One of my favourite places on Koh Tao is a small food shop on the main road.
It doesn’t look like much but they serve really nice and authentic Thai food. By my experience those places often have the best deals, the food is good and the prices are low. The regular restaurants catering more for westerners usually have mediocre food for two or three times as much money.
Anyway, I don’t just like the place for the food but also for the friendly people. Their smile is as genuine as their dishes. Today I felt like trying something new and had a look at the curry pots they have standing around in the morning. I ordered some potato curry and the friendly lady asked: ‘Are you ok with spicy?’. ‘I’ll give it a try.’ was my ambitious response.
There is something special about the spiciness in Thai food. In the beginning the food is just tasty. Then it is tasty and somewhat hot. And when you’re done eating it keeps burning. And burning. And burning.
When the lady saw my empty curry bowl she said ‘Oh very good, you ate all. Was not too spicy?’. I was busy with sweating and getting pictures of molten lava out of my head so my response was a short ‘Hmm, aloi!’ (Hmm, yummy!).
Not all people on Koh Tao are that friendly and the same goes for other touristy places I’ve seen so far. The more tourists, the fewer smiles. I was wondering why that is and I think it is for a couple of reasons.
One reason is the huge gap in money between the Thai and western people. Some days ago on the dive boat I saw the boat boy store an underwater video camera away. These things are so expensive that the one he was holding easily represented ten years of income for him. Maybe even a whole lifetime considering he’s sleeping in a hammock in the engine room at night.
Now for a tourist it’s easy to say ‘Oh these poor people, what a pity’. But how do you feel when you are on the other side? How do you feel when there are people around who have amounts of money at their hands that you’ll never even get close to?
In addition these people with the big money aren’t always modest and nice. Many of them like to show they have money and all too many also enjoy the power that comes with big money. Some tourists show an attitude towards Thai people that makes me feel ashamed I have the same skin colour they do.
Almost unnecessary to mention that summer tourists inevitably clash with a culture that doesn’t approve of nudity in any form and emphasizes on saving face instead of getting loud and angry.
Taking all that into account it is almost surprising there is still smiling Thais out there.