May 12, 2007

Back in Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand

It's hot, humid, overcast, and rather rainy. The pollution is thick enough that you can see it hovering in the air above the rampaging vehicles. Stray animals are everywhere—it's still a bit weird to see cats with testicles. The sounds and smells, the chaotic happenings of streets lined with intriguing food stalls, the bargaining, the tourists, the touts, and the túk-túks—I'm back up in ya, Bangkok.

It's Fun To Fly… Right?

I flew out of the United States from San Francisco; my one-way ticket to Bangkok via China Air costing US$480. I asked for a window seat when I checked in at the counter, prompting the friendly woman in front of me to issue a warning that the exit row seat that I was to be given might keep one of my legs from fully extending. I wasn't exactly sure what she was talking about (I had no mental image of this problem to pull from), but it sounded better than a middle-row seat; so I took it—big mistake.

It turns out the seat was behind a massive, protruding emergency exit door, next to the lavatory. The flight attendants strapped into the pair of seats, facing me, said that I could relocate once we were airborne.

The flight wasn't full, and there were a pair of seats open a few rows behind me. The cabin lights were off when I walked back, finding a man sitting upright with his back to the aisle, his legs stretched across the others.

I started to slide by, when he asked what I was doing. "I'm grabbing that window seat," I replied in a friendly manner. "You're that guy from up front," he asked. "Yeah," I replied. "No. I'm all settled in here. Find another seat," he snarled.

"You purchased these two seats," I questioned, not pleased. "No," he jabbed back, "but you can get the stewardess if you want to see what she says."

I snapped back at him in the darkness. "We could fight about it—and I'd win—but I don't want to look at your face for the next 14 hours" and walked away.

It was by good fortune that I was able come across another pair of likewise free seats, next to a Chinese woman that wasn't wild about me wrangling up that window. What is it with the territorial crap on these flights?

A 14-hour flight is nothing compared to the long-haul buses my butt has become accustomed to; I sat down and didn't get up once until we exited in Taipei.

My friend Babak had told me about the "death to drug traffickers" sign that greets people in the Republic of China airports—and there it was, smiling down at me as I waited for my flight to Bangkok.

It has been well over a decade since I spoke of how entertaining it would be if airlines installed a camera in the nose of the plane (so that passengers could see things from the pilot's point of view—movement, sunsets, etc). Well, what would you know, someone went and did it.

China Air's in-flight camera

The flight between Taipei and Bangkok placed me on a much nicer (and more modern) flight than the dated, 15–20-year-old 747 that flew me out of the United States. This one even sported two in-flight cameras, one pointing forward and another towards the ground. Neat.

I'm always impressed when my checked baggage arrives at my destination. I had the good folks in Portland's airport enclose my auxiliary backpack in a sturdy plastic bag (to keep the straps from catching on anything), which on the receiving end now looked like it had been dragged through a chimney.

The only hiccup passing through immigration was that I was issued a 30-day visa. This means that I'm going to have to do a border crossing into a neighboring country by the first week of June, only to return back to Bangkok by the 22nd of next month to meet up with another one of my old friends (pushing 15 years now), Aaron, for his 10-day layover in the capital.

An interesting twist: I've discovered that new visa regulations in Thailand only let me jump out and back into the country twice before having to wait three months to enter the country again; a total of 90-days maximum, over a 180-day period.

I believe this means that if I renew my visa with back-to-back border runs, I can spend the rest of May, June, and July in Thailand, but then can't return until early November (when my 180-day clock starts over again). Actually, that's a pretty good cycle date I've got there; vacation in Thailand this winter, anyone?

A Surprise

An hour or two after arriving I was taking a quick walk down Khaosan Road, getting reacquainted with the street that serves as the center of the backpacker universe for Thailand (if not all of SE Asia), when I was tackled by a girl that had emerged from the restaurant/bar that I had just passed. She had blurted out a Craig! just before impact.

Karen was an Aussie that I'd met in Peru, and hung out with again in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The last time I'd seen her was New Year's Eve, half a world away. I was particularly impressed that she spotted me in the passing bustle, but I did make a lingering stare into the restaurant she was in, as I thought, Damn, look at all those white people.

Karen and her friend were scheduled to bus out of town in three hours for islands to the south, but within a half-hour's time she had visited her travel agency and pushed her ticket back a day. We had some catching up to do, and I guess the scuba diving could wait.

Beloved Bangkok

I'm staying at a recommendation from Andy, not too far from Khaosan Road. Here my B$200/night gets me a small, window-less room; hot water in a shared bathroom; an osculating fan (mother of God it's hot); a small television that picks up a HBO and the BBC World News; and over a dozen of these unknown, blood-sucking animals (that I keep killing as fast as they keep showing up on my bed or belongings). Maybe these things are ticks—I don't know—the SD card in the blurry photo is for scale. They explode blood when I smoosh 'em—probably my blood.

Communication with me from the U.S. is going to be much slower from now on. I'm now 14-hours ahead of the west coast of the United States. When the U.S. is waking up, I'm going to bed—and vice versa—and expect replies to e-mail correspondence to be delayed significantly because of it.

During the day it sometimes feels like this city should have steam coming up from the ground, with a slight hissing sound. But at night the temperature drops, and the city gets it's second wind.

Bangkok is the type of place that makes me want to disregard the don't walk around at night rule that I've burned into my brain in Latin America. It's a pleasant, social, and interesting time of the day, when Bangkok seems to really comes to life.

I haven't ventured out much at night, though—my body is still exhausted from my schedule in the United States. It's nice to catch up on sleep, relax, and slowing immerse myself into SE Asia. No rush here, I've got time.

Memories Captured

You'll probably notice that there are already photos in the snapshots gallery from my 2004/2005 visit to Thailand. I've recently cleaned several dozen of these photos out, as the valueless images of a youthful, 24-year-old Craig, partying the nights away were cluttering up the place. Gone are many of those, and photos that weren't up to par with what I wanted see residing in the gallery.

The photos I take today are much more environmental in nature. Not of the environment per se, but my environment—snapshots of the interests and oddities I'm seeing and experiencing over the course of my day-to-day life. Then again, I suppose those old photos from Thailand were my day-to-day environment when I was on holiday here.

Food and people—two things I'm going to work on taking more photos of. Food is something everyone can relate to, no matter where they're from, and people add that missing touch of reality that compliments my writings (and makes them more complete).

The adventure continues…

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