Hey, Thailand! Your wires are showing!
During my semester abroad in New Zealand, I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit a friend in Bangkok, Thailand. I'll do my best to do it justice, but some places are too unique to be described second-hand. If you can, go there. It's worth it.
The best way I know how to describe Thailand is to compare it to a carnival. A riot of people. A sensory overload that somehow manages the delicate balance of overwhelming and fun that makes you want to keep going every year. And if Thailand is a carnival, then Bangkok is the giant Ferris wheel in the middle of it all. Stay with me, I promise the metaphor makes sense.... My 10 days in this indescribable place taught me more about humanity than I have learned in my entire life. One such "the more you know" moment occurred when I had a conversation with a local about our national identities. I had been struggling with mine since I was often painted with the broad brush of ugly American tourist. I asked the local what the world thinks of Thailand and he said that Bankok is Europe's playground. The equivalent of Las Vegas to a young person turning 21. Everyone likes a party (and only the hosts end up cleaning up the mess after).
Back to the metaphor. There's always a line for the Ferris wheel, everyone wants their chance to take a trip to the top of the party, and that alone is intoxicating to us mere mortals. The golden lights and rainbow colors pull you in from afar. You wait and wait to have you change and then finally your carriage arrives. You sit down and only then do you notice the attendant. He is weather-worn, old. Underneath the grease, his heavily creased eyes are looking to some far away place. His hands know their work. Keeping this machine running is the only work they have ever known, but you're not sure if that should be a comfort or not. Before you can really think about it, you're moving backward and upwards, backward and upwards. Slowly. And you notice the bar beneath your hands is practically more rust than metal. And you can see into the heart of the machine, beyond the day-glow of the oversized lightbulbs and chipped paint, a tangled mess of wires. The sounds of the merriment fade as the ground drops below you and you're starting to wonder if this was a good idea. And just as you're making up your mind about never doing this again, you're at the top. The top of the world. And the metal and the wires don't matter. You're at the top of the world. And then you start your descent back to earth, metal and wheels behind you, forgotten. And the carnival doesn't look the same anymore.
I left for the airport early in the morning. I was nervous. I was alone. Ryan would pick me up in Bangkok and play host and tour guide for the duration of my trip, but I had to get myself there. Most of the other Loyolans went to Figi, and I was secretly thrilled not to be with them. I need a break. I needed to experience something that could just be mine. I had traveled alone before, I had traveled alone internationally before. But that fact never seems to make me feel any better. It was the first time I was taking the bus and I wasn't confident I was doing it right, but after waiting, impatiently, for its arrival and a few words to the driver, I knew I was on the right track and I just had to wait. Hurry up and wait. I'm at home at airports--it's pretty hard to get lost in an airport between all the sign and staff walking about, even for someone as directionally challenged as me. So once I arrived at AKL much of my travel jitters subsided. What I was left with were "boy jitters." But that is an entirely different story that I am not nearly drunk enough to tell. Anyway, the first leg of my journey was to Sydney. It was a pretty long flight, eight hours or so, and luckily I was able to sleep. I hate layovers so that bit wasn't so good. And then the final leg to Thailand was like I was being electrocuted. Every nerve in my body was awake and buzzing with anticipation. This was my first time visiting a place that isn't considered "first-world" and, as previously mentioned, boy jitters.
It was pretty late when I arrived, but I wanted to get started getting to know Bangkok as soon as possible. I dropped my bags and freshened up at Ryan's before he took me on my first adventure into the city. Khaosan Road is a pedestrian street packed to the gills with vendors hawking everything you can imagine; golden buddhas, roasted crickets, noodles, jewelry, Thai flags, everything. If I had to compare it so someplace I've been, the closest I could get to would be the Latin Quarter in Paris. But Khaosan Road is more than just tourists looking for souvenirs, it's where the Thai make their living. It's like when you walk down a street in Little Italy and all the restaurant owners try and seduce you. Multiplied by a thousand people. I think I could have walked up and down that small street for my entire 10 days and still not have seen everything it had to offer.