So, I spent today acclimating to Bangkok, which is to say that I didn’t do any targeted sightseeing, but walked around my local area a little bit, then took a bus to Pratunam Market, which is supposed to be a clothing mecca. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near standard Thai sizes–Thai women tend to be short and slender, and prefer close-fitting, tailored garments. While I’m definitely short, I have the build of an ox and am muscular to boot (AIDS Lifecycle put me up to 150 lbs!), so I really didn’t find anything.
But, there are ten or fifteen tailor shops right near me–all of which advertise that they make up shirts, pants, etc. within eighteen hours and deliver right to your hotel, for insanely low prices–so I think I will go see them tomorrow. Eighteen hours? Heck, that’s faster than I can get my laundry to dry.
So far all I’ve seen is the mainstream textile stuff, but even that is pretty neat. There are some shirts that look almost like tie-dyes, but more complex–discharge-dyed (tied, bleached, then retied and redyed) into very intricate and beautiful patterns, almost like mandala tie-dyeing. I wish I spoke Thai, some of those pieces were gorgeous & I really wanted to talk to the maker. If I find a small sample–in a kerchief, perhaps–I may buy one and bring it with me.
There was also some of that intricate tied-resist work that I think of as more native to India–I forget the name, but I’ll see if I can get a picture.
But today I was basically out to acclimate and catch the “beat” of the city. It’s very bustling–the sidewalks aren’t sidewalks so much as a venue for street vendors–mostly food stalls, but also belts, purses, T-shirts, sunglasses, fake Rolexes, and all the other things you’d expect from street vendors.
There’s a weird mix of shops on the street: for example, within about 100 meters of my hotel (which is a little hole in the wall place), there’s a 7-11, a comedy club, at least ten street vendors selling hot-hot-hot noodles, deep-fried rice noodle balls, weird tropical fruits, etc.; three legit massage places, two obvious brothels, a cheap drinking hole for Westerners, and at least five custom tailoring shops. Dirt and piles of garbage everywhere. Oddly, I spotted a rat on the sidewalk in broad daylight–bad sign, as rats are nocturnal, you don’t normally see them in the day unless they’re ill. I hope it’s nothing serious.
Oh yeah, and there’s a Starbucks around the corner from me. I guess some things really *are* universal. Tomorrow morning I’m going to go check them out–yes, I know they’re evil, but they may have decaf. I’d probably sell my soul for decaf in a few more weeks.
But today was mostly acclimating, and trying to get a “feel” for the place. I haven’t got the “beat” of the city yet, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t duplicate it without a few more weeks at least, but I do seem to be re-orienting.
On the Asian-not-Asian front, people seem to start by assuming I’m Chinese-Thai–so I get Thai first, then Mandarin Chinese, then English. Fortunately I do speak pidgin Mandarin (at least better than I speak pidgin Thai), and it’s improving through exposure. Tomorrow I’m going to see where I can get a crash course in survival Thai–Ben gave me a few phrases tonight at dinner (he found me a sushi place!), but I really need more than that to function.
Not sure what I’m going to do tomorrow–I’ll probably start by sleeping in, then look for meditation classes, silk museums, temples, transvestite cabarets, art and history museums, shopping districts, craft artisans, and/or brothels, in no particular order. I do want to take a boat down the canals–it’s supposed to be the quickest way to get around Bangkok during rush hour. Traffic really *does* come to a dead standstill during rush hour, as I found out today.
Also starting to plan the rest of my month in Thailand–there are two major festivals in late October/early November, an elephant roundup, elephant treks, nature treks, meditation retreats, silk demonstrations, artisan crafters, stunning beaches, and diving instruction in various parts of Thailand throughout the month. Not to mention that tomorrow night I will probably meet the expat American community–some of them might have pointers, too. And, I’m tracking down the number of the Johns Hopkins AIDS program in Chiang Mai–I think they’d be good to talk to.
So much to do, so little time. 4-6 months SOUNDS like a lot…but to cover half a continent? i don’t think I could see half the U.S. in that much time, and the U.S. is incredibly culturally homogenous compared to Southeast Asia. The guidebook says to pick one thing and focus on it, but I think a random sampling is much more interesting.