Friday, October 17, 2014

This Doesn't Happen in Harrisburg

I needed a few groceries one day, so when Amy left for her Thai class, I hopped on the back of her bike and she dropped me off at Big C, the supermarket a mile or two from her house.

I would walk back when I was done shopping.

The store wasn't open yet, and several uniformed workers sat around outside, waiting.  I saw a "9:30" on the door among the Thai writing, so I had about ten minutes to wait.

Finally the doors opened and I walked in.

Big C has two stories.  The ground floor has restaurants--including Dairy Queen, where you can get ice cream with corn in it--and also clothing shops and purse displays and lots more.  And a few ATM machines, which is where I headed first.

But three uniformed men were working on a machine, pulling out black boxes, so I decided to get my groceries and come back later.

I took the escalator upstairs and turned into the main Big C store.

I noticed a group of employees by the entrance but figured they were just having their morning briefing like they do at Walmart.

But then I became aware of a line of half a dozen employees, dressed in white, on my left, all of them smiling and "wei"-ing--the praying-hands, head-bow greeting--as I came by.

"Swa-di-kaaah Big Ceeee," they said.

A bit flustered, I did one wei in return for all of them.

Then I realized there was a line to my right, doing the same thing.

I wei-ed them too.  Dear me, what was going on?

Past a lotion display, and there were more employees, and more and more, probably 40 in all, left and right, a long gauntlet I had to run, and it was like they were all doing a Wave, hands together and heads down just as I came close, smiles and smiles, and an echoing, "Swa-di-kaaaah Big Ceee....ceeee....ceeee."

I wei-ed all over the place, feeling more and more ridiculous, and by the end of the ordeal I was starting to giggle, which was probably not culturally appropriate.

And then I was through the hallway of people and could do my shopping, assuming that the first customer every day got this same treatment, although no one I talked to about it had ever happened to be there when the doors opened.

Then when I went downstairs to use the ATM, the uniformed "Brinks" guys were still standing around.  When I started using the machine, they whipped out a camera and started taking pictures of me.

I have no idea why.

This stuff does not happen to me in Harrisburg.

That evening Amy and her roommate Kimberly and I sat on the couch and watched "Roman Holiday," the old Gregory Peck/Audrey Hepburn movie.  Hepburn plays a princess, and toward the beginning of the film she walks into the ballroom and everyone forms two lines and bows and curtseys as she walks regally along.

I exclaimed, "That's exactly how I felt at Big C!"

Later I was told that the wei is all about rank, and if a person of lower rank wei's you, you put your hands together to receive the wei, but you don't bow your head or, I gathered, be quite as effusive as they.

So I'm guessing I would have been considered higher in rank and could have gotten by with smiling and briefly putting my hands together, rather than repeated and full-blown head-bows and swa-di-kah's in return.

Of course there were plenty more things that don't happen here, such as the aforementioned gecko tail dropping down in front of me and riding all over town on the back of a motorbike.  Then there was the beauty pageant I attended, and the dinner on the floor, but those deserve a post of their own.


  1. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is always an adventure!

  2. The Baritone10/18/2014 8:46 AM

    "All-day singing, and dinner-on-the-ground"... uh, on-the-floor, in this case? :-)

  3. Dorcas, I have enjoyed all of these stories and pictures about your experiences in Thailand, and have looked forward to more of them. Your description of that episode with the pointy paper cups in Beijing also made me laugh.

  4. Our ice cream probably has corn in it too ;)

    I laughed out loud at your description of everyone bowing! I had a similar experience in Bali where I was surrounded by an excited mob of folks requesting to have their photos taken with me. It was the most bizarre phenomenon! I've wondered if I resemble a famous person, but perhaps it was something more culturally specific like you experienced.

    As always, enjoyed reading.