Yo yo yo. I made it to Thailand. And there’s not a single person wearing a thai. I call bullshit. If you’re scratching your head at the title of this post, go rent Caddyshack. You’ll thank me.
After three days in Nueva York eating cheese with my cousin Ed and fiance Landis in Brooklyn and cheese-covered pizza pie with some of my dearest peoples in Manhattan, I flew out of JFK on Tuesday morning in full lactose shock bound for the Far East. On the sixteen hour flight to Hong Kong, I watched movies (Juno, No Country For Old Men, We Own the Night – all amazing) ’til my eyes started bleeding (not far from reality as the screen sits about 15″ from your gourd) determined to squeeze all of the creature comforts out of the West before I abandoned them again. I was surprised at how beautiful HK was from above – lots of water, green and undulating waves of skyscrapers dotting the island areas.
And a damned fine and blingy airport as well. That’s one place I’d like to check out down the line. Just learned they have a contract with China for some sort of semi-autonomous relationship that lasts ’til 2034. Where the hell have I been? And what happens in 2034?
Anyway, what little I’ve seen of Thailand is beautiful. They call it the land of smiles. The dude working the immigration booth at the Bangkok airport was wearing what looked like a Hawaiian shirt and was actually smiling. Slightly more welcoming than many of the same I’ve met in other countries. Check plus Thailand.
Actually, I wasn’t psyched at all about coming here, having heard from many people that this place has changed more than any other country in the area under the crush of tourism. I’d planned on coming just long enough to pick up a visa for Myanmar and was content just hunkering down to weather the jet lag and then split as soon as I could. While they’re right about the effects of tourism on the area, I’ve definitely enjoyed myself over the last 6 days.
Here are a few things I’ve picked up in that short time (yes, I’m an expert now):
They’re in love with their king. Like stalker love. I’ve never seen anything like it – at least not in a country that allows people to think for themselves. You can’t go 10′ in this country without seeing a picture of the guy, from stacks and stacks of postcard sized photos for sale from sidewalk vendors to massive billboard sized pictures of him set in ornate golden settings.
Most of the homes and businesses I’ve been in have at least one photo of him up on the wall (usually more). For his 80th birthday (last year), a team of Thai climbers tackled Mt. Everest in his name. Many people here in Bangkok wear shirts with the royal emblem embroidered on them and slogans about his Majesty. Monday is the king’s day, apparently, and is when even more don their yellow versions of those shirts to honor him. Sort of like Fridays back in high school when we all wore our jerseys before the big game. Or something. The guy definitely seems to have done something right. In one part of town, there is a series of massive King shrines along one of the main roads, each with a huge photo of him in the middle doing something interesting – taking photos, playing the piano, painting, trekking? A renaissance man for sure.
They’re in love with drinks. As any maddog that lives in 100+ degree heat should be, these people are big on hydration. But instead of walking around with water bottles, they usually carry small plastic bags full of iced beverages around with them with funky colored straws sticking out the top. Apparently, someone came up with the idea of offering a drink in a bag for $0.15 less than a bottle or cup and it took off. It seems to make sense (I think?) and probably produces less trash. Iced coffee – also huge here. As are many versions of Red Bull type energy drinks. But instead of the little cans we get it in at home, they sell smaller brown medicine bottle looking containers of the super juice with things like skulls on the front and names like ‘M-150’. These people are crazy for caffeine. Crazy.
They love convenience stores. Where else are you going to buy all that Red Bull? I’m not exaggerating when I say there are more 7-11s here than there are Starbuck’s back home. I thought it was an apparition at first. But I was wrong. Cast your gaze far enough on just about any street and you’ll most likely see a few – often right across the street from one another just like SB back home. I quickly found out that a 7-11 is one of the few places in Bangkok that believes in/can afford air conditioning so I’ve found myself faux-shopping to beat the heat lately. I haven’t spent so much time in a 7-11 since I was a young skate punk sucking down Slurpees and Spree. Slurpees are big here, by the way.
They’re in love with meat. Chicken, pork, beef, fish, squid, snake, frog.. You name it, you can find it clucking or writhing in a bucket at one of the markets here. That and a host of fruits and veggies you’ve probably never heard of. Dragonfruit? Sign me up. The climate here provides a regular smorgasboard on special here throughout the year. A regular bounty.
They like Buddha. Almost as prolific as the 7-11s are Buddhist temples or ‘Wats’ as they’re known in the area. Above the skyline of ramshackle homes and buildings crammed together, you can usually see one popping its beautiful head. They’re absolutely magnificent, exquisitely decorated in brilliant reds, yellows, blues and a ton of goldleaf and shining tile.
I’ve never been big on visiting churches in my travels cause they often feel/look so damn serious (did I just say damn?). But the Southeast Asianers aren’t havin’ it. They like they’re places of worship big and bold. And they’re amazing. I’ve visited about 8 or 9 in the last two days and am psyched to see how they change from country to country.
Traveling solo opens you up to amazing opportunities. I’d forgotten why until the other day. While gawking at yet another huge Buddha statue in the nearby village of Kanchanaburi (where the River Kwai is – anyone know their WWII history?), a Swedish guy, seeing how pathetic, lonely (just kidding), and harmless I was, introduced himself and his Thai wife and daughter (Johan, Nam and Mai Tai), probably the cutest 3 year old I’ve ever seen (the daughter, not the wife). I spent most of the next two days with them, exploring Wats off the tourist trail, having dinner Thai style (on the floor sitting on reed mats) with them at their home (he rocked the Scorpions greatest hits CD the whole time), and visiting her parents at they’re bamboo hut home in a rural village nearby. It was amazing. You don’t know what people are really like in a new country until you get to hang out with them in their ‘natural habitat’.
At her parents hut, we spent part of the day sitting on mats on the ground in the shade of a big tree sipping tea and getting to know each other through broken English, while Nam’s mom, ‘Mama’, swung in a hammock, rolled cigarettes and laughed. I was enough of a novelty to attract some of the older women in the village, one of whom was none too shy about asking me if I had a girlfriend and, upon hearing a ‘no’, asked if I’d like to meet her daughter. And marry her. She started laughing when she saw the white boy turn red and let me off the hook. Maybe next time. Come to think of it, that’s two marriage proposals by proxy since I started this trip (trekking in Nepal being the other).
We eventually moved to the hut where Nam’s father, clad only in a sari looking thing around his waist, pulled open a little door in the bamboo wall and slid out a.. TV so we could watch the Muay Thai (Thai boxing) match. So much for the rural thing. Apparently, his son does well and bought them a TV, satellite dish and a solar panel to power the whole thing. Needless to say, theirs is the most popular hut in town..
That’s all I know about Thailand so far. I hope you like it. It’ll have to do for now because I’m leaving tomorrow. Assuming my visa comes through tonight, I’ll be on the first plane to Yangon, Myanmar (aka Rangoon for all of you meat helmet- and luge lesson-loving Austin Powers fans). In case you weren’t watching the news last September when all of those monks led protests (many of whom were killed or disappeared), Myanmar is a bit of a mess. It is ruled by a military who’s f-ed everything up so much (including keeping the most recently democratically-elected leader, Aung Saung Suu Kyi, under house arrest since 1989) that the country and the people have been cut off from most of the rest of the world, resulting in all sorts of ills. Which I’ll be learning about starting tomorrow. Not sure what the internet situation will be like there so I might not update this ’til I leave the country – probably in late May.
Keep it real, y’all. And Happy Earth Day.