Saturday, September 8, 2007
Happy Fun Tuk Tuk Time
(I'm posting this a day late, I'm currently in Krabi. I'll talk about this awesome little place later.) Oh and I can't get any of my pics to post. You need canon software in order to upload. I've got some great ones too. Sorry guys.. I'll get them on the blog when I get back home.
So, it just wouldn't be right to go to Bangkok and not fall victim to the tuk-tuk scam. Joshua, I'm so glad you took one for the team when you guys went. Thanks for the beta.
So, I was still experiencing a bit of culture shock. Bangkok is just an absolute slap in the face. But you still have to go out and explore. There is just so much to see. Temples, Jade Buddhas, con artists..it's great. Anyway, I left my guesthouse feeling pretty loose after a couple of singha, some lunch and a little conversation with some other travelers . I find myself at a beautiful wat (temple), so I begin taking photos when a gentlemen comes up to me with a big warm smile and says, 'hey that's a very nice camera, looks expensive.' That kind of set off an alarm. But maybe he just wants to make conversation, and wishes to practice his English; which many Thai people want to do. So we begin talking, and he tells me that he is with the Tourist Police, although his hair is a bit on the longer side to be a cop. Anyway, he asks me to sit down over in the shade. Which is not a bad idea seeing how the air is 95 degrees and and extremely humid. (I swear, I would half expect these people to have gills, the air is so moist.) He begins writing down all of these wats & Buddhas that I should go and see. And he seems to animate & and excited that about giving me this info, he's practically jumping up and down. Especially when he mentions that today is the last day that I can get a special deal on a custom made suit, direct from the factory! Wow, that's amazing!! In fact, he has already bought 5 suits this week.
OK, here's the coolest part: 'Today' he tells me 'is the Queen's birthday.' ' All Tuk-Tuks are only 10 baht to take a tour around the entire city.' The King is paying for the petrol, to show his appreciation. (Appreciation for what, I have no idea.) But I am instructed to only ride the Tuk-Tuks that fly a blue ribbon, and drivers who wear yellow shirts. "Look, I flag one down for you." He runs up to the driver, shows him the places he has written down for me, and ushers me over to the tuk-tuk. Now, I know I'm not going to get knifed or shot, but I do know that they are after my money. But hey, if they want to take me all over the city for only 10 baht (33 cents) that's cool with me. I jump on and find that we are dodging traffic, speeding into on coming traffic and just whizzing by many cool sites. It was rad.
Then we came to a temple where he asks me to take my time and explore the grounds while he waits. And today, because of the 'holiday' it's free admission. Actually, wats are never free, they exist solely on the kind donations of others. I walk past the walls and I am immediately greeted by a roundish man who is absolutely beaming with happiness. He introduces himself as Yon and asks me if he can show me the temple. We remove our shoes and as we enter I see a stage filled with Buddhas from different centuries. Some jade, some gold plated, bronze, black... happy Buddhas, lucky Buddhas. It's amazing. I am invited to sit on the red carpet and admire the work while he 'wais' and begins to pray out loud to Buddha. Afterwards, he tells me a bit about himself. He is a local school teacher (school is out because of the 'holiday.' -except for the kids that I saw that were in the school yard playing soccer in their school uniforms.....what?) I didn't know that he was in on this scam too. Oh well, I go with it. I ask him how long he has been teaching for, what his motivation was in becoming a teacher. He warmly changes the subject and mentions this unbelievable suit sale. He has bought 3 cashmere suits this week. He humbly asks how much a full suit of cashmere would this would cost in the U.S. Just to feed the fire I told him, "I don't know, at least $1200 dollars. " "My gosh, you can get at least four suits for that price." he exclaims. I strongly encourages me to ask my tuk-tuk driver to take me. Those of you that know me, know that I'm not a very religious person. However, I do feel as though certain things are sacred. And scamming a person is not an action that one does in a temple. Shit, even the Mafia respects their Catholic church.
So, I return to my driver. He complains of the heat, so I offer him some water. He is taken back. To him, I am just a dollar sign. Human compassion should not be a quality to exhibit. The only report we should have with one another is politeness with no true depth. The folks in this industry are well versed in sugar coating a scam. But when it comes to being real, they feel guilty and become a bit curt. It's quite curious really.
We get back out onto the road and it's more traffic dodging in a world of loose traffic laws. Bad ass. During the trip, he explains that we are heading to the tailor. (surprise, surprise) And that I can actually touch & pick out my very own fabric for my custom suit. Really? You mean they have sewing machines and everything? Because that's why I traveled 30 hours, so see god damned fabric. I am so lucky right now. I politely explain that I have to meet friends for lunch back at my guesthouse. He suddenly forgot his English. It must have been somewhere around that last hairpin turn we took at 40mph. I know I almost lost something too.
He stops at the shop and once again says "Take you time." I walk up to the door men who seem to have been waiting for me all day. I pass through the center of two wai-ing as if I am royalty, then give my 'subjects' a brief nod. I turn to face a salesman, he couldn't have been more than 23 years old. His name escapes me, but he is from Burma, and he wishes to share his fabric wisdom with me. I thank him and politely reply that I am only here for the air conditioning. He smiles, and asks if I am more of a cashmere man or corduroy. Well, of course I love corduroy. But it's like 100 freaking degrees outside and winter wear is the last thing on my mind. He asks how many suits I have. Snickering, I told him 'one', and it gets taken out of my closet twice a year. Once for a Wedding & another time for Halloween. He tilts his head, and let's it go. He knew their was a joke in their somewhere. Then says that it would be better to have 2 suits. It would impress my friends. I think of you guys and laugh my ass off. "Yeah buddy, if I wore a suit every time I went out with the guys, I would have to beat myself up." He then says that I can wear a suit to work. I told him, that's even worse. I walk around the store with 'Burma' in tow. I glance down to see a couple sitting on the couch. They are both of farangs(foreigners) like myself. The man appeared utterly defeated. He looked at me and in his eyes I read he either wanted beer or a gun. While his girlfriend was litterally jumping up and down at the amazing deals she was getting on a heaping pile of dresses. Lucky girl, she apparently is going to now impress her friends. I turn around, take one more deep breath of cool, dry air and exit the building. Where are my loyal, subjects that will open my door, I wonder. Oh well, back to the tuk-tuk & I'm off to my next adventure.
We take another series of turns and I am now at a a market district. I ask what this place is, he says "Tourist office, take you time" Well, time for more air conditioning. I sit down and speak to a man who introduces himself as 'Tom.' He askes where I'm going from Bangkok. Thinking of our dear friend Loren, I say Railay beach to do some "sending budday." Puzzled he asking what this 'sending' is. "I'm going to climb", I explain. Abruptly, he exclaims that 'you can't climb..monsoon season..wet rock even with no rain!' "You go to Tonsai and dive with fish. Dive with fish." "Dude, it's overhanging limestone cliffs. Current conditions are fantastic." I turn the tables and ask the loaded question: "Do you climb sir? No, not a climber?" Then with my warmest smile, I continue. "Well, then do not try to argue climbing with me. Baaad idea my friend." He can see that I am not into his lines. Wishes me luck, because I am truly going to need it to have a good time.
Back to the tuk-tuk. My driver asks me one question, "You buy anything yet?" "Nope, haven't spent a dime, but I'm really enjoying the tour. Where we off to next?" "50 meter Gold Buddha? Maybe another wat?" He answers with an impatient grunt, and mumbles something about the giant Buddha. And we're off once again.
Pulling into a lot, I see that the place is swarming with tourists. The Buddha is beautiful. I snap off a few pics, walk around for about 10 minutes, then head back to the tuk-tuk. Where the fu** is my tuk-tuk? Apparently he skipped out on me. Can't say I blame him, he just wasted 3 hours of his day trying to extort money from me to no avail. I'd be pissed too. But I had a great time taking the tuk-tuk driver.
I walk around some more and see a guy with a lo-pro back and a sweet Olympus d-slr. He's holding a map, so I ask if there are any more temples around. He explained that was what he was trying to find. I said that my ride took off, so maybe we should team up and try to find another temple. Capital idea. We ended finding these awesome temples and Buddha statues. We walked around some more, apparently I was now only a block away from my guest house. Sweet! I'm not as lost as I thought I was. So, we chilled out grabbed some fresh grilled snapper from a street stall and pounded beers until 11pm or so. We're going to meet up in Railay do some climbing later on..
Sorry, I know this was a long post. But it was a crazy day.