Christine’s Chronicles: When in Bangkok do as the Bangkokkers do

What Not to do on Your First Day in Thailand

 

About two dozen Thai children were waiting to converge on my military colleagues and me as we exited the green U.S. Army bus, dressed in full military regalia. They waved, shouted and extended their arms in front of where we walked, their little hands filled with exotic flowers that they wanted us to buy. Initially, I thought I had inadvertently wandered onto the set of “The King and I,” but I quickly gathered my tenuous bearings and remembered where I was.

“Pleeeeeze sir,” they pleaded, so I dug in my pockets and found some loose change, and placed it in the nearest available palm.

“Oh, thank you sir!” a young boy exclaimed as he shoved a delightfully fragrant bouquet into my hand. I quickly glanced downward, trying to see if my body had become mysteriously more masculine since the last time I checked. Why else would these youngsters be referring to me as a “sir?”

Entering the eight-story military-operated hotel marked my first official tour of duty. I was fresh out of Advanced Individual Training, and immensely looking forward to shedding my uniform and wearing civvies in public for the first time in months.

I checked in with the Thai gentleman running the front desk, and brimmed with self-importance as I picked up my key, hoisted my duffel bag, and happily whistled my way upstairs to my new, one-room home on the second floor.

I carelessly tossed my bag onto the single bed and giggled, recalling how my ex-unit commander had sternly lectured us on the seriousness of world-wide jet lag. He couldn’t have been more misinformed. At that very moment, I had never felt more energized in my entire eighteen years of life.

“That’s because he’s old,” I muttered.

After a ten-minute shower and a five-minute rest, the ants in my pants my mother always talked about woke up and started biting. I grabbed my purse and decided to absorb some rays outside so my hair could dry in the raw equator heat.

I wasn’t scheduled to report for duty until the following day, which meant that my longish chestnut hair could flow freely in the Bangkok breeze. The notion of allowing my hair

to extend past my collar gave me an extra surge of adrenelin, and I felt free and uninhibited. The morning would be soon enough for it to morph back into a tight, militaristic bun on the back of my head.

Without the olive-drab uniform, the flower-pushing children didn’t notice me, so I was able to sneak past their camp near the hotel’s front door. Across the semi-quiet street, I noticed a small jewelry store which appeared to be jumping up and down to get my attention.

I immediately decided to go see what it wanted. Thus, my first investment of the day was a blue sapphire cluster ring set in 18-karat gold. Why did I buy the ring? Because I could. Because it only cost $20 US Dollars.

As I walked out of the store, the woman behind the counter was probably chuckling at my ignorance because I didn’t know enough to haggle over the price with her. Little did she know that I was laughing at her because she was silly enough to sell me a $200 ring for $20.

At the end of the street was a thriving four-lane main artery, crammed with a bizarre assortment of motorized vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road. Crowded buses with riders spilling over to the point where they dangled precariously on the outside, clinging to metal grab bars for dear life roared by, colorful three-wheeled vehicles puttered past, and hundreds of little cars honked at each other as they eased on down the road.

Samlar at City Intersection 1975 Bangkok Thailand ChristineLorrainePhotography

Pedestrians were another matter. Uniformed schoolgirls, elderly couples, spruced up hookers, and naked children all surged along the sidewalk. Bald, barefoot men draped in orange bed sheets blended in with the rest of the foreign faces on this Oriental New York-esque kind of street.

That’s when it occurred to me – I was the one with the foreign face, not them. I was the 5-foot-seven, 145-pound brown-haired woman with the pale white skin. After realizing that I possessed more girth than almost everybody else, I started to sense the way an NFL linebacker must feel when standing amidst regular-sized people.

To evict this startling thought from my bedazzled brain, I studied the sparkling clump of deep blue sapphires on my finger and forged ahead, starting to become slightly daunted by the strangeness of this ancient city.

Part of the problem I encountered on that fateful day stemmed from the fact that I had just gotten paid before I left the States, a fact which was burning a hole in my hip-hugging pocket. Another key component to consider was that I had achieved a sort of shopping Nirvana with the ring purchase. My drive to shop for far eastern treasures outweighed my fear of the unknown. I was unstoppable.

Unfortunately, instead of helping my hair dry, the oppressive oven-strength heat was causing a profound amount of sweat to make my hair even wetter than it was when I left the hotel.

An hour later I felt like the orange-carrying woman as I damply struggled to carry the bags holding all of my newfound possessions.

In one mere hour, I had managed to accumulate two carved wooden elephants, a teak horse, a dozen hand-painted silver rings for 25 cents each, a curious looking bag of lunch meat, a pair of brown leather sandals, and four frosty 16-ounce glass bottles of Coca Cola because the logo was printed in Thai.

Please note that this was 1975, and pop bottles were still made with that lovely, thick glass we Baby Boomers clearly remember drinking out of when we were children.

Finally, the jungle-level heat was starting to get to me, so the minute I spotted a small park with a bench I sat down and initiated Operation Foot Relief. I stripped off my denim sneakers and white socks, and slipped my overheated feet into my new, open-air sandals. My feet thanked me as I crammed the sneakers and socks into the shoebox that formerly housed the sandals.

Right about then it occurred to me that I should probably weave my way back to the hotel. This thought led me to my next realization – I had no idea where I was.

“Okay, you just finished five months of survival training,” I chided myself. “Look for landmarks!”

I tried to retrace my footsteps, watching for something to jog my memory, but everything had an element of unrecognizable sameness and looked unfamiliar. Finally, I spotted a quiet looking side street off the main drag, so I turned the corner and wandered into a very residential area. Apartment dwellings six stories tall lined either side of the narrow thoroughfare.

I started to feel despondent at the idea of being lost in a city full of foreigners who couldn’t give me directions if they wanted to because I had forgotten the name of the Army hotel where I was staying.
My arms ached from embracing two handle-free brown paper bags and a shoebox. Sweat was pouring from every crevice and pore of my body. Unbeknownst to me, sweat had also formed on the cold items inside of my plain brown-paper grocery store sack, a phenomenon which ultimately dissolved the bottom of the bag.

As I turned to leave this apartment-laden alley, the lunch meat and four bottles of Coke broke through, and escaped from their bottomless bag, crashing loudly onto the ground as they shattered across my sandaled feet.

This unexpected turn of events caused my feet to begin bleeding profusely.

The noisy disturbance prompted several hundred Thai natives to stop what they were doing to look at the silly jet-lagged American Woman (get away from me) standing in the middle of their street, drenched in sweat with bleeding feet, surrounded by broken glass, who was miserably lost because she was too thick-headed to heed the warning of her wise ex-commander and rest after her 21-hour flight across the world.

And to top it off, she couldn’t remember the name of her hotel.

Dozens of kind-hearted souls rushed out of their homes to help, with white towels in hand. They began swabbing the blood and cola mess at my ignorant American feet. They looked up at me, speaking a lingo I didn’t get, asking questions I couldn’t answer, so I activated the universal female response. I started to cry.

“Miss, where are you from?” they were probably asking. Or maybe they were telling one another, “This is the stupidest woman I have ever seen!”
“ARMY!” I shouted at these generous, helpful people. “You know army hotel?” They studied me quizzically, heads tilted like the RCA Victor dog.

Someone at the scene knew someone else who knew a guy who might possibly have a friend who could speak English, so a fleet-footed young male courier was dispatched to find him.

The English-speaking savior arrived about five minutes later, and knew where I belonged the minute he heard the two words “Army hotel.”

The hotel in question was only one street over from where my brown-bag fiasco occurred.

I was given a ride back to its welcoming doors in a human-powered rickshaw, accompanied by a plethora of excited, overzealous Thai people who chattered excitedly all the way through our one-block journey. Then I limped upstairs to my room, collapsed on the bed, and slept for the next 18 hours.

Upon waking, I made up my mind that I would never again make the same mistakes that I had endured the day before.

Thus, I memorized the name of my hotel.

The next thing I did was write a mental note to my ex-commander, congratulating him on the depth of his wisdom.



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* Freelance Writer Xtraordinaire * Producer of 300+ youtube videos * Cellist and bassist * Over 4,000 photos on Google maps viewed 300,000,000 times * Army veteran stationed in Bangkok, Thailand * Creative director for trainumentary.com and pugrealitytv.com * Former Advertising Executive, REALTOR, TV Producer, and Majority Inspector of Elections for Millcreek's 5th Ward, Erie County, PA. Also check out trainumentary.com and pugrealitytv.com * See her complete video collection at: https://www.youtube.com/user/fishiesswimming
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1 Response to Christine’s Chronicles: When in Bangkok do as the Bangkokkers do

  1. Pingback: From Meandering Hippie to Military Achiever~ Army Basic Training Made a Soldier Out of Me | xtinethewriter.com ~ Where Creativity Lives in Words and Pictures

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