Hello my fellow travellers!
So, how do I say this without it coming across in a wrong and inappropriate manner, well, I guess there is no way so I'll just say it. I'm a guy who don't care or put particular focus or weight on ethnicity, religion or such things. However, there are some moments, not very often, but some moments that I wish that I wasn't white.
Being here in Thailand is one of those moments. So far on this trip I have been very fortunate, I have been quite accustomed to being the only white person around but so far it has only sparked curiosity amongst the people I've met and it has led to so many good meetings and conversations on this trip that I had actually forgotten something which I have now been reminded of here in Bangkok. Being viewed, not as a person, but as a walking bag of money.
It started of course already yesterday with the whole tipping-for-helping and the taxi all of a sudden costing more and such but today it was taken to the next level. I have visited almost 50 countries by now and I've seen many scams
before and I've heard so many sales pitches that I could commit homicide if I hear another one. Well, today I had to go through that whole thing again because I let my guard down for just a short moment.
So, I started my day by riding the BTS Skytrain to the ferry which then took me to the Grand Palace, lovely ride by the way. Already a minute after my feet touched the shore a guy started to ask where I was going. I told him that I was going to the Grand Palace and he of course tried to tell me that it was closed for prayer and that I should go to this other place instead and he'd give me a free map and didn't want anything in exchange. It was such an obvious scam that I just kept walking.
Well, I visited the Grand Palace (which was of course open) and it was absolutely amazing, although way to crowded for my taste. If you are like me and want photos without camera-toting and for-camera-posing tourists you will find it rather frustrating to try and photograph this amazing place because there are not swarms but
legions of people here and none seem to care if they step into other peoples camera-shots. Even so, it is a beautiful place and a must see when you are in Bangkok.
Anyway, back out on the street I was planning to go to the Democracy Monument when another guy hailed me in the same manner as the one did earlier. I was of course dismissive as I have already learned that I need to be so here (even though I don't like that) but he was quite persistent. He told me he didn't want any money and he gave me a few tips on what to see and told me how much a tuk-tuk ride should cost which was 40 THB for four stops which seemed fair enough. He told me of this promotion at something called the Thai Factory which was a governmentally owned factory which now for only one week, with the last day today, was open to foreigners.
I told him I'm not a shopper but he said it was okay, I could just see how the clothes was made and to be honest that seemed kind of interesting. So when he hailed a
tuk-tuk I got in and true to word he didn't ask for any tip so I figured this one might actually be legit so I sat back and relaxed as the tuk-tuk driver started with the Wat Saket, or Golden Mount, as agreed. It was absolutely beautiful up there with a climb out of this world, I also took the time to give prayer and ask my fortunes there. The tuk-tuk driver was also really nice and easy to talk to, even to the point where I was thinking of extending the trip with more stops as well as paying him more than previously agreed upon.
After I returned down from the Golden Mount we set of for this Thai Factory, turned out it was just another tailor, but sure it was a nice place so I chatted with the guy inside for a while and he was bringing out samples and such and it was quite amiable. However, when I told him I wasn't interested in buying because I couldn't afford it (my travel budget is tight and pretty much spent) he got really aggressive, asking me "how much can you pay?" and saying thing like, "we can
try your card if it declines then okay I'll let you go" and "I don't believe that you don't have any money". It was a most uncomfortable situation, far exceeding the discomforts I've felt when approached by tenacious sellers before.
I walked out and got back in the tuk-tuk where the driver asked how many suits I bought. I told him I bought none and he asked why. I told him about how aggressive the seller had been and that I couldn't afford suits right now. Then the tuk-tuk driver started acting all aggressive as well and calling me stupid and saying that he would drive me to another tailor instead, so when I saw the Democracy Monument I told him to drop me there and only gave him the 40 THB agreed upon.
Of course he never took me to the temple with the reclining Buddha which was also an initially agreed upon stop because all of a sudden he didn't know where it was. So, all of this had of course just been yet another scam to get me into a shop to buy stuff with commissions for everyone involved, yet another one. Only difference is
that this time I actually fell for it, that won't happen again.
And that is why I sometimes dislike being white, because of situations like these where I can't just be allowed to walk in peace and enjoy the beauty of a place. Or that I can't be approached with genuine interest without any ulterior motifs but rather just being looked upon as a walking wad of cash and nothing else. It gets so tiring sometimes, I'm at least happy that I have been spared from this phenomenon during the rest of this trip. But, let me tell you that by this point I was not feeling the whole land-of-smiles thing about Thailand. I know this is a minor issue compared to all the benefits of my place of birth and my heritage but it still annoys me.
Thankfully though, things did improve after that. After I had looked at the Democracy Monument for a while and regained my strength a bit I came upon the Loha Prasat Temple and decided to take a look. A ceremony was just starting and at first I just sat outside and peeked inside but as some locals entered I decided to
join them and I was gracefully allowed to sit beside the monks. I stayed there in quiet contemplation and I could quite literally feel the anxiety drain away from me.
At first some of the monks as well as some of the other worshippers seemed a bit unhappy about having a foreigner amongst them but I stuck with it and joined them in their prayer, first on the side-line, meditating by myself. After a while I began to observe their rituals between the prayers, the worshippers was asked to come forth and pray beneath the offerings that was presented before the senior monks for their blessing.
As the ritual continued and the hours passed I could feel a shift in attitude towards me and when the fifth set of offerings was presented I was invited to join in the prayer before the senior monks. I clumsily did my best and I gained many smiles from both monks and worshippers. Then as the sixth set of offerings was presented I was once again motioned to join and so also for the seventh, eight, ninth and final offerings. For each one I improved my understanding of the ritual and by
the end I performed it well enough to be greeted with smiles, not out of humour or ridicule but of appreciation, and for the first time in Thailand I finally saw the true land-of-smiles.
When the senior monks exited they greeted me in a friendly and inclusive manner and I was invited to meet and pray before the abbot of the monastery himself and several of the monks touched me friendly upon the shoulder. I stayed after the ceremony was over and talked to several people, first some of the worshippers and then some of the monks.
I think that I earned their respect with my tenacity of sitting through the sermon on the floor and respecting their prayer rather than just running in and taking a couple pictures and then running out again. I believe that's why I was allowed to not only observe but also to take part in their holy ritual. I can not begin to tell you how fortunate, even blessed, I feel for being allowed to take part in this. This is a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
So, I hope that my initial rant didn't
scare you off or gave you a wrong impression of me. I know how fortunate I am leading the life I do and I know that desperation and poverty drives people to doing things they don't like out of necessity. Yet I can not help but to be annoyed about it when it happens to me, and perhaps this has also been a backside of the extensive tourism to Thailand. They are so used to tourists there that they are no longer interested in them but rather just look at them as their next pay-check. Perhaps.
Tomorrow I think I'll go back to this area and visit some of the other temples that I didn't manage to see today.
Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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