Saturday, February 18, 2012

Does it surprise you that I'm in Southeast Asia again?

But at least I got to go to a new place this time, Bangkok. Before I get to that, just one thing I'd like to point out. While quickly skimming through my last entry, I noticed that the word "flight" was hyperlinked, but not by me. I hovered over it and learned that Surf Canyon has somehow flagged it. I really dislike Surf Canyon because it's popping up all over the place when I search for things and especially browse online catalogues when I'm considering making a purchase, so I just wanted you as my readers to know that I disapprove of this link, don't know how to get rid of it, and highly resent its presence on my blog. I won't even get any cash from advertising it, so please don't support it!

Anyway, Bangkok. I had mixed feelings about going to Bangkok and being in Thailand generally. It seems like such a touristy place, and by now, you must know how much I'm not a tourist--or at least how much I don't want to be a tourist. Secondly, a colleague and friend of mine who lived in Southeast Asia for about 4 years said he'd leave Thailand any day for Malaysia. To him, Thailand is the place where you find the dirtiest and most decrepit aspects of life, whereas you can go to Malaysia, get the same beaches, same cheap prices, and it's so much cleaner and safer, aside from the fact that most everyone in the cities tends to speak English. In addition, other colleagues of mine told me that when they go to Bangkok (as white males), they will be approached by random people on the street and asked if they would like to purchase the services of a young woman, man, or "lady boy" as they call the transgendered ones there. How disturbing!

I didn't know what to really expect when I went to Thailand, and I didn't really know what to make of it while I was there or even after, now that I've heard these crazy stories. Again, there are reasons why being me, having a universal face, is sometimes an advantage because I feel like I can blend in so much more easily and don't get noticed as much. In any case, why I was disturbed when I was there is that I saw so many older white guys with their cute, tiny Asian (likely Thai) wives, and I wasn't sure what to make of that either. One of the same colleagues that told me about getting approached by strangers for services told me that in some cases, it's probably mutually beneficial because the woman probably gets taken care of really well, and the guy probably even makes enough money to help support her family somewhat, and the guy in turn gets a cute wife. I'm entirely sure that is the case for many of those guys and have no contention with that, but I also wonder how many of the other ones are just creepy old guys who couldn't find a woman at home because they're creepy!! And it's not like you can tell the difference just by looking at them, most of the time, so I just didn't want to think about it.

I just couldn't stop thinking about how much the sex industry is so big there. Even on some taxi windows (photos forthcoming!), there was a sign indicating that the drivers would know where to take you if you wanted such services. It would disturb me less if I thought people in that industry truly wanted to be there, but many of them have been trafficked, and many feel desperate and like they have no choice.

On the lighter side of things, however, the organisers of the education fair I was there to do invited us to dine at a place called Cabbages and Condoms. It seemed like such an inappropriate venue until I learned more about the place and who started it. The guy's name is Mechai Viravaidya, and you'll come to learn more about his charitable work and what he has done for Thailand, given its sex trade, if you have a chance to read the links. No sense in me writing that info here since it's already better explained elsewhere.

Moreover, I had one day to myself to explore Bangkok because it was in between my school visit day there and the fair. At one of the school counsellor's suggestions, I went to Chatuchak (a.k.a. Jatujak or JJ) Market in the morning, but generally I found it a little disappointing. While there were definitely Thai people there, it was mostly designed for the tourist, selling items that you could find in almost any market in another Southeast Asian country, and in some cases a Latin American country, in my experience. There were some unique and interesting things, though. One was their art gallery section that featured the works of local artists. I would have loved to buy one or two pieces but couldn't find any salespeople for the life of me. I love to support local artists, though. There was also a store or two selling teas and spices, so I bought some saffron, cinnamon, and tom yum soup paste. The former two items are much more expensive in Canada, so I thought I'd bring home a bit for myself.

According to an online Lonely Planet web site, Wat Pho (pronounced something like wot poh) was supposed to be walking distance from JJ. I thought I would go there since it has one of the largest reclining Buddhas in Asia, and as I had missed that one in Penang a couple of years ago when I didn't realise it was inside the beautiful Burmese temple I kept walking around, I thought I should try to catch this one! I happened upon a tourist info centre near the market and asked them for directions, and they told me if I started walking then, I'd get there by midnight at the earliest! So much for Lonely Planet! They suggested I take the bus, so I crossed the street to the bus stop and waited for a while, but as I was already hot and sticky and didn't see a bus come for 10 minutes, I decided to take a cab over and flagged down one of the ubiquitous hot pink ones that brighten Bangkok streets. It happened to be a female driver, too. I love that because you don't see it very often. I've had female taxi drivers now in Mexico, Malaysia, and Thailand. Anyway, tangent is done...

Minutes before I arrived at this place, monsoon-like rain came gushing down. Since I was in regular clothes (as opposed to being dressed up), I wasn't overly concerned, and I had to wash my hair that night anyway, but the problem was my feet. I was wearing my sandals, which are leather and which were expensive, a price I paid because they were the only sandals I had found that fit my even more expensive orthotics. Now, work covers my orthotics, but that doesn't mean I want to ruin the leather insoles that the molded part is attached to. I stood under cover at the entrance to the temple for a good 10-15 minutes. Eventually, the rain seemed to let up a bit, and then I decided I'd just take my shoes off and carry them around in a plastic bag I didn't need that I had some stuff in from the market. You have to take your shoes off to go inside the temple, anyway. I rolled up my pants, removed my shoes, and walked around in light rain and puddles, and had a marvellous time. It was refreshing, cooled me down, and appeared to be quite safe as the grounds looked really clean. This temple is actually an active one where there are monks residing there, and I even came across an open door where young boys apprenticing for monk-hood were learning to play traditional songs on just as traditional instruments. I tried to get it on video, at least for a minute, but I can't remember now if I got it or not. I seem to recall having some issues with pressing a wrong button or something. Again I digress. I did finally get to see the reclining Buddha, and I correctly guessed that it would be inside the temple, not outdoors!

Wat Pho itself is also surrounded by other temples and the national palace as well as a beautiful national theatre, but I didn't get a chance to see or photograph those, unfortunately. I caught a cab back to my hotel after grabbing some fresh fruit punch to re-hydrate, and sadly, the cab couldn't take me all the way there. We only got about halfway after 1.5 hours, and because Bangkok traffic is notoriously thick, he suggested that he drive me to the nearest train station, and I take the train the rest of the way back because it would be faster. I agreed, so that's what I did! I had already taken the train out to JJ in the morning anyway, so I was familiar with what I needed to do and which stop I needed to get off at. The traffic really was crazy!

Anyway, I will likely get my photos up after I get back home, but I finally have some decent free time and thought I would post some stories here. The pretext to this is that there also isn't a very good selection of TV stations here in my hotel in Singapore, so I don't have much competition for distractions! ;o) Readers, aren't you happy I value you so much? Tee hee!

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