This post is another collection of a few short topics that have absolutely no relation to each other, except for the fact that I thought they were interesting and indicative of how different these things are to their counterparts in the US. Cartoon mascots, political elections, and a trip to the hospital – this post covers all the interesting stuff!
I don’t think this is so much specific to Thailand as it is to Asia in general. But there is a huge fascination with using odd cartoon caricatures as marketing mascots for various brands. I’m used to seeing them used for kids’ things, and especially for food products targeted at kids. But here, they are used for just about anything, regardless of what age group it’s targeted at.
Beyond just using the cartoon mascots in print, online and TV advertising, they are also made into physical little stuffed “dolls” on keychains, anywhere from about 1 to 4 inches big. People hang these from their cell phones, purses, backpacks, and briefcases. It’s funny to see an 80-year-old woman on the train with her cell phone and a little stuffed tomato doll with funny eyes and mouth hanging from her phone, or a 40- or 50-something businessman in a suit, with a little stuffed teddy bear doll hanging from his briefcase handle. I used to laugh every time I saw those kinds of things, but it’s so common that I’ve completely gotten used to it.
Here are a few pictures of some of my favorite mascots I’ve seen around the city. If you have an observant eye, you might notice that even though they’re all for completely different things, the mascots are uncannily similar in many ways.
Bangkok recently held elections for the Bangkok Governor position. The Governor is essentially the same as what we in the US would consider a city mayor (albeit for a very, very large city). Having said that, I will note that there are actually only two Governors in Thailand – one in Bangkok and one in Pattaya. I don’t fully understand yet how the entire local governments work at the city level, so I’m not sure what all the other cities in the country do for local executive government.
There are a few aspects to the election process that I thought were interesting. First, the governor’s term was set to end on January 10, and the law requires that an election is held within 45 days of that. However, the current governor resigned his position one day prior to that, on January 9. The laws say that if the current governor resigns, then an election must be held within 60 days. After resigning, he began his re-election campaign. So by resigning, rather than waiting another day for his term to officially be over, he stretched the election “season” to be 15 additional days. Interesting. Either way, it’s a far, far shorter election season than in the US.
There were a total of I think 25 candidates in the running for the Governor position, although similar to the US, there are just 2 primary frontrunner parties so realistically it’s a race between 2 people. Once all the candidates have registered, the election commission assigns each candidate a random number between 1 and the number of candidates (25). I’m not entirely clear on the reason why, but I think it’s just to make it easier for the press to reference them, since most of the newspaper articles would say “…Mr. Sukhumband, the #16 candidate, held a rally today at a fish market…”.
The candidates do the normal campaigning, holding rallies in the streets, in parks, at markets, or anywhere they can get a large crowd. I don’t think they are allowed to run advertisements on TV or in the paper, but I could be wrong on that (I don’t watch much Thai TV, and I just read the English Bangkok paper online). They do put up campaign signs along the streets, but rather than the small little signs that are used in the US, the signs they use here are all huge – about 6 to 7 feet tall and about 4 feet wide. They have these giant larger-than-life pictures of the candidates, their randomly-assigned candidate number, and a bunch of stuff written in Thai that I couldn’t understand. The giant signs are tied to just about every electrical pole, light pole, street sign pole, tree, or any other vertical thing large enough to support them along the roadways. Below is a picture of two of the signs from the two main candidates on the street just outside my condo.
The election was held on Sunday, March 3. It’s interesting that they have election day on a Sunday when most people are not working. I know there have been discussions for years of switching to that model in the US – it would be an interesting experiment there. I think the polls open around 6 or 7am, and close at 3pm, so it’s a relatively short amount of time that people have to vote. But, it shouldn’t be a problem for them because no one should be hungover from the previous Saturday night. Why? Because on an election weekend, all alcohol sales and consumption are illegal, starting at 3pm on Saturday and going until 6pm on Sunday. Needless to say, Bangkok was probably as quiet as I’ve ever seen it on that Saturday night before the election – streets empty, bars closed, most sidewalk vendors gone. Almost eerie, it was so quiet.
Oh, yes, and I won’t keep you in suspense any longer… Candidate #16 (the incumbent) won the election. Probably the most surprising part of the whole election process for me was that within two days after the election, every single one of the thousands of campaign signs were gone from the streets. Very efficient post-election cleanup!
A Trip to the Hospital
I had a small cut on my finger, which healed but somehow became infected under the skin, and the infection spread very quickly until my finger had swollen up huge, red, and incredibly painful in just a few days. It got to the point where it was clear it wasn’t going to heal on its own and I was going to need some professional help.
In the US, I would have gone to my normal doctor’s office, or to a local clinic to have it taken care of. They don’t really have those here. Doctors generally all work at the hospitals, so if you need to see your doctor for anything, you go to the hospital. Same with dentists, although there are some separate dental clinics here.
Since I haven’t been to a hospital here yet, I just picked the one that’s closest to me – Bumrungrad International Hospital is about a 10-minute taxi from where I live. It’s a very well-known hospital, and I believe is the largest in the world in terms of the number of international patients they service (over half a million per year!). Many of the international patients come here for “medical tourism”, where they have various procedures done because they can be done at a fraction of the cost of most western countries, and the staff are highly skilled (over 200 doctors there were trained/practiced in the US, and most of the rest were trained/practiced in other western countries). Many of the procedures are for medically-necessary things like heart bypass surgery, but they also do a brisk business in elective things like various kinds of plastic surgery.
The hospital itself is amazing. The entrance/lobby is a huge atrium that looks more like a 5-star hotel, with comfortable lounge chairs, lush plants, restaurants like McDonalds and Starbucks, and other small shops. You’d never think you were in a hospital. From there, the service and experience easily matches the quality of the aesthetics. I had gotten there shortly after 7pm, and the outpatient part closed at 7. So they said “No problem, just go to the emergency area”, which I did.
I walked into the emergency area and was greeted by 3 staff, was given a 1-page form to fill out (literally nothing more than my personal and contact info like name, age, phone, etc., emergency contact, whether I was allergic to anything, and date/signature). They then took my picture, had me sit on a couch, gave me a bottle of water, and about 2 minutes later brought over a laminated card with my name, picture and patient number on it and said it was my permanent Bumrungrad patient card – they instructed me to “just bring it with you anytime you come into the hospital and it will expedite the process.” Keep in mind, this “process” had taken maybe 6 minutes at this point…
So then they take my blood pressure and temperature (all normal – yay!), and bring me into an office with a surgeon. When he first saw me, he said something like “wow, you’re a big guy”, and made a few jokes about my size, asking me where I work out, how I gained muscle, etc. Flattering, yes, but not really what I was there for. He looked at my finger, asked a few questions, and said it was abscessed and needed to be punctured to drain the fluid. They then whisk me to the operating room, put me on a gurney, and within about 2 minutes I’m surrounded by 6 nurses and the surgeon. He joked that since he thought I looked like Superman, and the Man of Steel wouldn’t need any painkillers, he didn’t think I needed any. When my eyes about popped out of my head, he said, “Just kidding!”. He preps my finger, gives an injection to numb my finger, and then does his procedure, with all 6 nurses continuing to stand around my bed, helping where they could.
When he was done, he asked if I wanted to come back in each day to have them change the bandages and clean and disinfect the wound, or if I was ok doing it myself. I was fine doing my own home doctoring, so he explained what I’d need to do at home to change the dressings every day, how to take several prescriptions for pain, swelling and antibiotics he was giving me, etc. They then led me out to a nice couch in another waiting area, where I waited for about 5 minutes. Then they called me up to the desk and handed me a shopping bag full of medical supplies (packages of gauze, tape, cotton balls, tweezers, saline solution, antibiotic cream, and various prescriptions). I literally could have opened my own mini-pharmacy with that much stuff. Every item had a label with my name on it, and very clear English directions on exactly how and when to use every item in that bag. Then they gave me the bill. I’ll refrain from publishing publicly the final bill, but rest assured it was a fraction of what it would have cost me in the US, especially if I’d gone to an emergency room. I’ll put it this way: I had enough cash on me to pay for it… and I don’t carry a lot of cash on me. 🙂
From start to finish, I was in and out of the hospital in about 55 minutes, with a level of care that I was completely comfortable with, and a “customer service” experience that would practically put Nordstrom to shame (for non-US people reading this, Nordstrom’s is a department store known for their exceptional customer service). While I hope I don’t have a need to go to the doctor/hospital very often, it’s reassuring to know that I can get as good or better level of care here compared to home, and maybe even a few laughs out of it!