A Series of (unfortunate) Events in Thailand (12/23/18)

Note from the author:

I have to first apologize by saying that the title “series of unfortunate events” does not preclude that my journey to Thailand was a negative one. It merely states the fact that many unfortunate things happened to me, mostly of my own doing. But I ended up walking, i mean limping away with a life-changing experience. Please bear this in mind while reading. Here is Day 2 of my trip in Thailand.

Not even two hours into my sleep, fate seemed to come knocking at the door. My one and only roommate at this hostel would come in noisily at 2 in the morning. I stood up immediately as if i had just heard a gun shot. I’m not sure why I was excited, but I was, and I greeted him with enthusiasm.

“Sorry to wake you.”, he whispered under his breath

“Not at all! I was only sleeping, come in come in!”, i reassured him

“What bed are you sleeping in?”

“D-5”

“There must be some mistake, that’s the bed i’m sleeping in”

“show me your card”

I pass him my card and indeed we had the same bed

“well, that’s strange, i’ll go ask them about it right away”

And off he went.

I had placed my belongings on the bed next to me. When I have a place all to myself I like to mark my territory like a dog who pees on everything. My passport, iPod, and clothes for tomorrow were laying on the bed next to me. My toothbrush and toothpaste lay next to my bed on the ground. I pretty much owned the room by the looks of it.

When he came back, it turned out he was sleeping on the bed where most of my stuff was lying. “Apologies, let me take my stuff off your bed”. I quickly picked my stuff up from his bed and lay it on the ground.

“Not a problem, I’m Dev by the way.” “and I’m Zack, nice to meet you”. We said what any good roommates say when first meeting and then instantly passed out.

I woke up not even five hours later for the big tour of Ayutthaya., Thailand’s ancient capitol. Without a phone, I memorized the directions to the bus station near the pier. Walking the streets, I realized how vibrant the city was. The smells along the way, people selling breakfast on the side of the road for only 60 Baht ($1.86). When I turned the corner this lady waved me down with a sign that said “Ayutthaya.”. Next to her was a man, who happened to be the bus driver. He wore a white cap and had dark skin. He smiled at me.

I said i was looking for coffee and asked where I could find some before the tour started. They pointed towards the river at this fancy, up-scale coffee shop that would later become a spot I regularly hung out in. I was feeling like karma bit me in the rear end on account of losing my phone, so I felt like buying someone a coffee that morning. Right when I began walking, the bus driver said to me:

“buy me one while you’re there!”

I turned around and looked at him blankly and said “milk and sugar?”

He said, “black”

When I got back with two coffees, he looked a bit astonished that I actually bought him a coffee. Maybe such an act is atypical? He looked confused and then pointed at both the coffees. He said, “both?” I laughed real loud and said “of course not silly! Just one, i need my coffee too!”

Now in good spirits, i met my friend on the bus. We had booked the tour together. He’s kind of a brainiac. The kind of guy that does a lot of learning through books. he told me his parents never let him play video-games or watch much T.V. His parents are keepers of the ivory tower, academics that is. I think knowing that piece of information allowed me to see his witty intellectualism as part of his upbringing. We were brought up completely differently. My parents hardly pushed me. They let me play video games to my heart’s content, and i was spoiled with love and acceptance. His parents, well it’s just speculation, but they really wanted to craft a person out of the child he was once.

In any case, he is a good friend. And I was excited that we were embarking on this tour together. I looked at him in the eyes, ready to learn something about the world and noticed he looked tired, lines under his eyes. But still that tongue moves quick. As soon as the bus’ wheels started moving, he was speaking Italian with the couple behind us and making friends like it was summer camp. I’ve always been impressed by his ability to connect with random people, to pick up languages with such ease and joy. I envy that about him.

We took the bus an hour north. During that time, the tour guide told us a variety of facts about Bangkok, much of which my friend was 100% engaged. Many times I was just daydreaming looking out the window, taking in the sights of Thailand’s countryside. There were a few things that stuck with me, though. For example, Bangkok’s actual name is “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasi“. But of course, no one’s got time to say that, so we just say Bangkok. What an obnoxious name for a place, isn’t it?

Another things that piqued my interest was about the last monarch of Thailand, who died at 88. To many he was held to be divine. He did much good for his people by initiating over 4,000 social projects. He made medical care more affordable to the poor, he helped farmers, and he set up charities. Of what sorts, i’m not exactly sure. But he sure sounded like a good man. So much so that the people mourned when he died a couple years back. The country went into a state of mourning for a year. They wore black to honor his death. Anyone who didn’t wear black during that time may be persecuted by law. It was a big deal. Now his son rules Thailand as the tenth king.

It was also impressive to hear that the Thai language has 28 vowels compared to our five in english. They got 45 consonants, too. Seems like a hell of a language to learn. But i still think Japanese is the hardest to learn, but of course i’m biased.

During the tour, my friend would ask detailed questions about Thailand’s history, like why didn’t Alexander the Great conquer Thailand if he had the chance? to which he had no direct answer. perhaps he didn’t understand the question, or perhaps he didn’t have specialized knowledge of the question at hand. In any case, my friend thought our guide’s depth of knowledge was lacking, saying much of this information could be found on Wikipedia. He was at times finishing the guide’s sentences, which was impressive and humorous.

reclingin buddha.jpeg

Ok. story time. I want to say first of all, that Thailand is a wonderful place. But there are a lot tourist traps. As a naive guy, i was made an easy target. Here’s how I got scammed 2,000 baht at the reclining Buddha. So, I met this old lady. She was probably in her sixties with dark skin and deep wrinkles spreading from her eyes and mouth. She seemed so sweet. She took me by the hand and walked to this mini buddha. She put a small piece of paper with gold foil in my hand. She then rubbed the gold foil onto the tiny statue. I did the same as her, rubbing the gold tin foil onto the mini reclining buddha.

Then she walked me over to the side, now in front of the big reclining buddha. She started putting little cute golden elephants in my hand. She asked how many family members I had. I said five. She then put five elephants in my hand and said “you should send these to your family. they are good luck”. “200 for one or 1000 for five”. I figured I was doing her good, and my family might appreciate them. So I bought five for 1000 baht ($31).

But after that I got really gipped. She said, “oh some for your friends, too!” here is five more for 1,000″. I started to back away saying “That’s was too much. I can’t do that!”.  She  then started bowing and crying saying “please, please, please!” I knew she probably needed the money so badly. I felt bad for her, and i wasn’t sure what to do. I just wanted her to stop! So i just gave her another 1000 baht and took them and left as fast as I could.

But I walked away feeling robbed. I told my friend what happened and he laughed his head off, saying “I just bought this food for 60 baht”. We did calculations of how much baht 2,000 is worth. “that’s 10 taxi rides across town… or that’s 500 chicken wings…. or that’s three nights of drinking”. Yeah, whatever. I had lost a lot of money, but I had to forget about it or else it plague me.

maslow-5.jpg

From that point forward, I realized that people are living on a lower tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I realized that the many people I’m encountering are people who aren’t having their basic needs met such as food, water, warmth, rest. They are driven to extremes to make money, which is probably why sex trafficking is such a serious problem here as well. Tourists such as myself are a huge sources of profit for them. I realized this as I was being scammed, but I was okay with it because I realized she needed that money way more than I needed it.

I prayed for humanity after that. Instead of feeling jaded by the stupid trick i fell for. I just thanked God that I was in a point in my life where I was seeking my fulfillment in life. I am on a path to discovering my purpose in life. What a blessing that is! Can you imagine being stuck at the bottom? You would have no time to contemplate “your purpose”. it’s a dog-eat-dog world. And though we may know that, it really hits you when you go to a country that survives off the backs of tourists.

Ironically after this stop, we boarded the cruise for lunch and ate like kings. A dining table stretched the length of the boat was full of meats, salads, deserts, pastries, and recipes from all over the world — all for us to eat to our heart’s content. As we ate, my friend and I talked to this older couple from Europe. They talked about how Venice is for sure best place in the world to travel. “it has the best of everything, best drinks, best food, you just can’t beat it!”, they said while laughing snobbishly.

At the same time, I kept thinking about the old lady that I gave all that money to. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between my interaction with her and my interaction with this older couple. I felt the people I was conversing with were of high class, who had travelled extensively and knew many parts of the world. But I couldn’t help but feel bored by their talk. They live for seeing many exotic sights and trying exotic foods. But what have they actually done for humanity? My mind drifted.

I looked behind me and saw a girl sitting by herself. She was pretty. I decided to sit next to her before I fell asleep on my food. I imagine she would like some company so I went over there and asked her if I may sit next to her. She seemed happy to have someone join her.

We then talked for hours on the cruise, all the while seeing Bangkok by boat. She lives in California. Her parents are immigrants from Afghanistan. She is studying computer engineering, but not sure if she likes it yet. She’s into fashion. She has one dog, two cats, and two bird.  This is her first time traveling along to another country, but she will meet her friend in a few days.

After chatting, we went to the deck and had coffee. The breeze felt so nice on top. I put my feet over the side of the ship and took in the sights of the city. I noticed that she felt the need to keep the conversation going. Whenever there was a silence, she would ask me questions and we could chat naturally. This may seem pretty normal to you, but after living in Asia for two and a half years, i realize that it’s so much easier to connect with people from your own country. It was nice to have that two hours with her. It passed really quickly.

We agreed to meet up later, but first we would take a nap at the hostel. I went back to my places and crashed. When I woke up, i wanted to look at my photos of the day. When i went through my bag, I realized that it was missing. I started to panic. I tore my bag apart. The room was covered in my clothes and electronics. I realized then my camera was stolen from my bag!

At that time, my mind raced further. I started looking up petty theft online in Thailand and realized that it’s a very common occurrence. I remember now that when my camera died, i put it in my bag and left it on the tour bus. Someone must have saw me and took it when i wasn’t there. The only person who could have done that was the tour guide himself. I thought he was a nice guy, but it just goes to show that you can’t trust people.

I honestly wasn’t that mad, but i was a little paranoid. I then realized that I hadn’t seen my passport in a while. With my belongings already scattered across the floor, i began searching for it– only to find that it was missing as well. I realized my pretty awesome day had gone from bad to worse. I listened to my favorite composer olafur arnalds, and I cried a little.

I was just sad that this is the world we live in. Where people have to steal to make it through the day, where people have to harass you for money to survive; where they have to think of scams to get your money such as the tiny elephants. And that I am a person who is too naive to survive in a place such as Thailand. i realized in that moment that I like who I am as a person, but I don’t necessarily like the world.

I think at that point i started to develop thicker skin. My perception of the world changed, but I didn’t want this experience to harden my heart. I knew my strength as a person is seeing the good in every person. I knew that part I had to keep. But i had to build new barriers to protect myself from the world that would eat me alive in Thailand.

I skyped my Dad and told him i lost my phone, camera, and passport in one day. He talked to me very solemnly and told me to take the necessary steps to get to the embassy and apply for a temporary. As our conversation continued, an angel walked in the door. My roommate Dev i met from the night before came in, awkwardly standing in the back.

I said “love you” to my dad, and hung up. He asked me if everything is ok. I told him everything that happened to me, and he reassured me that everything was gonna be ok. I didn’t know it, but at that time, I made one of the strongest friends a guy could ask for in Thailand.

Dev is from India, a brilliant guy who works at Google as an engineer. He is completely selfless and is a problem solver. For every problem I had during the next few days, he took them on as if they were his own. I’ve never met a person who has shown such compassion for a complete stranger. That’s why I call him an angel. He literally saved me from a very dark place alone in my hostel that day.

He offered his phone, which can make international calls, to me. We contacted the taxi driver again to test him about my phone. We asked for his other clients information. We told him that we were gonna go to the police with a missing report. He forced me to be more aggressive about getting my phone back, something I was being very passive about. I learned a lot in the first thirty minutes of meeting him again. I realized the importance of not giving up so easily.

After using his phone to contact the taxi driver and pester him further, he said “let’s not let this ruin our night, let’s go out for drinks!”

I smiled at him and said “you’re right”.

We took a cab and then I met his friend from Italy, Toni. He is a young-looking guy with a heart of gold. I didn’t realize it, but us three would become very close in the next couple days. We bought buckets of alcohol and walked Khao San road where they sold scorpions and tarantulas on trays. I was completely appalled by them. I don’t see why anyone would eat a scorpion, much less a tarantula!!

khao san

I asked the locals if they eat this stuff, and they said “NO!”. it’s just a tourist thing where people can brag about how exotic they are by trying insects as food. It’s just astonishing what people will do to try something brave or exotic. I think it’s idiotic frankly.

Anyways, we three drank our buckets of alcohol and went dancing for the night. Many ups and downs this day, but in the end– i felt i was in good company. This was just the beginning of my journey in Thailand, i knew. I took a Tuk Tuk home and enjoyed the open air of the night.

 

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