Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Errand Day

"What? Breakfast isn't included?" I was dumbfounded. I argued. The waiter argued back. But in the end, I was wrong. Breakfast wasn't included at the online rate I'd booked for the pleasantly inexpensive Bangkok hotel. That's a strike against the nice Neung Fakorn Hotel near Wat Po. The breakfast, I mean. Not my inability to read the fine print.

I didn't really want their eggs and toast if I had to pay for it, so I got up and walked a few doors down to an independent bookstore that also sells coffee. Delicious iced coffee for breakfast. Mmmm.

Thais love their iced coffee. It's for sale all over. I took the bookstore's iced coffee back to my room, where I learned that a man in the apartment building across the alley from the hotel loves to vigorously clear his throat in the morning.

I made a list.

-Get hair roots colored.
-Pick up laundry.
-Get iPhone fixed.
-Find apartment for the next month.
-Get China and India visas.
-Make lettering copies of digital files for freelance comic book gig.
-Get another foot massage.
-See dentist for teeth cleaning and check-up.
-Take a night bike ride around Bangkok.
-See a fortune-teller for fun.
-Get more mango-and-sticky-rice.
-Get out 65-page comic book to Kuwait.

That last one was huge, and doomed to dominate my next month. Sixty-five pages don't get themselves to PDF stage. It's what's been holding me up on my blog, invading my entire trip, and pretty much, well, ruining it. But here's the thing...I get paid to make comic books. And MariesWorldTour.com 2011 has turned out to be massively, hugely, exponentially more expensive than MariesWorldTour.com 2001. The dollar has tanked in the past ten years and prices have gone up worldwide.

I need the money.

I was going to have to make it all fit. Somehow.

I headed out to get a taxi to the metro at the railway station. My hotel wasn't walking distance to the metro or the skytrain and I thought that the metro didn't look too far on the map. I remembered taking a bus to the railway station once but I wasn't quite ready to throw myself into Bangkok's bus system on this, my second day in town.

I went outside—ugh, the heat and humidity—hailed a taxi and got in.

"Hualumphong," I said to the driver.

"200 baht," he said.

"No. Meter." I wasn't falling for that. Turn on the damn meter.


"No, I said meter. Pull over. I'm getting out." My policy with taxi drivers is to not even engage if they start with a crazy price.

He kept going. I opened the door while we were moving. He screeched to a halt.

"Asshole." I got out.

I'd been in town for 30 hours and was already fighting with taxi drivers.

The next driver that pulled over used the meter without being asked. He was pleasant, helpful, and pointed me to the metro when he dropped me off.

Total cost? 61 baht.

I took the sleek new metro to the Bangkok hair salon I'd looked up online, Corner Hair. I got a trim and priced their color, but didn't take them up on that part of their offer yet. I'd come back from the first MariesWorldTour with bands around my hair, like a tree. I was paranoid because I didn't see a brand of color that I trusted, and they didn't seem to understand the formula my colorist at home had worked out. But over the next several days, as I visited nearly every upscale salon in town, I learned that Thailand simply doesn't have Redken or Goldwell, the two brands that have been used on my hair most frequently. I'd end up back at Corner Hair because they were the best deal and most professional-seeming of the various people I spoke too. Most people looked at my formula like it was from Mars, dismissed it, and said "I know how to do your hair." So I ended up back where I started, where the colorist seemed to take me seriously.

Then it was off to MBK, the giant Thai-style shopping mall downtown. I went to the fourth floor, to the cell phone part of the mall.

It's huge.

It's intimidating.

You could get lost among the cell phone kiosks. You could starve trying to find your way out.

They all sell the same damn thing, of course. Phones, cases, plugs, and SIM cards. But I was looking for a place called Tan's Telecom, because it had been recommended as an iPhone repair place by a few farangs (foreigners) on an online board I'd been reading.

I had no idea where to start looking, so I methodically paced the aisles of MBK's fourth floor, reading all the signs as I went. I stopped at a few places where chipper young women assured me that their bosses could definitely fix my iPhone, but I kept looking for the expert.

And finally, there is was, on the outer ring of kiosks towards the front of the building.

The workers there took one look at the SIM card tray that wouldn't go back in and handed it to the iPhone specialist.

"One hour," he said. "One thousand baht."

I wandered the hallways of MBK for an hour, then returned to a repaired SIM card tray. It wasn't until later that I realized the wifi had quit working while the iPhone had been in surgery. I'd be back on my way to MBK tomorrow.

I headed back to Khao San Road to pick up my laundry (and of course, have another foot massage and mango-and-sticky-rice), and the afternoon showers started when I was walking just a few blocks away.

The afternoon showers in the rainy season in Bangkok aren't just a little rain.

They're a torrent. No umbrella will protect you.

I took cover under a guard's stall near a government building. We were four soldiers, three random tourists, and a Thai grandpa is  bright pink polo shirt.

And in the pouring rain mixed with rays of the sun, we waited.

We waited a long time.

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