Michael A. Sisti

Author, Lecturer, Consultant

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Observations of a Curious Traveler

Shopping in Thailand. There are two venues for shopping in Thailand. There’s the malls, which are beyond huge, often taking up an entire square block and rising seven to nine stories. They contain everything from stands, to shops, to designated concessions in the larger stores. The food courts are immense, sometimes taking up two floors of a mall. And there you can find everything from fine dining to ice cream stands. The other shopping opportunity comeMarkets from the endless number of stalls and stands that line the streets, alleys and highways. At these entrepreneurial, dust covered establishments, you can uncover just about anything from tee shirts, to building materials, to airplane parts. And food! There is no shortage of push carts with people preparing unimaginable and odorific selections of fish, fruit, soups, and meat dishes. The entire country comprises the world’s largest flea market, fleas and all.

A Word About Security. Getting to Thailand required us to go through three airport screenings – Tampa, JFK and Beijing, the last requiring four separate screening stages, including a pat down. The Chinese official commented in Beijingese that he thought I had firm buns. At least that’s what I think he said. Arriving at Bangkok, we got checked through customs, and then the next day when I went back to retrieve our lost luggage, I needed my passport just to get into the airport, and then the luggage was scanned and my passport again checked, before I could leave the airport.

On the second day of our trip, we went to the other side of Bangkok to tour the palace grounds. Near the site, we encountered and an unannounced, make-shift identification check of everyone (several hundred) walking doRoad Checkwn that street. Foreigners were required to get on one line and show their passports, and locals had to show identification on another line. To everyone, except us Americans, all of this security seemed routine. Traveling anywhere in the world, this protection is accepted, and getting more intense. So it makes me wonder why we are protesting against securing our own borders, when we have so much to lose.

Air Quality. We have now traveled to several parts of Thailand and the air goes from bad to horrific. There is no control over emissions from any road vehicles, including tarps over dump truck materials. Fires are burning everywhere, from cooking to underbrush burns. Combine this with the heat and you have temperature inversions creating smog that envelopes the landscape in a constant haze. A large number of people wear face masks, not to prevent the spread of germs, but to keep all these particulates out of their lungs. After a while you can see the black soot building up around the nose and mouth portions of the masks. The cities are the worst, but even on the open road, the mountains are barely visible in the distance.

SmogMotorists ride on a road as thick haze from wildfires blanket the city in Pekanbaru, Riau province, Indonesia, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. The haze, which has shrouded parts of neighboring Malaysia and Singapore for about a month, also spread to Thailand on Monday, the first time it has reached hazardous levels so far north. (AP Photo)

Dining in Thailand. There are several types of cuisine available throughout the country. Thai, of course, including everything from mild American style, to super-hot dishes that will burn holes in your clothing. The Chinese food is much closer to the authentic food from China, rather than Chicken Chow Mien. We haven’t tried the Indian cuisine, as none of us are into curry. And the Japanese dishes consist of noodles, soups and entrees made mostly with fish. The sushi is very good, and the wasabi has the same effect as swallowing a radio-active pellet. I saw a Scandinavian woman put an ice creams scoop of wasabi on two small pieces of sushi, and I sat there waiting for the 911 call for an ambulance. Believe it or not, one of the most popular types of cuisine in Thailand is Italian, and it is really well done. The pizza has been excellent, as have the various pasta dishes with a multitude of authentic sauces. We’ve probably had more Italian food here than at home.street-food-thailand

We have deliberately avoided the street vendors, as the smells and the filth are a major turn-off. While the fruits and vegetables look really good, and some of the meat selections are appetizing, it just seems too risky. And if you stand on a sidewalk and eat a piece of chicken satay on a stick, it immediately gets covered with soot, so it looks like you put too much pepper on it.

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