Archive for June, 2005

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Thailand: A Brief Travel Log

June 30, 2005

6.17.05

Bangkok International Airport

11:36pm

When I arrived here in Bangkok, I had to take a shuttle over you the domestic flights terminal, because I was flying from here to Chiang Mai.  I was about 9:00 pm before I made it to the terminal.  As I neared the Nok Airlines booth to book a night flight to Chiang Mai, I began to realize that no one was in line and all of the light were turned off.  It was nothing but closed.  Closed at 8:00 pm.  I tried to call Derek to ask what other airline I should take, but the call wouldn’t go through.  I took the phone number to an information desk and asked if this was a common number, 9 digits beginning with 053.  It apparently was in the right form, but the woman who helped me received the same funny tones that I got from the pay phone and then looked at me and spoke in broken English as if to say, "I really have no idea."  I tried to make that phone call for about 45 minutes to an hour.  When the frustration built up enough, I called my mom, like she could do something.  She did though.  She started looking up flights on other airlines, but it was difficult because I was calling internationally and wasn’t physically there with her.  I began trying Derek’s home number again and after the frustration built up again, I decided to just go book a flight on whatever airline I could that flew to Chiang Mai and was open.  I hung up the phone and began to walk back into the main area of the terminal and realized to my utter dismay that while I’d been trying to make any sort of contact with the only person I knew in all of Thailand, the whole terminal shut down.  The airport was closed.  There would be no booking of flight and no food, only sleeping with my bags surrounding me, spread out across 3 of the most uncomfortable chairs.  One night in Bangkok, indeed.

6.18.05

Bangkok International Airport

5:50 am

So, after spending the night sprawled across 3 or 4 incredibly uncomfortable chairs in Bangkok International Airport, I’m finally on my way to Chiang Mai.  I’m flying Nok Airlines, a colorful little airline with brightly painted airplanes and a very casual feel.  I get the feeling that most things here are casual.  Laid back, like LA on Valium.  Upon boarding the little plane I begin to hear this familiar voice singing sweet melodies over the speaker.   It’s Brian McKnight singing "Back at One".  He is followed by Kaci and Jo Jo and then Martina McBride.  I shake a little in my seat trying to hold in my laughter.  So much for culture shock.

Chiang Mai

8:37 am

Just when I thought this trip couldn’t get crazier, I find myself cruising through Chiang Mai in the backseat of a taxi whose driver is chatting away on his cell phone and navigating through the crazy traffic, trying not to hit people on their motor scooters.  I would come to realize how priceless this man was to me, even though we didn’t communicate very well, me know absolutely no Thai and he knowing very little English.  He is intent on taking care of me and communicating with me and for me.

I had been trying to get a hold of Derek ever since I landed in Bangkok, but I just kept getting weird beeping tones.  Turns out the sounds were weird to all the Thai people I asked as well.  After trying the number several times from the Chiang Mai airport, I decided to give up for a while and go to the Coffee Garden to think about what I was going to do.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the brew.  However, that didn’t solve my problem of being stuck at the airport.  I ventured back out to the pay phone, asking God for a miracle, but that miracle wouldn’t come until later and in a manner that was least expected.  I finally gave up on getting a hold of Derek by phone and went outside where I was immediately asked if I wanted a taxi.  I communicated the situation as best I could to the taxi driver and said I didn’t know yet if I wanted to take a taxi.  Something about being in a foreign country where one doesn’t know anybody or the native language or one’s way around makes one a little timid to just hop in a taxi.   I had to go through a security check point if i wanted to re-enter the airport, and at that check point I was able to talk with a security guard.  Derek had given me the name of the school at which he works and lives.  I opened up my little black journal and showed the security guard the name of the school, asked if he knew this place and explained to him my situation.  He personally led me outside and asked me if I wanted a taxi.  I then realized that this was the only choice I really had, unless I wanted to continue sitting in the airport, but I had my fill of that in Bangkok.  I conceded to taking a taxi and the security guard walked me over to the taxi company.  He explained my situation to the women at the taxi booth and where I needed to go.  In a matter of minutes I was gone.  During the taxi ride I knew that I had the choice of either thinking about all the present circumstances and the possibilities of what might happen, or I could take in all the sites and sounds of this new place as I ventured through it for the first time.  I opted for the latter, dismissing the first one as ridiculous because I had no control over the situation anyway, and I enjoyed my ride to the school. 

When we arrived I communicated my situation again to the taxi driver who said, "I speak very little English."  With what he understood and could communicate with others, we drove around the school asking people if they knew Derek Kirk.  The farong (that’s what the Thai people call anyone with white skin) who teach at the school apparently live in the same general area.  We eventually found a woman who gestured as if to ask, "is he tall?"

"Yes, that’s him!" I answered enthusiastically, followed by "and you have no idea what I’m saying!"  She jumped into the taxi and directed us right to his apartment, where he was not to be found.  The driver dialed the number I had for Derek on his cell phone, but got the same beeping sounds I had gotten since Bangkok.  The woman and the taxi driver began discussing all sorts of things that I couldn’t understand and eventually I was back in the taxi.  The decided that the best thing to do with me was to take me to the main office of the school where the ladies inside looked up Derek in the school directory.  Turns out, he had given me the wrong phone number.  The taxi driver called the right number on his cell phone and began to ask questions to the person on who had answered.  He then handed his phone to me and I relished the familiar voice on the other end.  I had finally arrived.                                                                                                                        

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One Night In Bangkok…

June 15, 2005

…okay, maybe a few hours. 

Tomorrow morning I’ll be riding MARTA to the Atlanta airport and bording a plane that will take me non-stop to Tokyo, from there to Bangkok and from there to Chiang Mai. 

The whole story of my quarter-life crisis and how I came about going on this trip on such short notice is not necessary here, but nonetheless, I am heading to Southeast Asia tomorrow all by my lonesome.  My friend Derek is getting married there on the 24th.  Not that one needs an excuse to go to Thailand, but since I have one it made it all more easy to take the adventure. 

If you ever fly internationally and you aren’t nervous at some point, then you might be just plain silly.  There is an excited, anxious tension that accompanies the international flight.  There is no better way to find out just how much you love the United States than to leave the country for a while.  It’s definitely a reality check.  All of that to say that the proper excited, nervous tension has hit me and I just want to be there already.  Soon I will wonder no longer what it will be like to get off of a plane and be in the severe ethnic minority, and by myself at that.  Bring on the learning!

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