Well, yesterday was interesting. I think I have now established my reputation in the expat community in Thailand (at least, I’m pretty certain they’ll remember me…things got just a little bit wild last night ). But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
Yesterday I decided to team up with two Western/Caucasian women and do the standard tourist tour. All the guidebooks say the Grand Palace is incredible and a must-see, and I will add my insight: the Grand Palace is incredible, and a must-see. Words can’t describe it, so I’ll try to get my pictures uploaded. Incredibly ornate, and often very beautiful decoration; an entire wall of mother-of-pearl inlaid pictures; an whole temple complex covered in detailed mosaic; and gold leaf and lotus blossom everywhere. They have a huge reclining Buddha entirely covered in gold–the toes alone are twenty feet tall, and the head must be 40-60 feet up–the temple was built around the statue (!) It’s impossible to catch the size in pictures, you have to see it for yourself.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is a Buddha statue probably about 18-24″ tall carved entirely out of green jasper, and draped in gold-and-diamond robes that change three times a year, is also really amazing. Unfortunately, because it’s also one of the most holy sites in Thailand, pictures are not allowed, so you’ll have to settle for postcards. I bought five yesterday and may go back again today, so five lucky winners will actually get photos (the rest of you should be receiving your yak shortly 😉 ).
I wish I’d had more time to spend there–unfortunately, since I was going around with two other women, I was stuck with their schedule. between that and trying to shoot with both digital and film cameras, I really didn’t get to *see* much of the complex–in my experience you can either go as a photographer or as an individual, but you can’t do both at the same time. Thinking composition is very different from seeing things directly–so, I’m going again both for myself and to get the writer’s view.
One of the things that’s struck me so far on my travels is how many different ways there are to see a country. I’m not going to discuss it now, because I’m still turning it over in the back of my head (and frankly, am too damn tired to wax philosophical–I was out just a wee bit late last night 🙂 ), but it’s very clear that my companions got a totally different view, and were looking for something completely different, than I was. Partly because as Caucasians they were instantly ID’d as tourists (I can “pass”–mostly–as long as I keep my mouth shut), partly because they were traveling short-term (1 week to 1 month) and trying to fit in as much as possible. Very different philosophy, very different approach. I’m not going to expound further until I get over last night’s festivities, though.
Anyway, after doing the temple tour we stopped by Wat Pho, the temple/massage school, for a half-hour massage. Thai massage is very different from Swedish massage in that it’s primarily working with pressure-points; it can be almost painful at times, but is very good at undoing knots…okay, my masseur was also damn cute, which didn’t hurt one bit. (If I didn’t mention it already, Thai men are seriously HOT–warm friendly appeal mixed with with elfin, delicate features. Surprising to me since I’ve never found Asian men attractive (despite being Asian myself). Thai women are also beautiful, but since my taste in women runs a bit more earthy it’s not quite as appealing to me, your mileage may vary.)
Umm…where was I? Oh, right. The massage therapist. I think he took a fancy to either me or my money–more likely the latter, as he got much friendlier after realizing I had both film *and* digital cameras (i.e., money). He kept trying to upsell me to a longer massage, and lounged around discreetly afterwards. I was glad I had company to discourage him, but now I’ll never know what he had planned to try…I’ve already been the target of a couple of scams, so another variant would have been interesting. I’m very glad I read through all the warnings, etc. before coming.
Anyway, I’m going back to the temple today for a 1 hour massage with Thai herbs and a 45-minute foot reflexology session (I have no idea WHAT that is, so I must find out 😉 ), so maybe I’ll run into him again. Or maybe not. Who knows?
Anyway, after the palace, I peeled off from the other two so I could visit a tailor. I ordered up two blouses and one pair of pants, which may be too delicate/nice for roughhousing in Asia–but they’ll have my measurements, which means I can order custom work once I get home, too.
Later that evening, I met Ben (Herve’s friend) at Barbican, the expat watering hole. The bar wasn’t especially interesting and Ben had to leave early (work), so I wound up going off with his cousin Nima, who works for the premier tourist-map printing company in Bangkok (daughter of the owner/guide writer).
Nima decided to take us all, especially me, on an impromptu “interesting” tour of Bangkok’s red-light district. Since I was hungry, and everyone else wanted to go shopping, she announced that she had just the thing–and was going to watch as I ate a maggot. (I think she was trying to gross me out; I don’t think she realized that Rob and I were breeding roaches, caterpillars, etc. for sale back when we were married.) This sounded perverse enough to be interesting, so I said sure.
After a fast tour past some amazing number of brothels (more on those after I catch up on sleep), we wound up at a small food stall where the guy had the most amazing array of stuff I’d seen. It was all deep-fried insects–mealworms, grasshoppers, pupating larvae, giant beetle-like things about 2″ long, and–yes–scorpions. Big black scorpions about 3″ long, tail up in stinging position. (Fortunately, the black ones aren’t venomous.)
Well. (a) I was hungry, (b) it was all cooked, so no parasites, and (c) I was obviously being dared to try it. It did occur to me that eating cold food from a street vendor was not the smartest of things to do, but I figured the experience was worth a bout of food poisoning, so what the hell: I got one of each. (I just wish I’d had a camera!) And decided to start with the pretty stuff, so I bit the head off the scorpion.
Well. Scorpions are crunchy, you know? They’re all shell (very chitinous), the bits get stuck in your teeth, and they really don’t have much meat on them. Of course, they’re supposed to be major-league aphrodesiacs (why do people only tell me these things AFTER I eat them??)…but as a culinary experience, they’re right up there with, umm, maggots, grasshoppers, and pupated beetle larvae. (The 2″ beetle-thing was supposed to be good for sleep, so I saved it for later. 😉 )
The main difference betwen scorpions and any other insect is that you’ll be picking bits of scorpion out of your teeth all evening–the shell is seriously crunchy and gets stuck pretty easily. So if you’re going to eat a scorpion, bring dental floss. 🙂
For the record, pretty much all of them tasted the same: musty, burnt soft-shell crab. Texture-wise, the pupating beetle was, um, gooshy. Squishy. Something like that. I’d say the best of the lot was the grasshopper–crunchy, not gooshy, but didn’t leave bits between my teeth–a great texture, as deep-fried insects go. I don’t recommend any of them if your tastes run towards anything better than musty cardboard…but, I suppose it’s worth trying at least once. 🙂
I did get one extra scorpion “to take home”–hey, you never know when you’ll need an extra-strength aphrodesiac, just slip one into your date’s drink and you’ll be, um, set–or something like that . Unfortunately one of the claws broke off while we were bar-hopping, so I have to find the guy again–I have a hapless recipient in mind, so once I figure out how to get it past customs, well…
So, after that we went shopping again, this time in a go-go-girl outfittery (I really think Nima was testing me). Nima was trying on black leather boots when I spotted the PERFECT G-string/bikini: hot pink sequins, with dangling pink-and-gold coins that sway absolutely outrageously. AIDS Lifecycle 2, here I come! The only thing it’s missing is tassels.
After that the evening was much less exciting–a few hours hopping through dance clubs, starting with Radio City Music Hall (which starred a Thai Elvis impersonator–he was pretty darn good, down to the lambchop sideburns, but it was the backup band that had me in stitches–imagine a bunch of Thai men in red satin suits attempting a goose-step march while playing the trombone (!), and you get the idea), going to a standard 80’s pop dance club, and finishing with a deep throbbing techno place. I will say that it’s a bit harder to dance the night away when all you’ve had since lunch is a couple of assorted insects and a lime margarita, but fortunately the AIDS Ride prepared me for just such exigencies–I now have the metabolism from hell.
Anyway, that was my evening last night–I think I’ve pretty much established my reputation in the expat community (Nima is one of those sorts who know absolutely everyone). Nima also invited me to “a big party” on the 26th–I’ll probably go, as it’s a good opportunity to meet people. I’ll probably leave Bangkok in the next few days, go north to Chiang Mai, and loop back for the party–although, I haven’t decided anything finally yet.
Also, one of the women I met last night has a friend who is working in an NGO that is doing some sort of AIDS work (I’m not sure exactly what because we were screaming at each other in a very loud bar), so I’m going to follow up on that as well. I just need to get into the local nonprofit circuit, then I’ll have another view of Southeast Asia. As I said earlier, there are all ways to visit/see a country–I intend to try most of them, while I’m here.
And now, off to bed–between being out way too late and jet lag, I only got four hours of sleep last night and the night before, so today’s a rest day. I might get out, and then I might not. We’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll wake up at nightfall, and go see Bangkok in the night.
I should say, I’m glad my hotel has security. There was a guy following me when I came back last night–discreetly, at a distance of about 80 feet–but he faded away after I passed the security guard. I don’t know if he was really following me or if I was just being paranoid, but in any event, the double security (and nicer rooms) are well worthwhile. If I go night-hopping, I’ll be careful.