By Theo Kay
Copyright 2017 Theo Kay
This is a chapter from the book “Travels in Troubles in South East Asia”. Hope you enjoy it.
We were still on that heinous train. I didn’t get much sleep. I kept waking up and looking at my phone to see what the time was. At some point I woke up to realize I was all sweaty. I changed whatever I could of my clothes… Bu tin the same time my feet hurt from the cold air. There was some pain in my kidneys, as well…I felt like the previous day didn’t end but just flowed into that one.
Finally, it happened. The boy who had made our beds walked through the car and yelled it was time to wake up.
I made it!
I made it through one more horrible night of physical trial. I took all additional blankets I had and returned them to the place where I had found them. I also removed the plastic bags from the air conditioning vents. I was ready, sweaty and dressed up because it was cold again. I ate some bananas and biscuits for breakfast to warm up my stomach.
The train finally stopped and the door opened. Warm air brought new hope to my troubled body and soul. I felt like I was a free man getting out of a cage. Excitement rushed into my veins and made me feel very awake despite the lack of sleep and the pain throughout my body. My lungs inhaled the stale early-morning Bangkok air. It felt good. Anything was better than that train.
Hello Bangkok! Bye, train, I never wanna see you again.
We were there – one of the biggest cities in the world. As far as I could remember it had over eight million people, compacted in a bit over 1,500 square kilometers, which made it even more populous than my whole country. And there were 14 million more living in the metropolitan area surrounding it.
The taxi left us somewhere on the street where our hotel was supposed to be. It was a walking street with shops and cafes on the sides, and even though it was quite early, there were already lots of people passing by. Everything in the area was still closed. My sister had recommended that hotel for its location. It was in the heart of the center very near to all major tourist places and the price was reasonable. Mr. Z had approved it because it had all kinds of services in it. The downside was that it was hard to find. There were tall buildings on both sides and hundreds of signs. We roamed the street back and forth with the only result that Mr. Z’s trolley scared all animals and birds in the radius of one kilometer. There was a slight suspicion creeping upon us that maybe the driver had left us somewhere else.
“There it is!”
I headed towards it, trying to balance all bags I had in my hands and on my back. And it was really there, a small sign hidden behind a few food carts, which were already on the street and the owners were preparing them for business. The building was just like any other on that street – there was no way one could guess it was a hotel. And in fact it wasn’t… Not just yet… It was a long corridor before we reached the lobby. There were a massage studio, a travel agency, a tailor, and a hair salon before it. The massage beds were even placed in that corridor.
I was the one “in charge” of the Bangkok hotel and sights selection (or was I?). I’d spent a few hours researching hotels and interesting places. In the end Mr. Z had ignored all of that work and decided to make the program for Bangkok himself – the hotel based on the opinion of my sister, the places to see – based on the opinions shared on the net. So, the conclusion I couldn’t help but make, was that I shouldn’t waste my time trying to organize a trip. I just needed to make a random suggestion, which didn’t even have to make sense. It was going to be overruled anyway.
We were lucky to be let into our room early in the morning. It was one of the smallest rooms we’d been in. It was just two beds and a TV. There was no free space at all, just enough to open the door. But the bathroom was as big as the room. That was some strange logic I couldn’t understand. Unfortunately, there was something wrong with it, as well. There was a lower part near the door (my guess was that it was a last minute construction decision to make sure the door would open and close), and each time one of us took a shower, a pool formed at that place, which was big enough for small pets to take a swim. Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. When you were in the room it sounded like having a lake nearby with rain falling down on it, which was calming.
Thank God I don’t have to pee each time I hear running water…
I didn’t want to bring all that water in the room and make muddy steps in the room. That’s why each time I took a shower I diligently moved it to the drain with the help of my foot. Mr. Z was above those things. I doubted he even noticed it, let alone care about it. I had to have a special conversation with him specifically about it in order to explain the advantages and disadvantages of the situation, followed by the possible scenarios that could happen from then on. Sometimes talking worked and sometimes his stubbornness was too strong and he just made the opposite of what I asked for.
I’m so ready to raise kids…
On that sleep-deprived day we had a big plan to fulfil. We were to visit all palaces, temples and other interesting attractions in Bangkok. We took a map from the hotel and set out to explore the capital of Thailand. We got a bit lost but there was a friendly guy who saw the trouble in our eyes from his vantage point, leaned against a tree, and asked where we wanted to go. We said:
He explained to us in perfect English where we were and how we could get to the palace. Such a shame it was closed until noon on that day because it was a public holiday. But he gave us a brilliant idea how we could spend two hours and return just in time for its miraculous re-opening in the afternoon. He said some tuk-tuks offered a free ride to tourists to see a few temples, as well as a few shops, where the tourists just had to make an appearance. We gladly agreed and thanked him. He took us himself to a yellow tuk-tuk with a couple of smug-looking guys in it. They showed us a map and explained semi-professionally, as much as they could, what great sights we’d be privileged to visit. We were more than thrilled to begin the trip of our lives. The fatter guy got into the driver’s place (which would’ve been tilted to the right if it was a normal car), and the other one somehow sat between the motorcycle and the car where we were (it was something like a motorized tricycle).
Ready, steady, go.
I felt a bit like a bag of potatoes. The driver was clearly very experienced and indifferent whether he’d arrive with or without us at the destination point. It was our own responsibility to stay within the car for the whole ride.
The first temple offered us a tourist-free view of a Buddha that was so tall that I was like an ant at his feet. We didn’t even manage to take a good person-statue picture. The lack of other people, flocking to be pictured in front, really convinced me it was a public holiday.
But how come the tourists are not around on public holidays? Where have they gone?
The temple seemed very small. And so was the next one we visited. There was literally no one, even monks. A guy approached us while we were taking photos and tried to explain something to us but his English was so poor that we were just nodding our heads in reply and saying “Yes, thanks”. And we moved along.
The next stop was going to be some shop. The driver said we had to stop there. We just had to walk in. He said so. But it started to feel strange when we drove off the main street into a small alley, which then led into an enclosed by concrete buildings production area with cars, machines, and people who stood there and did nothing.
The driver stopped. He turned to us, showed us a coupon which read ‘gas coupon’, and said:
“You walk in the shop and look at the catalogues, and ask for one of these. I need one of these to drive you.”
We got out of the car a little perplexed. The shop looked like a very classy tailor’s shop situated somewhere in the heart of Paris. The only thing that didn’t match was the location and the five gorillas in suits that were strolling in it. They looked suspicious and dangerous, put in a very mild way. Two of them started toward us as we entered the shop. I panicked a bit but managed to keep my cool. I took a very quick look at everything we had around us – doors, windows, exits, possible weapons, and then started talking to Mr. Z like we were walking on the beach – careless and loud, like real tourists. They passed us on both sides and went near the exit.
The easiest way to escape – lost…
As soon as we started walking around pretending to care about the lavish clothes put on display around, a short and ready for an aristocratic ball man with a moustache and a cigar approached us. He behaved like he owned the place.
That was the first association I made but clearly he wasn’t. He was just the proud owner of a big clothes boutique located in the middle of nowhere in Bangkok, as well as the several well-dressed muggers that were there to inspire respect and increase the turnover.
“Hello, gentlemen. Where are you from?”
His self-complacent and proud voice broke the deadly silence that had fallen upon the shop.
“Such an honor to have customers from Bugaria.”
That was the first time he heard about it because he didn’t pronounce it correctly. There was a little smile on his lips that very much looked like the grin on a cartoon villain who had just come up with a treacherous plan.
“What do you want to buy from my shop?”
“No, thanks, we just want to look around and see what clothes you have”, I said, trying to think of the best scenario in which we stayed alive.
“This is not a museum”, he said in a reserved but seemingly affected tone, taking a puff at his cigar.
We paused for a bit to process that sentence. Yes, we were going to be very glad if he showed us what he could offer us. He did. I gulped nervously. The bodyguards were moving heavily around in a slow but assured step. The last offer we got was to use his tailoring skills and have a suit made for each of us. (I didn’t know what the deal with the suits was but there was a tailor’s shop every hundred meters in Bangkok. Maybe it was just cheap to get it there. But the fitting was not going to be pleasant in that hot weather…).
Mr. Z said he wanted to see one of the belts that were on display. I wondered why he did that instead of just leave while we still could. He took it, put it on his pants, started to look at himself in the mirror and five minutes later he took it off and said he didn’t like it. All that time the shop owner was eyeing him impatiently. He wasn’t pleased. His face changed to show it and his lips twitched like they were ready to announce our death sentences.
I started towards the door while calculating how to escape if someone attacked us at that nerve-shattering moment. But Mr. Z stopped and turned around.
Oh, boy, what is he doing??
“Are you going to give us a gas coupon? The driver said we had to get one from you.”
The boss started laughing haughtily.
“You want one of these?”, The Godfather waved a bunch of them in front of us. “You have to buy something to get it!”
At that point I was sure he was seconds away from giving the order to his gangsters to feed us to the lions in the backyard. We said ‘Thank you’ and hurried out and back to the tuk-tuk that was waiting for us. We explained to the driver we couldn’t get the gas coupon. He looked very disappointed but said it was ‘OK’ and we drove off to the next stop on the list.
It was, and at the same time it wasn’t, a big surprise for us to find that the tuk-tuk was no longer there when we were back. At that point it was more than clear to us we’d fallen for one of the tourist scams. It all made sense. Just like they do it in the movies, my whole memory was re-winded and I watched the past one hour as a movie. The man we met and who was so kind to explain everything to us – that was the ‘pimp’ (or the ‘catcher’ but not in the rye). When he saw us he probably thought how gullible we looked and decided to try his tricks on us. Then he took us to one of his accomplice tuk-tuk-s and made us believe we were going to be on a sightseeing tour. When we weren’t looking he probably gave the driver a wink. And the driver winked back. The final iteration was buying from the sponsoring shop. We were going to be abandoned anyway, even if we’d bought something from there.
In fact I’d read about those deceitful schemes in a forum and I was well aware of all risks. But we decided to play dumb and go on that free adventure ride – we just fell for that lie that the Royal Palace was still closed. On the bright side, we had a bit more of the typical Bangkok cultural experience, but not the kind I’d brag about. The reviews for those schemes were mixed. Some people said this was a good thing as they drove you around and showed you places, others didn’t quite agree. Because in the end it was a manipulation – with your expectations, trust and time. In general, I don’t enjoy that kind of treatment. It is not a good practice to employ lies and deceitful behavior in dealings with other people, and I strongly believe a karmic repayment lurks around the corner for all who do.
Fifteen minutes later we were at the Royal Palace (which was our original plan), together with thousands of people coming from hundreds of tourist buses. The weather that day was the hottest since the start of the trip. I didn’t complain – that was the type of weather I’d expected all along and my bones deserved some sunshine after all trials I’d put them through. Yet, surrounded by so many people I felt like I was struggling for air.
Our goal was getting into the palace. I knew tickets were limited for the day and I knew there were strict rules for the clothes. You could get in only if your chest, shoulders and legs were covered. That was going to be a challenge for both of us. I had my beach pants on, which went down a few inches below the knees, and Mr. Z was wearing short pants that didn’t even reach his knees (He wears such during trips and on no other occasions. Back home, even if it is a hundred degrees, he wears long jeans and shoes.). We knew what the requirements were, but no one could persuade me to go out in that hot weather in jeans. Mr. Z wasn’t going to make it dressed like that into the palace. So he decided to wait in line to get baggy pants to put over his. I decided to try to walk in like that. I pulled my pants as low as possible to a point where I was no longer sure if I still had them on or not. They reached my ankles, probably making me look like a young white rapper, and I dragged along the other tourists, trying to move as inconspicuous as possible. I managed to pass the dress control policeman, who wore a shirt and long trousers. I felt sorry for him. My mission was completed flawlessly. I was in. Now I just needed to wait fifteen minutes in the scorching sun for Mr. Z to appear as a beaming baggy-pants tourist. I was pretty sure all my internal fluids had ended up on my head and face by that time.
The royal palace was huge. You could easily spend a whole day admiring the ornaments on the buildings, crawling between them in the withering sun and waiting in line by dozens to take a picture of yourself in front of a big door or a statue. There were many buildings and each of them served its unique purpose – there was a palace, a temple, a “history building” and so on. One of those (not sure which one because the sun drained my curiosity) was covered in yellow tiles, which made it look golden. It looked like a big bell, glistening in the sun, which had a small folded Eiffel tower on top.
Another thing that caught my attention were the needle-like rooftops always pointing to the sky. I didn’t know if there was any symbolism in that but it was obviously done on purpose. That was valid even for the ornaments that were positioned in the opposite direction – at the end they made a U-turn and were pointing to the sky again.
In front of the buildings there were big statues of grotesque creatures that weren’t human but some mixtures of human and animal parts. One of them was a heavily ornamented humanoid with big popping eyes, going out of their orbits like a surprised cartoon character. The other one was obviously on a diet and didn’t do any physical activities – it had very slim legs, strange face and a tail. Those were the guardians of the palace, I guessed. I wondered again what they were but no one could come from back then and tell me. I believed that art in the past represented the world around them – what they saw or what they thought they saw.
And there was the palace itself, with the very famous Jade Buddha inside, which was the bone of contention in the Thai-Lao relations. It was a very tall building with huge, yet exquisite pillars that held the multilayer roof. The doors and windows were again made for giants.
Someone has to admit already so tall people really existed!
The conditions in the palace itself weren’t luxurious at all. It was very spacious but with almost no furniture. The royal bed looked very hard to sleep on.
Whoever slept on it didn’t have any back pain, for sure.
The decorations were lavish and were everywhere on the outside of the buildings, especially on that building. Paintings on the doors, walls and ceilings, Buddha images and statues of animals, full body or just heads. The Asian culture wasn’t about luxury – it was about decorations and detail.
This looks like a personal petrified zoo. It’s creepy.
There was also a whole building (the “history building as I named it), where there were paintings all over the walls that showed important historic events. The people who had a guide could learn more, but we just swiftly passed by that beautiful artistic display, more interested in hiding from the sun for a while.
There were countless stupas in between the buildings. Those mound-like structures with relics were used to fill each free space. And they were of different kinds – there weren’t any two that looked alike. There seemed to be a lot of meditation going on in the past and by that point they had become just sets for unprofessional tourist pictures.
Suddenly, my eyes recognized something familiar and dear to my heart. I saw Angkor Wat. But what the hell was it doing in the Royal Palace?? No, they didn’t manage to bring it all the way from Cambodia overnight. What I saw was a model of the temple complex, which was about a meter in height. So I finally knew what it felt like to be a bird flying over Angkor Wat.
One more thing off my to-do list!
Taking pictures in that royal complex was another challenge for us (when I say “us” I actually mean Mr. Z). First of all, for all major sites there was a line of up to twenty people, and some were even jumping the queue creating a second line. Then, Mr. Z had strict standards about who else could be caught in the picture. He didn’t want any parts of, or let alone whole people, around him or behind him, being immortalized on that photo together with him. That was his strict “just me” policy. And guess who had to stand in the sun, without a hat, waiting for the other tourists to miraculously disappear.
Come on, Mr. Z, my neck is red and hurts like hell!
It was past noon already. We were finally out. The sun was relentless. We were hungry, dehydrated and exhausted. There was just fruit sold in the area and nothing more. We had to go search for a place where we could eat. Step by step, we returned to the central part where our hotel was. It was certain that each of us would find food there. I got the recommended by my sister street Pad Thai, which was really good, ignoring the fact that I had to eat it hot while it was thirty degrees Celsius outside. Then I had some coconut cookies with surprising ingredients in them like onions, for example. They tasted good, some better than the others, but I enjoyed them a lot.
I’m very excited each time I taste local cuisine. It’s like a short but meaningful travel deep into the secrets of the local culture – just you, your taste bulbs and your brain, taking you places you’ve never been before. Good cultural experience doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive. So the food I bought from the street was good enough for me to taste the real Bangkok.
In the afternoon we had a bit of rest in the room under the air conditioner, which was the only good thing about that small room. Then we decided not to waste any more time and go along two of the most popular tourist walking streets in our area – Rambuttri Street and Khao San Road. Those streets were packed full with tourists even in the hottest hours, as well as many merchants, who offered anything from laundry service to grilled bugs. You could find there literally everything. There were souvenirs, all kinds of food, drinks, and ice cream, T-shirts and other clothing, some of them reading: “No, I don’t want a massage, a tuk-tuk or a ping pong show”. And that was very true. When we walked on the streets tuk-tuks would pass by us and shout at us:
And they’d blow their horns at us and I’d occasionally say:
And walking on the streets we were stopped by masseuses of all ages offering us a massage – usually Thai or foot massage. The latter was done directly on the street – there were beds in front of the studios, where the customer would sit or lie down while their feet were being relaxed by masseurs and masseuses. Mr. Z was very keen on getting one soon but he said he didn’t want to be touched by a man. He said he wanted to choose the girl himself, and he specifically said “girl” (over 18, of course). I gave him something to think about, though.
“Don’t you think it’s better if a woman with more experience does this to you? You don’t wanna get hurt by a beautiful girl with very little experience, do you?”
Nevertheless, the biggest attraction were the grilled bugs. There were people flocking to see or taste them, or try to steal a free pic. If you weren’t a customer you had to pay to take a photo. It was fun to see people eating crispy scorpions and grasshoppers, and making pretend smiles for the photos while their stomach contents were getting rebellious. I had read that usually the bugs that died from pesticides were the ones offered to the tourists, so I decided not to taste them. One less cultural experience for me but when you take risks, it’s always better to take such that are not bad for your health.
Those two streets – Rambuttri Street and Khao San Road – were fantastic in the evenings. There were bright lights, loud music, disoriented people, and smells of food, flowers and garbage (the last not being my favorite, of course). Bangkok was like a melting pot with people from all continents coming together to walk, talk, and obstruct your movement, as well as merchants from all parts of the capital, joining forces to offer whatever you could think of. I enjoyed those walks immensely. It was the feeling of freedom, vacation, summer and leisure that filled me with positive emotions. Those are the emotions you go on vacation for, so that you have something to take back home, which will keep you warm in the winter months. You take a piece of the always shining sun, a piece of the sweet flower scent, a piece of the damp warm air, a piece of the crystal clear salty sea, a piece of the exotic cocktail with an umbrella on top, a piece of the summer madness – and you carefully fold these and put them in your pocket for home. These are the gifts you give to yourself. They are the most precious ones.
Now back to where we left the two protagonists – in the afternoon sun, after lunch, with one more problem to resolve. We had to choose a one-day trip for the next day. There was an extensive discussion with myriads of arguments. Mr. Z and I wanted different things again. I wanted to go on a trip that included the Tiger Kingdom, which was a monastery, where monks took care of tigers, and some of them walked freely on its premises while others were chained. I stuck again with the animal and adventure type of experiences. Mr. Z, on the other hand, wanted to see villages, tribes, and bridges – all the boring things you could think of. He was also afraid of the free tigers – I was sure about that. After an hour of dispute I got tired of all that and made a compromise again.
Another sacrifice for the mutual benefit. Again.
I hadn’t gone to the other side of the world to fight with him. I wanted to travel, see and feel what Asia was all about… He won again and I was angry one more time. But I decided to let go and just go with the flow.
After that we went to see the last sight planned for the day. It was a big temple across the river from the Royal Palace. We knew the way by heart already. I wondered how many steps we’d made that day. Each year there was a steps competition at my company and there was a ranking according to how many steps the team members made each week. Some colleagues went on foot to the office each day in order to report more steps at the end of the week. I went on a vacation. Whenever that coincided with a trip of mine, my team rocketed to Top 10 in the worldwide rank list just like that. I made at least 40,000 – 50,000 steps per day.
The temple, which was lit at night and served as one of the trademarks of Bangkok’s skyline, was under construction at that time but it was really a piece of wonder. There were even monks that came to visit it and take pictures of themselves with it. That was definitely curious and taking a picture of monks in front of a temple was like two birds with one stone. But thinking about it, it was something normal to see monks be tourists in their own country. After all, most of them had never been to the capital before. Not everyone in those countries had the financial means to travel and most of the local people were probably tied to their birthplace. They were prisoners of their low income and lack of education, and could hardly make ends meet.
After getting dinner and some preparation we were ready to head out on another adventure. The night was planned for night attractions. But let’s take that story step by step. Destination one was the most famous and the highest sky bar in the city with equally high prices. We knew from my sister who’d also visited it to have a beer there (she always likes to share a picture from somewhere with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer).
It was a warm night, as it was every night in Bangkok. I put on my shoes especially for that bar dress code and while I was doing that I felt how sweat was breaking all over me just thinking about having real shoes on. My feet wanted to be bare and feel the warm air. I had a sleeveless T-shirt on and a real shirt in hand that I was going to put on to mask the lack of sleeves. My plan was perfect.
The taxi pulled up next to the entrance of the lavish skyscraper hotel. We decided we should walk in like we owned the place and look like we were going to spend a lot of money. A very polite hostess greeted us on the way and directed us to the ultra-modern elevator. There was another hostess just in front of it – looking all perfect with hairstyle, makeup and a sleek uniform. The ride was fast and in seconds we were in a different world. It was like climbing up Jack’s beanstalk and finding ourselves in a new land above our own. We were as high as the heavens. And there were angels all around, ushering us onto the floor and out on the terrace, which was on two levels. The stairs were closely watched. You couldn’t stop there even for a second. The heavens security guy came to make you move on.
Everything was high class – the atmosphere, the personnel, and the people who were fashionably dressed from head to toe. There was talking, laughter, glass clinging, women in high heels and short skirts running up and down the stairs, men in shirts following them reluctantly. On the below level there was a restaurant with tables, which were fully occupied with rich people gorging on ultra-expensive meals. That part of the terrace ended in a platform which seemed to be almost outside the building. Most of the guests gathered on it to drink and observe the spectacular view.
The view was cosmopolitan. I felt like Jack in Titanic. I had the world beneath my feet, yet I didn’t belong there.
I’m the king of the world!!!
All streets, buildings and people were small and insignificant down there, like an ant farm.
So this is what it feels like to be a God.
I was observing a real living organism. I could see the cells crawling up and down, I could see the organs standing tall and bright, I could see whole parts of that body, separated by heavy traffic veins, and I could see the pulping lights running up and down those veins.
I felt like no boundaries existed. I could even see beyond the city, where there was no more concrete and sin. I felt as free as a bird. I was ready to spread my invisible wings and fly over the twinkling vastness of human mortality, and return to the immortal horizon where only the Sun could judge me. And we were going to sit and talk, and share stories of what we saw and what we learned. I was curious what it would tell me while we ran across the sky on its fiery chariot for it saw everything and knew everything. One day wouldn’t be enough. We’d need a whole eternity.
I was above everyone and everything for one short moment. I was standing at the top of the world, where there were no problems – just beautiful wealthy people clinging champagne glasses. And where the only thing the warm wind brought was music and laughter.
Is this real happiness?
Who said money can’t make people happy. Obviously it could. That’s what one could easily see at such places, right? But you can never know how some of those people feel when they go home and they have nothing to live for, just because they already have everything.
The wind tried another attempt at playing with my hair. If I had more of it, I was sure it was going to be all over my face. Those were the times when I was glad I had short hair that didn’t need any styling – I get up in the morning and it looks perfect, I go to bed – it’s the same, I go out in stormy weather – no change, I take a shower – still the same.
No one came to ask us what we were going to drink so we decided just to take some photos and leave. It’s all about how you do it, not what you do. We behaved like VIP guests, who had lots of champagne glasses left around. But that wasn’t our world – we had to leave Olympus and get back to the land of the mortals.
Next stop for the night was the most popular erotic quarter. I could tell Mr. Z was anticipating that one the most. Everyone would say:
“You can’t go to Bangkok and not see an erotic show.”
And so did he. Thailand is well-known worldwide for the ‘ping pong’ shows and other similar attractions so like any passionate and culture-oriented tourists Mr. Z wanted to go there and check for himself if the fame was deserved. Fifteen minutes later we were walking next to a big tourist market and from all sides we were offered nude shows and striptease. Some local guys even warned us to be careful because in a few of those places they just mugged you and took your money. Despite the warnings, Mr. Z looked intrigued by all entertainment offers we received and even asked questions. But first things first – he was hungry and had to eat.
We walked in a relatively good looking restaurant just a corner away from the erotic shows street. There was a Filipino guy talking loudly to a bunch of tourists at one of the other tables. We assumed he was the owner and was making rounds to see if the guests were satisfied with the food and the service. Soon they were gone and he returned to his working place just below the stairs of the restaurant, next to a table with the menu. So he was the guy who stopped the people and tried to persuade them to eat there. I said to Mr. Z that maybe we could ask him to give us some tips and directions to the best ping pong show. By that time I knew that going to an erotic show was inevitable, so I just went with the flow but decided to swim along with prudence.
That guy was soon all over us telling us his life story. He was from the Philippines, a teacher in English in Bangkok, and working at that place as a second job to support his family. He seemed like a very decent and trustworthy man in his fifties. I liked him. His English was really good and he spoke each word with dignity and confidence, like a professor at a university. He explained to us that all ping pong shows were pure charades and there were only two real ones – one was right where we were, to which he’d show us the way, and one was in Patong.
Fifteen minutes later we were on our way, with him coming along and giving us a fuller picture of the economy and the royal family of Thailand. I was wondering when exactly he’d go to his working place. I appreciated the fact he took the time to walk us to the show himself but that started to feel weird. Especially when we turned off the big hectic street into a smaller one, and then into a residential quarter with no lights at all.
Why do we always end up going to dangerous places with no people around?!?
That was the question and the doubt I was fighting in my head.
Where is he taking us?
We kept walking until we reached an apartment block. It was all dark and I couldn’t see much.
Is this where we die?
He knocked a few times on a door in the blackness in front of us. That sounded like a secret code. A guy opened from the inside, looked at us and waved his head to invite us in. That seemed like a big room in a very strange apartment, which appeared to have just one room. There was a sofa, an old woman on it watching TV, who gave us a piercing look to check who we were, and a desk on the other side, facing the door from which we entered.
“Are you bringing just 2 people?”, asked the big scary man behind the desk.
“Yes”, replied the English teacher. “Two tickets for them.”
It was all too good to be true, of course. The person who I thought so highly of, just plummeted down my trust rank. After experiencing that and the fake free ride in the morning I really started to have trust issues with everyone in Thailand.
Trust during vacations – how dangerous can it be?
When you go to a foreign country, you always expect to see the best of it. You want to go sightseeing, taste the local cuisine, see how people there live – you want to experience the best aspects of this particular country. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple and positive as this. There are local businessmen who create scams in order to get more money out of the tourists. That day we saw two such schemes and I wasn’t pleased at all. I was disappointed. I gave trust to people I didn’t know and it was abused. This is one the most typical situations we can encounter – when you meet someone new and you give them your trust blindly, and then they let you down.
Trust is something very important, yet very fragile. You can start with a bit given as a present out of kind heart, but you give your full trust to someone when you think they deserve it. Over time and interactions trust grows stronger, and stronger bonds are formed between people. When trust is lost, you lose all of it and this can happen quickly and abruptly. Just a small step in the wrong direction and it’s gone like it never existed. Trust is basically the basis of every kind of relationship that can exist between two people, or a person and an ‘entity’ – in any relationship where you have giving and taking. Rebuilding trust is also an option but it’s always the hardest one.
If you keep getting disappointed, you start hating the whole game. In my case, I started having a negative impression about the whole country – because no one likes to be deceived and abused. If the government ignores such practices, many tourists will go home with mixed feelings and never come back and they will never recommend this destination to their friends. Some of these schemes are outside the law but it seems the enforcement units can’t locate and deal with all of them, or those people find loopholes and continue their dealings. This is why it’s mainly up to us to protect ourselves and our interests.
Trust and the way we deal with it, in the case of a visit to a foreign country, is also very important to one’s health and well-being. There are much worse schemes than the ones described above. In some parts of the world (mainly developing countries), you could be used as a mule to transport drugs across the border, or even worse – you could be drugged and used as an organ donor. So all tourists need to be very well informed what potential dangers they could meet at the place they go and be very careful who they trust and how much trust they give to these people.
The man at the desk took our money (it wasn’t a cheap ticket) and gave us the tickets. The teacher told us goodbye and left.
But where the hell is the show?
A second man standing behind the boss opened a door for us. Suddenly, we could hear loud music coming from inside. It all became very clear to me. That was one of the illegal erotic bars in Bangkok, hidden deep in a basement in the residential area. Its presence was supposed to be masked by the woman watching TV so that if there was a police raid, they’d see something very normal going on there. The noise was also covered – by sound proof door and walls, and the TV sound.
We walked in. It was really a basement turned into a bar. There was a small stage in the middle and chairs with school desks in front on the four sides of it. But the space was small, probably for forty-fifty people. The lights were dimmed but I could very well see the faces of the people looking curiously at what was happening on the stage. Those were men and women, who were obviously tourists, observing with equal interest the abilities of the women on stage, sipping liquor and shouting something from time to time to the performers, who were equally willing to engage in interaction. That wasn’t the beginning of the show. We were told the show went on for an hour and it was repeated again and again until the morning. There was already a woman on the dimly lit stage crouching on the ground and doing something I couldn’t understand from that distance. She stood up and showed a picture of a rough drawing of a man. I guessed her loins were the ones with the artistic talent. It looked like a child’s drawing.
The irony of it…
We took two free chairs at the last row. An overweight waitress came to bring us the free draft beer, which was included in the ticket. I knew Mr. Z wouldn’t drink that. I also made the same decision. Who knew where that beer came from…
“You buy me beer?”, asked the waitress.
“You can take mine, I won’t drink it anyway”, I replied. She looked at me like I’d drawn a dagger through her heart and walked away.
The show didn’t stop for a second. The music was booming loudly. The performers came on stage, did their trick and left. It was a never-ending show. A never-ending show for the men who went there to look at naked women, a never-ending show for the others who wanted to see for themselves if the rumors were true, a never-ending show for the performers who didn’t know if it was day or night outside, a never-ending show for the boss who cared only about getting more money out of ‘his’ girls. Most likely they were treated like slaves… One of the girls looked European and very young. I wondered if she got hooked up on drugs and ended up working in that third-class underground bar or went there herself, by her own will. I wondered if any of the women there did anything because they wanted to or because they were forced to, for financial or other reasons. The spectators just sat there, booze in hand, and enjoyed the show. They didn’t care.
Slavery still exists nowadays, unfortunately. Inequality of financial means in the underdeveloped countries is its main ground.
Modern slavery and exploitation
This trip opened my eyes to one very serious problem. Slavery still exists.
We are so accustomed to it that we no longer realize how it works. We don’t see the chains and we think we are free. We don’t see the masters and we believe our will is free.
Our first foremost slavery are our desires. We can’t run from them. Then come the money. You either fight for your living, or to be richer. In the first case you are abused, in the second – you abuse other people, but either way, you are a slave to it. Finally, we are slaves to the media. We believe in what they tell us and what they show us. We never know if this is the truth or not. Some of us don’t even care.
One aspect of the modern day slavery is the one, which can be observed in the poor countries, where young people (most often girls) are forced to do things they wouldn’t normally do in order to earn their living. Even in this case they pocket just a small portion of that money and the other proceeds go to their bosses.
What I saw during that trip was heinous and regretful. I saw the masseuses in Cambodia and the performers in this erotic show in Thailand. These were just random encounters. I can’t even start to imagine the proportions of this slave industry. It’s sad because all those girls don’t have a choice and do whatever they’re told, most probably against their will. I read somewhere that this was the best way for someone to provide financial support to their family…
The show continued. New performers came on the stage. The first full act we saw were just two women with age difference of about twenty years, who rubbed their bodies against each other. I didn’t know what talent that was but the audience seemed to like it. Then came a woman who pulled out meters of soft fabric from her loins. She even started wrapping it around the stage and then around a few random spectators. They stood like paralyzed and didn’t know how to react. The next lady, who got on stage, was throwing golf balls into an empty container – no hands! The audience loved it. The first-rowers also received balls. This lady threw them in all directions. She was unstoppable. There were screams of disgust and euphoria. Next, we saw how a woman could be turned into a dangerous human weapon. She was discharging darts from her loins. Several balloons dropped dead from the wall next to the stage. No one from the audience wanted to be a test subject for her talent. She seemed very good at what she did. Then the show started from the beginning with the unsuspected woman artist who fabricated pictures from underneath her. At that time we decided we’d had enough of culture, art and entertainment for one night.
Lessons learned that day
Meaningful experience doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive.
It’s 20% what you do and 80% how you do it.
Slavery is all around us. We are slaves to money, media and desires.
The gifts you give to yourself are the most precious ones.
“Travels and troubles in South-East Asia”
I invite you to come with me, as I re-live this full of lessons for me journey, during which I discovered the rich in history and culture Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, I learned more about the world and humanity as a whole, and I gained a much deeper understanding of who I am as a person. I grew wiser. What I promise you is the truth, sad or funny, as it may be, as I lead you through my 24 days of travels and troubles in Southeast Asia. In a culinary language (you’ll see I’m a big fan of food), this is a sweet-and-sour dish with chunks of reality, sprinkled with laughter and emotions, with some culture and history on the side, and a dip of wisdom. It is a book for your heart, mind and soul.
What happened to me during that time? I had the full South East Asia experience, coupled with some strange bad luck, as well as the full Mr. Z experience. I visited majestic historic and spiritual sites, I saw breath-taking scenery, I witnessed nobility and honor, I fell victim to tourist deception schemes, I spent a day with a celebrity, I almost froze and I almost drowned, and I lost everything in the blink of an eye… The good thing was that my friend Mr. Z was always there to organize and inform me, drive me mad and make me laugh.
Are you ready to come with me?
“365 Rays of Wisdom: Your Book of Modern Wisdom, Motivation and Well-Being”
This is a wise book, in which I collected many life lessons from my own experience. You will have a piece of wisdom, motivation and inspiration for each day for one year ahead. It will help you get through difficult situations, understand the real value of what you have, remember the important things in life and feel better about yourself. It is a book for your heart, mind and soul.
You can read one thought per day in the order they are published or you can just choose a random page to see which thought destiny wants to show you on that particular day – the choice is yours.
“365 Rays of Wisdom & 12 Ideas for Happiness: Your Book of Modern Wisdom, Motivation and Well-Being”
This edition has been enriched with 12 ideas to help you rediscover your happiness and change your life. More ideas to help you do that will follow in a dedicated to the subject book.
A man of mystery.
I’m an author who believes anyone can write what they see and feel. I’ve always been fond of writing because it gives me the opportunity to better express myself and the ability to reach more people and more hearts. I’ve won awards in school literary competitions but I haven’t written anything since. This is my first real book ever! That trip was so emotional, interesting and eye-opening that I couldn’t let go of it. I had to write that book. Now that I’ve started writing I feel I have a lot I can share with the world, and I that I can help many people I don’t know personally with my words and my experience. This is why I’m starting now two new projects.
As for this book – it is one journey through time, places, people, experiences and emotions. This is what happened to me and what was going on in my head when I was in South-East Asia for one month. I wanted to give you the full story, like a diamond in the rough, so that you can see everything the way I saw it from all possible angles – from the funny carefree perspective, through the tourist one, to the one that deals with society and global problems.
This first book is very personal and special to me. It cost me a lot of efforts for writing and editing, which was aggravated by the fact that I decided to write it in a foreign language. But once again – I don’t want to be limited by my mother’s tongue and want to reach more people all over the world. I hope I did well with this. Please excuse any errors you might find.
You probably got to know me a bit better with everything I shared about myself in the book, but if you need more, don’t hesitate to contact me.
I’ll be glad if you can leave a comment on your retailer’s page, and/or recommend this book to your friends. Your help and support are deeply appreciated.
Connect with Me
Thank you for reading this book. You can contact me via the following channels:
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Information regarding the meaning of the different numbers (in titles of chapters) has been taken from the following 2 web sites:
Thank you to all my friends and relatives who supported me during the whole process for the past 9 months (so this is a real baby). It was very hard to create the book and at the same time work a full-time job and have an active personal and social life. Thank you for your understanding and support.
Thank you to my friend Mr. Z, who organized our adventure in Asia, which was the basis for this book, as well as “365 Rays of Wisdom”. I am very proud of both books.
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