Airbnbs, Bowing, and Tinted Windshields

Staying in an Airbnb is hands-down one of my favorite parts of living in the future. The comfort of being in an actual home where a real person lives entirely changes the experience of travel. It’s much easier to masquerade as a non-tourist when I walk out of a non-hotel, and being able to text the host with casual questions and get custom recommendations from someone who feels like a friend kind of makes it feel like I do actually have all these friends who just happen to have places empty and available.

It’s a perfect example of how the internet has allowed new lifestyles to exist by creatively re-using resources. That said, it doesn’t seem like the world has yet figured out how to deal with it on a legal level. As usual, governments and big businesses lag behind technological progress, and every place I’ve stayed so far has had some sort of warning that I “should tell everyone at the building that I’m a friend of theirs, and never mention Airbnb.”

I’ve been doing that, but it’s become obvious that these places are starting to catch on. In the building I’m in currently, there’s a large sign in the lobby that says “THIS IS NOT A HOTEL.” I’m not sure what the legal ramifications are for renting out your place illegally, but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone. There are thousands of places in this city alone up for booking, and seemingly more each day. Perhaps all apartments will slowly become apartment/hotel hybrids, and when we sign leases in the future, they’ll have built-in policies surrounding how to deal with Airbnb-like services in their terms.

My latest favorite cultural nuance is that every time I pay for anything (or especially if I tip someone) they give a small bow and put their hands in prayer position. I get bowed to 5–10 times per day, and it feels much nicer than just being thanked. When someone bows, they smile and it feels as if they’re personally happy to be keeping the tradition alive. I reflexively give a little bow back, and we leave the interaction feeling mutual positive feelings.

This is unlike casual American thank-yous, which often don’t feel genuine. I think the key difference is that bowing is actually a show of respect, while a thank-you is just a common courtesy. Someone who thanks you doesn’t necessarily respect you, they’re just pleased you did something for them. If someone bows, it feels like they’re bestowing a miniature honor on you for existing in the way that you do. Is paying for my Pad Thai worthy of deep admiration? I don’t know, but it feels good.

Bowing also shows itself in other ways. New Year’s Day was some sort of holy day in Thailand, and after being driven around by a hard-charging tuk-tuk driver who was stopping short and blaring his horn at every turn, we passed a temple and he instantly took his hands away from steering, turned towards the temple, lowered his head, closed his eyes, and gave a little prayer. Eight seconds later, and he’s back to fighting the battle that is Bangkok traffic. The juxtaposition of chaos and divine respect is the most unique aspect of the culture so far.

Many vehicles in Thailand have their front windshields tinted pitch-black. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to tint your windshield in the US, and it’s actually noticeable from a pedestrian standpoint. Given the aggressive traffic, it’s kind of terrifying crossing a crosswalk and seeing an oncoming car with an all-black windshield. It’s impossible to know whether the person can see you and will stop, or if they’re fixing their makeup and will mow you down. I wonder if this desire to tint all the windows has any deeper meaning — are people inherently more private in Asia, or are they just exercising their enhanced rights to privacy because they can? If given the opportunity, would everyone tint their windshield?

One last small detail I noticed today is that even though people drive on the left side of the road and have drivers seats on the right side, people don’t observe this same orientation when walking. People always seem to walk to the right side, just like American traffic. Maybe the tendency to stay to the right is an aspect of humanity, and would always exist if laws didn’t mandate that people use the left-side.

I’m getting a better feel for the urban culture by the day, but I need a break from the congestion of the city life for a while. Tomorrow I’m off to an island, stay tuned!