Thailand, Summer 2004
This is an account of my trip to Bangkok in July and August, 2005. I wrote it in five "chapters." Click one of the links to jump to an individual chapter or back to the photos page: 1 2 3 4 5 Photos Home
Ok, so I lied. I’ve been back for a week and finally finished this. This should really be the last missive about my trip. The only theme I can think to assign to this one is "miscellaneous." This is the fifth installment of my trip memoirs.
There were some odd and interesting things about Thai culture and customs that are worth mentioning. When trying to find someone’s telephone number, I was informed that names are listed by first name, not family name. Maybe it is not so crazy in Thailand. I don’t know how common names are here. Still, I thought it was amusing.
Another thing I found interesting is how street addresses are ordered. I was looking at address numbers on the street where I was staying so I could give it to taxi drivers as needed. Well, as it turns out, it wouldn’t be much help. The first building built on a street gets the first number. The next one build gets the next higher number, regardless of where it is located on the street. You gotta love the way they think here.
Thais seem to have a superstitious approach to life. They consult fortune tellers. They do things to bring good luck and they really believe it will help. They buy lottery tickets with thoughts only that they could win (the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math). Now that I think about it, it’s not too different than in the United States.
People don’t recycle trash. Instead the trash collectors spend hours digging though it separating out aluminum cans and other things that can be recycled. I’m not sure of the mindset that causes it to be done this way but I figure it must either be that it employees more people (always a consideration here) or a lack of planning ahead. It could also be that nobody would recycle their own trash anyway so why bother asking.
A couple of days ago I saw a Thai street-cleaner. In the US, we are familiar with the big machines with spinning brushes that sweep the streets late at night or early in the morning. In Thailand, at least in Bangkok, what they do is have a water truck hose down an area then a dozen people with brooms right out of the Wizard of Oz sweep the detritus into storm drains. It makes sense when you consider that labor here is cheaper than big machines.
I have written about the food (oh, not again!) and the food prices but it was an incomplete picture. Sure, the food can be wonderful and incredibly inexpensive. It can also be very expensive. There are a lot of restaurants that cater to westerners, many of these in the hotels. Prices in these establishments are comparable to those in the US and Europe. Some are extremely expensive. The Peninsula Hotel is reported to be the most expensive hotel in Asia and one of the most expensive in the world. Although I have not eaten there, I've been told that it is only for those with pockets deeper than mine.
However, as I said in an earlier letter, I didn't fly all this way to eat the same kind of food I can get at home, no matter how well prepared it is. Besides, while I can enjoy pleasant ambiance, the senses most important to me when I eat are taste and smell. When I am induced to close my eyes and sigh with pleasure with every bite, I don't care if the table has starched table linen or uses toilet paper for napkins. Oh, didn't I mention that? In many restaurants, they have dispensers for toilet paper napkins. Others use “real” napkins that are little more than a couple of sheets of TP anyway. They even refer to napkins as “tissue.”
I may also have omitted the fact that even the locals avoid drinking tap water here. Everybody drinks bottled water which is available not only at every eatery but at almost every store and stand everywhere you go. The average temperature in Thailand is, someone told me today, the hottest of any place in the world. Couple that with the humidity and it makes it a pretty uncomfortable place for those of us from cooler climes. It explains the ubiquitous availability of bottled water and other cold drinks. Beverage selection is large. Coke and Pepsi products are everywhere but they also have quite a selection of other choices: iced green tea, Thai iced tea (sweet, strong black tea with condensed milk is my favorite), fruit flavored yogurt drinks, beer, and lots of others. In the shopping areas, you can get your drink (Coke, juice, whatever) in a loop-handled plastic bag with ice and a straw. Hey, it's cheaper than a cup and easy to drink from when you're on the move.
After a pleasant home cooked dinner with friends and having one last night on the town, I left for the airport at 3:30am for a 6:00am flight. It was an uneventful hop to Narita (Tokyo) and I was able to get in about three hours of sleep. On the next leg, we were taxiing to the runway then were told that there was an electrical problem and we would be returning to the gate. A check turned up a burnt-out electrical bus so we would have to leave the plane. After a couple of hours, we were bussed to another plane in another part of the airport.
Finally underway, or so we thought, we were in power mode with wheels almost off the ground when one of the engines erupted in flames with a loud bang! The other engines were immediately powered down and we avoided a potential disaster by only a few seconds. If it had happened just after liftoff instead of just before, we might have ended up on the news instead of back in the terminal once again.
At that point they gave us phone cards and meal coupons and said to return to the gate in about an hour and a half to try for a third plane. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), we didn’t get another plane that night and were instead taken to hotels to spend the night. Along with some friends I met on the plane (shared terror can really bring people together), we went to the Nikko hotel where we were treated to a nice dinner, a good night’s rest in a bed that was actually long enough for me, and breakfast the following morning. While waiting for the hotel bus to take us back to the airport, we were told that the flight had been delayed by another hour so they also fed us lunch. The Nikko hotel was very nice with excellent service, accommodations, and a good restaurant. Returning to the airport, we were presented with coupons for 25,000 frequent flyer miles or $200 for our trouble.
Well, the third time really was the charm and we flew to Portland without further incidents. I’m home now and back in the saddle, so to speak. It will probably take a couple of days to readjust to this time zone. My cat, Cherry was happy to see me and followed me around seeking affection as I unpacked.
Next time I’m in Thailand (and I have no doubt I’ll go back in the not too distant future), I want to visit some other cities. Phuhket, Pattaya, (both on the coast) and Chaing Mai (in the mountainous north) have been recommended. With the frequent flier miles I accumulated on this trip, it might happen sooner than later.
Bye for now and Sah-wah-dee kup!