Luqman's Day 21 - After MBK, no mall will be the same
Today is the last official day of our tour, but it doesn't really have any format. We are free for today and have a couple of other days before leaving Thailand and returning home to the U.S. Thus, there are decisions to make about daily agendas. We experienced a dilemma today because we both wanted to visit Bangkok's Grand Palace and a huge shopping center called MBK. However, the Grand Palace closes at 3 pm and MBK closes at 10, so the fact that we were off to a late start pretty much made the decision for us. So we were off to MBK, beginning with the arduous task of hailing a taxi. Now this is not hard because they are hard to find. I actually think that there are more taxis in Thailand than humans and trees, but there are so many tourists around our hotel that the market price for a cab is highly inflated. The proposed fares are insulting. Also, you must choose between tuk-tuks and metered taxis. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled bicycle/go-cart/riding lawn mower hybrid that provides a medium between walking and riding cars. While they are fun to ride cause the drivers are adventurous and drive them like motorcycles, there are down sides. First off, there are no doors or windows. Thus, as you are riding, I think you can actually drink the pollution if you open your mouth. Secondly, they all ask if they can stop once before reaching your destination. Hannah told me that this means that they will stop at a "friends" local shop and force you to buy something, with the consequence being your panicking cause you don't know if you are still in Bangkok or in the third level of Dante's Inferno. Since it was hot enough in Bangkok, we decided on a metered taxi. These are a fleet of Toyota Corollas (literally every one) painted some pastel color like pink or hot orange so they can glow in the dark and still drive if no one had headlights on or their contacts in. The drivers have the option between using their meter and asking a flat rate. As I am sure you can imagine, the flat rates prevail because they always triple what the meter would cost. After some frustration, we finally got one driver to agree to use the meter. After a lot of traffic that seemed avoidable and a very circuitous trip (I aint Magellan or anything, but I am pretty sure that you can make one right instead of three lefts), we arrived at MBK. At first glance, it is not too impressive, just looking like another huge building with advertisements and pictures of the king on the outside (not Elvis nor T.I., but the real King of Thailand, who is better at singing and rapping than either of the aforementioned posers). However, once you step inside, it is a "whole new world" (sorry if I triggered a rendition of that Aladdin magic carpet song, but as I typed it I heard a voice in my head saying "don't you dare close your eyes").
The first thing you notice about MBK is that it is huge and that it is ridiculously busy. There are people everywhere speaking every language, but the place is still extremely clean and relatively orderly. There are 7 floors somewhat separated into sections. This setup gives huge access to the vendors and the benefits of perfect competition to the customers. For people who reside in Atlanta like we do, MBK is like taking Lennox Mall, then stacking Phipps and Perimeter on top of it, then just for fun throwing in a Best Buy and a Candler Road Flea Market. The last one got me excited, as that is right up my alley, so we undertook the task of making a plan to tackle this beast. The first thing we had to do was eat. We were distracted by visions of Dunkin Donuts on the third floor and we had a gelato sighting on the fifth floor (yes, Hannah hyperventilated, but I did my best to calm her down so we could continue the walk), but we went to the International Food Court on the fifth floor instead. The International Food court was very interesting. It was chic dining from around the world with cute grills, chefs in nice, white, top hats, and inflated prices. The dining area was extremely clean and attractive, and you didn't even pay for your food at the stations. Instead, you get a little debit card when you come in and it gets charged at the station. Then, you pay the cashier at the end. Now, the food looked good, but I know I pay to eat my food, not to look at it. So I was unimpressed by the décor and the Ikea furniture that folks were eating it on. So I left and soon found out that there was another food court on the sixth floor. This one was actually more similar to one we would see back home, except it was much bigger. Again, there was food from all around the world. In fact, it was pretty much the same types of food as was on the fifth floor, but for a third of the price. I ended up getting some rice and curry and a shake for about 2 dollars. That is crack prices back home, and the food was extremely good. That showed me that there are always two versions of everything in Thailand and pretty much everywhere else in the world. You have the local version and the tourist version. Even though I am only a visitor here, I hate being on the tourist side of it.
Funny that I should just say what I just did, cause as soon as we finished eating we started shopping. There is no more of an adversarial exchange in the world of traveling than customer versus vendor. Every time I get into an interaction, I feel like I need to be ready to duck cause as soon as I tell them that I am willing to pay about a third of their initial price, they look at me like I just slapped their momma and called the king a punk (which of course he isn't, cause I hear he does Thai boxing and WWE wrestling on the weekend to stay fit, cause he's the bomb). I get to feeling bad because in the grand scheme of things I am arguing over a 30 cent difference in price. Then, they get mad cause they figure if I can fly my butt across to their side of the world, then I should pay whatever the hell they ask (which is a valid argument). And in Thailand, they don't buy that poor student argument (even though that is a valid argument too), so we sit there mad. I cannot tell you how many people have kicked me out of their shop mad as hell since I got here, but it is more than a few. I am usually mad too until I bust a right and there are three more stores selling the same thing. Repeat. It is a tiring process, but it is something I have to go through to bring a piece of Thailand back to the people I love. After getting my philanthropy on for a couple of hours looking at floors of cameras, I-phones, Louis Vitton bags, and bootleg dvd's, I was ready to roll out of there. We took our few bags and went to catch a taxi home. After getting into more price wars with a couple of taxis, we decided to sacrifice our lungs to ride a tuk-tuk. We had yet to do this, so we felt like we couldn't say we were in Thailand without riding on the three-wheel monster. The ride was exciting, full of road rage, free of driving rules, and topped off by some playful banter over the go-cart engine. We arrived with the last task of finding dinner.
Since I was not that hungry after eating gelato at the mall, I decided to get something cheap. So for the first time since we have been here, I decided to eat at the little street shop outside of our hotel. This place is always full of funny looking tourists and locals that are cooking for them. The guy working the wok was amazing. He could fry some rice and throw in some prawns and pork, all while cleaning a backup wok with his left hand and drinking a pepsi. It was absolutely amazing. My street-fried rice didn't get prepared for about twenty minutes, but I just liked watching this guy do his thing. He is really my role model now. I want to open up a street restaurant, put a bunch of meat on ice, and fry rice with a little bit of hood love. It is good for the soul. But after getting my dose of love, I had to call it a night. I knew that there was still about a day and a half of Thai living that I had to do before my return home, and I needed to prepare. Maybe by the time people read this, I will be on my last 24 hour countdown. I don't know if anyone will recognize me once I return cause I have morphed into some Thai-Egyptian kickboxing pharaoh since I left, but if you do holla at a player when you see me. But until then, peace.