This is a true story.
What Not to do on Your First Day in Thailand
by Christine Lorraine
Jul 8, 2009
The foreign looking woman with the pointy round hat scurried down the street, wrapped in loose dark clothing that made no American sense, style-wise. She squinted wearily beneath the heavy weight of her load of oranges, which she toted on a two-sided carrier that resembled a crudely built scales of justice.The bus doors opened and I stepped outside, into the suffocating heat as the orange-laden woman disappeared from view.
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.