Bangkok - Part 2
Our hotel room in Bangkok is a bit of a splashout compared to most others on this trip. We have key cards and a tv and hot water, a doorman! and a huge buffet breakfast (during which I have had bacon every morning!) (A model vegetarian I am not.)... and, the key bonus; a pool. The pool became a priority again when Abbey started complaining about the heat in Malaysia...and when we were having trouble finding Abbey-things to do. Of course, it's still only about $45/night. Somewhat telling though, is the laminated cost breakdown of each of the items in the room (right down to the shower curtain and the waste paper basket), should you decide to pilfer. Particularly amusing was the warning to guests against bringing in people not registered in the room, referred here as "room pirates" (!) Ha! A decidedly more adventurous take on prostitution!
We have also very much enjoyed the Thai massages we've received here at the hotel spa - for $8/hr! Fantastic. And, while we're on that subject, I feel compelled to further "rub it in" by telling you that today I got a (very decent) haircut for $3! And my delicious Tom Yam soup lunch cost me $2 and I bought two tank tops for $1 each. Kinda makes up for my expenditures yesterday. Still, I believe, those were well worth it.
Yesterday was my day to myself. The day before was Mike's. He chose to walk across town and end up at the art museum, to finally enjoy it in peace and quiet at his own pace (only to find out it was closed that day). Abbey and I braved the malls to find her some new shoes...and ended up with a new dress - now called her 'Popsicle' dress. Anyway, yesterday I decided to wander over to the amulet market (local and collector's haven for good luck charms and talismans) and then over to Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn). Since Mike had been to both of these places when last in Bangkok - 12 yrs ago - and Abbey was probably not going to get much out of them, I was unlikely to see these places unless I went myself. Unsure of exactly which of the small covered alleyways led to the amulet market, I picked one that looked bright and intriguing and dove inside. As I was nearing the end of the alley, a sign caught my eye - symbols in Thai that I recognized as having something to do with fortune telling. I must have paused long enough to attract the attention of the very studious man sitting behind the desk, as he gestured for me to sit down. Since nothing about it screamed tourist trap, and it looked like a place only locals went...I sat down. Immediately he was on the phone calling someone who spoke English. I asked him how much; he held up his hand to indicate five. I took that to mean fifty Baht - just under $2. I nodded. When the translator came about five minutes later, out of breath and laden with shopping bags, she informed me the price was actually 500 Baht (about $15). Ah. Right. At that point I could have got up and walked away, explaining, apologizing - since it was rather pricey in relation to other things here...but I thought 'What the hell, I'm here. Let's see what happens'. I nodded. First he asked me my birthday, and after consulting a book that converted it to the Thai calendar and who-knows-what details laid out in columns and charts, he began scribbling furiously on an X shape pre-drawn in his notebook. He did calculations, consulted the book, wrote numbers in boxes...and then finally paused, and nodded. (I was gripped!) And then he laid out what he saw. I wrote everything down. Basically, it revolved around money, jobs, family and luck. Some of it very broad and typical - save money; find a job; this year I will visit a dentist; get a cold; go to a temple, sea and museum. And then there were the luck ones: the numbers 1, 7, & 5 are good for me. I should wear bright colours, like red. I should go north and east. In jewelry, I should wear gold and 'blue diamond'. 41 will be a good age. As for family: my husband is a very good man and my child will take good care of me when I am old :) And then there were the accident warnings: be careful crossing the road, be careful not to slip on the toilet (!), and - my favourite - my mobile will break this year and I will have to repair it. All this from a birth date. When he asked me if I had any questions, I asked what we should do when we get back home...and this time the translator answered, shrugging her shoulders; "get an apartment?". It was a question. I thanked them kindly for their services and they wished me luck. I went off in search of the amulet market. Now here the story took another turn. I guess I could have just wandered the market, ate lunch, gone back. But staring at all these supposed charms and old bronzy coins, I found that I had in fact been affected by my 'reading', amusing as it was. And when my eye caught a small red heart-shaped piece, picturing a statue that stood thinly, in the shape of a '1'...well I guess I thought it was fate. The vendor, a smiley old man, showed me business cards from antique collectors and famous people who had shopped at his stall. He told me the piece was from the year 2525 (have yet to push that through an online 'Thai calendar converter') and he would sell it to me for 700 Bat (around $22). I stared at the piece, I liked it...but who was the figure? Maybe it wasn't the right one for me. Then a thought struck me. I asked the man to write down details about the piece in Thai (for his English was limited to 'Where you from?')...and I took the paper back to the fortune teller. Of course, the translator had disappeared again. So the fortune teller looked around for anyone else who could help. His eyes locked on a group of three female university students on the other side of the alley. He took the paper to them and we began the confusing process of trying to understand my request. At first, they directed me to the temple that housed the statue of the amulet. We pulled out maps. They were all very sweet and earnest and willing to help. Eventually they understood and the four of us (the three students and I) ventured into the market to look at amulets. I tried to convey that my choice of this particular amulet had been random and could easily be replaced by another. But they asked to see the one that had caught me, so we went back to the smiley man's stall. After a little back and forth, I learned that the amulet was meant to protect and provide luck. Hardly a surprise. But now I had a name (this too, I have yet to google, having very brief and occasional access to wifi). I asked the girls if they thought the price was fair...and they said, yes they thought it was. And so I bought it. By this time we were all a bit giddy from our encounter. They told me that it was great for them to practice their English, that I was the first foreigner they had actually talked to for any length of time, and one them even confessed that she had never actually been to the amulet market before. Since they still had some time before their next class was to start, we kept going. They helped me find a chain for the amulet, steered me around some monks shopping (women and girls are not supposed to touch monks) and then we all went to a university cafe for a juice. We then talked about traveling and marriage and school. We exchanged Facebook names and took photos. It was downright charming. When you travel in a family, you move in a bit of a bubble. Breaking that bubble and truly connecting with strangers is therefore a treasured experience. Upon saying our goodbyes, I wandered off to find lunch and explore the temple of Wat Arun, very much bouyed by my interactions that day. The rain was still trickling down after the midday downpour, thus leaving the temple quiet and free of the usual crowds. Perfect for wandering around on my own in a peaceful glow. When I returned to the hotel, I discovered that Mike and Abbey had not made it to the zoo after all - due to the timing of the rain. And so instead had spent a much needed simple afternoon in the pool. Dinner of delicious curries in a favourite local restaurant rounded out the day.
And now it is 12:30 at night and the alarm is to go off at 6:00am to get us up for our bus south. I would post this if I could. Ah Wifi. I must sleep. Goodnight. I hope you are all well.