Thursday, June 30, 2011

Busy Days in Bangkok

I spent weeks working on my comic book job and decompressing from Africa. I bought shampoo, sunblock, a barrette, oil-free moisturizer, a SIM card, and toothpaste. I replaced my old Naturalizer sandals that had the melted heel from the motorbike exhaust pipe way back in Djenne—and because I was enjoying being tall here in Thailand, I bought the kind with platforms to play it up. I found the motherlode of soap sections in the supermarket in Banglamphu, and was saddened that much of it was advertised as being "whitening." I had to replace everything, I realized, looking at my worn-out clothes. I even went to the dentist, the same one I'd gone to in 2003 and got my teeth cleaned. Nostalgia overcame me briefly when they asked if my address in Australia was still the same.

"No," I said, a little forlornly as Australia had been a different life for me. "But the email address is the same."

Their prices had gone up too, or maybe it's just that US dollar had gone down. I had to pay about twice what I'd paid in 2003. Of course, I paid $13 then for a teeth cleaning and check-up so this didn't exactly cause great hardship.

I finally went back to Corner Hair and got my color done. The colorist matched the tone even without having Redken or Goldwell. I laughed at myself a little for having been so worried.

Thai kids on the train wore Buddy Holly glasses without lenses. McDonald's here sells hot tuna pie instead of hot apple pie. I spotted zebra statues at streetside shrines and tried to figure out what was up with Thailand and zebras, and on that same day found a karaoke stage for old people in the back of a dollar store. I ate on the street every night, spending 40-80 baht on dinner (one night I chose the table on a plank over a sewer grate—won't make that mistake again), and for breakfast, I had granola, fruit, and yogurt every single day. I got my fortune told by a woman at the amulet market, and she told me "You will change jobs this year, which will make you rich. Do not forget your parents. You will be a famous writer overseas. You will buy a house, car, and land. In 3 months, a pale man will fall in love with you through writing. He likes the outdoors. 200 baht, please."

This was all a good deal more specific than what the last guy had told me, in 2001. He'd told me I'd have one child unless I used birth control, so he was hedging his bets. This woman told me about the upcoming pale man down to the month.

Doing anything outside during the day in the heat was exhausting. And so I avoided walking anywhere and never took taxis—that would mean sitting in traffic. I covered all of Bangkok by boat, metro, and skytrain, only taking the occasional bus. I stumbled onto election rallies and hastily retreated more than once. And sometimes, I'd meet a random stranger and spend hours chatting about strange things, like Satanist ex-spies from Iraq or massage jobs in Phuket. That's a Khao San Road thing, running into weirdo random strangers. If you hang around KSR long enough, you'll see someone you know. If you hang around a little longer than that, well, nothing happens because you do leave eventually no matter how many weeks you spend here. "Hotel California" is played about 40 times a day on KSR, but you actually can check out any time you like. Everyone is temporary here but the Thais.

They make sure of it. My entry stamp was only valid for thirty days.

Meanwhile, Tibet was closed to western tourists for the summer. That's where I was heading. Except, I wasn't, because it was closed up tight to us. Presumably the usual thousands of busloads of Chinese tourists were there, but the relatively few westerners who go in were not currently allowed in at all.

I needed to get a Chinese visa and an Indian visa while I was in Bangkok. But more importantly, I had to come up with a back-up plan. I had been corresponding with an agent for a boat that zipped up the Mekong from Chiang Saen, landing in China that same day without me having to buy a Laos transit visa, but China wasn't somewhere I really wanted to go this time around unless there was a good reason, like an onward trip to Tibet. What would I do here in Thailand when my month was up and I was still stuck without a permit? And what if Tibet stayed closed to me? And given the ethical complications of Tibet tourism, should I even be thinking of going there in the first place?

1 comment:

  1. Think of making a visa run down to Ranong and then over to Myanmar for a few hours ($10 crisp U.S. money to get stamped in and out of Myanmar at the same time) and back to Thailand for another thirty days.