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Photos at last

All photos and video from Thailand are finally online. I didn’t take many, save for busting my camera out now and then when acting like a tourist. The rest of the time, I suppose I preferred to see the land with my own eyes, not through the lens of a camera.

Grand Palace

Enjoy.

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Don Muang

The following was written 7-19, in Terminal 2 of Don Muang, Bangkok.

12:50AM UTC/GMT +7 hours Arrived at the airport and it seems every airline’s check-in booth is open, but United. I’m told they open at 3:30AM. There’s a waiting area here, so I’ve sat down with my pack. The airport is by no means empty, but is very calm. A strange state for an airport.

Kofi Annan on CNN.

1:09AM UTC/GMT +7 hours Just made a collect call home. Apparently Microsoft called me a few days ago for a game test.

1:15AM UTC/GMT +7 hours You know, I’ve been trying to follow this whole Israel-Palestine-Lebanon thing briefly when I get online, and I really don’t understand how anyone can be on Israel’s side.

I watched the first bit of Bush’s press conference in Germany where he said something like the “terrorists” are trying to “halt Israel’s pursuit of peace.” That’s about as crazy as saying that the US is pursuing peace — perhaps worse.

I read a few days ago that Kofi wanted a peace keeping force to go to Lebanon and stop them from attacking Israel, to give Israel an excuse to stop attacking Lebanon. How can he say that? If you want to occupy someone, occupy Israel. Give Hezbollah an excuse to stop attacking them.

Look at the numbers. There’s been, what, 14 Israelis killed? And how many hundreds of Lebanon folks (Lebanonese? Something like that)? Maybe Israel just has better bomb shelters or bigger boom sticks, but, regardless the reason, they are undeniably the more dangerous, terrorizing player.

Hell, the guest house I checked out of this morning has a sign on the front desk proclaiming they don’t accept Israelis because they’ve had too much trouble with them stealing. They’re terrorizing folks even here in Thailand.

But that was uncalled for. I’m attacking the Israeli government, not the people. And I doubt there are many Lebanon tourists here, so it isn’t a fair comparison.

Though while I’m on the subject of Israel, I’d like to say that they need to stop that compulsory military service thing. It blurs the line between government and civilian, and allows Israel’s enemies to justify killing of civilians.

4:06AM UTC/GMT +7 hours I’m at my gate now. The flight boards at 6:05AM, so I’ve about 2 hours.

Security actually acted like they care this time. They searched my checked backpack by hand, with machine, and even confiscated the waterproof matches I always carry with my first aid kit.

Those things cost like $5…

My money belt beeped going through the detector. It was just the zipper — she didn’t care to even unzip and look inside. I have my credit card in there, and could very easily have one of those credit card knives, too.

While they were searching my pack, I was asked if security could ask me some questions. I said yes (did I have a choice?), but then was only asked the usual “did you pack your bag”, “has it always been with you”, etc. I thought they were going to take me aside and poke something up my anus. Oh well. Maybe US will want to do that.

4:24AM UTC/GMT +7 hours I should mention that on my way to Bangkok, I put my backpack in 2 of the heaviest-duty trash bags I could find, in hopes of protecting it from the airport conveyor belts. It came out fine.

This time, I sent it through naked. I have no doubt that the bag itself will make it — it is, after all, military grade — but am curious as to the fate of the straps. This is a good chance to test it, since I don’t care so much about it going home. If it gets destroyed, I pick up another on ebay for $35.

5:39AM UTC/GMT +7 hours There’s a group of about 20 American kids here in bright green shirts. Look like high school. Their 2 chaperons are sitting next to me. I wonder who they are. From what I’ve overhead, they’re going to Chicago.

They’re being annoyingly loud.

The United folks are setting up for body searches, so perhaps I’ll be randomly selected after all.

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Full Circle

I’m home now. Been back since about 9AM. Passport Control and Customs didn’t pay me a second glance, and my backpack came through unscathed, so there’s not much of note to mention there.

My hand written journal ends on the note of American whores, and so it seems I’ve come full circle: disillusionment, escape, and now back to the realities of America.

I’ve shaved, showered, tackled the 967 emails in my inbox, and napped. Strange to be back in my own bed. Strange to be wearing cotton again. Strange, I think, to not be in Thailand.

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Narita Once More

The following was written 7-19, waiting for my flight Tokyo.

3:51PM UTC/GMT +9 hours We arrived in Tokyo 15 minutes early, a good thing since security finally decided to take interest in me. My carry-on, at least.

The woman at the x-ray told her friends to search it. (I myself didn’t beep.) So another lady went through, found nothing of interest, and put through the x-ray again, but once more it was fingered. She searched it again, asking if I had any pens other than those she had already taken out. I told her no.

After a bit I decided I should point out the little slit compartment in the back of the bag that she seemed to be consistently missing. She reached in there and pulled out my Clif bar, a few receipts, and my mini camera tripod. Aha! The culprit.

Without the tripod, the bag was again x-rayed, and no alarms went off.

Funny thing is, I’ve never removed that tripod since packing it. No, I did use it once. But it’s been in that same place going through Tokyo airport before, not to mention Bangkok and Seattle, and no-one ever complained. Strange.

After that I went down to the cafe I had sat at a month ago, waiting for my plane to Bangkok, and had a lunch of greasy noodles. And now I’m at the gate, waiting for flight 876 to board and take me home to Seattle.

We’re to be served dinner and breakfast on this flight. The last plane served me breakfast, too: a rubber omelet. I had a bite, didn’t brave the sausage, and went back to sleep.

Let us hope I sleep on this flight. I arrive in Seattle in the morning and it would be best if I could stay awake all day and crash hard that night. Not that I’m in a huge rush to get over jet lag — I have no appointments when I get back for a week or two.

I wonder what movies will be shown on this flight. Hopefully not Firewall again. I assume they rotate every month.

Most of the people at the gate are Japanese. It was that way flying out of Seattle, too.

Two of those Green Shirts sat behind me on the flight from Bangkok. All they could talk about was the finale for some TV show and how much they missed Starbucks. In Thailand, there were actually times where I could be proud to be American, but that all goes right back out the window when I find myself back around other Americans. Most of them, anyway.

Can we really be such whores?

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Official Press

The following was written 7-18 over a banana smoothie, in Bangkok.

4:42PM By the by, I’m an official freelance journalist of the International Press Association.

Oh, and Chad: You know those love-bots you make? I’m sitting here in a café called Illy that sells something strikingly familiar.

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The Scam

The following was written 7-18 on a bench in Bangkok.

3:10PM I’m already being the stereotypical tourist, doing the whole Khao San thing and wandering the streets of Banglamphu, so, I figure, why not fall into a scam. Take the tourist image all the way.

Here’s how it worked:

I was wandering down a busy street, staring at UNICEF and wondering why they need a large, gated, guarded compound that looks like a government building. A nice looking Thai walked up behind me and asks if I was searching for anything. I said no, only looking at the buildings. He asked where I was going, and I said nowhere particular. First he tried to get me to go to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, but I told him I’d already been there. He asked if I’d seen the giant standing Buddha, and I told him I hadn’t. He told me I should go because it normally costs 200 Baht, but today is a Buddhist holiday, so it’s free. And Grand Palace and Wat Pho were no good today, anyways, them both being so crowded from the holiday visitors.

After giving him my Lonely Planet for the map, he marked the big Buddha and Locky Temple, which I was to go to after. I told him thanks, and that I may walk that way, but he said no, tuk-tuk was better. Today, being the holiday, it would only cost 20 Baht instead of the usual 100. Just then, a tuk-tuk driver who seemed to be old friends with the Thai I was chatting with pulled up and asked if I needed a tuk-tuk. Before I could say anything, the two exchanged a few quick words in Thai and, the next thing I knew, I was in the tuk-tuk racing to the big Buddha. For 20 Baht

It was indeed free to see the statue, though I don’t know if that was usual or not. A few minutes there and the driver said ok, he’ll take me to the Locky Temple to see the Buddha there. When we got to the temple, I was told by someone standing around front that it was not open yet, but I could enter in 5 minutes. I waited 15, and nothing changed. I could see inside the room, and all it was was a bunch of old people eating breakfast and a few monks. It didn’t look anything special, nor did they appear to be finishing anytime soon, so I left.

The tuk-tuk beckoned me back and I was told now he would take me to the “Thai Expo Center” for some kind of coupon. I had no idea what that meant, but thought the guy had been nice enough yet, and all this for only 20 Baht So we zoomed off and parked in front of a gem shop. Some expo, eh? He told me to go inside for the coupon, so I wandered in. Yup, it was a gem shop. I asked the guy who opened the door for a coupon for the tuk-tuk and he asked if that was all. No gem? I told him that was indeed all. He looked disappointed, but scribbled something in Thai on a piece of paper, and I left. The driver was surprised to see me come out so soon, but motioned me back in to the tuk-tuk and we took off. In a little, he pulled over and told me what’s what.

The paper I had gotten was worthless. (I still don’t know what was written on it.) What he was after was a free gasoline coupon that the shop would give him for bringing me. Two if I purchased something. He was the one to ask for it, not me, and I would have to stay for at least 10 minutes, looking interested in an item. I was not required to buy, though it would be nice if I did.

We would try again, he said. This time at a tailor’s. I couldn’t blame the guy for wanting free gas, and it wasn’t costing me anything, save time, which I have a surplus of. Hell, he was driving me all over the district for only 20 Baht and gas here costs 28 (per what, I don’t know).

I went in to the Tailor’s he took me to, and the greeter asked what I was interested in. Shirt, suit, jacket? I latched onto his first suggestion and replied shirt. He showed me a few up front, which I browsed through, but was disinterested in. He then led me to the back of the store and asked me if I was looking for a solid color or pattern, but I said I wasn’t sure. By this time I was getting into it, and, when he asked me what color I wanted, I replied something darker. He showed me a few and I analyzed the craftsmanship and fabric, but, to pretend as if I actually had something in mind, I asked if he had any long-sleeved. Not here, I was told, but it could be made. No, I didn’t want to deal with that, I told him, thinking this an easy way out. But he was insistent and handed me his card should I change my mind. To add a final little flare onto my performance, I asked to see his fabrics. He showed me, I browsed for a bit, thanked him, and told him I might be back.

Feeling pleased with myself, I strutted out to the driver and asked how I was. Did I take long enough? The coupon promotion ended yesterday, he grudgingly informed me, so my performance was all for not. But he knew of another shop that would give him what he was after, so off we went.

This is a great time waster, I thought to myself. I’m glad I fell into it.

The next shop had no showroom, so I would have to change my act. Improv. Upon entrance on stage left, I was quickly shuffled to a seat by one of those Thais whose tailor has watched Saturday Night Fever one too many times. He gave me a few catalogs to look through, saying everything in there was next year’s model and would cost me thousands of dollars in the States. I believed him. The price, at least.

I flipped through the first catalog, set it down, and looked through the second. Then I picked up the first once more, turned to a random page, and told him I liked that one. It was actually a nice looking suit and I may have been genuinely interested in it if I weren’t morally opposed to the concept of “dressing up”. He took me over to the other side of the store and showed me the fabric. I asked him how much and he directed me to a couch. I was told to sit, while he ran off to find a calculator. (Thais rarely like to tell you a price, but will instead type it on a calculator for you to see.) He came back and showed me number: 4500 Baht.

I was surprised. That honestly was a good price. I acted to hesitate and he pulled off a similar suit from the rack beside us, beckoning me to analyze the craftsmanship. I hesitated and he asked what was wrong. Too much? Student? Tight budget? A new number on the calculator: 4000. Again I hesitated and asked for a card so that I could think about it and come back. No, he said, this was a one day sale. I hesitated more, saying that 4000 Baht was a good price, but was a lot for me to put down all at once (true). After a bit of back-and-forth, I was able to escape, saying I’d think and come back later today. He knew I had no intention of doing so. On my exit, I thought I should ask what time he closed to sound a little more interested.

Back on the street, the tuk-tuk driver didn’t look cheerful, so I didn’t ask how I’d done. He questioned if I’d been to the Grand Palace. Yes, I had. Wat Pho? Yup. Long tail boats? No, hadn’t seen those. Well, he would take me there.

He did so, I looked, snapped a couple of photos, and told the whole pier no, I didn’t want a 700 Baht ride. I only wished to look. Dodging the post-card saleswoman best I could (but failing), I walked back to the street. The driver asked what I would do now. Walk, I said. He asked for the money, and I handed him 20 Baht, thanking him for showing me around.

I really don’t know how much was a scam. It very well could be a holiday. Perhaps he got his coupon. Maybe two. Regardless, it cost me only 20 Baht (For what is really more of a 100 Baht ride) and time. And the boats were only a block from where he picked me up.

Afterwards, I wandered down the street to stumble upon a bakery that happened to serve slices of expensive (by Thai standards) and excellent chocolate cake.

I haven’t done much since then.

Yesterday’s initial shock is wearing off, and I’m once again taking a liking to Bangkok. We have a funny relationship, the city and I.

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