Planning your first big trip? Advice and humor to get you through the process.
A Visit to Thailand, the Land of Smiles
By Randy Ross
Bang. Cock. The name alone sounds skeevy and from the moment I land at
the city's international airport, I'm on high alert. I've read about
the transsexual lady boys, tuk-tuk scammers, and locals who play
volleyball using only their feet. The terminal décor doesn't help,
either: smirking Buddhas, sneering Buddhas, a life-sized diorama of
Hindu gods playing tug of war with a giant, three-headed snake.
airport bus drops me downtown on Sukhumvit Road, a boulevard that's
supposed to be two blocks from my hostel. I start to walk but have
trouble breathing: the sooty, humid air stings like a lung-full of red
ants. The street is pocked with food carts selling soup. An Asian woman
wearing a t-shirt that says University of Nepraska stands on the
corner. That's Nepraska with one "p."
I approach a guy with a
mossy, blond beard growing down his sternum. He is wearing shorts and a
fishing vest. The chinstrap on his wide-brimmed hat is pulled tight
across his jowls as if he's bracing for a typhoon.
"Excuse me. Do you know how to get to a street called Soi 38?" I ask.
He points down the block. "You from the U.S.?"
"I'm from Boston," I say.
"Yeah, I'm from Texas. I was an MP back in Saigon, one of the last guys out, last guys out."
Interesting. "Is it OK to eat at these food carts?"
don't want to hang around here. Soi Cowboy is only a couple of Skytrain
stops, Skytrain stops." He tugs twice on the travel wallet around his
neck. "This whole Sukhumvit area is built on a swamp. I'm going to
retire here, retire here." He exhales into his hand and smells his breath.
less than two minutes, this guy has confirmed my worst fears about
Southeast Asia: The place can do things to you, permanent mind-warping
things. I imagine thousands of sixties-era waste-cats in fishing vests
loose on the mean streets of Siam. I put on my hat, tight my chinstrap
and walk away, walk away.
_______________ This is an excerpt from a manuscript in progress with the working title, "The Loneliest Planet."