The first picture I took upon arriving in Thailand was not what you might expect. I took a picture of my friend John’s bathroom. Is that totally lame? But in my defense, I’d never seen such a bathroom. The shower isn’t separated from anything else in the room. Which is handy if you find yourself in the shower and suddenly need to pee. Otherwise, if you care for dry toilet paper, it can be a bother.
Reading through my journals from the first days of my trip, one thing stands out. I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. Seriously. I booked my tickets with only two weeks notice and had no time to plan before leaving. Instead, I was wrapping up and leaving one job, and writing and grading finals at the other. On John’s advice, I ordered a copy of Lonely Planet’s Thailand, and that was about as far as I got. I knew pretty much nothing about my destination. I didn’t know what I wanted to do once I got there. I didn’t know a single word of Thai, not even how to say thank you. And I’d never traveled on my own before — not to another country anyway. And speaking of traveling on my own, I didn’t even know how much I would be on my own. Oh, and did I mention? I sort of had a gargantuan crush on said friend. I know — that’s a recipe for a Disney ending, I tell you.
When I arrived it was after 11 p.m., so I went to bed. I woke in the morning feeling rested. But I had no idea what to do with myself. John lives in Rangsit, a ‘suburb’ north of Bangkok. There’s nothing touristy about it. It’s a small city. Local. And I had a funny feeling no one spoke English. And did I mention John left for work early in the morning? I was on my own…and hungry. Oh, and there was no food in the fridge. What the hell was I going to eat?
After getting dressed, I actually made a video I planned to post on the blog. Sort of a first-day intro. Unfortunately, the sound quality was non-existent, so it’s not worth showing. But here’s what I said: “I’m afraid to go outside.” Haha. Yes, that’s actually what I said. How was I supposed to go outside and find food? What the hell was I supposed to order? Where was I supposed to get it? Would anyone understand me? And would they all look at me like some crazy white person?
So I got dressed and gave myself a pep talk. I went walking along Khlong Si. I walked up and down the road. Roadside stands looked to be setting up something, but I couldn’t really tell if they were open. I wanted to stop and ask for food. But instead, I kept walking. I essentially paced back and forth along the road, trying to look inconspicuous. That went well.
Did I mention the 90 degree heat and 100% humidity? I was a sweat-ball. Maybe I should get something to drink. I stopped at a stand and pointed at a bottle of Pepsi. That had to be easy enough to convey. He understood, opened the bottle, opened a small plastic grocery bag, placed a scoop of ice inside and poured my drink in the bag. He topped it off with a straw and handed the bag to me. What am I supposed to do with this? Perhaps I’m an idiot, but should I be carrying around a bottle of Pepsi in a plastic bag?
Just act normal.
I paid, took my bag and drank as I walked down the street. Which was all fine and dandy, except I hadn’t managed to get anything to eat. Wait. There was a guy roasting chickens nearby. I turned back and made my way to the chicken stand. “Can I get something with chicken?” I said. He stared at me. He started speaking Thai. Fast. I stared back. “Chicken?” I said. He stared. I pointed to the chickens roasting on the grill. He rattled on in Thai. I had no idea what he said but thought best to say yes and nod. He kept speaking Thai. I kept smiling and nodding yes.
Finally, he walked over to the chickens, pulled a whole chicken off the grill, chopped it up and put it in a box. He wrote down a number. I handed him some cash and grabbed my whole chicken. Not exactly the Thai food I was hoping for, but at least it was something. He chuckled as I walked away. Oh, who am I kidding? The man laughed at me.
When I got back to the house, I ate my plain chicken and drank my bag of Pepsi. What was I to do with the rest of the day? I came up with a brilliant plan. Go back to bed. Wake up when John gets home from work. Feign jet-lag. And then let him do all the talking. Brilliant I tell you.
I did just that. And as the day ended (after having an awesome dinner of Thai food with John), I thought to myself, “Okay. Not so bad. Now I just have to do that for 49 more days.” What could go wrong?