Clean Thais, Smelly Foreign 'Farangs' ...

Visitors to Thailand from so-called 'civilisation' will have heeded all the dire warnings about not drinking the tap water, dengue fever and various other scary diseases, nasty tropical parasites, and usually come equipped with enough pharmaceuticals to stock a small chemist's. They will have heard the stories about squalid third- and developing world shanty towns, with rudimentary sanitary systems. Strangely though, it is the Thai who tends to look upon the farang (white foreigner) as, more often than not, unclean!

Of course the average Thai would never be so rude as to say so! But when you have more than a smattering of Thai, their good-natured banter about these strange white giants from afar can be very revealing...

A practice attributed to white foreigners by Thais, known as the 'farang shower', is a case in point. Perspiring, middle-aged, overweight American, Australian and European males are as a result the object of considerable humour. Unfortunately the 'farang shower' - the application of copious quantities of expensive aftershave - is not enough to disguise the fact that many do, in fact, well ... not to put too fine a point upon it ... stink!

Thai women aside - who when they can afford it will happily use perfume - virtually all Thai men seem to smell of absolutely nothing. Clean-shaven and spotless, not matter what their station in life, they somehow manage to maintain a level of personal hygiene that puts Westerners to shame. It boils down to a question of necessity; a tropical climate with invariably high humidity encourages the proliferation of all manner of unfriendly and aggressive microscopic creatures, and if you are foolish enough to not to keep scrupulously clean, you are asking for trouble.

Vendors with cooking pots brimming with unrecognisable and strange, spicy-smelling concoctions line the streets day and night. Many farang tourists tend to give them a wide berth, preferring the more familiar restaurants, and those selling European-style cuisine. Big mistake! The reason these street-sellers are so numerous is because the Thais buy from them much of the time. They are busy day and night. Their turnover is rapid, their cleanliness impeccable; no sooner are the ingredients bought, than the dish is being cooked and sold.

'Isaan' sausages and spicy veg on sale 10 baht (15 pence) per large sausage ... or if you're really hard up, something less than 2p each for the little round ones on the grill ...

Whereas in some Westernised restaurants, you are far more likely to end up with a case of severe food poisoning. Attempting to sell an expensive range of dishes they can't begin to dispose of within a reasonably short period of time to their rather infrequent patrons, the climate ensures that those microscopic creatures soon get to work. As this blogger discovered to his cost yet again in an English pub/restaurant last night (will he never learn his lesson?) The garlicky sauce disguised both the smell and the peculiar colour of the flesh, but one bite of the fish fillet was enough. To say it had 'gone off' just doesn't do its level of putrefaction justice. It had decayed, rotted, decomposed, and was weeks overdue for burial. Or preferably cremation, to avoid poisoning the water table. I won't point the finger, despite the English boss eventually managing a reluctant "Oh well, it happens you know. Have a steak and kidney pie, it's on the house". Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick to Thai cuisine in future.

A no doubt considerably safer (and cheaper) roadside alternative to the pub grub on offer last night!

But back to cleanliness - or the lack of. Feet being one important source of the problem, according to inside info from a selection of Thai friends ...

Maybe it is something to do with our height - or possibly the inability of many Westerners to see these extremities, the view of which tends to be obstructed by large fleshy beer- or hamburger-induced pot-shaped bellies. Perhaps it is due to our often complete lack of fitness and flexibility, as a result of which they are simply unreachable. Or in our vain ignorance, maybe we believe that by pointing the shower in that general direction for a quick blast - despite the fact that the soon-to-be ingrowing toenails are a haven for a rapidly breeding number of micro-organisms perfectly sheltered from this feeble assault by water and, rarely, soap - we are achieving a satisfactory level of cleanliness. (The Thais, by way of contrast, tend to trim their nails every other day). Another problem is however that Western feet are usually so far away that we can't actually smell them ourselves. Or maybe we've just got so accustomed to the odour that we just don't notice it any more. And it doesn't help that tourists, new to the tropical climate, often insist on wearing both shoes and socks. Because of this, the most thorough of scrubbings is undone within the hour, as our appendages immediately begin to perspire profusely, and the bugs promptly and joyfully return.

So I am given to believe - from the street masseuses providing a 30 minutes foot and leg massage for a euro, and who are as a result perfectly positioned to be a entirely credible authority on the subject - that the feet of 9 out of 10 European and American men, smell pretty rank. (Women, you can relax a little, only 5 out of 10 pairs of your feet stink to the same degree). So please - on your next visit to SE Asia, especially if you are lovers of massage - have a little consideration for those poor girls having to suffer in silence inches away from the locomotive appendages.

But now I have to move onto a more sensitive subject, still related to cleanliness (or the lack of). When you visit Thailand for the first time, you may be surprised to find something that resembles a shower hose, complete with high pressure nozzle, attached to the wall of the bathroom, next to the toilet. You would be excused for wondering what purpose this could possibly serve.

The little lever or button is indeed for releasing a powerful jet of water, so should you be tempted to experiment as you meditate from a sitting down position, make sure to point the device at a distant wall (nearby targets tend to have a ricochet effect, and are likely to result in you emerging from your contemplations looking as if you forgot to get undressed before taking a shower). And it goes without saying that you shouldn't squeeze the lever while looking directly into the nozzle. The main purpose of this device is to avoid having to apply reams of toilet paper to the posterior, with potentially rather smelly, all-too-common consequences amongst Westerners. Used with skill - posterior showering sitting down takes some mastery, and to avoid embarrassment it is best practised within the safety of your hotel bathroom until you get the hang of it - it is a vast improvement on the toilet paper alternative. For obvious reasons it results in the sort of rear end cleanliness only rivalled by the French with their bidets.

A few tips for the uninitiated.

- In unfamiliar surroundings it may be worth first testing the water pressure with a quick single downwards burst into the toilet bowel. However, excessively powerful jets can have undesirable effects, so do so before spending a penny.

- Ensure you have the nozzle pointing in the right direction. Somewhere between an inch and a couple of inches is the correct firing range.

- Bear in mind that Thai plumbing often involves the routing of the cold water pipe through outside areas exposed to direct sunlight. During daylight hours therefore, be prepared to rapidly abort the operation, should the water temperature suddenly begins to climb. A maximum cold water temperature of boiling point is possible in these tropical climes.

- For the sake of those who may visit the bathroom after your departure, do try to avoid skin contact between nozzle and rear passage.

- Ok, here goes, fire.

- Please bear in mind that this is not the Thai version of an enema wash. Consequently a short burst of between five and ten seconds is usually ample, irrespective of any pleasure you might be experiencing.

- Ladies of course have the excuse to use this device rather more frequently than men. Whether your sex lives are wanting or not, and irrespective of whether the sensations involved are somewhat more exciting than those produced by earlier activities of an intimate nature with your partner, please bear in mind that a growing queue of desperate people may be waiting outside.

- Finally, the the disposal basket marked with words to the effect of "please place your used toilet paper in here and not in the bowel" is for the benefit of those who have used this implement to good effect, and not for those squeamish Anglo-Saxons who prefer the old-fashioned, if smelly way of cleaning the posterior.

Once you've got into the habit of using this device, you'll never want to go back to your old ways, believe me. You'll be looking around the local plumbing supply outlets for one to take home with you ... Have fun!


J Stephen said...

Thank you, that was very instructive and I think quite practical, though it sounds like it has one setting: water cannon. Does not occasionally "stuff" go flying?

The FrogBlogger said...

Careful testing of pressure is definitely advisable. One usually gets the hang of it quite quickly, and the lever can be depressed slowly to adjust speed to the desired level!

In these hygiene-conscious days, with the H1N1 virus a concern, it's interesting to note the rapid spread of the virus in Thailand whose people are generally speaking quite fanatical about keeping clean. Makes you wonder about the effectiveness of the advice about the regular washing of hands, it doesn't seem to have slowed the spread of the virus here...