Friday, August 3, 2012

Ohhh Bangkok.

Bangkok from an elevated walkway
      After 2 days of travel and living in airports our welcome to southeast Asia was both hurried and hectic. We were supposed to spend one day and night  in Bangkok, but due to delays caused by a tropical storm we had about 3 hours to explore Bangkok before heading to bed to get up at 4am for our flight to Hanoi. After a traffic laden and expensive cab ride we dropped our bags in our tiny and funky smelling room with a view of the garbage storage area and set out on foot to discover what the city had to offer.
      We started on an elevated walkway above the street, stopping for pictures and to take in the city scape. The moment my Tevas met the pavement it hit me all at once. The dense, foreign crowds, the wonder of how I would communicate, the noise of the motorbikes and taxis, the putrid smell of feces, fish and rotting garbage, the fact that I had not slept in a bed or even a flat position for over 24 hours- shit, I hardly knew what day it was! I hadn't showered in just as long. The fact that I was hungry and thirsty but the horrific smell of the city, bolstered by the temperature and awful humidity was making me truly nauseous. Lindsay was asking me what I wanted to eat but I could not make this decision- I could not eat, I told her. "It's the smell, the smell I cannot eat food; I feel sick." Memories of my friends telling me they 'hated Bangkok," or 'didn't go there' or saying 'I avoid it' were swimming through my brain. Uggg why were we here? The thought of the hotel room was no comfort either.
      Then there was the culture shock of Thailand's famous sexuality and the sexual tourists. Ladyboy hookers were hanging on the street. Old, disgusting, fat, sweaty, white men lacking any oral hygiene what so ever were walking around with young Thai hookers.  Vendors made the small sidewalk even more narrow and walking down them was like wandering through some type of strange bazaar. Walking in a straight line was not an option. We were weaving through the madness, walking by tables and overhangs filled with sellers who were yelling to us to buy their T shirts, knock off Polos,  purses, fruit; stepping around kids and strollers,  watching my feet to avoid the strange wet spots that were a milky grey color and smelled like mold and garbage.  Sexual items and pornogrophy were sold next to kid's clothing. Small groups of women in thick, long, black Burqas, children at their legs were haggling with vendors in loud foreign voices, fruit sellers stood slicing their wares with long, thin, wooden handled machetes.
       No one seemed to think it was odd that there were so many women in Burqas. It was weird to see so many women dressed like this. My brother  in law's voice popped into my head "they could be hiding anything under there." Should I be nervous about this? Was I nervous about this? I had to separate my experiences as the wife of a Marine sent to a combat zone with the actual experience I was having now. I realized I was the odd one here. My light skin and eyes marking me as a foreigner. My red baggy v neck t shirt and tight capri yoga pants didn't help me blend in, they only served to further mark me as a westerner. 

      A million sounds, smells and sights forced themselves upon me at every instant. Lindsay was forging on quickly ahead of me, the experience of having lived in New York City for the last 6 years, and of having much more travel opportunities then I, providing her a more sure footing and narrowness of vision then me.  I was tired and the nausea was overcoming me. Lindsay was asking me what I wanted to do. "I don't know, I cannot think straight" I admitted, a hotel security guard's shrill and methodic whistle pounding into my slow and nearly numb brain as a motorbike whizzed by my foot much too close for comfort. Someone in a Mercedes was aggressively inching into the pedestrian traffic. I was practically standing in some hotel's evergreen bushes to avoid the street. We had stopped walking now. I looked up at the elevated sky train and the dusky darkness that was battling with the yellow lights of the city. A sex tourist walked by smiling, a prostitute on his arm. We  might just be standing in the pervert capitol of the world. Fingering my wedding band and glancing down at it, I imagined it was some sort of protection. I was glad I had it. We had left my small engagement ring, along with Lindsay's meteor sized one her diamond laden wedding band back in her Manhattan apartment because they were too showy.  My thumb grazed the band. It was like a proclamation to the world- a bit of safety (or at least I fancied it that way) in this new place.
Our hotel, the S Sukhumvit Suites, with entrance to the sky train 
       We decided to eat at our hotel for two reasons. 1. I could not make a decision about where else to go and 2. it had free wifi. I had a bit of vegetarian comfort food, tofu, and was able to get my bearings again. Food, water, air-conditioning and no crowds helping a great deal. From our view of the lobby we saw a sex tourist walk in with a prostitute, and then another, and head upstairs and I speculated (hoped is more like it) this was why the hotel had 'upgraded' us to a suite on our arrival- to keep us away from the creepy old men and their goings on in the night.
      The crowded and traffic ridden streets were clear the next morning as the doorman hailed us a cab to the airport. The cab driver scammed us by telling us, when Lindsay asked him to turn on the meter, that the trip to the airport was paid for by the hotel, then reneging when we arrived there so he could name his price.
      I was glad to be gone out of Bangkok, but to be fair our second stop there was not so bad- although I had tried to talk us out of it.  We took the sky train to the China town area which was just as crowded but not as smelly, and I was used to a foreign, third world city by then. I must say, however that I am now among those travelers who can confidently say, Yes, I've been to Bangkok and no, I wouldn't spend time there again. 

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