Monday, July 21, 2008

The Mundane Monday

Back to work today after a long holiday weekend that included a successful excursion to Khao Yai National Park and an impromptu visit to Ayutthaya, one of the many former capitals of the kingdom that was burnt down by roving Burmese armies.

I really hate when people experience something like a sunset or a national park and instead of appreciating it at face value, write it off by saying, “Whatever. Such-and-such place had a better one.” But, I’m going to do it anyway.

Khao Yai is quite nice. But the Masai Mara had tons more animals.

Of course the two parks weren’t designed for comparison. Khao Yai is more about monkeys, birds, vibrant teal-colored scorpions, and a handful of elephants. Nevertheless, jungle foliage and leeches seem to be a good deterrent for crowds of shopping, eating people, and that was what I needed.

The leeches in Khao Yai were tiny. Borneo had bigger, thirstier ones.

Ayutthaya is popular on the tourist route because of its historical significance as well as its easy access from Bangkok, but one of the most notable landmarks in the town, in my opinion, is a rather unremarkable bridge with a very remarkable name: Pridi Damrong.

See photos in the sidebar there, including the Pridi Damrong bridge -->.

Language is a gateway to so many things that I’ve always taken for granted. I went to the night market to get dinner last night, and even though it was nice to walk among the light Sunday night crowd listening to the night market sounds, I felt like an outsider. I didn’t understand a word anyone was saying. It’s weird blending in and knowing that everyone sees you and assumes you’re the same as them, but feeling completely different, and alone.

I haven’t seen another foreigner in town, except the one woman who was waiting for a minivan to Bangkok. Good call, lady.

Actually, that’s not true. I met this Indian dude who lives in my building. He’s the guy I call the Dude on the Internet, because he’s permanently attached to the computer in the lobby, always checking his email. He was there the afternoon I moved in, he’s there most evenings, and he was there yesterday when I went to drop off my laundry. And of course he was there two hours later, when I went to pick it up. This time, though, he stopped me.

“Excuse me,” he said. Do I hear English? “Were you at Victory Monument this afternoon?”

Why, yes I was. I had a deceptively simple task there: to transfer minivans. I was coming from Ayutthaya and trying to get on a van back to Mahachai.

It turned out that somewhere in the big mess of people at Victory Monument, I walked past the Dude on the Internet, and he recognized me but couldn’t place my face right away. What a very bizarre coincidence. That place was a total madhouse yesterday. I suppose that’s a dumb thing to say. It’s a total madhouse everyday. In fact, most places in Bangkok are a crowded disaster, especially if they’re designed for shopping or eating. And everything in Bangkok is designed for shopping or eating.

Bangkok, like New York, has too many people. In fact, Bangkok has even more people than the five boroughs: 9 million here, compared to 8 million in New York. That is about 7.25 million too many people.

Anyway, I’m not sure if all the stands are set up at Victory Monument everyday, on Sunday afternoons hundreds of stands selling clothes, watches, jewelry, makeup, bags, food, food and food pop up all around the Monument.

It turns out that the guy, my neighbor and new English-speaking friend, has been living in Thailand for three years, working for an American seafood company. He started out in India but was transferred here. I was curious to know what exactly he does for his company, since my organization works with the migrant laborers that these companies hire in droves. His card says "quality assurance." Is that IT-related or shrimp-related?

As I was checking out of my hotel in Ayutthaya yesterday morning, I started chatting with another guest at the reception desk, also an Indian dude. He was also heading for Bangkok, but was going to have breakfast before boarding his minivan. I said, oh, okay, well good luck finding the minivan station, I’m headed there now. And I left, grateful for the only 35 mph English conversation I’d had in 24 hours.

In Bangkok a couple hours later, after circling Victory Monument at least twice on foot with a heavy backpack and no more bottled water, I finally found my minivan station. I stopped at one of those fruit carts that always look like a gift from God on a hot day. The fruit was flying off the vendor’s stand, everyone was so hot and thirsty. I stood and waited for the fruit man to slice a new watermelon, and noticed the guy from Ayutthaya standing next to me, also waiting for fruit.

I don’t know how to capture exactly how random it is to run into someone at Victory Monument. This place is massive and chaotic, and people bustle around like ants. Not a small, orderly place. I wonder what the probability is of crossing paths there with two people I know on the same day, especially given that I know about four people in the entire country.

Lunch was a little embarrassing today. I ordered rice with duck, and the portion was so small that I was still hungry after licking my plate clean. Oay encouraged me to order a second meal, and offered to wait for me to eat. No one else was having seconds, even though they had all each eaten only a tiny bowl of noodle soup. But if I didn’t eat something else, I knew I’d still be hungry. So that’s me, Two-Lunch Justina. No one made fun of me or even seemed to think it was odd that I ate twice as much as they did. But then again, no one’s English is good enough to say, “Wow, fat lady, you sure can pack it away.”

I usually try to learn one or two new Thai phrases a day, so I asked Oay how to say “rice with duck.” I probably should have asked her how to say, “two orders of rice with duck.”

There was a hair salon in the shopping center where we were eating called “Porn Saloon.” First, why is it that so many countries refer to hair salons as saloons?

I asked Oay what “Porn” meant in Thai, because I see it a lot. She said it’s just a name, and doesn’t mean anything in particular, which is no fun. I wonder if there was actually someone named Pridi Damrong?

“Hi, my name is Pridi. Pridi Damrong.”

“Yes, you are, in my opinion.”

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