This was written throughout my visa trip over the first weekend in February, during the time they were holding elections in Bangkok. It was uneventful for me, politically, but I tried to take down events and experiences that were notable for me. I was there late Thursday night (Jan 30) to Monday (Feb 2).
Last night I arrived in Bangkok, and although initially optimistic when I landed, exchanged money, negotiated a taxi, and found myself en route, I couldn’t help but drift back to the familiar land of skepticism as my taxi pulled into something that looked like a dead-end alley. At least it’s well lit, I thought to myself, eyeing the tiny sign for my hostel. The accompanying wall was dull and graffitied and gray, and nothing like the warm backpacker vibe I was expecting. I paid the man our agreed fee, took a deep breath, and exited the bright pink taxi, the only colorful thing on the street.
The gate was locked, and thankfully my driver had just called to clarify directions, otherwise I would have been stuck outside all night in an area that had no alternate accommodations in sight, and the guy running the desk came out to let me in. Check in was quick, and despite the ridiculous late hour his chipper demeanor was sparkling-water refreshing. This state of affairs was made more gloriously ridiculously unlikely when, today, I found out he and his wife have a five month old son, so between raising a young child and running a business where travelers get in at all hours, he lives a life that probably doesn’t lend itself to a lot of uninterrupted sleep.
The accommodation itself, well, that’s another matter. As you can see from the pictures…just judge it for yourself. I was a bit skeptical at first, but the property is neat, tidy, clean, and quiet. It actually feels like home, something for which many locations strive, but for which few hit the mark successfully.
There’s a whole gamut of hostels catering to partiers and young travelers, many people in their teens or taking a gap year, and those are things that inherently have their own tremendous responsibilities, like what to do with the aftermath of a night out for the partiers you cater to. Without digressing too far, or sounding like I’m fun-shaming anyone who lives it up for a weekend in Bangkok (myself included), I will say that having a truly personalized lovely time isn’t always going to happen just anywhere you stay. The risk of staying somewhere that is hygienically unappealing is always there, and you have to be careful and do your homework. This hostel exceeds all the tactical obstacles of small business management, and the difficult location is really my only criticism. I’m going to suggest they put a sign up just a bit down the alleyway for the more timid, less intrepid travelers. There’s no way you would accidentally stumble upon this place, which is probably more of a blessing than a curse for the lucky few who find it and get to enjoy the quiet hospitality, but it provides a potential financial hardship for the owners.
Today I had the luxury of whizzing around the city on the back of a motor scooter taxi, jamming out with my ear buds to some newly acquired tunes, and then returning to the scene of the pending nap, something that was truly deserved after so much in-transit success. As the late afternoon sun started to tint the world orange, I stepped out and met the lady of the house, a lovely Thai woman in her early 20’s, named Pinky. She was bouncing a very stoic-looking five-month old on her knees, and she was gracious enough to let me hold him briefly. I handed him back, and she wrote some directions out for me in Thai, to aid in my journey of navigating the mini-bus system to visit a couple of other teachers for the rest of the weekend. We chatted for about an hour about various things; her education in the UK, low pay and fluctuating social appreciation of teachers around the world, the politics of tipping, the necessary evil and resulting hardships of taxi drivers, and the quandary posed by the desire of many well-educated Thai’s to forgo a career in their field in favor of working hospitality in the US. We both saw the humor in this final point, because while it’s something I presume Americans are well-known for doing in retreating to SE Asia, it’s not so widely known that Asians also long for an odd-job-supported culture exchange. We have the same escapist, adventuring tendencies, we just trade locales.
She was an absolutely delightful person to speak with. Conversations like this, where you sit down, and really look one another in the eye, are kindling for the majesty of the human experience. Having a conversation devoid of pretense, title-touting, name-dropping, or one-upmanship is particularly soul-quenching. Today was a very, very good day.
Saturday: Quickly, before battery dies.
We are not responsible for another person’s happiness, but we are responsible for our individual selves. We are also blessed with the task of caring for one another in such a way that each of us is able to accomplish their goals and maintain their wellbeing. We aren’t responsible for each other, but we’re responsible for ensuring our independence and success.
My brain hurts, but the last 24 hours I have been steeped in joy, and enveloped in a lightness of being that is strange and invigorating to me. I have held genuine peace down to the pit of my heart, and have been genuinely myself along the way. It’s like soaking in a bubble bath of bliss.
Last night I met a couple of pilots from the US: one from Georgia, and one from New Jersey. Both were older gentlemen. We chatted, and they invited me to a second location, which I stumbled upon completely by accident after walking too far in the general direction he pointed. It was an Australian bar, with a live band that was sensational. At first only the two drunk white girls up front were dancing, one with braids wearing a maxi dress and no shoes because she was such a free spirit. She and her friend were genuinely supportive of the band, which consisted of five members and was actually very impressively good. For some reason unbeknownst to me, maybe it was just the right amount of alcohol to trigger it, but the Jersey pilot brought up that he hates Muslims, and Social Activist Kait sprang into action. I took it upon myself to correct him: that extremism isn’t indicative of the general populace affiliated with a religion. I know I got some majorly good points in, but they’re long gone to me, because well, it was a bar, and insight appears and dissipates constantly. Somehow, in the midst of the heated discussion that spanned religious extremism, morality, and the social ills that result from making generalizations, the two fidget-dancing girls ballooned into a decent sized crowd completely jamming out. By the time I looked up the whole room was crowded on the dance floor and really getting into the diverse repertoire with which the band was showing off.
One leggy Thai girl was killing it down front. She had enough space around her that we could clearly see her from the bar, and the Georgian pilot’s tongue was practically lolling down the front of his shirt. He tapped his fingers on his knee, impatiently, and I saw the sheen of a wedding ring. “See anything ya like?” his Jersey friend inquired. He wouldn’t fess up, but only said that you can tell which ones are ladyboys. I think he was just disappointed that his conscience was making him remain faithful. Jersey interjected his profoundly well-rehearsed expertise, citing her height, clothes (a sparkling black and silver striped mini dress that I was coveting and secretly cursing my stubby little legs which prohibit me from ever wearing something so cute), and the intimidating high heels which made her even taller.
I was skeptical, as I am about most things. Later I saw her in the bathroom, and complimented her skirt. She was incredibly sweet, and asked if I was there with anyone. I said no, but that I was talking to some guys at the bar. She rolled her eyes, and smiled. “Fuck those guys, come hang out with me and my boyfriend.”
We exited the bathroom, but by the time I grabbed my beer from the bar, the leggy Thai girl was nowhere to be found. Like a jungle cat stalking her own prey, she had quietly slipped into the pulsing tangle of bodies, camouflaged by the night attire. It was a sweet gesture, all the same.
Somehow I became acquainted with another group of people, probably because of an obscenely ugly fedora worn by one of them. He was an awkward, skinny, horrifically British guy, who was approximately 35 years old but who seemed to have stopped growing and aging around the most unflattering section of puberty. He was forever stuck in that phase where your features don’t quite fit your face, and he was a prime specimen of big-toothed British dentistry. But he looked absolutely smashing in this hat, which he kept removing to pass around, and I kept reprimanding him for taking it off, it suited him so beautifully, along with the long red skinny tie he wore.
I ended up practically carrying this little guy because his friends weren’t taking care of him, and as we all went to a second bar he followed me around like a drunk, helpless puppy. His friend finally put him into a taxi when it was clear they would not let him into a very exclusive (re: expensive) club we decided to check out.
The poor little drunk guys friend and I had drinks on the street, which we definitely did not pay for. Not wanting to deal with the awkwardness of attempted coercion, I, in turn, put him in a taxi and said I’d just see myself home. It was a reasonably short walk, and I arrived safe and sound in the wee hours of morning after successfully navigating my way home without much incident outside of losing count of the number of western men being propositions by a variety of working girls*.
Saturday, after packing my things and checking out, I made my way to Victory Monument by sky train. This is the stop that has all the minibuses waiting to take people to wherever they want to go outside the city. It’s a beautiful system: you show up, find the cue for your destination, pay them straightaway –in my case it was 50 baht, or just under $2 for the hour-long ride to Samut Sahkon, where my lovely British friend “Teacher Ben-Ten” was living and working, and graciously allowing me to visit. It’s also where our mutual friend Stephan has been teaching for the last year, and this was his last weekend before flying off to another teaching gig in Vietnam.
We had a meal, and a quiet afternoon catching up. There were plans to visit the local watering hole, but because of the elections in Bangkok, bars were closed and booze was unavailable after 6pm, from everywhere. The reasons behind this, we learned, were so that no one could be bribed with liquor in such close proximity to the election. Ben and I agreed that this was profoundly stupid, because if that was indeed going to happen, it would happen behind closed doors in private just as easily as it could in public, and since all Thais seemed to know that boozing would be shut down they could very easily have planned ahead, purchased alcohol, and bribed constituents from the comfort of their own homes.
It seems that worldwide, politics have the same shortcomings.
Eventually, we succeeded in procuring beers, and went back for a quiet night in, chatting with friends, which I actually feel was the better option. Sunday night, there is a pending jam session, and I expect to take at least a few videos**. J
Connections are made for many reasons, but none so easily as through sharing art, music, and performance.
As far as percentage and numbers go, the most interesting people I’ve met and seen have been in SE Asia. My journey home was long and drawn out, but relatively uneventful. It’s my last visa run, and for that reason it was a little emotional. Part of the beauty of living in SE Asia is the (mandatory) opportunity to check out other countries while you do. You’re bound to make comparisons when you travel somewhere else, because you find a niche in the place you’re living, and you struggle to do the most basic things again when you travel outside of that nice safe living space. Language barriers and what side of the road traffic travels on surprise you again, even if you expect it. If nothing else, the visa trip shakes things up and keeps you on your toes. It’s always an opportunity to deal with life outside your comfort zone, and usually a pleasant reminder that you can handle anything life throws at you.
**no videos were taken, but we killed it.