Feb 3, 3:45 pm
It’s amazing how difficult the simple things can be if you don’t know the language. My mission today was to find a cell phone. I didn’t think it would be too difficult, but I was prepared for anything. I went to the MBK Centre, which is this shopping mall at the end of the BTS Skytrain line. I was waylaid for a while by a lady who approached me, asking me where I had bought my shirt (which, incidentally, was wrinkled and sweaty). When I said “Canada,” she got very interested, telling me her daughter wanted to get a job in Canada as a nurse. She asked about a lot of mundane things, like about the cost of living in Toronto, and some more troubling ones, like what payment methods I was using while I was in Thailand. Then she started suggesting that she’d like her daughter to meet me so we could discuss Canada. She became quite adamant about it, and kept asking me when I have time to meet her daughter. This daughter-pimping didn’t make me comfortable at all. So, I told her I needed to go look for a cell phone. She offered to show me to some cell phone stores, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. Eventually she gave up and said maybe she might see me around. Not if I could help it!
The cell phone hunt continued. After looking around pointlessly on my own for a while, I asked at the Tourist Information desk where I could find a cell phone. The girl there held up four fingers and said “Fourth floor.”
Arriving on the fourth floor, I looked around. There appeared to be a couple of booths selling cell phones in glass cases. The first one I went to offered me a used Nokia for about 3000 Baht. Not too bad, but I told her I’d shop around. I went around the corner and immediately saw another booth with some cheaper phones. I saw a used Sony Ericsson for 1900 Baht. Negotiating the purchase of the phone was extremely difficult. Not surprisingly, the girl behind the counter had a very sketchy knowledge of English, but it was better than my nonexistent knowledge of Thai. Eventually, through the use of my uber improv mime skills, I was able to communicate what I wanted, and we somehow managed to strike a deal. We settled on 1700 Baht for the phone, charger and SIM card. That’s about $55. It comes with 50 Baht worth of airtime, which I think is about 12 minutes of talking. I can buy cards to top it up at any corner store. Now I have a phone. Mission accomplished.
After making my purchase, I walked around another corner and was promptly astounded. There was what seemed to be an endless maze of cell phone stores. It was a labyrinth of tiny booths, all seemingly identical with bright white lighting, and glass cases neatly displaying rows of used and new cell phones. Ocassionally there was a store selling ripped DVDs and video games to break up the monotony, but for the most part, it was cell phones and more cell phones. I would not be exaggerating if I told you I counted over 200 cell phone booths. It’s no wonder the girl at the first booth with the 3000 Baht Nokia rolled her eyes at me when I said I was going to shop around. This world of cell phones makes no sense to me. I’m all for competition, but this definitely takes the idea of the free market economy to a level I can not comprehend. Is there really such an appetite for cell phones that all these stores can survive?
This theme-oriented shopping is quite popular in Thailand, from what I can see so far. On my way back down from cell phone heaven, I noticed that the third floor seemed to be all about knock-off clothing and luggage. The second floor was mostly traditional Thai arts and crafts.
My next mission was to locate something to eat. During my cell phone hunt, I had walked by a lot of food vendors in the mall, but I was intent on doing one complicated thing at a time, and buying food did not appear to be simple. For one thing, everything is written in Thai. Not surprising. Also, everything good appeared to begin as separate piles of raw and unfamiliar ingredients, and you had to tell the person at the booth what you wanted them to do with them. Without much Thai cooking experience under my belt, this task seemed a bit daunting to me. I eventually chickened out and ordered some pre-cooked BBQ meat and dumplings that looked really good. They were, in fact, quite good, especially for the grand price of 55 Baht (around $1.60).
One tiny cool thing I noticed about Thailand is that everyone recognizes that I’m Chinese. They seem astonished when I tell them that I’m from Canada. Anyway, the lady I bought food from tried to speak to me a bit in Thai-accented Chinese, and of course, I couldn’t respond. These people must think I’m a moron. Oh well. At least I’m a well-fed and cell phone-connected moron.
Feb 4, 10:30am
Just a quick rundown on last night’s events. I got my hair cut at a combination barber/massage parlour. Not a great hair cut, but it will have to do. It’s friggin’ hot here, and my head was radiating like a furnace. Much better now.
I took a stroll to the north of my hotel. I hadn’t even figured out that anything was there, because of the huge wall of traffic that separated me from it. But I learned to follow the Thai people when crossing the street. They seem to know when is the right time to leap out into traffic and still avoid being hit. It’s quite exciting. North of my hotel is the famous Patpong night market. It’s full of some pretty raunchy bars and clubs, as well as a night market where you can buy clothes, arts and crafts, and all kinds of basically crap. I went home at about 10:30pm to get some sleep.
This morning I got up at 7 again and headed out to the Imperial Palace and National Museum. I wanted to get there by 8:30 when it opens to beat the crowds. I took a combination of skytrain and river boat to get there. I’m really enjoying traveling within Bangkok with the real Thai people. It was interesting to join their rush hour commute.
The river boats are insane. They are loud, stinky and old. A guy stands on the loading platform with a rope, and steps onto the dock before the boat stops moving. He loops the rope around a metal post, then uses a series of whistles to direct the boat driver to manouever closer to the dock. As soon as the boat rams into the rubber tires lining the dock, people begin jumping on and off. As soon as everyone who wants to be on land is on land, and everyone who wants to be on the boat is on the boat, the whistles begin again, and the boat is off. The entire stop takes about 30 seconds.
Along the way from the Skytrain station in the south, to the Imperial Palace in the north, I enjoyed the scenery on the river’s edge. The river was crammed with run-down buildings with tin roofs, pouring sewage into the water. These buildings were side by side with huge luxury hotels and local patio restaurants. Sometimes I’d see a parking lot jutting out into the water, with Mercedes Benz limousines parked on top. The contrasts were mind-boggling.
Anyway, I think the boat ride was my favorite part of the whole morning. The palace itself was beautiful, but the light was very ordinary: hazy and indistinct. I’m not sure how great the photos are.
Now I’m sitting in my hotel room, waiting for 11am so I can find out if I get to stay here or not. I want to stay one more night, but they’re unable to confirm availability of rooms until 11am for some reason.
Tomorrow I want to head up north and get out of Bangkok for a while. I haven’t decided where yet, but it would probably be a good idea for me to figure it out soon.
Ok. So I get to stay in my suite at the Trinity for one more night. That’s quite a relief. Finding another place at the last minute would not be easy or cheap. Tomorrow I think I’ll head up to Ayutthaya to check out some temples and maybe just relax for a couple of days. The pace in Bangkok is pretty crazy. Or should I say, the pace I set for myself in Bangkok is pretty crazy.