My First Time
I was recently trying to compose a submission describing my first trip to Thailand. The problem was that when I tried to write about what I was feeling and how I experienced the moment, it was edited by my current perceptions. So, I went back through my old emails and found the originals I sent to friends while I was still in Thailand. What follows is a string of emails, edited a bit for continuity, but this is what I was feeling that first time.
Just a quick note to let you know I'm alive. Arrived Bangkok Sunday afternoon (Saturday night there). Long trip as you know, but the business class seat made a world of difference. Lounged by the pool for a bit and decided to head to the Emporium, that's a shopping center, to buy a phone. My hotel is on Sukhumvit 18, mall is on S 24, so not far. Didn't make it though. On the way I passed the Dubliner Irish pub. (I'm having lunch there now as they have free wifi access, hotel charges $20 a day). I had read about it on a Thailand blog called Stickman, so I walked in for a pint. It was Sunday afternoon and a little busy, Irish band playing sad Irish songs accompanied by an amazing Japanese violin (fiddle) player. They would just sing a few bars or hum the melody of a song and he could play it. Anyway, as I'm sitting there drinking my beer, a drunken Irishman came over and asked if I was enjoying myself. I said I was and explained that I had just arrived and was trying to stay awake to beat the jet lag. Turns out his name is John and he is the owner. He bought me a couple pints as a welcome and introduced me to Father Joe. I guess he's a famous priest, works with orphans and knew Mother Teresa. An Irishman as well, although from the US, so he was hoisting a pint. All those years I spent in catholic school make it strange for me to see a priest in an everyday situation. (“You mean they drink? They smoke? I didn’t even think they really ate?!”) Interesting day. So anyway, I strike-up a conversation with a couple of English expats and offered to buy them a beer if I could pump them for some info about the city; where I was in relation to this place or that place etc… They were very nice and I ended up heading off to another bar with them. (They’re the ones that took me to what I now know is Soi 33 with the dice rolling, etc…) We went to Soi Cowboy, that's the neon red light district you see on TV, a bit sleazy and smaller than I'd expected, but interesting. After a few drinks and a few gogos, I was beat so I walked back to the hotel, stopped for a 150 ($5) baht one-hour foot massage, and went to bed.
City is extremely crowded and traffic is crazy. Think Tijuana times 10. Traffic, pollution, noise, bedlam, but great! The smell of this place is intoxicating. Wood smoke, mixed with exhaust, incense and jasmine. I will never forget this smell. Crossing the street is an adventure. It’s faster to walk than to drive most places. Can't wait to get to the beach. I hope it's cooler.
Been here for a week now and getting the hang of the place. Crazy place. First five days in Bangkok were a bit overwhelming, couldn't wait to get to the beach, but now that I'm gone I miss the street food. The street my hotel was on was lined with food carts. Fresh fruit, skewered meats and chicken quarters grilled over real charcoal flames. Aroi! Women everywhere, gorgeous women eyeing with me with a mix of interest, suspicion, fear and disdain. I found myself on Sukhumvit, checking my map and my inner voice said hey don’t open the map here you need to blend in, (something I can do in Central America once my tan kicks in) you’re going to give yourself away as a tourist. Then I realized I’m a 6’1” farang. Blending ain’t in my future.
The beach isn’t what I expected. It’s beautiful, but HOT! It's hotter here than in the city. I was expecting a cool dip in the ocean (think Hawaii), but was I wrong. Getting the hang of things, meeting some interesting people. To answer your earlier question, Thais and farangs (foreigners) don't really interact except in a service capacity. People are extremely friendly and I haven't encountered any hostility, quite the contrary everyone is really solicitous, but in the end it is all about the baht. I get the feeling to have any real interaction you would need to spend much more time away from the tourist areas and learn the language. The English skills of anyone outside the tourist area are non-existent. Even in the restaurants and bars the English is minimal and there is usually one girl who speaks more English and comes over to translate when you want to say more than a couple of words.
I'm sitting at an open-air beach bar using their internet and an Irish girl just walked up without a top. She was wearing a thong and lost her top in the ocean. She had her hand over her nipples, but an obvious great set. No one seemed fazed, just like an everyday thing. Place reminds me of a buffet. There is too much to eat, some stuff really delicious and some just "makes a turd" as my father would say. The danger is to grab anything available, because you paid for the buffet, but then you might be full when something truly mouth-watering shows up. I'm learning to be patient, as the patient man can eat his fill of truly delectable morsels. I must be going Buddhist. I will send some pix and relate any adventures as they unfold.
I'm sitting at the same bar, (now my “local,” Ocean View Bar, Patong Beach) right now using the internet and there was just a motorbike accident. No on seems all that fazed. A car hit a lady on a motorcycle with her baby. Everyone walked away and things went back to normal in a few minutes. A BABY WAS ON THE BIKE! As I was riding in from the airport I saw two adults and two little kids on one motorcycle. I tried to get a picture, but it was on the highway and missed it. Someone told me that it’s very common. I will try to get pic next time. Did you visit Phuket? Can't remember. I'm going to do 2-3 days of plain tourist crap. I sat at the same bar last night and played connect four with this really cute girl named Kai. They are connect four sharks! I won one game finally, but I suspect she let me win so I wouldn’t leave.
I met a great guy named Dean from Australia. Typical Aussie, drank two beers for every one of mine and I still think I was drunker. Asked me if I thought he could “get AIDS from getting a gobbie?” Now, I don’t speak fluent Aussie, but I don’t think he was speaking of ministering to the poor and underprivileged. Maybe he was, I don’t know?
The three weeks went by much faster than I thought they would. Looking forward to next year. We’ll see.
Nicely put together. It's hard to truly recapture the feelings of that first ever trip, both in words and in subsequent visits.