Saturday, September 20, 2008

Travelogue #52: The Bangkok/Phuket Thailand Diaries, September 2008, Part 1


S
omebody pinched my nipples: I don't know who, and I don't know how.

I don't have man-cleavage, which might sound like an odd thing to tell you, but having no man-cleavage is actually a statement of identity here in Phuket, Thailand, a steamy beach town where five-star resort palisades blend into streets with bleating bar lights, swarthy middle-aged Australian men hand-in-hand with very young Thai women, and hagglers who plea with you to buy everything from cigarette lighters to flower petals to go-go show tickets to magical wands that brush with a
ribbit across the ridged spines of frog molds.


Oh, and ladyboys. In Thailand there are ladyboys, mammals with Adam's apples and tight dresses and beach ball breasts of which I witnessed one ladyboy squeeze with workmanlike precision on the sidewalk of Patong Street. She (?) wanted to draw attention towards her and away from the Thai boys plopping monster iguanas onto the spooked shoulders of walking-by foreigners.


If the past few sentences in this passage were messy and chaotic, so was Thailand, or at least the sliver of it I've seen over the past three days.

Who pinched my nipples? I don't think it was a ladyboy; I think it was a lady. It happened under the Tiger Discotheque in a place called "Love Bar". Is that how they show love in Thailand? I guess that's why they call this country the Land of Smiles.

SATURDAY

Bangkok is a throbbing, tentacled organism of a city, its rickety rickshaws crossing lanes and centuries with its smoke-coughing scooters and honking taxis. Billboards promoting Hollywood's latest Adam Sandler movie mix along the landscape with gigantic images of Thailand's princes and princesses, all jeweled gowns and regal composure. From the back of a cab on a rainy afternoon, I behold the mad, smoggy churn of old Bangkok. Apparently there are skyscrapers on the other side of town, in new Bangkok, but that feels like a world's away from here.


We come to a stop outside Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This is my first chance to see Bangkok on my feet. And I'm already tired.

Chris, Jacinta, (two teachers at my hagwon) and I arrived at 1pm after a five-hour flight from Seoul and a 4:45am wake-up. Though Thai Airways fed us well, I was still hungry and exhausted. So -


If Lays Chips wants to expand its market share in Thailand, I suggest a new ad campaign featuring the above photo collage and the slogan, "Buddha wants you to crunch. Do you want to crunch with Buddha?"

Before you decide that I'm being culturally insensitive on hallowed grounds, let me say that much of what I saw at Wat Pho felt anything but holy, unless you consider a little boy flicking fleas off a lumbering stray dog holy. In addition to the strays, I experienced a genuine incredulous did-I-just-see-that moment of a red-faced, deliriously happy British or Australian (I couldn't tell which) man sinking his mouth around the fist of a, well, Thai ladyboy as they strolled across the grounds. The man looked as if he was a puppy who'd finally wrested control of a prized chew toy. As I once told my father in a far different context, "we ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto."

On a more serious note, the Reclining Buddha itself was impressive in its sheer hugeosity.


Before walking into its periphery, you had to take off your shoes as a sign of respect. No problem there, as Korea has gotten me more than accustomed to that. What was interesting was this-


As traveler Philip Roeland puts it, "
There was a separate shoe storage area for Thais (again with a sign: for Thais only)...Do Thai feet and shoes smell like roses? Is that the reason why they can’t be stored together with the tourists’ untouchable shoes?" In his essay, Roeland goes on to discuss how not only are shoes treated differently between Thais and foreigners, but so are prices: there are frequently foreigner prices (higher) for certain attractions, and Thai prices (lower or free) for the same attractions. Roeland opines that, "Instead of remembering Thailand as the Land of Smiles, tourists might think of it as the Land-where-you-get-ripped-off-with-a-smile and never come back again." I myself wasn't equipped to much such a leap, then again, our trip had just begun.

As for the "mad, smoggy churn" I spoke of witnessing in the cab, I saw it by foot as we walked south of Wat Pho. Madness. Absolute madness.




Seen: a man in a sleeveless t-shirt on a plastic chair, kicking aside empty beer bottles as he wired together car stereo speakers. Heard: the rattling of movable stalls of grasshopper legs. Smelled: fried grasshoppers, which Chris boldly tried, proclaimed delicious, and remarked, "tastes like anything fried."

Earlier, we passed through a slunk-low market of flowers and fruits I've never before seen with names I've never before heard: rambutans and apple guavas and sopadillas and on and on

*Fruit photos courtesy of Jacinta Green

...with vendors sitting in clusters in front of their fruits, fanning themselves from the cloudy humidity and the constant congestion of people, people, people. I had to pee. Why do I always have to pee during inconvenient times? I somehow snuck into an alley and found a bathroom.

I found similar quality of toilets in China. In conclusion, when it comes to toilets, China and Thailand do not hold a candle to Korea.

Later, I had to go to the bathroom again. Chris and Jacinta marched ahead into the swirl of Bangkok traffic. I confessed that I had to pee, and Chris responded thusly: "Jesus Christ, again?" This angered me, and I think I replied with a not-so-veiled threat of peeing on his face.


I am not proud of my behavior at this juncture.



My batteries were running low. Tired hungry hungry tired hungry hungry tired tired. We taxied to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, where I enjoyed a plate of green mole chicken for $2 U.S. While Chris took in a Muay Thai boxing match at a nearby arena and Jacinta hunted for bargains in the shopping district, I staggered to the corner of the sidewalk, where a security guard waved me over to sit beside him under an umbrella, so as to escape the drizzly rain.



I sat, my chin grazing my chest. The Suan Lum Night Bazaar was more tourist-friendly than the other areas through which we walked, but the synapses in my brain still felt overloaded: the is-she-or-isn't-she-ness of certain mysterious bodies in short skirts, the pasty backpackers, the cars, the scooters, the madness. I turned and saw another stray dog staring at me. I jolted up in my seat. I don't like dogs.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I were to close my eyes and hear your blog being read, I would think I was listening to Anthony Bourdain....Incredibly descriptive...unassuming...funny...
you rock!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking me along!
P.S.I had to pee too.

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