The next morning I’m up at 6 when Emily leaves for work. She still left me the key and told me that her condo is open to me anytime. That’s a very generous offer, but I’m too excited to explore to stay around much longer. I check out the view from her balcony as I wash a few smelly things I wore through my bus/train journey. The view makes me forget all about the smell and that’s saying a lot.
I have a general plan and a few things to see as recommendations from Emily as well as Karin and Aaron (friends from Laos). I go straight north from the condo to eventually reach a small river that people actually use on their commute. The big river I was on yesterday has commuters too, but also has many other types of travelers that this one doesn’t have.
On the way, I stop at a place where I see people cooking food fresh next to the street. A really nice middle aged couple attentively see what I want right after I poke my head in their grill area to see what they’re cooking.
I just point at what their cooking and say I want that with a little bit of the spice. Either all those words are the same from Lao to Thai or the pointing was enough because the guy nods in assurance and quickly ushers me to a seat. The food is fresh, makes me full, is cooked by a nice genuine Thai couple, and comes to be 40 baht, which is just over a dollar. It’s definitely not as expensive or fancy as a coffee shop, but like my choice on the train, doing things like the locals gives me such a rich experience and an in depth look into their daily life that it’s worth more than all the other benefits combined with the fancier options.
I continue to head up the street and ask a few people, who I suppose are too shy to even speak with me. They don’t look at me and barley form an answer. It looks like they’re being rude, but I doubt that as I’ve run into this before in Laos and seen them come around after getting more comfortable with me. Some people don’t find joy in giggling and figuring out our gaps in language and understanding and that’s fine, so I just smile, thank them, and move on.
Then there are those people who seem like they’ll do anything. I stop by a mechanic shop where two old men, covered in grease, are resting by the sidewalk. We exchange looks and I already have a good feeling about them. River in Thai isn’t the same as in Lao, so I’m stuck having to resort to charades. Then they stop a guy in a business suit and he uses his broken English to tell me I have about two more kilometers down the road. After realizing I’ve orchestrated the whole side of the street to helping me find this river, I thank them and head on my way.
I like this street I’ve been walking on because it’s more like an inner city neighborhood than a tourist street. There is no stop to the traffic barreling down the wide road next to people working their ordinary jobs on either sides.
I get to a bridge and think that it’s probably passing over the river I’m looking for, so I go to the right, underneath the bridge. It’s a little bit sketchy, but after a quick look around and some stubbornness to find the river, I continue.
I find an old hut right on the edge of the river and investigate to see if I can ask someone for directions. I peak in and lock eyes with an old woman sitting on the floor. I smile and give her the polite bow. She comes to the door and we talk a bit about how to get there. I don’t really understand other than to cross the bridge. I’m hoping there’s a lot of detail I missed there that will take me right to the boat. She stops a young man who tells me in English that I should cross the bridge. Well, there we go, it’s pretty vague, but I can always just ask the next person on the other side.
Under the bridge on the next side there’s a police man who literally jumps out of his seat to help me. He only speaks Thai, but the words for 4 way intersection and turn left are the same. It’s really nice to get someone who can actually give decent directions, opposed to most who just say, “keep going that way”.
Not long after, I find the larger part of the same river I already passed and wait to board the next boat. I feel like I’m next in line to ride Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland. The walls, covered in vines, are high on either side and turn almost immediately, inviting their passengers to come take a look.
I ask a young man who tells me how to get to China town, my next destination. Even though I was there yesterday, I want to go back and give it a better chance now that I don’t have my bag.
The boat pulls up already totally packed with people. I grab a rope and slide myself between the bulging crowd and the edge of the boat. I’m not normally freaked out by crowds, but this is pushing it. Directly behind and to the left of my head there are wooden parts of the boat and to the right is a plastic shield protecting us from the gross river water, cornering my head behind the guy in front of me. I have to try to tilt my head at an angle so I don’t wipe my snot on the back of his head. At some points along the ride he shifts a little bit and I have to squish my head even more to not get a mouth full of hair. I start to get frustrated that he can’t just inch forward a little bit to get out of my way. Getting over the urge to shove him away from me, I start to enjoy the ride. There are broken down docks at each stop, which are clearly just for locals, and despite the plastic shield, the disgusting runoff from the city that seeps into this river is splashing up onto my face. Hey this is probably the best way I could build up my resistances again after all those antibiotics I took for my ear.
The crowd eventually thins and then I get to my stop. I get off and start to ask people which direction I should go. I want to buy some pineapple, but I’m always worried about buying from genuine people. I’m trying to think how I could do that, so the last fruit stand on the corner, I stop to ask for directions to China town. The woman lights up when she realizes she can understand me and then her husband jumps in to help. The three of us quickly go from directions to where I came from and what I’m doing here in Thailand. Well, that was pretty easy. They’re definitely the fruit people I’m looking for, so I get a big bag to eat on the way.
On the same street with all the fruit, they pull up in a truck to drop off gigantic jack fruits. I have to stop and get a picture, I’m in heaven. They also drop off these weird black circles in the middle of the street, which coincidently look like my finger over the camera lense…
Feeling up from the whole journey this morning and getting my fruit, I engage a little more with the Tuk Tuk driver across the street than I normally would. Normally they ask if I want a ride and I just shake my head. This time we spark a conversation and then he forgets about the ride altogether. We start to talk about me knowing Thai and I go through the schpeal of just knowing Lao. We continue and go through the same thing of him asking me why I’m not married and how the women are in Laos.
I never realized this before talking with a good friend, but I think sometimes when I speak Lao or Twi I take on a different persona. When I’m talking with men I tend to be a bit more macho than I normally would. When I speak with women, I’m much more flirtatious. Not really flirtatious like wanting to date them, but more just teasing with them. I’m not sure why I do it. Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s a bit of a “mask” over the subtle meanings of the English and I’m just saying things for the basic meaning they have and don’t have the time or brain capacity to over analyze what I’m saying. I think for both of those examples I really think about the consequence of what I’m saying and instead, with another language, I adapt and am just more interested in making the person feel good in that moment. I think that over-analyzation thing I do in English for what I and others say is not always a good thing. It’s nice to be free of that and just speak in a way that makes sense in that moment. I think the importance of meaning comes with the way we do things, more so than with the way we speak. I don’t know though, maybe that just sounds crazy.
Then the taxi driver calls some young woman over to come talk to me. I’m kind of worried because I immediately suspect he’s going to try to set us up together. She comes over and he says that she’s from Laos. We start to talk about that and it’s wonderful to actually understand everything someone is saying again. I quickly fall back into the Lao expressions and feel happy knowing it isn’t falling on deaf ears.
I keep walking down the street, determined for China town. Right as I think I get off track, a nice looking old gentleman walks out of a bank, so I ask him where to go. I learned the Thai word for China Town now, so just ask him using that and the Thai vocabulary I’ve been picking up. He stops and thinks for a second and then responds in English “Oh yes, China town”. He tells me it’s very far and then proceeds to act out how to get there. His actions are very flamboyant and he starts to make me giggle even though I don’t think he knows he’s being funny. Then he tells me to come over and get on his motorbike. Without hesitation, I take the offer to be driven there.
We get off onto the main road and then immediately turn off onto side roads. He seems like he really knows what he’s doing. Then we drive through a market street and people start to yell out to him from every direction. He responds to them in English which gets me to keep laughing. Especially since I find out he’s lived in Thailand his whole life.
After some more bobbing and weaving through the market, he stops and tells me to get off and keep going straight and I’ll be right there. I thank him and continue on my way.
My goal now with China town is to go down the small side streets and try to really immerse myself in the atmosphere. I take the first side street I see. It doesn’t take long for my expectations to be crushed. Most of the signs I pass by are all three Thai, English, and Chinese. Also most of the people Im passing are speaking Thai or the few times I interact with people, just in English. Their English is better than most Thai people’s. I wanted to enter the side streets and totally forget that I’m in Thailand. I wanted to see all kinds of crazy Chinese street delicacies, hear only Chinese, and only see the Chinese culture.
Here’s a strong old Chinese shrine I found in the middle of the market. Apparently when the first Chinese people came here they built this to ask for prosperity with their new lives in Thailand. I don’t know, it looks quite ugly and cluttered to me.
My disappointment also makes me realize that my feet hurt and I’m going to need an hour or so to regenerate for the second half of the day. My next stop is the main tourist street that Emily suggested I visit. I find a motorcycle taxi guy and decide to give that adventure another chance.
Before we get on the motorcycle, he hands me a helmet. I laugh because it’s more like a bike helmet than a motorcycle helmet. It also only fits the back half of my head. I tell him my head is too big for his helmet and he tells me it’s not a problem. I’m not sure what that really means, but I’m suspicious he just called me fat. He immediately breaks off like the gun shot just went off to start the race. I’m still not sure who he thought he was racing, but I’m very confident that my guy won. We tear down the street and this guy makes no hesitation to swerve between cars, curbs, crosswalks, and children. At one point we raced to the very edge of the street to beat the impending crowd closing off the cross walk. All of the people coming from the right saw him, but there’s one guy crossing from the left and of course he’s looking in the opposite way of traffic and looks like he’s leaning into the street to start to cross. None of that phases my guy and my whole body tenses for this idiot to cross in front of us at the last second. We squeeze by untouched. Phew. Then he goes up on the side walk and goes around those bars that come down to block cars going into parking lots. Now we’re racing behind a building with yet more oblivious vehicles and pedestrians. We blast through and then around the car blocking bar on the other side and right past the policeman sitting there to stop people from doing that exact thing. Although, I’m not worried because by the time his brain realized what we were doing, we are already in the street and quickly leaving his sight.
I get to the tourist street, have a beer, and then get the hell out of there. I get the creeps realizing that when Thai people see me they think I’m a tourist like these people. They’re all very young and are clearly looking for the party to start.
I walk down the popular temple street, where there are also all the big government buildings.
Next I head back to stop at what is claimed, the largest mall in the world.
I’m always fascinated to see the different levels of development, so after poking my head around I find this street right next to the giant mega malls. These were probably put here for the workers selling the Armani bags.
The night wraps quickly as I head back to meet Emily for dinner. We share some really great travel stories and musings on life. Again, this contrast to the rest of the day makes me want to continue to explore Couchsurfing with each new place I visit.