An Idiot Says "What" In Bangkok.

I am in Tel Aviv, which is more like Miami Beach than you think. I went swimming in the Mediterranean swimming pool, I mean, Sea today and it was fantastic.  Except for a suspicious bite I have on my foot ... could it have been a jellyfish? 


6.24.11 Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok
>Our taxi driver is a woman and her cab reeks of perfume. After three days in Kuala Lumpur, I am certain the smell could be worse.  Tim is going to Dubai and I am going to Israel but we are leaving from different airports.  Tim's flight leaves an hour and a half earlier than mine so we go together to his airport first.  He checks in for his flight, everything is in order, and then we search for snacks.  As we take the escalator down, the quality of the airport rapidly deteriorates.  There are bugs in the food at the Food Garden.  No snacks for us.
Goodbye Tim! I will miss you.
Until Stockholm!

>The airport shuttle bus arrives so fresh and so clean from the year 1990.  It is completely full except for a few seats in the back.  I leap frog down the aisle with two heavy bags, maneuvering through the carelessly stacked piles of luggage. A "Pump Up The Volume" dance remix is playing.  Really.

Unlike every other airport I have ever been to, this one is lined with shops, not gates.  It is easier to find a bowl of noodles than the Air Asia counter.  Eventually, I manage to check-in and proceed to customs, sweating and thinking about how I am in an airport in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Bangkok ... You know, it is kind of a big deal.
And of all places, they have free internet here.  Free like when you give a kid too much freedom and they become spoiled and misbehave in all ways irritating. The internet does not work.

>I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel in Bangkok.  The least strange part of this ride is that my driver is singing along to Taylor Swift.  The traffic in New York is tame compared to what it is like here.  It is not just that a car might hover between two lanes, but a bus might decide to pass traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road.  Scooters go wherever they want, off road or on road, and tuk tuk's spin and turn and squeeze through traffic [car or pedestrian] as they please. Honking your horn is very in, everyone does it.


6.26.11 Bangkok
>I got an early start to the day, taking the free boat from my hotel to the central pier in order to catch an express boat up the river.  River traffic is much like that of the street -- are there any laws in this country?  I am surprised how little English is spoken and how many signs are only in Thai.

It should have been so simple. All I wanted to do was go to the flower market. That is all.  I wanted to see the vibrant colors of exotic flowers and watch a frenetic exchange of goods.  I wanted to take photographs. All I wanted was to see the flowers. Simple.

I board the first ship that pulls up and an angry Thai woman who had been cutting a piece of fruit waves her knife at me: "Next Boat!"
I board the next boat that pulls up. They announce the flower market as we float by it and I am forced to exit at the next pier.  I plan to walk along the river but am immediately sidetracked by a giant golden reclining Buddha statue.  Shiny object distraction. After I have done a complete loop of the temple grounds, I redirect to the flower market.
Dammit.
I step outside the gate to look at my map and notice that my tourist map is missing about 99% of the streets in Bangkok.  There are big icons to label all the major attractions, leaving little room for any other information. Like, street names, train lines, and other vital details.  [Un]Fortunately, a large street map is conveniently placed at this exit.
"Where are you going? Do you need help?" Asks a man in an unidentifiable uniform wearing an unreadable name tag.
I explained to him that I want to go to the flower market to which he responds: "It's closed!"  While I thought the market was open 24 hours a day, admittedly my research was poor and I did not know for sure.  He grabs my map and circles three places that I should go: 1. The Temple of The Black Buddha 2. The Expo Center 3. Golden Mount Temple.  As he is writing, he says that he teaches "here" [points behind him] and recommends that I travel by tuk tuk. 
I thank him but "No thanks."

I continue walking down the street towards the river when two tuk tuks corner me as I cross the street.
"Where are you going? I can take you there!"  Once again, my map is taken from my hands and more information is thrown at me.
I want to walk and see the city.  I am firm, thanks but "No Thanks."
They don't budge.
One of the drivers says he will take me to the Black Buddha and the Expo Center for only 20 Baht [about 60 cents].  Out of frustration, I say fine, but I insist that I do not want to go to the Expo Center.  He agrees.

The driver is young and speaks English pretty well.  He asks me where I am from and oh, how he loves California!  We drive a few blocks when he suddenly pulls over, jumps out, and brings over another man. 
"This is my brother! He will take good care of you."
It probably was not his brother and he probably would not do anything good for me.
"And he'll take you to the Black Buddha and the Expo Center and ..."
"I don't want to go the Expo Center, just the temple."
He shows me a little card that says "Petrol" on it and explains that if he takes me to the Expo Center that is open only one week per year -- THIS WEEK! -- that he gets free petrol.  Amazing.  I am such sucker, and I know it, and figure he needs the petrol more than I need the 20 Baht.

This driver speaks little English although he does ask where I am from.  America. California. San Francisco.  When we arrive at the Temple, he escorts me to the entry.  It is a beautifully detailed temple but there is no Black Buddha.  I walk through very quickly and tell my driver that I am ready to go. Now.
But wait.
He gestures at the restaurant next to us where there is live music.  I tell him I'm I am ready to go.  Now.
But wait.
He walks towards the restaurant anyway and I follow.  The band finishes and a guy in a pink shirt comes over to me and asks where I am from.  America. California. San Francisco.  He rambles on about sports and we walk and talk right back to the temple.
Once again, I tell them I am ready to go. Now.
But wait.
Instead, they lead me to a shrine and tell me that five minutes inside will bring good luck.
No. I am ready to go. Now.
But wait.
Go. Go. I take off my shoes and walk inside, sitting down on a chair next to a fan.  An older man sitting in the corner says "Hello! Where are you from?"  America. California. San Francisco.  He shakes my hand and shows me his "blue sapphire" ring that he bought at the Expo Center.
"You must go to the Expo Center."
"I'm leaving now."
"Five minutes brings you good luck!"
No. I am ready to go. Now. As I get up to leave, an American man walks in and takes the seat next to us.  He says hello and asks where I am from. America. California ...
"Oh really, I am also from California, where?"
"San Francisco."
"Me too!"
He is young, dressed in a button down white shirt and khaki pants.  He comes to Thailand for three weeks ever year and always stops in Bangkok to visit the Expo Center.  He buys a few pieces of jewelery that he sells back in the US for a huge profit to big stores like "Zales at the Embarcadero." The Expo Center gives him a certificate of authenticity and big name jewelers, who normally have to pay a large tax on imports, are eager to deal with him directly.
His words were steam and evaporated as they left his mouth, his story the transparent cover of an elaborate scam.  I nearly exploded in laughter at the absurdity of this conversation. 
I leave.
We drive to the Expo Center and I reluctantly agree to get out but not go inside.  As we pull up to a shady little shop -- the "Expo Center" -- a gigantic security guard swoops around me and ushers me inside. There are cases full of jewelery and a few people walking around. I stand perfectly still in the doorway, obstructing the entrance, wanting to leave.  A mean round woman sizes me up from across the room and waddles over:
"Can I help you?"
"No."
"Then leave!" she yells.
With the overstuffed woman on one side and the supersize guard on the other, the current pulls me back outside.  I give the tuk tuk driver 20 Baht as promised and frantically walk away.
And get epically lost.
I took out my crumpled map and stopped at a 7-11 for directions. Point! Please point to where I am right now. Please! Heads shake, arms shrug. I went to another 7-11. Not one person could [or wanted to] understand me. For hours I wandered through the fish heads and the durians; no flowers in my hands just a sunburn on my shoulders.


Life on the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok.

Giant Golden Reclining Buddha, Bangkok. 

 The temple grounds. 

The gatekeeper.

 Tuk tuk + Me.

 Temple of The Black Buddha, Bangkok.

 Street facing windows, Bangkok.