Monday, September 27, 2010

Thailand. Or, Hey Superwoman, tuk tuk for you?

2 1/2 days in Bangkok.
I arrived in the early evening, so by the time I got a bus into the city and unloaded at my exquisite hostel, there were few civilized hours left in the day (stretching the imagination to assume any hour in Bangkok is civilized).

So I went a bit lost--not sure why:

I serendipitously came across a Thai pop concert.
I was so excited, I ate a mango. Right next to the concert, there was a night market! I've never been to an Asian market before, so I was elated. Many things "hand made" and it turns out I was the first customer at almost every booth, so I got a special price. Bought grandma's magnet, got a foot massage for about $3, wandered aimlessly and took a tuk-tuk home, though I had to insist, repeatedly, I did not want to go to a ping-pong show. Mom and Dad, never ask me what that is.

Next morning, I met my roommates: a German girl and a British girl. The British girl gave me a jar of peanut butter. I think it must be an offering of friendship in her culture. Or maybe it was something about she was leaving the next day and couldn't take it. She was also an English major, so we talked nerd then parted ways for the day.

I went to the Royal Neighborhood via a "long boat." It's like a boat that's really long. There's a guy who works on the boat, much like the Star Ferry rope guys, only he has to ride on the long boat. He does not, apparently, need to help me jump the substantial gap between the boat and the pier.

First stop: Golden Mount, though nearly missed. I got off the long boat, as encouraged by the boat guy, and looked for the closest shiny spire. As I walked towards it, a nice man stopped me to let me know that this site is closed. Only open to Thai people to pray. Oh, dang.
BUT, he is able to take me, via tuk tuk, to the Lucky Buddha. It was actually the luckiest day of my life, because the Lucky Buddha is open only one day per year and get this, it was that very day. Oh fortune!
Then my college skill of skepticism kicked in. Also, on the plane ride, I read in Lonely Planet that you should never believe people who say a site is closed. They are lying. They want charge you astronomically for a ride to another place, that I'm sure other guys are telling other tourists is closed.
So after a genial conversation, I told him I'd go ahead and check it out myself. He told me to suit myself. Five steps closer to the Golden Mount and yet another concerned citizen crossed his arms in a X and shook them in my face. I said I was just walking and went on and up to the Golden Mount, which was of course open and free admission. The Golden Mount, so called for being on a mount and colored gold.

And having a gold satellite dish:
Another family was there and excited to take a picture with me.
I wandered through the streets, pretending to know exactly where I was going, or else subject myself to the offers of more tuk tuk drivers. I find that these "semi-lost" moments produce the most authentic essence of a place. Like roosters under baskets and door stores:
Along the way, there was a street food vendor. I looked at the food. "What is it?" Answer: "It is good." I ate it and agreed. I thought I was walking to the Royal Palace, but I eventually realized I wasn't, so I found a taxi.

I told him to go to the Royal Palace. He started the meter and said he didn't know the Royal Palace. I tried to explain it's the most popular tourist site in Bangkok, but he insisted he'd never heard of it as he fumbled around with the map. It'd be like an NYC cab driver not knowing where the Empire State Building is. My guard against scam was way up by this point, so I opened the door and jumped out of the moving taxi. It was moving really slowly--it may have even been at a stop light, but it still felt theatric. I found another cab and got to the Royal Palace, no problem.
Royal Palace: big, shiny, colorful, majestic.

And they have guards with pointy hats. And elephant bushes:

I spent a lot of time there, admiring the regalia and weapons collection. I wasn't allowed to take photos, but they had tridents! My favorite historical weapon.

I walked along a street and saw a parking lot for witches:

I purposefully went to the National Theatre to see if I could attend a performance. Nothing on during my days there, but that didn't stop me from inviting myself to a rehearsal for a traditional dance performance.
Somehow, I was someplace where I didn't want to be and I couldn't go back because I just shook off an insistent pesterer. So I hopped on a bus. Mistake. Apparently, in Bangkok, you have to know where you're going to be on a bus. I got on just fine, then an official woman with a money belt approached me and asked where I was going. My answer of "anywhere" was unacceptable. My next answer of "not back there" was declined with equal if not greater disdain. Another passenger said the bus was going to the airport, so I jumped out at the next stop. I walked a little way and found a cool street: vendors, hippies, dreadlock salons, etc.
I spot this woman:

She makes AMAZING pad thai for me and lets me sit on her stool to eat (I may have seemed a bit edgy from the bus experience). Other patrons arrived, including a Cantonese speaker, so...instant friend. I asked them where we were and learned I was on Kao Shan Road--the main backpacker drag. Explains all the weed shirts and internet cafes.

Then to Wat Pho to see the famous Emerald Buddha. Every season (summer, winter, dry, rainy) the King, or more recently the Crown Prince, dresses the Emerald Buddha in seasonal attire. It's kind of like the woman on everyone's street who has a goose she likes to dress up for each holiday.

Nighttime, in my wanderings, I find another theatre and--what luck!--they had a traditional Thai dance performance that night. I bought a ticket and killed an hour by walking around the park. It was more like an exercise park. The paths were really running tracks, there was a huge group dance aerobics on, actual gym equipmentand these dudes, all over 60, playing hacky sack:
I ate something else from this guy:
The show was colorful! It was monkey. I think. It was hard to tell. But they all had great costumes, and before the show began, everyone stood for the National Anthem and images of the King were projected on a giant screen. Got back to the hostel very late, but early enough for the people at the front desk to write my name in Thai for me. It's pronounced "Camber."

Day 3 began with a short walk to the Jim Thompson House. I went here because Jim Thompson's story is shrouded in mystery, and I love all things mysterious and shrouded. He was an American silk magnate who lived for several years in Thailand, completely immersed in the culture, language, and industry. He mysteriously disappeared while on a walk through a jungle in Malaysia. One year later, on the exact same day, his sister was murdered in Delaware. No photos allowed in the house, so a lame shot from the outside:

Then I went to a Snake Farm and watched them milk a snake. I won't post pictures for the sake of my mom. Basically, they force the snake to bite something and squeeze the venom into a jar. They later inject it into a cow and get an anti-venom from it.

Next stop, lunch at the Delicious Delicious Kitchen. It lived up to its name and had a nice view:

The rest of the afternoon was wandering through various neighborhoods and getting a Thai massage. I returned to the hostel early and was up at 5 the next morning for my flight. When I got back to Hong Kong, I immediately went to a 4-hour dance rehearsal for Rocky Horror. I was intensely sore for 3 days, the cause of which is yet undetermined: 4 hours of Time Warping or an hour-long session of getting stepped on and bent into several pretzel formations by a surprisingly strong Thai woman.
And now, more pictures:

If my mom was Thai:Creepy Ronald:
If Abe Lincoln was a Thai Statue:...more like a monumental Fred Astaire.
For The Mother:


Keith said...

Wow! Thanks for the trip. KB

Anonymous said...

Out of this world blog and experience!! It is sometimes (maybe many times) better for the family (OK, the mother) to NOT know anything until after the fact. Amazing trip, I am sure. Love, mom

Anonymous said...

Thai pop concerts appear to be not very pop. You seem to have increased the size of the audience by 50%.

What is a ping pong show?

How do you induce complete strangers to take your picture so often?

Who's the guy on the calendar?





Camber Carpenter said...

"who's the guy on the calendar?"?!?!?
Um, that's your friend, His Majesty.

I'm ignoring the ping pong question, though your direct disregard of my request did make me chuckle slightly.

I'm charismatic; strangers want to record that on camera.

Caitlin Rose said...

i know what a ping pong show is. But I'm not telling. Also, I have been looking for somewhere to park my broom. 39 days. love, C

Brad Manker said...

Wow, there is a lot of information on this blog. I have a lot of catching up to do!