Expats versus immigrants

Last week was a German Film Festival week here in Bangkok. Moo, who speaks fluently German and has her connections to the Goethe Institute and the German Embassy, got a few free movie tickets.

The first film to be screened was called the ‘Golden Goose’ and since I had no idea what it was all about, I went along. Had I thought a little bit, or had I only started to dig in my memory, then I would have realized that the ‘Golden Goose’ is a famous Brüder Grimm fairy tale, a story I had read over and over again as a kid. The film was, of course, aimed at kids and was really well made and nice, but the audience was only made up of adults. Probably expats most of them, who needed to hear some spoken German, meet other German expats, and get some free beer at the reception before the movie started.

Expats is actually a funny word. Everyone calls the English, German, Swedes, Danes, French, Dutch, Australians, Americans, Slovenians, Russian, etc. expats here, and so do the expats themselves. They have their little clubs, where they meet, their not so little restaurants where they eat (run by expats), their expensive food shops, where they buy food, and their own little resorts, where fellow countrymen/-women come for holidays (much nicer to be among themselves than mix with the locals).

But a much better word for all the expats here would actually be immigrants, because they all are immigrants here in Thailand (not officially, but unofficially) and they behave just like many immigrants behave in a foreign country: meet fellow countrymen/-women, buy groceries that remind of the food at home, eat the food they are used to eat, and do not speak the language of the country they are living in.

So what is actually the difference between being an expat and an immigrant? Who defines what is what? The big difference in my opinion is that immigrants feel like underdogs and expats feel and behave like they own the place – a typical expression of feeling superior. Same, same, but very different!

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Bangkok transport

Bangkok’s traffic jams are well known and the best way to avoid them is to use the subway (MRT) or the Skytrain (BTS). Both are easy to use, quick, clean, air conditioned, comparably cheap and really well organized. So much nicer than sitting in a taxi surrounded by hundreds or thousands of cars, which hardly move.

Yet another easy way to move through the rows of standing cars, is the use of a motorbike. I have become a bit friendly with motorbike taxis and occasionally use one, especially when there is less traffic. But I have not got used to sharing the motorbike with several other people, as many people here do. For many families, a motorbike is like a car, and can transport up to four persons, mother, father and two kids; or mother/father and three kids, from youngest to oldest. It does look a bit scary though to see a mother or father transporting several kids on her/his motorbike: one in the front, and two in the back, and none of them is wearing a helmet. Even the smallest kids are placed on the motorbike, and even those who have not really woken up in the morning, but need to get to school. What if one of the kids falls off, because it cannot hold on tight enough to the driver? Or if one of the big 4WD crashes with a motorbike?

Despite the seeming chaos on the streets here, despite the many cars and even more motorbikes, despite the sometimes crazy taxi drivers (some think they are rally drivers), and despite the frequent use of cell phones (yes taxi drivers race ahead and talk in their phones at the same time), I have so far not seen an accident, heard an ambulance or a police car. Maybe drivers are very observant and accidents are rare? Or maybe I have just been lucky so far or happened to be somewhere else when an accident occurred? But then, how would the police car or ambulance even manage to get through to an accident when the streets are so completely clogged?

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Yellow mangoes

Now the season starts for the delicious and sweet yellow mangoes, which are only available between March and June, since mango trees bear fruits only once a year. Many different types of mangoes actually exist, but the yellow mango tastes best of all and I can’t get enough of it: just as it is or together with sticky rice.

When I buy mangoes in my local grocery store, the woman who owns the shop tells me: this mango can be eaten today, but for this one you need to wait a day or two. And of course she is right. Only when the mangoes extrude the sweetest possible smell and just before they are overripe, then it is the right time to cut them up and eat them.

Mangoes seem difficult to eat, because they have this big, elongated, thin seed in the middle. The easiest way is to slice along the flat part of the seed on both sides. With a nice and clean cut, one ends up with two mango halves, which can be eaten just as they are, using a spoon, or they can be cut in very nice rectangles, turned around or up a bit.

And here it is the fantastic yellow mango, including a picture of a nicely sliced mango:

Having eaten loads of these delicious mangoes, I don’t think I ever again want to taste the sour and hard mangoes, which are sold in Swedish supermarkets and hardly ever ripen.

But there are not only just mangoes, or mangoes with sticky rice now! There are also mango shakes, mango smoothies, mango ice cream, mango cookies, dried mango, and so much more.

Mango with sticky rice – picture and recipe:


More about mangoes in Thailand ….


…. and about mangoes in general


Tropical Fruits – book by Julia Morton

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Mosquitoes – no thank you

It is almost 2 months now since I arrived in Bangkok. Looking through my WordPress posts I realize that I have not written very much about all my adventures and travels, about my meetings and impressions. I only managed to write just a few posts in almost two months, and still I experience so much every day! More than enough for many many blogs!

My walk to the subway station is still as hazardous as in the beginning when I came, but now I am so much more used to having cars and motorbikes just 10 cm off my feet. The traffic is still the same, with enormous traffic jams between 9 am and 7 pm. Temperatures are increasing daily and are now at around 37-38 degrees C, but feel like 45-47 degrees C. Working is thus really only possible in air conditioned rooms (at least for me), and the huge shopping centers fill up with people who try to escape the heat. More and more flowers are now popping up and if it were not for the heat, then it would feel as if spring had arrived!

My little compaignons, the mosquitoes, are getting more and more crazy. I have already used up several bottles of non-toxic spray without much success. These nasty little beasts still bite me, and actually very much! Yesterday was the monthly Pest Control Day, which meant that one either had to stay in the room (ventilation on) or far away from the apartment house, because someone would come and spray stuff so that the mosquitoes and other small insects would die (this was about the only information I got when I asked). I chose to be far away from the place, because my apartment has no ventilation, so I did miss the spectacle. However when I came home, the mosquitoes were gone (relief!), and so were the lovely birds, which used to sing in the trees in front of my window. The only animal I could spot this morning was a little squirrel. But tonight they were back again, the mosquitoes, back in my room biting me. Hopefully the birds are back tomorrow!!*

*yes they were – also the birds are back again, singing cheerfully.

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My little pet

I don’t seem to be alone in my small apartment in the middle of Sukhumvit in Bangkok. Last evening I heard a loud noise typical for the small, almost translucent geckos, which are common everywhere. You hardly see them, but you can clearly hear them.

Although my windows are always open during the day, I do have mosquito nets which I thought close fairly well. But they don’t close so well actually, there are gaps and holes of up to 1 cm2, which makes for an easy pass for a small gecko, and for mosquitoes! A closer inspection of the walls and of the floor of my apartment made it obvious that there are many more gaps, bigger than those in the window frame. But maybe only the gecko has discovered these holes and not the mosquitoes, because so far I have not been bitten by too many.

The other night I walked along one of the dimly lit narrow streets in my neighborhood. These streets have almost no space for pedestrians, except for the 30 cm wide drainage channels, which sometimes exist on both sides of the street. Walking is thus an adventure, especially when you are about one foot away from a huge car that is passing by. In order to avoid clashing with a car or motorbike, I usually look out really carefully before I round a big bush hanging out into the street or parked cars, or any other obstacles. There I stood last night behind a bush and fallen leaves, waiting for a good moment to cross the street, when the lights of a passing car illuminated a huge lizard in front of me. One tiny step forward and I would have had an even more interesting encounter. The lizard was completely motionless and half covered by leaves. Cars were passing by, not more than 10 cm from its head. I watched it for a few minutes and then crossed the street and hoped that it would survive.

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A day in the jungle of northern Thailand

The Bangkok heat and traffic (speak pollution) is sometimes really too much and spending a weekend in cooler northern Thailand seems to be the perfect escape. A place I had wanted to see for a long time is the small town of Mae Hong Son, some 350 km to the west of Chiang Mai, and close to the border of Myanmar.

Mae Hong Son and its surroundings are home to many different hill tribes, such as the Karen and Shan, who run community based eco-friendly resorts and organize shorter and longer treks in the mountain areas. The province of Mae Hong Son is however also known for the many refugees who have fled from Myanmar and who are – after decades – still living in refugee camps along the border. Not much about these refugee camps, or about any of the other refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border is mentioned in the western press, but details can be found on the UNHCR web page.

Together with a Karen guide and a young student studying tourism in Bangkok and who was on an internship in Mae Hong Son, I set out to explore the mountains and the jungle south of Mae Hong Son. It needed a 4WD to reach the remote Karen villages located a long a narrow and winding dirt road, and at one point, even the 4WD could not get any further and we had to go on walking. A local Karen helped us to find our way, up and down the steep hills and through river beds, explained all the edible jungle plants to us and prepared a delicious lunch in the middle of the forest: water from the nearby river, herbs and vegetables collected during our walk, dried meet and some spices, and tea from his own plants, which he had with him in his small backpack. All of it cooked and eaten in newly prepared bamboo dishes!

Local guides

Lunch 1

Trekking 4

Trekking 3

Trekking 2

Trekking 1

Lunch 7

Lunch 6

Lunch 5

Lunch 4

Lunch 3

Lunch 2

The friendly Karen communities earn money by guiding people in the forests, by showing them around the villages, and by explaining how local people (at least some) still stick to the traditional way of using wild plants and herbs for cooking and medical purposes, how people grow and harvest vegetables, make baskets, spin cotton, dye with plants and weave, and thatch their roofs with large leaves collected in the forest.

Karen village 1

Karen village 2

Karen village 3

Karen village 6

Karen village 5

Karen village 4

March and April are also the months when local farmers burn vast areas of the forest to obtain more land for cultivation and to get rid of all the fallen leaves. Smoke is in the air almost all day, and fires and burnt surfaces can be seen all over the place. It is however amazing that these fires don’t lead to huge forest fires, but seem to be controlled in one way or other.

Forest fires 1

Forest fires 2

A lovely place to stay is Fern Resort, some 10 km south of Mae Hong Son, with good food and friendly staff.

Fern resort 1

Fern Resort 2

Fern resort 3

Fern resort 4

Fern Resort 5

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And the sea never rests

Svante Björck from the Geology Department, Lund University in Sweden is currently also visiting Chulalongkorn University. His lecture on Quaternary Sea Level Changes – A Complex Story was well attended. About 70-80 students and many staff members quickly filled the lecture room and followed Svante’s lecture with great interest.


One may think that Thai students are a bit shy to ask questions. But these students were definitely not shy, and asked many questions and wanted to be completely sure that they had understood everything correctly. Living in a country where ice sheets were never present (at least during the last 2.6 million years), it must sound strange to hear about the large ice sheet that covered Sweden 20,000 years ago and how it still affects land uplift in Sweden.



Researchers from the Department of Marine Sciences also attended Svante’s lectures, which provided a nice opportunity to meet scientists working with marine sediments from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. New connections to follow up!

For those of you interested in Svante’s lecture, here is the abstract:

Quaternary Sea Level Changes – A Complex Story

The presentation will focus on the processes that determine sea level changes in a world with waxing and waning continental ice sheets, a typical feature for the Quaternary period (the last 2.6 million years). Apart from storing huge amounts of water on land, and thereby lowering sea levels, the loading and unloading of ice sheets have a great impact on the elastic lithosphere and the rheology of Earth´s mantle. While the former has a direct effect in glaciated regions, the latter influences the horizontal flow of the highly viscous asthenosphere (upper mantle). In addition, the glacial-interglacial sea level changes cause vertical motions of the ocean bottoms, the glacio-hydro isostatic effect. This means that the build-up and melting of the North American and Eurasian ice sheets have had a global impact, both in terms of eustatic and isostatic processes. I will give examples on how these processes influence different parts of the world: glaciated regions; regions situated peripherally to the ice sheets; and regions far away from any glaciation. I will also present different ways of establishing sea level changes, during glacial, deglacial and interglacial conditions. Finally I will show some examples of ongoing sea level changes, of which some are not connected to the cryosphere (Earth´s ice covered surfaces).

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