Friday, July 22, 2011

Planning My Exit

This probably seems obvious, but if you ever have any business at Chiang Mai's immigration office, try not to deal with it first thing in the morning after a holiday weekend. Especially not on a day when you've been out late spewing trivia at a bar the night before.

I nearly left Immigration twice, once when I saw the line for photocopies and once when I was told I could only have seven days rather than 15 or 30. But in the end, I wasn't fined for overstaying by a day and I was given the week's extension starting today, not yesterday when my entry stamp had run out.

And that turned out to be enough. On July 22, the word came in. Tibet would allow non-Chinese foreign tourists in as of July 28th.

This came just in time, too. I appreciated the haven that Bangkok had offered me for a month and the easy comfort of Chiang Mai, but there was something that had been tugging at me for a while and it had got to the point where it was starting to noticeably bother me.

You now how you sometimes see old guys at home, and they are rich or powerful and attract a young, sexy woman? And you know how you assume that one is after sex and the other after money, and both after a certain type of trophy?

Well, this happens a lot here, except that the men are foreign and the women are from the Thai countryside.

Of course there are plenty of exceptions and age-appropriate couples. And in the first several weeks I'd been here, I'd just been amused by the broad definition of rich and powerful—these were men who wouldn't have so much as a dream of scoring such a young woman at home—and noted that both in the couple were benefiting. But I'd started seeing it more and more, and it got to the point where I could no longer deny that I really wasn't all that accepting and tolerant. I was grossed out.

Which isn't really all that surprising, since that is my reaction to similar couples at home too.

My reactions throughout a single day ran the gamut from "What's the big deal, both parties benefit" to "That's exploitation" to "That's gold-digging" to "Who cares, I'm not the one who has to see that guy naked" to "You don't know the circumstance of the wife of 30 years he left behind, don't judge."

I was leaning more and more towards judging. I'd met plenty of interesting people and some who were single or in relationships typical of anywhere in the world. But the volume of couples that looked on the surface to be about money had gotten to me and I could no longer pretend I was without pre-disposed bias. It was time to go.

But first, I needed to make a plan. The boat from Chiang Saen to Jinghong, China had been delayed a few days, past the new expiration date on my Thailand visa. And it was $108, while the bus across Laos was only $18.

Fine, I'd take the bus.

But before I left, there was one more thing I wanted to do.

I wanted to see the White Temple, which was near Chiang Rai. I went to the travel agency down the block from Lux Hotel and bought a seat on tomorrow's Golden Triangle tour. I'd see the White Temple and also the Golden Triangle while I was at it.

"That's a long day," warned the travel agent.

"I understand. " I'd been warned. I bought the ticket anyway. I wanted to cram in as much as possible before heading on to China.

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