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readers' submissions

 

Land of smiles

By Bill

Well here we go again folks. I am on the road. I love this kind of travel because it is the most free kind of travel. You sort of lay out a basic plan before you start and then wing it as you go. This only applies if you are used to it. Some people winging it are still at the federal all-inclusive. It is important to remember that the local customs and laws are so different from our own that sometimes they seem preposterous. It is easy to get hot and fed up and drop that candy wrapper in the gutter only to find yourself surrounded by a mob of angry greens (local cops, federals are brown) all shouting in a language you don't understand. In Thailand, the fine is 2000 Baht (64 CDN) and a trip downtown, wherever that is. It all seems like downtown to me.

I had to laugh at myself until I remembered where I was. I think it is a big deal to fly to China. People say "hey buddy where ya goin" I proudly announce I'm flyin to China man...I'm flyin to China. Big Deal eh? You ? Yeah..I'm going to Fort Mcmurray. It seems like a big deal and then you get on the plane with the whole damn Xiangdong Province and you realize you are just a speck on the big windshield of the world.

There is something of a test to these flights. 12 ½ hours in the same chair. Upright. You can't walk around much. When you stand up to stretch, everyone stares at you because you are the only thing in their visual range that has changed in the last six hours. Suddenly you are more interesting than the seat back in front of you and self consciousness sets in. You sit back down. The Airport in China is amazing. It is the most massive building. A city inside includes its own fire, police, medical and dental offices and municipal facilities and all their departments. I wonder if they have elections.

Landing on the ground in Bangkok is a total culture shock. Even if you do it all the time. You forget in the western world what it means to live in close proximity to 20 million other people. All of them going about it at a feverish pace. There is almost a desperation at which they go about things. Be careful not to get caught up in it. After all, it is a holiday.

The most obvious thing is all the grins. They can't help it. If you catch their eye and hold it, it doesn't matter who or how old, they will get this big grin across their face. They can't help it. Even the old sourpuss at passport control. This can also be dangerous though because they will hold this grin all the while telling you that you have one hour until your bus leaves as it pulls out behind you. They will absolutely not lose face. It is more important to give an answer, any answer, than to say I don't know. As a result you have to use the law of averages to get the information you need. For example, you want to know where to get a photocopy made in a smaller village of say 15,000 people. The first one will proudly say oh, yes of course, it is right over there, just turn right at the sign. You walk three paces and ask another. Then another, and another. The answers will all be different. If you ask enough though, you will get two the same. Progress. If I can just get three the same there is a pretty good chance I really can get a photocopy there. Of course this doesn't apply if you ask someone you are staying with or that you will be paying shortly for their services. They will really endeavor to find out for you or take you there directly, face or
not, you re holding the money, baby.

One of the other weird things is some of the homes. I remember when we were kids, we use to play house (house, not doctor) and you would throw together some basic things that were really largely representational. Well, they actually set up these little homes like that. A small space the size of an average Canadian household bathroom becomes a home. Cooking and washing are done on a small table or counter rigged up out of whatever Papa could find. The bedroom is a pile of blankets that anyone, family or not, can climb into and promptly begin snoring. The washroom is a bucket emptied into the street and privacy is non-existent. But it is home and the family all gather around or nearby eating, talking and spitting.

As you may know, I talk to many as I go about my business. It is a little alarming for most Thais. They are simply not used to being spoken to so casually. Comments made in passing that are deemed friendly at home are just confusing for them. Then comes the language barrier. I say what I want and they don't understand. I forget where I am and try it in the Spanish I have left over from Cuba. That just really destroys them. I go back to English and speak like I am talking to a Martian. Where shoes? Car not fast, you go fast.

Once again the scene here is one of counterfeit everything and sleazy people calling out to you. Noticeably the taxi girls in bars along the street. It gets really annoying and you have to turn on your ignore switch and really tune them out. I decided this afternoon to change my approach to something that felt better and fun (not what your thinking) I walked along the shopping area and a couple of women called out the usual "hello handsome man" and "welcome" and I called back "I love my wife" Well, they didn't get it of course but I did and walked off all smug. It happened again only this time I didn't see the American couple standing behind me when I called it out. They started to laugh and I got really embarrassed. I decided though to tough through the embarrassment because, man, what better response says it all? I love my wife.

Well, tomorrow I take an early bus partway around the bay of Siam before catching a ferry to a largely desolate island called Koh Samet. Very few tourists (yay!) spectacular scenery and living off the earth living at its finest. They do expect some travelers though and will have a place for me to stay. The barn with the oxcart gets old real fast. It is unknown whether there is internet or not but I will find out I guess.


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