First day in Bangkok

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January 23rd 2010
Published: January 23rd 2010
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One person said,
You are seriously brave.... I have TERROR of feeling like I can't "escape' any situation i.e. ENCLOSED PLANES, foreign countries etc... I doubt there is enough XANAX on the planet to see me through a flight...especially LENGTHY flight. But I can imagine how interesting your trip is. There are a few places in the world i would like to see...someday😊. I suspect it will be "down the road."

I don't see myself as brave. I'm just not claustrophobic in planes (I actually find MRI machines cozy). I also believe, like a good little capitalist, in the power of money and travel insurance to get me home. It might be useful to start your travel closer to home--a bus to Canada, for example. Canadian culture is close enough to northern US culture to be familiar, but there's enough that's different to let you know you're somewhere else. Going with a tour group can also alleviate a lot of anxiety. For those who can take a benzodiazepine on the flight, you may want to consider it if flying is tense or you don't sleep well on a plane. If that's not an option, learning and practicing relaxation techniques can be helpful. I travel with a few Ativans just in case, but I prefer not to take them. I didn't take them on this flight because I didn't think I'd get enough uninterrupted sleep not to be very groggy, and these guys made me feel like it was prudent to be alert and not to say anything stupid (e.g., "You're not eight! Act like an adult"). Instead, I relied on foam ear plugs some of the time and classical music the rest.

I name native birds:
Anastomus oscitans.
You spot a farang.

After writing yesterday I tried to nap but kept thinking of things I might do instead. I went down to the restaurant next door, where a waiter recognized me from last year--pretty impressive. A couple was eating at the next table in the outdoor seating area. The man asked if I knew anything to do around the hotel, since yesterday they'd taken a long, uncomfortable trip downtown and wanted to do something different. I described how to get to the park I'd found last year, and said that if they walked over to the wat it was pretty interesting. Because the airport was built in a swamp ("Cobra Swamp," which I assume is accurate), they could see a lot of birds if they headed down the road beyond the wat. He brightened up: He likes looking at birds, and at home (which turned out to be a small island off Spain, where this Irishman and Filapina live) he and a friend counted 53 species in a day. I pointed out the Asian open-billed storks wheeling around on the thermals and lent him my binoculars to see some beautiful butterflies more clearly. He was interested in my Webster and Yook Birds of Thailand pocket guide, even though it failed to divulge the identities of two birds in the courtyard. They headed off for a walk. Tomorrow, she'll go visit relatives in Manila, and he heads to Chiang Mai where he's visiting a friend of a friend who's involved in development work with the hill tribes there.

My lunch of rice soup with pork and a cup of tea was $2.00. The tea cost as much as a big bowl of soup.

Having described the pleasures of a walk, I headed that way myself, stopping at the corner store for a little packet of pickled mango. The river was more choked with vegetation than last year. I figured out how to get onto a dock that runs alongside the section by the bridge, where a man was throwing scraps to a boiling mob of enormous fish. They looked like grey carp, which would also fit my assumption that the river is quite polluted. They were the size of kittens (and indeed I later dreamed of grey kittens). i walked around in the wat a little and peered into the spirit houses. Buddhism in Southeast Asia is syncretic and animist, so it's full of local spirits (called nats in Burma and parts of Cambodia, but I don't know what they're called in Thai) as well as Hindu-derived spirits more widely associated with Buddhist practice, if not the more austere Buddhist philosophy. I continued up the road, seeing the open-bills, a Chinese pond-heron (at about the place where I saw one, maybe this one, last year), Oriental magpie-robins, a great egret, cattle egrets, white-vented mynas, zebra doves, and the ubiquitous Eurasian tree swallows and pigeons. No drongos this time.

I walked onto the grounds of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi College, a 1-building plus outbuildings facility. This is a private college that appears to offer business administration and education curricula. How do I know this? Through the mighty power of Google Translate. At the moment, however, they're preparing for an athletic event, and the students in evidence were practicing cheers, songs, and dance routines. I disrupted one by existing as a foreigner (farang) as I walked by. On my way back to the hotel, some little girls clustered at the fence of their school to shout hi. One asked, "Are you an Indian?" Presumably she meant the subcontinental variety, not the North American native. I guess my appearance doesn't scream out "United States."

Back at the hotel, I read a while and then went to sleep. More as a function of having slept enough hours than of jet lag, I decided to get up in the night to perform the Human Subjects phase of my water treatment experiment. I've drunk 400 ml of treated water over two hours and have no immediate ill-effects. While bottled water is cheaper in this region than the water treatment tablets plus Emergen-C, the treatment option creates much less toxic waste.

The one aspect of cross-time zones travel that affects me is that I get hungry at strange hours. If I eat something, I'm fine; if I don't, I develop classic jet lag. On a trip like this, I always carry some turkey jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and snack bars. This is also handy if a flight is delayed, and I save an unopened packet of jerky for the return trip in case I don't get home or to my transit hotel in time for a meal. In warm climates, the Zip-lock plastic bag is your friend. The world is full of flies, roaches, and tiny ants, all of which want to eat your trail mix. Avoid infestations by cleaning up carefully (including discarding food scraps, peels, and wrappers outside your room or accommodations), tightly closing containers and bags, and storing food in a separate bag or away from the rest of your things. The tiny ants are also attracted to your electronics, so keep food well away from computers and phones, pop out the batteries if you're seeing a lot of ants (decreases heat and presumably electromagnetic fields), and watch for ants creeping into your gadgets as you type at a table or charge up.


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