I am safe and sound and landed in Bangkok. Time is moving so strangely. I left New York at 1:30 AM on Monday, and chased the sun to Thailand via Taiwan to arrive Tuesday at noon. Door to door, the trip took 28 hours. It’s only Thursday – I’m relearning how much an hour can mean, I suppose. Moving intentionally around the city takes focus. Crashed into a 4 hour nap in my room on Sukumvit 39 Soi, generously offered by a mysterious absent Reedie from Thailand. Let’s me clear about this: I’m ecstatic to be here.
That night I rallied to meet Stuart, falling in love with Bangkok as I meandered to meet my college bud for dinner. He’s been living here working as a journalist and, with his usual joviality, will correct my Thai pronunciation in the same breath as exclaiming his love for the City of Angels.
I end every day exhausted but wake up at 7 am, excited to see this city.
Sometimes the parts of Bangkok that are deeply Westernized catch me off guard. I’m writing this blog over a cup of matcha and Cole Porter is playing over the radio and I have to remind myself that I can’t just listen. It’s not just Cole Porter, it’s Cole Porter being played in Thailand. This is the first moment I took to extract myself from the trip so far to write, and I’m uncomfortable. Good sign.
The purpose of my layover in Bangkok before headed south to Koh Tao is twofold: first, logistics required some urban amenities, like a hospital (don’t panic, I will explain). Second, I needed a moment to transition, to get my cultural dose, to try the street food, to see both sides of the coin. …A lot of if is about the street food.
Wednesday morning I was up bright and early and jumped on the BTS (the skyrail) to visit the hospital for my Japanese Encephilitis shot, which was more terrifying than I anticipated. It wasn’t the hospital itself – Bangkok Christian Hospital has some of the best service I’ve ever seen. It was my fear of JE in every form, including the shot. Fear really is a thing of the mind, and I worked myself into a panic. Thinking, first, about my failure to get the shot in the US – I’d misinterpreted CDC recommendations and realized I needed the shot too late. Thinking, second, about the shot I received which, while more convenient, cheap, and as effective as the American regimen, is only in use in Australia and Thailand. What freaked me out more than anything was that a disease could get in the way of me doing what I came here to do.
I wandered Lumpini Park en route to a travel agency. A water monitor ate a pigeons head right in front of me and I thought about a different kind of urban predation. I got lost 4 times in 3 malls (they are everywhere here and more seamless than anything I’ve seen in America). Went to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Panel on Mekong River conservation in the face of antiquated dam construction and poaching. No one brought up the lion thing, thank god. Then Stuart and I got rather lost.
One does not want to be lost during the first major monsoon of the season. This is a monsoon with a vengeance. I hadn’t eaten since 1 pm, post-shot, and it was approaching 10 pm. I was, in a word, delirious. Stuart was in hot pursuit of a goodbye party for a coworker at a rooftop bar but alas, once we made it to the utterly soaked 33rd floor the group had disappeared and we were left to samba with two exuberant Thai men.
AN IMPORTANT END TO MY FIRST FULL DAY: We walked home after shoving Naan into our faces out of the rain. It was during this near-catatonic march that we met Dave. Dave guided us in an expatriates crossing of a major intersection to great success. Dave is a former divorce attorney, but now he acts as a legal consultant for major Thai corporations. Dave was good looking and articulate, with a daughter and high-powered Thai wife, with an acerbic tone that only comes from mediating divorces in Chicago. Dave has lived in Bangkok for five years and pointed out that, for all of Thailand’s generally kind populace and good food, it is still governed by a military junta. Dave still had to move out of his apartment during the 2010 red shirt protests because he got an email from the government that he lived in an “accidental kill zone.” Dave reminded me that I have to be a militant activist as much as an optimist.
It’s too easy to be a tourist. In every sense of that phrase.
I leave for Koh Tao tomorrow by train, but don’t have to say goodbye yet – I’ll fly to Brunei through BKK. Keep you posted.
p.s. There are hyperlinks in this post – can you see them?