Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Episode 1: Sensory Overload

Sawatdee kha!

To be honest, I'm starring at this computer screen and I have no idea how to eloquently some sum up a week in Bangkok in a few paragraphs! Do I tell you about the heat? the food? the people? the food? the traffic? the food? my job? the fruit (hehe)? the craziness of the city? how i have been lucky beyond belief? how much a BLEND in? the crafts and art? the crazy rains? the slums? the everyday life? or do I just write an entire email about food?

damn decisions!

How about you just pick what you want to hear...but food has to be one of them!! ;)

I'll start with this--my loss of control. No no, I didn't go Haitian/Israeli on some little thai guy for almost running me over with his motor bike (i'm getting quite used to that actually), instead it goes something like this....

After crashing at a hotel for the first night having arrived in Bangkok at midnight, I woke up bright and early to start my day. I was going to get the information on this apartment I was going to use (the hotel while only $25/night is much too expensive for Thailand), drop my stuff off, contact a few of my work contacts, and then explore the city. It was all suppose to go according to plan.


I should also apologize to you. I told you I was going to the Land of the Thai, it was a lie, and I'm sorry. While I have seen quite a few Thais running around, I have seen many more 7/Elevens. Yes, this is the Land of 7/Elevens! Don't tell anyone to met you at a 7/Eleven, they are on EVERY block, sometimes two or three PER block! Fully equipped with slurpie machines, Dukin Donut cases, and the hot dog rotisserie things. LORD! At first I was thoroughly disgusted, and then slightly amused, and now I find them rather useful -- an endless source of cheap bottled water.

However, my contempt remains for the ugly and endless McDonalds, KFCs, Pizza Huts, Subways, AND...oh god...the..the...I can't even say it.................Starbucks!!!!!!!!! (insert piercing shreik!) WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHY???!!!!! And WHO do I see eating inside them???? You guessed it--AMERICANS!!!! (sigh!)

but I digress, my apologies again.

So, I started my day. I went to 7/11 to buy a phone card to activate the cell phone my director game me, and to call her for the apartment info. But the phone was locked and I apparently had to wrong code to unlock it. No problem, I brought an international calling card to call her. The pay phone didn't work. (deep breath) Found another one, can't dial. What the HELL is the contry code for the US?? (not wooooorking! please don't break the phone and scare the nice, little Thai people!!!) YOU IDIOT! It's 1, the country code is just the #1! YES!

She gave me a new code and some people here in Bangkok to contact. Unlocked the phone (YES!), inserted the card, the phone died immediately (NOOOO!). Gotta pay for the card anyway cause he had to open the package. (right!) Ok, went to call local contacts, no go, need a local calling card. (ok, it's ok!) Get a local calling card, why is man at 7/11 laughing at me?! Try to call, NOT working!! I swear I'm not a foll but HOW DO YOU DO THIIIIIIIS???????

(goddam*n it's hot in this country!)

Ok, figured it out, i was missing a zero! fine! Make SIX local calls, not ONE person is around! (dam*t, I just want some place to drop my luggage off!!!!) Last number to try, and this one is gonna work!!!

TEMPORARILY DISCONNECTED!!!!!!!!! (i do believe this is where a multitude of four letter words came out of my sweet little mouth!)

and then...it started to rain. And then I started to laugh!

And I surrendered my friends. I surrendered to Thailand, to traveling, to the circumstances of life, and I have had the best time ever since!

Bangkok is amazing! The streets are an array of sights, colors, and sounds -- the city is massive, mixed with modern sky scrappers down to the little shacks of tin and concrete squeezed into small side streets and along the rivers. Yet, there is the green on trees and various plant life squeezed in wherever possible. Bright green and yellow or blue and red taxis zip around the bigger buses, while hundreds of little black and teal motor bikes weave in and out of the taxis and sometimes on the sidewalks if they please, with their little horns and loud motors. Traffic is a constant.

And yet the sidewalks hold a traffic of their own. Hundreds of white shirts with blue or black bottoms of school uniforms travel like an army of ants up and down the streets, socializing or searching for the nearest "game center" where they can play video games on computers and scream and yell above the loud sounds of guns shooting and things blowing up on their screens, even though they played the game exact game yesterday and they'll play the same DAMN thing tomorrow and they just want to give me a headache as I try to get some work done on the neighboring computer! right, where was I?

In and out of the uniforms are the colors of everyday people doing everyday things, and highlighted amongst the crowd are specs of orange, as monks head here and there doing the things that monks do. (Here monks rely entirely on the generosity of the people, they begin their journeys at 5:30 am and walk the streets until 8:00 or so, where people wait to give them food. If no one gives them food, they will starve to death. Amazing and beautiful)

The calls of human voices rise above the drone of traffic eliminating from vendors on the street selling fruit, all kinds of delicious, delightful food, crafts, clothes, anything and everything. You can find the occasional elephant is just chilling on the street, helping his trainer sell bananas, there is an estimated 120,000 stray dogs in the city, and everyone is coming and going! The sounds of traffic and people are complimented by the smells of incredible food, exhaust, jasmine from the wreaths made for offerings and prayer, and this one fruit dorian!


I may not be spelling it right but let me just tell you about this experience and then I'll leave you alone for today. So, I'm adventurous right?! I mean, I'll go just about anywhere, try just about anything, I've had a wonderful experience eating only street food here (haven't even been to a restaurant yet), I've drank some of the local water, I'm traveling around the country by myself, and I think it's all good. So I see this fruit, it's large and green and has this spikes on the outside, immediately I'm like a little kid--hmmmm, I wonder what that is? I ask this guy, he smiles and says you'll either love it or hate it.

Sounds ok to me, and like a bit of a challenge, and damn me cause I love a challenge. So he gives me some, and smiles, and waits. I'm thinking fin--WHOA, what's that SMELL?? Oh yes, it's coming from the FRUIT! Sweet Jesus! It smells like, well, like a mixture of..well, all I can think of is the word putrid, and the images of rotting garbage, and carcasses, and the foulness of waste and death come to mind.

Ok fine. I mean some things just smell kind of strong but they aren't so bad...right?! I rise to the challenge, I take hold of the yellow fruit, it's rather firm on the outside, so far so good. I smile at him and take a bite. The firmer skin gives way to a creamy inside that bursts into my mouth, and I'm rather taken off guard by this overly creamy, mushy, terrible consistency mixture, but I'm chewing and..I'm ok. Immediately I think YES, I win, it's not so ba--AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!! OH MY GOD! GET IT OUT OF MY MOUTH! The second wave of the fruit hit and it was a sensory overload! My mouth was paralized! I couldn't move! I couldn't think! My mouth was frozen in mid chew, my nose hair crinkled, and my eyes started to water.

Somewhere in the far distance I hear roars of laughter, but I can't be concerned with that right now!

What to do? Lord what to do???

I want my mommy!!!

And all I can think is please so spit it out! Please don't spit it out in this man's face! PLEASE! And in a decision of self-sacrifice I chew, and chew, and pray, and chew, and swallow!!! The sounds of laughter get closer until my eyes can focus through the haze to the man who had given me the fruit. And I give him a weak smile and tell him in a barely audible voice that a thoroughly enjoyed the experience and thank y---AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!


I lunged for my water! Not helping, not HEEEEEEEEELPING!!! Must numb senses!! HAVE MERCY!!!!!! And then I saw my salvation --RICE AND PEPPER! And I took in spoons fulls of rice with the red chiles that are no joke. And my mouth was on fire. And I was happy because I couldn't feel a thing!

The after taste, tastes like it smells!!! I don't know if that's possible or how to describe this to you, but it was like the smell of it had seeped through my tongue, permeated my nose, it just filled my entire face!

I was exhausted, and I had lost, and I admit it.

I just wanted to share that with you.

I haven't scared anybody yet really, mostly the Thais just stare at me in amazement, so I smile, and then they smile and then we both smile and everyone is happy.

This email is already entirely too long! If you're asleep, I'm sorry! I want to tell you about the massage I got, the slum I went to, the disparities I am finding in the field of trafficking, the flower market, the really nice couple who has given me a free place to stay for as long as I need, this crazy American who just up and moved here for no rhyme or reason (which is cool) but is afraid to try ANY of the local food, suspects that all the locals are trying to rip him off and are criminals (???), wants to learn to local language but refuses to practice any of it, brought 4 pairs of bright white sneakers which he plans to keep that way and every time that got dirty he had to stop and clean them (it's the RAINY SEASON, it's a CITY, HELLO?????????), thinks that middle class Thai living is poverty and wouldn't believe me when I told him it gets worse, and did I mention he styles his hair like Elvis?????!! Oh, I ran away, QUICKLY!!!

Anyway, much more to tell. I head to the north of the country next week to the Golden Triangle, where the border of Laos, Burma, and Thailand met to do some research up there.

I promise to send an entire email on trafficking, I know my experiences will be dramatically different once I head up there.

All the best and I hope this finds you well,

Much love


Ps. The swear are edited for those of you who have work emails that won't permit my sailor mouth through!