Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An Average Day in Bangkok

I wake up to the crying of children. And to the an entire city stirring. Because I have paper thin walls (I've slowly decreased the quality of places I stay now to save money), I can hear every movement from the rooms flanking me. It's super awkward. But I have my own room at least (and when I say room, I mean box. And when I say box, I actually mean humid coffin). I take a shower in the shared restrooms down the hall. The water is freezing cold, but it's absolutely refreshing because it's already pushing 90 degrees outside and my entire body is peeling like a lizard from scorching it in the sun a couple days ago in Sihanoukville.

I grab my backpack and head to a coffee shop nearby that sells some of the best Caramel Macchiatos I've ever had. It sells for 40 baht, which is a little over a dollar for the largest size (Fun fact: Venti sized drinks in Starbucks here are the SAME size as talls in the States. Interesting to think why Americans need that much coffee, since it's pretty much the equivalent of doing a line of cocaine - click that link and read that article. It might change how you drink your coffee. Or make you desperately want more. Hard to tell). As I gorge myself on this gift-from-God-coffee and read my book (the excellent The Beach, a good primer on the insane world of Thailand and insane world of letting go - haven't seen the movie and shame on you Farcry 3 for stealing the gist of the plot), the stray dogs have taken sides on the street and an all out war erupts. It's basically the dog version of Street Fighter. All the vendors simply watch, not even a muscle twitching. No one dares interfere, myself included. Last thing I'm sure anyone needs is rabies (Thailand is the third highest in the world for bites!)

So. Much. Rain.
I walk down the street to find a place for breakfast but get caught up in another monsoon. They're no joke. I duck and cover under a nearby tarp. The city drowns around me. I wait a good thirty minutes before it's relatively safe to walk the street again. Reminds me of how chickens sometimes drown by looking up in the sky and not having enough smarts to close their mouth (edit - thanks Alyssa for pointing out this is totally a myth that I believed as fact. And thank you t.v. for filling my head with LIES). I find a good place to settle down (and I love how they're strangely playing Metallica this early in the morning and at a crazy volume) and eat some of the best curry of my life. Words won't do it justice. So I won't waste time describing it. Just know this trip has changed me simply because of this fine meal.

I walk to the park and admire the city. If you can imagine the look and feel of any major city (particularly Seattle and New York) in the US, you can imagine Bangkok. So, yes there are nice streets, tall skyscrapers, 7-11s on all corners, and horrible, ugly traffic and honking horns. But now imagine any third world country you've been to. People push carts blaring unintelligible Thai trying to sell ice cream, scorpions, or random knick-knacks. Tuk-tuks still yell for your business across the streets. The apartments lining the street are dilapidated.

It's clear that Thailand has a lot more money than Cambodia, but...I can't shake the feeling that something

The greatly poor and the greatly rich mix in a way that is extremely jarring (at least in Cambodia it was mostly just the banks that looked grossly out of place). Everything, after a while, felt very much like an illusion. That's the best word I can use to describe it. For example, yes, there are pedestrian walking lights, but they don't work (I do my best to blend in with Thais so I don't die when running across congested streets like a madman). Yes, there are police, but they mix with the military who hold AK47s casually (the military had a coup here in the early summer, read more about it here: Yes, there are tuk-tuk drivers, but almost every single one I've met are recycling the same scam (which I half-fell for my first day here. Not all though, because I hate generalizing. I've had some AMAZING ones). There's no denying that there is tension in the air that I didn't feel in Cambodia. It's almost as alive as the city itself. But no political talk until I'm in India...lots of reasons for this...

I grab a boat ride down the river to get to another part of town for 15 Baht (about 31 Baht = 1 dollar) and it's gorgeous. Also, re-read that. The city is so large I have to take a BOAT to get to another part of the sprawling metropolis. And even after that, I have to take a sky-train to get to the heart of the city. It's that massive. Bangkok is what I would imagine Gotham City would be in real life.

Marge vs. the Escalator
I visit a mall. It happens to be 7 stories tall. It has more escalators jutting off in the most random directions and lengths (seriously, it's like a M.C. Escher painting) than Guinness World Records can count. It swallows me up in consumerism. I end up at the movie theater and watch a horrible movie (this is a trend for me, isn't it?) called Annabelle. (edit - here's comes a rant). This horror movie is so full of horrible stereotypes (see what I did there?) that I could hardly handle it. Really, why can't, for once, these kind of movies portray women on the screen as strong as they are in real life? Why can't it be the man who sees all the crazy ghost stuff, goes to the psychiatrist, and it's the wife who talks sense into the man? It's a gross stereotype to promote ideas of a weaker sex and I hate it. Okay, I'll stop. Hollywood: Just...stop. Alright? (Sidenote: a good, violent horror film with a strong lead female protagonist was You're Next. It was great to see an empowered female character for once in a genre that never seems to get it right).
But Southeast Asia saves me yet again from an uncomfortably bad movie. Going to the movies here is an experience. The last movie I was at (The Maze Runner, surprisingly great) had everyone yelling "oh shit!", and their Khmer equivalents, during each and every action scene. This time, every jump scare on the film had everyone screaming bloody murder. I loved it! Add "Go to a horror movie in a Southeast Asian movie theater" to your bucket list right this very second.

It takes me 30 minutes to find the exit of the mall.

Outside, across from me, there is a line of apartments, french colonial style, broken down and peeling faded paints of light yellows and peaches. Signs litter the wall space. On the ground level, each building has a stall of some sort selling everything from calculators to beer. On the other side, a big mattress sale rockets along at an unbelievable pace. Traffic is at a standstill. Motorbikes zoom by between cars until sooner or later, they too get caught up in the traffic halt. The cable lines above me hang loosely, a good dozen cables or more swaying in the wind. The sidestreets I pass are tight, even tighter still are the alleyways with their benches and hanging clothes and laughing children playing games I don't understand. So many bodies and carts on the sidewalk and I blur together with them. I cross by one storefront with 40 men screaming at a boxing match on a television that still has antennas and tinfoil on the ends. Men hold fists of money in the air in a very cartoonish fashion.

It rains again. Everyone rushes for cover. Ever seen a dozen people under one tiny street vendor umbrella? It's a trip. 

I stop at 7-11, because of course I do. Just as "bad" food here as back home, too. I still cave and eat there. I now can feel ashamed of liking 7-11 food on two different continents (but not really - what do the kids say nowadays? #sorrynotsorry?). Some things will never change.


Hipster Buddha
Birds of a feather.
I visit a ton of Buddhist temples (called wats). In one, I buy some birds from on old, kind woman in order to let them go in the temple for good luck. There's no signs in English pointing to the "right" temple, so I release them in the "wrong" temple. I may or may not be completely bad luck from here on out.

It gets late and I have no idea where I am. I take the train back (which is very easy to use, by the way. I mean, it's so incredibly simple that I don't know why all mass transportation everywhere isn't like this). Only bad thing is that it's rush hour and a million and a half people are on this train. I'm being serious. I think all of Southeast Asia is on this train. Say goodbye to a comfort bubble. And I'm pretty sure the whole thing is going to derail.

I get back on the boat, but, uh, take the wrong one (thanks a lot, birds!) and get dropped off randomly with another person who did the same. Luckily, the boats come every 10 minutes so it's okay (even fun) to get lost.

I get back to my guesthouse and hang out with the employees. We drink and talk culture and others join in. Soon, we have a mash of people from all around the world and even the most simple of topics have a fascinating spin on them. I met a 76-year-old man here, named Percy from the UK, that could quite possibly have been the most interesting man I've ever met. In a future entry I feel the need to write about how amazing he was. For now, I'm lazy.

People from everywhere are here on this Road. I have yet to find another American though.
One of the girls working at my guesthouse takes me out to Khao San Road, a major touristy backpacker spot. It's basically a long street with a whole bunch of bars, insane tourists, and weird things to try and see and eat. Every hundred feet or so, I see another canister and someone holding up a sign saying "Laughing gas - 100 Baht". I decline. Instead we buy grasshoppers and I am in love with them. They taste like the best snack food I've ever had. It takes several drinks but I'm able to get a Brazilian couple next to me to try it. They love it, too. They then buy a scorpion, but no one eats it. It becomes out mascot for the rest of the evening.
As addictive as popcorn.
We move off the streets (where we were sitting) and head inside (really, just underneath a roof) when it hits 1am. I'm not entirely sure why. As mentioned, Thailand is under military control and there's a strict 1am curfew. But everyone just shifts chairs and everything seems completely fine. I try to ask why this matters, but I back off the topic entirely, afraid to get into political talk in this country.

It's late and I'm exhausted. I stumble back to my room after seeing some other sites, away from the lights and sounds and booming American music. Bangkok is a nightmare collision of life. It's, plainly put, very awesome and unlike anything I've ever experienced.
I put on my headphones as I walk up the stairs of my hotel and blast my favorite music. It's the best feeling in the world. Being so far from everything I know, I feel more alive than ever.

Michael Scott soothes the soul. I watch episodes of The Office on my laptop in my room. It strangely helps with the homesickness I'm experiencing. 

And I am homesick. It's a weight that's always there. I miss my family. I miss friends. I miss missed opportunities where I was too scared to try (but will go for the first chance I get, because I'm learning a simple question to ask myself - what's stopping you? And the answer? Nothing except you).

I feel myself changing with every warm night that passes.
And this is Bangkok.

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