Thai Reality Part 5
• Holiday Inn Beijing-Downtown Hotel
• Long Xuan Hotel
• Xindadu Hotel Beijing
• Xinjiang Hotel Beijing
My previous reports centered around my involvement with my young Thai friend and her urban working class family. They are all "good" people not connected to the night life and lead a "normal" mundane existence of what I believe to be typical of much of Bangkok's working class. They are all poor but hard working and bright. For the past five years I have had the joy of their company and I hope I have given them a little in return. As mentioned before I am a 68 year old guy and my friend is 33. At this point it no longer is an issue with the family as they know I come a couple of times a year to enjoy the Thai scene and have some sanuk.
I share as much as possible in their daily activities but we all know we will be heading for the beach for a few days to escape from the fumes of Bangkok. In the past we have gone to the beach areas of Sattahip, Hua Hin and Ca Am and always had a great time.
Before I arrived for my last visit I asked Gail to arrange for all the family to have time off from their jobs so we could go together- Mom, sisters and boyfriends, kids, baby and assorted relatives. I wanted to return to Ca Am as we had a great time there last year.
I left the details up to Gail as she is Thai and knows the how to plan things, right?
They arranged for a nice van that accommodated all nine of us. Gail and I and the kids would be driven by the rented van and driver to mom's place in Minburi where we would pick up Mom and the rest of the crew. We would leave Bangkok around five PM and reach mom's place about six. Cha Am would be another four or five hours drive. At this point I dared to question the plan. It was the weekend of the Chinese New year. Wouldn't there be a problem with finding a place that late at night for nine people? Why even bother raising the question as I got the Thai response -no problem.
I fully expected to arrive at Mom's place and get usual dish of half baked chicken and some sticky rice but to my relief we were met with mom warring a big smile and ready to go. Before we left, Gail thought it would be good time to meet other members of her family who lived just minutes away. They were her uncle and cousins. She phoned her cousin Moot who would come right over and pick us up,. Meanwhile Gail left to get some soda and stuff and I was left to myself.
Mom lives on a soi that back home would be considered an alley. and strewn with trash. I found what was once a bicycle but barely usable with missing pedals and almost flat tires. It worked just well enough for me to peddle my butt around the neighborhood. No one seemed to notice the old lone farang looking silly on this contraption. However, I got a good view of block after block of a real shanty town with all the folks hanging around doing various things. I have been around Bangkok long enough to not to be surprised by this scene.
What did surprise me is when Gail's cousin pulled up in her brand new Honda SUV!! It was a shiny dark blue and very clean. This was totally incongruous. It didn't compute. She was a very pretty, sharp looking young lady of early twenties who spoke fairly good English. I later learned the SUV cost 800,000 Baht! What was she and it doing in this pig sty? I didn't linger on the question long as I began to think, Hey!, there is another side to the family that Gail has been keeping from me- a rich one. I was about to be disabused. Of this notion.
We loaded ourselves into the new car. Gail and the kids in back and me in front with the cute young driver. The car started and I instinctively reach for the seat belt. No! No! They all shouted. It's only five minutes away and you don't need that thing! I left go of the belt and sat back. Silly me. We headed out the soi and onto the roadway. Moot was about to demonstrate the great acceleration of her new car and her driving skills.
Shortly we were going 130 km/h and driving like crazy, weaving around slower cars and doing a lot of tail gating. It was obvious I was shaken and above the blaring radio Moot said are you scared? I tried to smile and wanted to put on the seat belt but thought, is this a face thing? Would they feel a loss of face if I displayed a lack of confidence in her driving ability? Oh hell, it's only a minute more right? Ten minutes later we swung onto a soi and drove a short way to Unc's place. I emerged shaken but alive.
It was twilight and as looked across the street the kids were already running over to Unc's place. I was horrified. They were crossing over what resembled a bridge but was in terrible condition, missing many planks and hand rails. It was about 50 meters long and extending over what appeared to be a large cesspool. It was swinging ever so slightly and I had a hard time balancing as I made my way across The whole bunch had skirted across his thing while I stood in disbelief. They all waved me over and defying all sanity I began to make my way across.
They all had a good laugh as I made my way across Unc handed me a piece of burnt squid on a stick. As I reached the end. All eyes were on me, so I faked a smile and pretended enjoy this morsel. I was wai'd by all, and introduced to the group of young ladies who were sitting on a raised section of the shack.. They were eating from bowels of food and I thankfully saw they were all empty eliminating the chance I might be offered more of their gourmet delights.
For the next half hour I tried to observe this rat hole and figure out how all thirteen of them could live here. They were all chatting away catching up on old times and I saw a couple of fishing poles extended from the platform they were sitting on. They were eating the fish they caught from this trash ridden canal. Unc proudly showed me a bucket of fish which they had caught and were still alive. Shortly before we were to leave, Unc gave me a departing gift of a small piece of dark fish wrapped in a piece of white bread. I wanted desperately to throw it back where it came from, but again all eyes were on me and I got it down.
It was now dark and time to go. This is when I was struck with stark terror. It was totally dark and I was unable to see two feet in front of me and I was confronted with crossing the planks. Some how the Gail and the others skirted across the bridge and I was still standing at the other end trying to gain the courage to cross. By some miracle, I had found in my pocket a tiny LED light which I forgotten about until then.
I summoned Stop, the little boy, to come help me. He scrambled back to me and I gave him the light to hold down to the planks so I could see each one as stepped across. I know this took two minutes, but I made it, badly shaken.
Back in the car, and after another harrowing ride, (This time the seat belt was securely in place) we are back at Mom's place. We loaded the nine of us in the van and took off right on Thai time- about nine thirty. We drove about three hours and arrived at Cha Am about mid night. No one used seat belts and I did not see any except for the front seats for driver and front passenger, the two year old was handed around to each of us to toy with during the trip with no apparent concern for her safety. (In the States this would be punishable by hanging) On the way, I observed three vans that had crashed and burned and this did not seem to register with anyone.
When we arrived at the resort we had visited a year earlier, the office was still open but we were told there were no vacancies. Big surprise! It was the Chinese New Year. It's mid night. Where are nine people going to find a place to stay at a resort?
No problem. We smiled when I suggested we could all just sleep in the van. We headed down the road toward Hua Hin looking for a place to stay but of course there were none. After fining no place to stay we did what Thais do in a crisis we stopped and had a big meal.
As we pulled away from the restaurant, I glanced at the time. It was 1:30. I had no idea what the plan was now, and didn't really give shit. I was really tired after my harrowing day and actually feel a sleep. When I awoke we parked right where we began at the entrance of the resort. It was now 3:30. I was informed that this is where we were to spend the night. We would all just sleep in the van-just like I suggested three hours ago. Ha Ha.
We all made ourselves as comfortable as possible and everyone fell asleep.
As dawn broke I awoke to find the office was open. Gail went to inquire about a place to stay. I was totally bemused when we informed that indeed there was a house available immediately. What! Six hours ago they had nothing now they do. It would be 4000 baht and I could pay with credit card which we proceeded to do, but with a catch. They would need 500 Baht cash beyond the 4000 on the credit card. A little "tea money" will do wonders in the LOS.
We proceeded to find a very nice place near the beach and settled in for a wonderful two days.
After a trip to the local markets they prepared a sumptuous meal that included all the local delicacies and took hours to prepare. It was truly a Thai food feast.
After a great time was had by all it was time to head home and I expected a rather uneventful ride back. I forgot we were in Thailand!
They had loaded the van with leftovers from the meals and I thought this would get us back to Bangkok. Sure. After about 15 minutes down the road we stop at the fist market were they got some local delicacies. OK so good. An hour later there was another stop for more local foods. Now we are ready to go. Right! By now it was dinner time and we turn into a wayside restaurant were we all had another meal. How come they aren't fat?
Anyway, now we are ready to roll and about half hour down the road and much to my surprise the van turns onto an overpass and heads back toward a huge temple which is crowed with all the folks motivated by the Chinese New Year who are bent on giving alms to Buddha this day. Mom was not to pass up this opportunity to join in the festivities and they all decided to go along with her.
During my extended involvement with this family I have endured all of the less than pleasant experiences which one can expect when exposing oneself to a culture that is so foreign to ones own. The hours of loud TV soap operas, the many mysterious and foul tasting foods, nerve racking transportation rides of various kinds, confusion about what was happening in many situations, and a general feeling of abandonment as they interacted among themselves oblivious of that fact I had no idea of what they were saying or doing as I did not understand the language. This was all part program I readily accepted.
In addition, I have made several visits to temples with them mainly to observe rather than formally participate. But for some reason, I had reached a situation I were I could not go along with them. Mom had purchased several small bunches of flowers to give each of us to take up to the top of the temple and give to Buddha. I looked up see there were four long steep flights of stairs to reach the top. The stairs were filled with worshipers and there was a cloud of incense smoke billowing form the doors. I hate the smell (I am an ex catholic).
When Mom extended the bouquet to me I said no thanks as politely as I could. A look of shock was their first reaction. Then a look of bewilderment followed by a sense of resignation. Then they all turned and headed up the stairs. I felt bad, but no more mentioned was made of the incident.
I was now free to wander around while they were gone. It was a huge place and surrounded by several venues, each having a monk and a statue of Buddha in each one. There were several tree like forms made of golden color that were about ten feet high but without branches, The worshipers would affix a 20 baht note to a three foot sick and insert it near the top of the form. Many did, and shortly they gave it the appearance of a tree. Soon as the tree blossomed forth and many branches appeared, a guy dressed in a black suit would come remove the "branches". The process would all begin again and I watched as he made tree trips to the tree wile I was there.
Meanwhile, the crowd of people moved from one venue to the next making a contribution at each site. The money was rolling in. There was one spot which was truly unique designed for those who did not have the time or inclination to kneel. There were about ten plastic "monks" with a bowl outstretched in their hands standing upright on a track that was moving about in a circle that moved behind a screen. When they appeared from behind the screen the bowl was empty and ready for some more donations. Most of bowls had something in them before they disappeared behind the screen. Wow!! This was a scene that would have made my old parish priest flush with envy.
When the folks returned form their trip up the steps they proceeded to visit each of the venues around the temple making a small donation at each one. While walking along with them I had my small bag hanging loosely around my shoulder. Mom came up next to me and said I should keep my hand on my bag as there were bad people here who would like to get my money. I readily agreed and thanked for the warning.
We all piled into the van and headed home. The mood seemed to be upbeat and happy. Back home, in the Sates, after such a fun filled weekend, the folk's would mood would be one of resignation and weariness. These folks were headed back to their depressing neighbourhood and they were in about the same state of pleasantness as when we left. This has been one the things that has always impressed about the these folks –their circumstances did not seem to alter their state of mind much.
For me, this was just another very enjoyable time watching the family get to do things they would never be able to do on their own. It was one more of the countless moments that have given me such pleasure over the past years.
Five years ago my nephew and I landed in Bangkok without a plan or itinerary. We would stay two weeks to just look around as neither of had been there before. Oh, we were wise and savvy travelers and promised each other we would not be like all the other chumps that fall for the touristy stuff. No elephant rides, no jewelry, no messing with the girls.
With no plan, we simply began walking across the Song Hee bridge. Within 24 hours we ripped-off in a jewelry scam and as part of the scheme landed in a massage parlor aided by a young lady who was naively (as she reported later) used to escort us about as free service of the jewelry merchant. We did not press her into any activity other than being our guide. She arranged for our trek up into the hills to visit and stay with the Karon tribes for a couple of days during which we rode elephants out of the jungle. So within seventy two hours we had violated all of our promises to ourselves. But, it was such an incredible time for a guy my age that I was hooked on Thailand.
By the way, the young lady who was our guide is Gail and she would be my companion for the next five years.
So at the ripe old age of 68,and back home after my tenth trip to the LOS I am never bored. All I have to do is to begin reflecting back on my experiences many of which I have reported in previous submissions, and which could fill a book, and enjoy the revelry of it all. And of course begin planning my next trip.
Two years ago, as mentioned in another piece, I took a young man with me who is 33 years old. He is the son of my oldest friend. He is one of the most level headed, prudent and thoughtful guys you would want to meet. He has since returned four times on his own and became involved with the family I have come to know. He had a very good position as an electrical technician with the State of California which has held for over ten years. After his last trip he has quit his job, sold his home and divested himself of most of his possessions. I received an E-mail from him this week. He is now on the island on Samui where he enrolled in a school preparing him to teach English in Thailand.
What happens to us when we come to Thailand??
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