapped to the seat.  The Thais also have this fascination with sweet corn.  You can get a vanilla ice cream sundae swirled with corn at KFC.  Burger King offers a taro-and-corn dessert pie.  Last, but certainly not least, it seems that just about every pizza in Thailand comes with corn, standard (you probably can't see it in the picture, but trust me, it's there).

Thank goodness for awesome friends who are willing to make a WalMart run for essentials like cupcake liners and crunchy chow mein noodles.  Who would've guessed that you just can't find crunchy chow mein noodles in Thailand?  My mom has offered to do trips to Costco for me, too, so I will be OK.  I just have to accept that I cannot just run to the store and get what I need or want. Waiting 2 weeks for packages will be my biggest challenge here in Bangkok!

There are some great places to shop, and some of them appear to be modeled on American stores.  Instead of WalMart or Target, the catch-all store here is Carrefour.  It's French-owned, but distinctly Thai.  They have an escalator--same-same--but without steps and designed to get shopping carts between floors--different!  Right next to Carrefour is HomePro--same orange color theme as Home Depot, but not quite the same.  Brent says his favorite item for sale at HomePro is the American Standard brand squat toilet.

Instead of Costco, we have a bulk-foods place called Makro.  Same-same, but different.  Costco has lots of meat, but do you ever have to sift through the piles of chicken pieces on a table and bag them yourself?  I didn't think so!  I will say that one advantage of living here is that a lot of the produce is much cheaper than the States--except grapes.  Grapes are disgustingly expensive.  Brent says that we'll eat grapes with mac and cheese and serve it to our most honored guests only.  On our finest china, of course.

We got our minivan from Japan on Friday.  The car finally arrived almost 1.5  months after we ordered it, and boy we are so happy to have a car.  We have been using taxis and bumming rides from different  friends from church.  They have been so understanding and gracious.  We spoke in church two weeks ago and I told them how much I dreaded arranging rides for seven people--we had to split up the family just to make it to church!

Anyway, Brent drove the van home from the embassy and I was so nervous for him--we live about 25 kilometers away (that's about 16 miles, for those of you who are allergic to the metric system).  The car is same-same (four wheels, engine, headlights) but different (steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the car, the mini-van is even more mini than in the US).  But he made it home in one piece, despite the rain and Bangkok traffic.  The traffic is definitely NOT same-same, it is very different, and that's not just because they drive on the left.  Brent says that in just a couple of hours of driving he's already completely forgotten how to use turn signals, and lane markers are, to quote Captain Jack Sparrow, more like guidelines.

For any of you who might have thought that we lived in primitive surroundings, think again.  We have all the amenities of life in the United States.  We have electricity 24/7, but--you guessed it--same-same, but different.  Thailand runs on 220 volts, and we've been pleasantly surprised to find out how many of our things can safely run on 220 volts.  A couple of weeks ago I was making something and I briefly plugged my hand-mixer directly into the wall.  It worked, but because it is designed for use in the US, it got hot in a hurry.  Brent's hair clippers sound like a chainsaw, even though he runs them through a transformer when he uses them.  Because of this difference, Brent bought some red tape and wrapped it around the cord of every electrical item in the house that is built to run only on 110 volts to remind us that some things just can't be plugged directly into the outlets here.

We sure miss you all.  Every single one of you.  But we are having fun.  Swing by our neck of the jungle,  we love to play host!


  1. Gross! I have had corn ice cream before from Brazil. Just plain nasty!

  2. I will inform my kids their Mac and Cheese dinner tonight is considered a delicacy in some countries. :-)

  3. Hi Mali! I remember eating corn on pizza from The Cheese Board in Berkeley. I thought it was good. I hear that in Korea they eat corn on their ice that is just wrong. :)