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Tales of a thirty-something wannabe backpacker: Thailand part 1

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

Rrampt in Thailand part 1

 

I had forgotten how important traveling is to me.

To be honest, I’d been in a bit of a daze this past year – in search of a bit of direction. I felt a little like Rob Fleming (John Cusack) in High Fidelity going through a ‘what does it all mean’ phase. I think every man goes through it at some point and mine was this year.

My last trip out of the country was a two week trek through New York State; camping and hiking in the Adirondacks, a stint in Brooklyn, and a pilgrimage to The Band’s Big Pink house in Woodstock. That was two years ago, a long time for someone who recharges from being on the road. Last summer I broke my arm in June and decided to cancel my travel plans, so this spring I was itching to get out of North America for a little while and I decided on Thailand: a bucket list country for sure.

I was going alone. I wasn’t nervous. I had traveled alone to Europe and knew how easy it was to make friends on the backpacker circuit. I knew I could do it again. And then my friend, Paul, decided he wanted to join. We set the date and bought tickets. It was only after I landed that I realized how much I missed the rush of traveling.

Thomas Mann said that he would rather participate in life than write 1000 stories about it. I always struggle with that dilemma, I think every writer does. It’s easy to sit down and write when life isn’t giving you much, but when life is offering up experiences by the butt-load, you don’t want to put things on hold and try to capture everything. Writing, like thinking sometimes, comes later.

There was so much living to do in Thailand. There was so much to take in.  The sensory overload was intoxicating for a guy who’s spent the last ten years in a very small and sheltered city. Bangkok was my first impression. We landed and went straight to The Palace Hostel in the middle of the hedonistic center of Asia: Khoasan Road. My first impressions were the smells from all the vendors lining the streets. Everything from the exotic fruits to the seasoned meats to the salted bugs (later I would find myself eating from a bag of grasshoppers, which tasted like salty popcorn once you got past the fact they were grasshoppers).

Can only say I had the stomach one of these appetizers

Khaosan Road is a place for tourists. There is everything from $2 plates of great food to Thai Massages to lines of tuk tuks (taxis) to bars, restaurants and clothing stores. But with a constant influx of tourists comes the pushy salesmen asking constantly if you want a cab, a tuk tuk, a happy ending, a bucket, and most of all, a suit. Apparently Thai suits are well known for being good and cheap. We were asked repeatedly until we came close to just buying one and wearing it around to lessen the assault.

Did only one of these things on Khaoson Road

I could talk about the eccentricities of Khoasan endlessly, but I’d like to spend this first post on Thailand discussing one of my favourite days: my Thailand Tinder date. Yes, I kept my Tinder app on while traveling. I also kept my Bumble account too. Neither of these dating apps were kept to really go on a ‘date’ with anyone or to meet a love interest. No, I wasn’t in Thailand to fall in love, or ‘hook up’ with anyone. I left that to the twenty-somethings who were filling the busy night spots and dorm rooms.

I was there to meet interesting people my age who could remind me there are others out there in the world who are doing similar things as I am. I used Bumble and Tinder to meet these people and learn about their culture. One of the people I met was named Pla and she would tell me (us – I brought Paul along on the date) that it was the best Tinder date she had ever been on.

Typical night on Khaosan Road

We met Pla at JJ Market in Bangkok, a huge daily market that sells everything you could ever need, but it had a large park beside it. We set a meeting place near the clock tower and Paul and I sat on the grass (something there’s not very much of in Bangkok) and waited. When Pla arrived, she was nervous and hungover. She had been out the previous night at a gay bar with some of her male friends. *Side note: This is a good time to mention the ladyboys of Thailand. We would come across the them throughout most of our trip, but Bangkok was the first time I realized that all the warnings from friends prior to the trip were accurate. They were usually quite beautiful and very difficult to distinguish. They were aggressive in their cat-calling and sexual gestures. My most memorable experience was an early morning I got up to have a quiet cappuccino before Khoasan became Khoason, and as I passed a ladyboy in an alleyway, he/she turned and released the most sexual, orgasmic moan into my ear and kept walking. It was an introduction one of the subcultures of Thailand, one that gets a lot of attention from foreigners, but a harmless one at that.

Pla had invited us out the previous night, but still being pretty jet-lagged, we declined. Instead we opted for an afternoon hangout.  She said she needed a coffee so Paul laid on the grass while she and I went walking the market in search of caffeine.

Park space was rare in Bangkok, I found

I asked her about her life in Bangkok, and she told me she loved the city. She rented out apartments on Airbnb for a living. I knew it was a good way to make some extra cash, I do it often (I’ve actually got a couple from Quebec coming to stay with me tonight), but I didn’t realize it could be main source of income. I guess in a city like Bangkok, with an endless parade of newcomers, it’s a smart business plan. We returned and met Paul on the grass and Pla told us she’d never been on a Tinder date with two people before and we laughed and said Paul and I come as a team. In an afterthought, it was a great way to approach dating: it was more comfortable and there was no awkward lulls like when two people are forced to carry the whole conversation.

I told Pla we needed to fix her hangover with a little hair of the dog, and she had no idea what that meant. I told her about the dog that bit her last night and how a beer symbolized a hair on that K-9, but I’m not sure she bought the Western analogy. But after a beer on a patio in the market, she was sold. “I feel better!” she said and seemed to perk up, so we all ordered another Chang.

Pla was witty and well-humoured. She laughed a lot. She was interested in our lives back home and we were interested in hers. Living in a city the size of Bangkok fascinated me. Living in a country like Thailand, a desired destination for just about every world traveler, was an experience I wanted to learn more about.

The conversation was lively until I asked about the new monarch, the leader of their country. All of sudden, she turned silent, and half-embarrassedly sombre. Their beloved leader of 70 years, Bhumibol Adulyadej, had recently passed and the city of Bangkok was holding year long days of grieving in which everyone wore black and walked to the Royal Palace to pay respects. Before meeting Pla that day, I had wandered accidently, curiously into one of these processions.

The leader had been loved and I wanted to know how the new Prince was regarded. “We’re not allowed to talk about it in public” she said. “Not if you want to stay in Thailand.” That was all she said and we apologized and moved on. I had read prior to my trip that it was not permitted to discuss the monarch in public (with a possible sentence of 15 years), a system I found to be oppressive at first, but when placed in contrast to the extreme scrutiny of the British monarch where front pages are constantly plastered with every move, mistake, and scandal, it seemed kind of respectful and refreshing.

After we ordered a second round of Changs (our preferred Thai beer) Paul pulled out his sketchbook for the first time on the trip.

Paul is an artist and asked Pla if he could do her portrait and she loved the idea. While she posed, I took a toilet break. The toilets in Thailand are usually decent, but public ones cost a bit of money. Now, to preface my first experience in a public toilet in Thailand, I should say that what I experienced wasn’t exclusive to Thailand. I witnessed it in Europe when I was nineteen and was much more disturbing then. When I stepped up to the urinal, and the guy beside me was looking around feverishly while pleasuring himself and smiling intermittently, I wasn’t that freaked out. He took particular interest in my Johnson as I urinated and I thanked God for the metal partition that separated our two urinals. He continued to stroke himself and I just let him do his thing.

The last thing I wanted to do to a public masturbator so close to me was upset him or startle him, so I just got out of there as quickly as possible. I mean there’s no guidebook or protocol on what to do in that situation. Lonely Planet doesn’t have any advice for the backpacker who encounters the scenario of foreign man-jamming in public places. I think maybe there should be. Anyways, I digress.

When I returned to the table, the drawing was finished and Pla loved it. Paul gave it to her as a gift, something he would do many more times on our trip. How powerful it must be to leave such an impact on people you’ve only met briefly. I guess another way to make an impact is to masturbate beside them in a public washroom, but doing a portrait is a little more socially acceptable I think.

It wasn’t long after we ordered a third beer and Pla was in love with the ‘hair of the dog’ approach. That was when she told us that this had been the best Tinder date she’d ever been on. I guess there is something to the whole team approach.

She walked us through the market and to a cab. She spoke to the driver in Thai and made sure we got the local rate and not the tourist rate, which cut our price in half. That was when we realized the degree of the two-tiered approach to pricing. But even the tourist rate is still pretty cheap. Everything is. Sure we got scammed in Bangkok once, and it cost us about $50, but we learned from it. I’m not going to go into it here. This post was about the best Tinder date a Thai girl named Pla had. We never got to see her again. She left for a trip to Indonesia and didn’t return until after we left.

If I ever return, I’ll rent an apartment off her on Airbnb. It’ll be a different experience than Khaosan but I’ll be fine with that. Maybe I’m too old for Khoasan anyways.

 

Read Tales of Thailand Part 2 here

 

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

 

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Jesse Wilkinson

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