Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thai one on

Yes, I'm continuing a tradition of cheesy pun-related post titles.

I'm writing now from Ubon Ratchathani, a lovely, gentle Thai town to the east, about 12 hours by slow-moving, multiple-stopping train from Bangkok. It's only 45 minutes from the Laotian border, and that's where I'm planning to go tomorrow, Laos and points south. Which actually would technically still be in Laos. Just the south of Laos.

So, let me explain. No, there is too much; let me sum up.

I landed in Bangkok at night, and without a window seat there's no way to even tell how close you are till the wheels touch the ground. I slept the sleep of the terminally exhausted on the Seoul to Bangkok leg of the trip; my head tipped back whether I willed it to or no, and I was irrationally infuriated with the nice ladies offering me first scented towels then a drink then some food and JUST GO AWAY AND LET ME SLEEP ALREADY! And can't you turn out the cabin lights, for the love of god???? I don't want your headphones! In other circumstances, I would have been delighted with the in-flight services; this time I mostly just wanted to be horizontal.

Bill Bryson pointed out how odd it is to cross the international date line, because you suddenly and without your consent, cease to exist for one whole day. My cessation mostly left me feeling compacted, like I had lost about a foot of height, which was odd since I'm finally in a country where everyone is not only my height, but my size. I'm tired of people telling me how tiny I am, so from now on, I'll just translate it in my head as them telling me how Thai I am. "You're really going to eat all those French fries? But you're so Thai!"

I skipped the backpacker paradise of Kaosan Rd, mostly because I have a deep-rooted aversion to people who wear a lot of hemp and worry about ecotourism. i can't help it. I didn't like them that much even when I was 18, and now that I'm almost 30, hanging out with a bunch of hard-drinking idiots wearing tank tops and flip-flopping around filthy Thai streets looking for the best bargain has gotten old. I did fall asleep in my quiet, clean room listening to someone croon Neil Young's Harvest Moon into a portable karaoke machine. It was a Thai person, I'd evidence, based on the mispronunciations.

This is Sukhumvit at night, the busy urban sprawl of Bangkok. there are 7.7 million people there...in Bangkok, not on Sukhumvit. I may have seen all of them at Siam Paragon mall on Saturday though.

So I didn't have any plan for what I was going to do when I got here -- here Thailand, as well as here-Bangkok -- so I basically did what seemed like the best thing: obeyed Reed's suggestion. reed has been to Thailand several times and he said, "Go stay in Banglamphu one night just so you can wake up there and say you did it." So when I woke up the next morning, I waded my way past the numerous 7-11s ("I'm feeling thirsty...I wonder how many seconds it will be after I turn down this side street before- oh, there one is!") and hopped on the Chao Phraya river taxi to the Siriraj Hospital and the parasitology, Forensics, and AWESOME Museums.

Okay, there wasn't a museum of awesome, mostly because that's what the whole thing was made of. Has anyone seen the Mutter Museum? Now picture the Mutter Museum as existing in a country where things actually go wrong with people; the Mutter was all about syphilis. The Siriraj Museum had mummified rapists, graphic photos of prolapsed rectums and young boys with thousands of roundworms spilling from their guts, and poorly preserved organs with stab wounds. As well as deformed fetuses. Did I mention the round worms? I can't wait to not eat anything or touch anything ever again, and I'm fairly sure these red bites on my legs are from me GETTING A HORRIBLE PARASITE. Maybe I should have saved the Parasitology Museum for AFTER traveling in rural Thailand instead of before. Oops.

Then I went to the Buathip School for a Thai massage.

Unlike every other "massage" "parlor" in Bangkok, Buathip makes it pretty clear what to expect: in English AND Arabic.

If you've never experienced one before, Thai massage is halfway between your little brother poking you for more attention and a violent altercation with the Cirque du Soleil. Mine was conducted by a tiny lady who gently pounded me, smacked me on the head, and finished by sliding her finger into one of my ears and wiggling it around. Definitely no sex, although the ear thing was kind of nice.

My second night in town, I spent on Soi 4 off Th Sukhumvit; Kaosan is where the backpackers in fisherman pants go to trade copies of Kerouac and smoke a bowl. Sukhumvit is where sex tourists go. It's urban, dirty, and lined with a "street market" that sells porn, knockoff wallets, and, essentially, anything you want.

Offshoot road Soi Cowboy is a neon-painted spectacular, with every bar featuring pairs like this, except when the Thai person was obviously a boy.

Bangkok is famous for being a sex paradise, with ping pong shows and child rape abounding. I didn't see either of these, but I did see evidence that sexpatriotism is alive and well in Sukhumvit.

It's strangely innocent evidence, after all: every white man older, chubbier, and walking proudly hand in hand with a young Thai woman in a tight dress...or the tables at every bar with a giggling Thai girl crossing her legs and flirting with the bedazzled German in a sweaty Lacoste. no outright sex, or even kissing; just the pristine hand-holding and half-stunted conversations, again and again, and the sweaty smiles. The thing that struck me about these couples is how BORING it must be to be one of these girls; to have to spend your whole day struggling with a language you don't know, pretending to be fascinated by someone's business ventures or family woes, hoping you can get to the grunting part so then he'll feel obligated to buy you a handbag.

I saw a lot of these couples where the smiling woman carried several bags of shopping; stopping in the post office, I saw one older man bending over a money wire form as his young Thai lady leaned over his shoulder. It's a living, if you can make it; as I rumbled on the train out of town, I ruminated that the amount of money I cavalierly took out of the ATM to "do me" for my time in Thailand (20,000 baht, figuring it's better to go high than risk running out) is more than the average monthly salary for a well-paid business professional.

Leaving Bangkok was great. I bought an overnight 2nd class sleeper ticket to Ubon and had my tiny swaying bunk made up for me by the steward as I made faces and clapped hands at the grinning baby with her hair in a sprightly topknot, directly across the aisle. I had a top bunk: less light and air, more coolness factor, and we chugged into Ubon around 6:30am and I took advantage of the early morning and rode around on a songthaew for about an hour.

A random temple of some kind in the park in downtown Ubon, directly across from the swingsets.

The pace is slower and gentler out here away from the city; I can finally see why people say Thais are the friendliest, most polite of people. Here they smile, and move slowly through the streets, grinning and laughing. I've waved at more children, and had old ladies grin at me more today in a few hours than I did in all of my time in Bangkok. Also the city is rife with wats, meaning there's gorgeous gilding and sloping roofs and bells and marigolds, everywhere.

I don't know what this charred paper is, but it was tucked into this gorgeous stone flower side wall.

I love the country. I'm not a city girl. And the Thais seem to love it too, given their cheerfulness and open arms and camaraderie. or that has something to do with me finally figuring out how to say "Thank you" in Thai. It was killing me not being able to say anything, but Thai is purely tonal, so you can't read it in a guidebook and pronounce it anything like accurately. I'm completely afraid of sounding like an idiot and stumbling around with my Lonely Planet held open to the "Language" section, so instead I remain mostly mute. But now I've learned thank you...hello can't be too far behind.

1 comment:

Laura Hagglund said...

I'm glad you're having a good time! Your blog is always gauranteed to make me snort something up my nose.