Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Three Weeks of Thailand Part 1: Bangkok

It’s tough being back at work, especially after so long. In retrospect, I think this is the longest vacation I’ve had since coming to Japan, it’s kinda crazy how that worked out. I hear it’s been record cold back home too, so while I’m sad I couldn’t be there for Christmas, I’m not heartbroken (I am however a bit sunburnt)

I don’t know why I keep thinking this will be “hard to write” but maybe not so much so if I just put the disclaimer out there that I spent the trip pretty much exclusively with Anna, and we’re more than just friends. Because of the long distance thing though, I wouldn’t say we’re ‘dating’ as much as we’re really close. I dated Crystal in Canada years ago while I lived in China, and it just isn’t fun. With that being said, maybe I won’t feel like I’m holding out too much information or leave you with strange questions. Also I’m a bit sick today, so I’m not thinking too straight.

I guess my adventure started Dec 19th. For some reason I can’t remember why, the plane was delayed 3 hours and I only got there at night despite waking up at 4 that morning to catch the bus. Japan was covered in snow when I left, so it was extra cold that morning.

Anna came and got me at the airport again, which helps a lot because then I didn’t have to change money at their insulting rates. It was funny catching a cab too, because there was a “working girl” hanging out the back window of a cab asking if we needed a ride. Needless to say, we got a different cab. It was late, and over 3 weeks ago now, so I don’t remember where we went for supper before checking into a hotel near the touristy area.

The hotel was so-so, but the price was pretty good: 800 baht, or $22 CAD. In Japan, I have to pay that today just to rotate my tires (I feel so lazy now, but it's so cold and I don't have the right equipment to do it myself) (When I was there, 30 baht = 1 CAD. 100yen = 35baht) I mostly liked the area, as we took a walk around it in the morning. Thailand has all these delicious foods stands that I love, and one thing that caught my attention right away was some “coconut pudding” little things that were delicious.

We didn’t walk around too much though; I was on something of a mission. I had totally failed to get anything for Christmas really, and I was hoping to shoot off a package before it got too late. Most of the first 2 days were spent in department stores looking at clothing and other things that caught my eye. The prices were great again, and with Anna’s help, I got all my presents together and sent home in a box.

It was great she helped me again, as I got an email from my sister Melissa this morning thanking me for some kinda ‘jumper’ dress. When I first saw it I thought Anna was crazy for picking it out, keeping in mind that I don’t know anything about shopping for clothes, I said we should buy only one. Again I should really, really keep quiet when shopping; I’m glad it turned out alright.

We stuffed it in a box, wrote up a Christmas letter, and sent it hope as fast as we could, which turned out to be almost $100 and took 3 weeks anyways, effectively missing Christmas. Oh well.

I made Anna write a bit in the letter too, because if you haven’t seen the Thai language before, its alphabet is really exotic; the craziest one I’ve seen yet. It’s funny how things translate to our alphabet too, like street signs that say “Mae Wang” or the waitress having a name called “Supaporn”. Last time I wrote about the subway station: “Bang Sue”. While “Anna” is her nickname, her first name is “Punyaporn” which got me wondering if I was reading it wrong.

We watched our first of many movies that night after the first full day, and ate the first of many pizzas as well, as Japan leaves me wanting for that. This time we saw “Avatar” which was pretty cool, although I kinda wish I saw it in 3D to see what the hype is about.

Once the shopping was done, we went to the park to meet up with Lily again. We ate a little, and fed the fish in the pond. When they first came up for some food, I freaked out a little. The disgusting huge things have these “whiskers” or something, which at first made it look like underwater spiders the size of my foot were sucking down the bread. Anna laughed at me and started poking their whiskers. Brave girl.

When we saw Lily I hardly recognized her, she has lost so much weight since I first met her a year ago now. We had a good talk, and she used her great travel agent skills to talk us into moving into the hotel she works at for the same price. The room was twice as big and twice as nice with things like flowers painted on the wall, a fridge, bottle opener, many power outlets and other nice touches. She wanted to treat us to supper too, saying how we’re family now. I was still on a bender from having just left Japan, and suggested Pizza again.

Before we left the park though, Lily’s friend flagged her down, and she happened to be a fortuneteller. I was like “alright”, although a lot of the fortune was strange. For example, the important questions at the start were my about birthday and if they were in the morning or night. I said “March 1st” but that didn’t matter as much as what day: ie Mon, Tues, etc. I didn’t know, and they assumed I forgot. I corrected them saying I didn’t know because it’s not important in any way to me.

This reminded me a lot of when I first came to Japan and people asked me my blood type to use as a basis of getting everything they needed to know about me. For example later when clothe shopping, I asked Anna what colours go good with me, and she asked what day I was born again.

Anyways she gave me my fortune, and I usually seem to hear more or the less when I get these things; ‘you’ll defeat your enemy’, ‘you’ll be well off’ and so on. It was quite the formula she had worked out, and told me what years will be lucky or not, and what age I would die, how many kids I would have among other things. I’m still a bit skeptical about these things, as I know how vague they are. Ie what enemy?

Later she told me about how she is desperately looking for a husband, and she gave me some photocopied papers of her profile so to speak. It said her age, where she can be found, how she doesn’t have kids and things like that. I told her she should try posting that online, but was hard pressed against it, saying how she doesn’t understand, and wanted me to do it for her. Well, it’s a big enough pain the butt doing my own correspondence, let alone someone I just met. I tried a couple approaches to get her to sit in front of a computer and try sometime, but she stubbornly assured me it was impossible.

It’s that attitude I find that really bugs me. Anything is possible, but you have to want to do it. If what you’re doing isn’t working, then try something else. I was really patient and really tried talking to her and helping her as she’s a nice girl, but when I get that attitude in response then I know I’m talking to a brick wall and it’s not worth my time. You have to want change to bring change to your life. Regardless I wish her the best, and if you’re looking for a 38 year old Thai fortunetelling wife, send me an email :P

The next day, the 22nd, I don’t think we did too much, but we went to an Indian temple this time, where Anna prayed and we both got that red paint put in the middle of our foreheads. This was the place I’ve been to before, and thought it was strange they sell offerings like bananas and drinks, just to accept the offer later at the temple, and resell it to the next people back at the front. Anna even tried to keep the drinks for us, but they got angry with her, so she returned them to the offering so they could be resold to someone later. Atleast they can’t resell the incense.

We saw another movie too, this time “Sherlock Holmes” which I loved, and now I want to read the books. Maybe we took it easy this night, because we went on a tour the next day, to the ancient capital “Ayutthaya” which I visited last year. One thing I really noticed this time in Thailand, although there was that huge political unrest last year, last year was a lot busier in many ways compared to this year.

For example this Buddha temple we went to, last year I couldn’t get in the front doors for 10 minutes or so because of the number of people, there were a dozen people maybe, and it was easy to get under the golden robes they threw out to drape over you, then to be swept up to Buddha, taking your prayers with it (to my interpretation anyways, I don’t know what they’re doing) I just know Anna seems really religious, and I still find it fascinating watching her do her thing. It’s so much different and peaceful compared to everything else I’ve seen.

Regardless I don’t mind the fewer people. We fed some fish again instead of going on that boat ride around the island, and saw the decayed old burnt ruins. One neat thing about taking a tour again, you learn more and different stuff. For example, they leave the area scorched as a sort of bad karma thing for Burma for razing the area in the first place. I guess there is a lot of bad blood there even after hundreds of years.

The tour takes you to 4 of the 7 areas too, this time I saw a new one. Here, not all the Buddha heads had been chopped off, and some were placed near the trees so that the roots have started growing over them. It’s a bit ghastly to see. Beautiful places regardless, and later we had Thai ice cream, which was mostly a frozen cube thing with a sharp stick pounded in to hold it. It was really tasty!

Here I learnt more about some weird fruit “Durian.” It has a horrid smell if you eat the fruit, but Anna seems to love it. She got that flavour on her ice cream and after a sample of hers I didn’t want more. Apparently you can die if you eat the stuff while drinking beer, as both heat you up or something. This one guy from India was telling us of his friends that would foam at the mouth because of it. Then Anna said if you eat Mango or something you’ll be ok, as they cancel each other out.

That was another weird treat she liked to munch on, but I quickly fell in love with: green mango with chili and sugar. They like to eat Mango when it’s an under-ripe green colour and really hard, but it’s good with that chili. Because I’m a foreigner, she was always afraid to get me around anything too spicy, but I can hold my own pretty well to her surprise. To her credit though, some of the food she eats makes me sweat just watching her.

For example she’ll get extra chili peppers/oil or whatever and douse her fried rice with it. Just a little is enough for me. Lately I’m more discovering the fine line of eating spicy food for the flavour, and using it to mask the taste of whatever it is you’re eating. For this reason I mostly stopped eating Tabasco (except with my fried eggs of course; so delicious!) The question usually becomes: do you want to eat something with flavour, or do you want to eat a pile of food that tastes only like Tabasco. Usually you only see that with pizza in Japan, probably because the pizza here usually leaves a lot to be desired, and you can hide your tears behind the spice.

Where was I, still on the tour I guess. I wrote about it last year, so you can read about it there too; dilapidated ruins, etc. One funny thing we saw: was a bus in the middle of a park posing as a bank. I thought it was hilarious anyways, to go and put your money in some bus somewhere. And we saw the old living place or whatever it was. It was beautiful again.

When we were back in Bangkok, we went to my favourite little side street where you can get all kinds of food and drinks and whatever. This night we had a whole grilled fish, fried rice, some Pad Thai or whatever Anna had, and 2 big bottles of beer for 100 baht. ($3.50)

When we sat down, to my horror, Anna made a grab for the fish’s eye, scooped it out with her thumb, and ate it right away. Sometimes she will tell me to not use utensils, as it tastes better eating with your hands haha. Anyways, she saw my shock, had a good laugh, and turned the fish over to fed me the other eye, because I made it a goal of mine to try as many things as I can atleast once. It was strange. It was like a sweet jelly, but the pupil itself was like a firm collapsible ball. I thought about it, and the best comparison is that ball the dentist would put in your teeth to measure the gap in your bite.

I had my laugh later though when she was peeling the skin off the fish to get at the soft white goodness inside. Personally I think the skin is one of the best parts, and I grossed her out by eating some, and got her to try some too. I guess the joke was on me though, as the next day my stomach wasn’t doing so well for some reason. Luckily(?) most of the Diarrhea passed that night at the expense of me getting no sleep, as we went on a tour to the River Kawai this time.

Again I went last year, but it was still a different experience. For example, we rode the train a lot longer, and didn’t really have time to walk on the bridge itself. Most of the rest of the tour was stuff you had to pay extra for, so we sat around in the heat, partially ill still, waiting to go back. They had the tiger temple, elephant ride and more. In one last desperate grab to get us to ride, they offered it at 250 baht each, but Anna rode them many times back at home and I rode them last year so I was fine sitting in the shade and listening to the strange birds.

Later another tour group came, and the guys paid 400 baht each. The one dude went on about how he would spend 1000 baht for the chance, and I stayed quiet. I think the bottom line for any of this stuff, to a sane extent, is what is it worth to you? I still remember shopping in China, thinking I got a good deal on something, and some bitter douche bag would say “I would have sold it to you for blah blah” to make you feel stupid after. I hate those people. Bottom line again, is ‘are you happy with it?’ If so, then that’s enough. Leave it be. Life has enough difficult questions to ponder.

Well that was Christmas Eve, we slept in on Christmas after 2 long days of tours and a bit of stomach sickness. They had the Muppet’s Christmas Carol on TV, so we watched it. I don’t think Anna was familiar to the story, so it’s fun teaching about what is famous/popular and things like that back home.

We saw another movie at the mall later, it had no English, but it was still enjoyable: “Storm Warriors 2”. It’s funny how they will have a movie poster explaining it in English, but nothing in the movie. Ah well. I asked Anna how she liked it after, and she said “The first one was better” haha. Later we met Lily and her friend, and went to the Bangkok Night Bazaar; a huge, fun place that’s open everyday with lots of food and drinks and so on.

Lily was quite busy as it was Christmas after all, and “everyone wants to have a good time” as she says; earlier she helped a man order 2 “escorts” to his room. Merry Christmas I suppose; I still find it crazy how prevalent and accepted that is in Thailand though.

Lily invited out a new guy that came in from Russia, and it was a bit scary how much of my old self I saw in him. He was awkward, not really good with people, traveling for the first time and super happy/excited to be out in a new place, fresh from graduating and teaching at a University. Either way, I felt a bit older after meeting him, and told him he’s lucky to know Lily and she’ll take care of him. We couldn’t talk too long though, as we wanted to be up early for the bus to Koh Chang.

"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." -Albert Pike


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