Letters From Bangkok: To Greece From Abroad
13th October 2018
It’s been quite a time here in Bangkok. Though my days are now numbered, I must say I am really enjoying this style of traveling even if my travel aspirations and list of Asian cities I want to live in grows longer each day.
Often, I notice similarities between here and the Western world that I didn’t notice in places like southern Africa. Thai people put a lot of emphasis into fitting into Western culture, but they have to do it in ways realistic to their situations.
For example, on my walk today, I passed a street with nothing but music stores. Then, I passed a street of nothing by car audio stores. Imagine the feeling you get walking into a secondhand shop – the merchandise looks old and worn, but these people were trying to sell this stuff like brand new because they were Western brands.
People are insane about brand names here, often paying three-times what a product would cost in the U.S. just because of the limited supply of the brand in Thailand. And it’s close-to-impossible to find new brand-name products that won’t cost you your life-savings. They’re often hand-me-downs passed on from person to person.
Thai’s will also buy fake brand-name products when everyone and their mom knows they’re fake. Just outside my accommodation, a man tries to get me to buy a great big JBL speaker for $10 every day. I thought these gimmicks were only for tourists but it seems locals go for them more than the foreigners.
I often wonder if locals here think us Westerners are ignorant for buying products we know they make for pennies. Or are we just suckers to them? Or do they believe they’re masters of their craft and their craftsmanship is worth the price we pay?
I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying my camera everywhere I go throughout the city because it seems on every walk there’s something surprising that happens. It’s a new camera. I’m still getting used to it.
I’ve noticed photography is a lot like golf in that you find a club (or camera settings) that you feel comfortable with and base the rest of your game around your feeling for that club (setting). It’s a fun hobby I’ve gotten into lately.
I took my camera with me to the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya where my friend, Kaci (from Kansas City), and I took a day trip yesterday. She is here in Bangkok doing a semester abroad and it has been a real pleasure to have someone to hang out with on a consistent basis. She’s also introduced me to many of her friends from around the world. I’m very fortunate to have her here while I’ve been in Bangkok.
We started early in the morning. Some friends told us we’d be gone the entire day so it was better to leave early. We hopped on a bus to the train station and were handed small candies from the driver’s assistant before we even paid our bus fare (yes, in Bangkok, bus drivers have assistants who collect the fares).
The candies are nothing but glorified flavored Halls cough drops and I have no idea why they hand them out like it’s Halloween, but it’s a nice gesture regardless; especially when the bus fare is less than twenty-five cents.
The bus chugged along like it was being pulled by chains through traffic. Stop-go-jerk-stop-go-jerk. There were all sorts of rattling going on underneath the floorboard. I looked around, but no one seemed to bat an eye at the noises. I assumed it was normal, but that didn’t mean I felt comfortable.
When we got to the train station, we bought our tickets and grabbed some breakfast at the cafeteria in the station. When it was time to board, it was like I was walking into a third-world documentary set. There were men getting their haircut at a makeshift barber’s shop along the railway tracks. Three or four of them, at least. I once saw a documentary set in India where children’s dentist appointments happened on a chair in an alleyway of Mumbai. This reminded me of the type of world I witnessed in that documentary.
The train was cramped, but the express route moved quickly. No more than an hour after we departed, we were already arriving in the ancient city that was more than seventy miles to the south of Bangkok. Kaci and I immediately went across the street to rent a motor scooter for the day.
“So, what’s our bargaining price?” I asked her. “250 Baht?”
She thought that seemed fair so I was prepared to negotiate the price he charged. It wasn’t necessary, though, because his initial offer was 200 Baht for the day – roughly 6 USD. I gladly accepted and before we could sign any waivers or contracts or any of the legal stuff Western rental companies care about, he was pushing us onto our scooter and sending us on our way. He didn’t even check for our Driver’s License.
The ancient city of Ayutthaya was once the most populous city in the world. It was the former capital of the country when Thailand was known as the Kingdom of Siam. It has ruins well-preserved dating back to the 1300’s. Those are all fine and interesting, but I must admit once you’ve seen one ancient ruin, you’ve seen them all.
We spent the day touring each of the half-dozen-or-so ruins, but I would be lying if I said my favorite part of the day wasn’t surviving Thai traffic on our scooter.
It’s one thing to witness the madness from the sidewalks, but it’s another to drive in it yourself. Ayutthaya’s traffic is by no means the madness of Bangkok’s streets; I wouldn’t dare drive a scooter in Bangkok. That’s practically a death wish for foreigners.
You have to know the rules of the road to get around by scooter in Thailand. In Ayutthaya, I was able to learn slowly. Kaci and I spent the afternoon switching turns as the driver. We only ended up on the wrong side of the road a few times (oh, yeah, did I mention Thai traffic drives on the opposite side like the U.K.?)
I’m sure traffic in Greece is nothing like here. You Greeks are too calm and relaxed to deal with hectic traffic. Your culture would never appreciate the roads here.
By the time you will have received this, you should be home from the army with your family. I’m so proud of you, man. You turned what could have been the longest nine months of your life while serving your country into nine months of motivation and progress. Now, you’re onto the next stage of your life.
I’m excited for what that will bring you.