And We’re Back!

It’s been a while since my last post, I know. Especially since internet access runs, oh, about $1 an hour here. Anyway, my excuse is that I’ve been a little out of sorts. No, none of my rule-breaking has caught up with me – I don’t have dysentary or dengue fever or anything. I guess I’ve been having a little trouble adjusting – although not for any of the reasons I’d have expected.

When I said my goodbyes and got on the plane, I expected to get off in a place completely different from home. I expected to be challenged and insipired and exhilarated. Maybe I expected some deeper meaning to come and tap me on the shoulder, I’m not sure. But what I was not expecting is a city that is so very – well, Western. Don’t get me wrong – the architecture’s there, there are lots of Wats and only 2 churches, there are the shanties by the tracks and the food carts on the streets. But really, unless you go out of your way, you’ll see as many Westerners as Thai. And when it comes to hanging out, the city is very segregated. I suppose I was bracing for a very different experience, and it’s taken my stubborn mind this long to wrap itself around the reality.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’ve met a couple of pretty good people and seen some really amazing things – but the overwhelming sense is that Bangkok is kind of a neutral zone, neither Western nor Asian, really, a giant airlock for those moving on into the hinterlands and a holding zone for those who just want the cheap partying and the pretty Asian women to take home. So, inspired (albeit differently) by the constant parade of auslander, I offer the following advice to my fellow travellers:

Ladies. Resist the urge to have your hair braided, extended or dreadlocked. I know lots of people do it. That doesn’t mean they look cool. Neither will you. Unless you’re Bo Derek circa 1978.

Gentlemen. It doesn’t matter how hard to try to pass it off, if you’re over 50 and paunchy, nobody – I repeat, nobody – is going to believe for one second that the lovely 18 year old at your side is hanging out with you because she genuinely enjoys your company.

Ladies. Whether you yourself happen to be Buddhist or not, Wats and temples are sacred to the people of this country. All the guide books politely suggest that you dress respectfully, as do the signs at the entry to these sites. Trust me, no matter how nice your ass is, a white thong under a skintight see-through bright green dress is not considered respectful in any country. We won’t even talk about tasteful or appealing.

Everyone. I know that it’s exhilarating to bargain for merchandise, especially since we all know that Westerners get charged different (and sometimes very different) prices than locals. However, please bear in mind that even at double the locals’ price, that pair of pants is still only costing you $5. Does $.50 either way really matter that much?

Also to Everyone, although men seem to be the more common culprits here: just because you’re ‘backpacking’ doesn’t mean you have the right to stink the place up. Showers are provided at every guest house in the area. Please, I beg of you, use them!

Finally, I realize that some of you have done a fair amount of globetrotting in recent months or years. I realize that some of you have stories, advice and suggestions to share. I appreciate this, as I’m sure do the beneficiaries of your knowledge. But please, please, I beg of you, don’t bellow about how the beer is cheaper at the place you were last week and how much of it you consumed before passing out in the gutter, or how the hookers offered to do you for free, or about how you got picked up by the police with an ounce of Thai stick in your pocket and they let you off with a warning. Seriously. You’re a boob. Face it. Go take a shower.

Whew. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I feel much better.

In other news, I did see the Grand Palace (which included the Monestary of the Emerald Buddha) and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (at Wat Pho) earlier this week. I must say I was floored. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much gold in one place – and the craftsmanship, the intricacy, in materials and shapes I’m not accustomed to seeing, was amazing. I’m used to carved stone and marble and stained glass, but an entire complex of solid gold and mosaic was much, much more than I’d bargained for.

That said, I’ll take the Reclining Buddha over the Emerald Buddha for the more moving experience of the day. The Emerald Buddha is surrounded by so much finery and fanfare that it seems tiny – plus, it’s placed way up high and surrounded by even more gold than anything else in the complex, which is saying something, believe me. The Reclining Buddha, on the other hand, is mammoth – something like 15 meters high and 45 long – and the room that contains it is only slightly larger than the figure, so you really feel its presence. It’s absolutely staggering. I had one of those moments I’ve been longing for, the heart-stopping, jaw-dropping awestruck kind. Cathartic. Fabulous. Can’t say enough good things about it. It even broke through my haze of malaise, a moment of clarity for which I was truly grateful.

And that’s that, and more than enough for now, I’d say. Monday evening, I’m off to Chiang Mai, and from there to Laos. And now, I’m off to the Banana Leaf for a beer and some curry…. yum!

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