Luqman's Day 15 - On the path to enlightenment
Today is our second day in Thailand, and as predicted it is completely different from everything that we have seen on our journey thus far. Of course this is the last leg of our trip, so it is good that we got a change. Yesterday, we landed in Bangkok, which is the capital of Thailand. It is another big city full of tourists and traffic jams. Similar to other Asian metropolises, it is very crowded, yet extremely efficient. It is also an extremely modern city as can be seen from the architecture and the beautiful airport itself. However, much of the culture is still ingrained into the everyday life. Nowhere did I notice this more than in the people's cordial nature. Respect is a large part of common interaction, with bowing very common and no easily apparent acts of rudeness. There are also words used commonly meaning sir or ma'am, showing respect to whomever you are talking to. The language however, is extremely difficult. The sounded out version of common sayings is just as hard as the Thai script, which creates a huge language barrier. The heat and humidity add to this frustration, and it is easy to tell the visitors to this tropical region cause the people who are calm and collected are Thai. This demeanor could tie into the Buddhist principles that around 90% of the country follow.
The Thai people we have met so far also seem extremely tolerant. Even though very modest dress is part of the cultural norms, they seem to ignore the tourists who are walking around nearly butt naked. I would pay to be able to read their minds though (of course I would then have to pay extra to get someone to translate their inner dialogue to English thoughts, but I will work that out later). The only thing that we learned that people don't really tolerate is talking bad about the king. He has several palaces around Bangkok, and pictures of the royal family are literally everywhere. The king has ruled Thailand for 61 years now, and I don't think anyone we have met has had anything bad to say about him. It seems that the hard work that the royal family has done for Thai people is greatly appreciated. And commoners will let you know that they don't want to hear your little remarks either if they are not positive. This makes for an interesting conversation cause for some reason, Hannah keeps trying to bring up the king in taxicabs or at dinner, or in other random places where you don't know if a Thai person is listening. Every time I feel like I am being set up. We passed a huge sign on a street corner with a collage of pictures of the president and she asks me, "Can you imagine there being a sign with this many pictures of (insert name of random world leader whose name is synonymous with 'shrub')?" Now if that ain't a setup I don't know what is. I know how to avoid that conversation as well as I know how folks trace your keystrokes nowadays. That is why I wouldn't even be talking bad about said leader whose name describes foliage. Anyway, I didn't want the taxi driver to wonder if I was even thinking bad things about the king, (who by the way is a wonderful and generous guy that I am very fond of and drawn to) let alone preparing to say it. Thus, I promptly informed her that I don't see any connection between the aforementioned political manager whose name means 'little tree' and Thailand's monarch, who is obviously a champion of the people. She then began raising questions about whether Thailand is a "constitutional monarchy" or some other form of government. Seeing as though I am obviously way too cool to remember what a constitutional monarchy is or the difference between it and other forms of government, I was very lucky that a surge of battery power in my I-pod caused the volume to increase, eerily drowning her out a little in the process. I then rested my head in preparation for adventures to come.
Today, we checked out of our nice hotel to embark on even more travel. We are headed to remote areas of Thailand to get some real culture. Though most excursions go to the hills of Northern Thailand, we are actually going west towards the Burma border. We have a 2.5-hour bus ride, a break, and a four-hour trip up the mountains. This seems daunting, but I am proud to say that my stomach is fine, so I am good to go. I hope that our tour guide does not think I am disrespectful because she keeps offering us local snacks that she got from the market, and I promptly refuse each one. Everyone else is feeling adventurous, and I am acting like I am allergic to food. My experiences in Egypt and my being "intestinally-challenged" while there taught me a huge lesson. It is better to be half-starved and calm-stomached than full and turbulent. So until I see some bread or something ending in the phrase "fried rice", I am on a hunger strike.
After the first, shorter leg of our bus ride we stopped at a bus station and ate. I actually had some vegetable fried rice and got some bread from a local bakery (2 for 2 baby), which were both very good. I was very satisfied and ready to explore, so I accompanied Hannah to a shopping center down the block so she could find some sunglasses. I am disturbed to say that we ended up playing a game of "name that gender" with some of the local employees who were all teenage girls at first glance (Hannah has a picture or two if you want to join the debate), but I ended up learning another valuable lesson myself (something about a book and a cover, sure you have heard it before). After getting back on the bus, we tried to watch a wonderful bootleg version of "I Am Legend" starring Will Smith, some dog, and nobody else living. The sound was too low for me to hear the dialogue over the roar of the engine, which had to drop to low gear often to climb the mountains. Luckily, this movie only had about 6 lines of dialogue and a bunch of mannequin discussion in between, but I came away with the feeling that I would have been just as confused if I watched the movie alone at home, so I wasn't tripping. After tons of beautiful rural scenery on the way, we finally arrived at our guesthouse, which was called the "P" Guesthouse. That is literally the name, and I have no idea what it stands for, so don't ask. Though we were warned that some of the amenities that we are used to like hot water and air conditioning were not available, the scenery took us all aback. The area was extremely calming and serene. Even the tables and chairs were all made of stone or finished tree stumps. It was literally one of the most beautiful places I have seen, and the environment made up for all the western things that were missing (but isn't that the point of being in the east or somewhere else, to get away from the west?). After learning that we pay for everything at checkout by writing down what we get in a book with our room number on it (man that honesty policy doesn't work back home, this place would flop after about a week in America), we put our feet in the water for a second, then ate a delicious meal. We then learned about an extremely busy day to follow, so I chose to crash in my room. The only thing in the room is an oscillating fan big enough for cubicle. Though that fan was small, I imagine it was like Christmas morning every ten seconds that it was your turn to get hit by it. Whatever the case, I was so worn out that I fell straight asleep looking forward to simpler living in the tropics. As tomorrow is so busy, I am glad it is Hannah's turn to blog. If I ever see internet again, I will keep you updated on how we are doing, and after you read her stories, you can email me and get the real deal on how things went down. Peace.