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Thailanding

February 3, 2010 3 comments

So what brings me to the biggest tourist magnet this side of the equator, complete with crowded temples, gem scams, commodified everything and ambiguous cultural genuineness?  Well…I’m just a TA getting paid Chinese wages.  What did I expect–the glitz and expense of Tokyo?  It’s my second night on the tourist circuit of Thailand/Malaysia, I’ve seen more white people here and heard more English than I have since I was in Hong Kong during October.  It’s got its merits, some of which I’ve really enjoyed, and some of which I’m still trying to figure out.

So here’s a breakdown on Bangkok so far:

A.  I’m traveling with my friends Jim and Brian, and we’re staying at what has turned out to be the gayest hotel in Bangkok.  There’s a twenty four hour internet cafe with art deco windows and amazing pad thai on the bottom floor.  Working boys are sitting at every table that a leering white man is not.  One of our Chinese friends met up with us today–Jimmy–my age and incredibly bright and cute–and he was trying to ignore the wrinkled stares.  Or at least laugh it off.

B.  We hopped a package trip today that was arranged by the omnipresent concierge at our front desk.  We should have known by the diamond shaped diagram on the back that we would be rushed through all of the colorful tiled spiers and solid gold Buddhas (including the 5500 kg and one 46m long reclining, and one in a temple made of Carrara marble) and shuttled through a gem shop.  Every guidebook I’ve ever read from Thailand has sworn me away from these places…but here we were, uncomfortably trying to shake off the overeager saleswoman and find the exit.  We just grit our teeth, waited for a shuttle and stared at sharks as they circled a tank in the center of the showroom.

C.  Our new Thai friend, Ken, has been accompanying us everywhere and helping us with translation.  He’s a chef about 100km south in Pattaya, and today he took us through a knot of street food stalls into a teal lunchroom, complete with stacks of Pepsi crates and posters of the King in his smart glasses and side part.  We had plates and plates of chicken livers, duck meat and fats, bean sprouts atop spicy noodles and coconut milky soups.  We’d been canistered inside of the Gem-scam van all day with no food, and we were happily sated.  Walking amongst the buckets of steaming ingredients, the soup pots, and the barbecue stalls, I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of No Reservations, complete with local “fixer”, dark dining rooms, and offal.

D.  Last night we went to the red light district.  I don’t want to make this too graphic, but I definitely saw some things that I never want to see again, and got a ping pong ball shot at my leg from a place a ping pong ball should never be.  Chandy (what we’ve been calling our co-workers Chad and Andy) who had been staying at the same hotel as us, sat next to me in silent horror.  Our mutual friend, my travel mate Brian, managed to violate most Thai tabboos, lifting his legs up and showing the bottom of his feet, laughing and dancing so uproariously that he was the first one accosted by tip jars (which didn’t confuse anyone but him), and attempting to take a picture as he stood, quite literally under the “NO PICTURE.  NO DVD.” sign in blacklight paint.  The photo was blurry, but it would’ve shown us all with our mouths in the shape of “NOOOO!”

So that’s it for now.  I’ll try to blog every few days so as not to get too behind.  If you have any advice for what to do while I’m in Thailand, let me know.  All I really know is that I’m heading South from Bangkok, and want to be in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia by Chinese New Year to see my friend Usha 🙂