When I woke up this morning the first thing I noticed was the sound of songbirds outside, which has so far been absent from my Asian trip.
Michael Jackson had died while I was asleep.
Everybody was gone from the house except Max. I had coffee and a muffin and caught up with an old friend, Aimee Rich, who I hadn't talked to since high school. It's interesting to get the summary of somebody's life and to summarize my own. "I went to college for a semester, dropped out, worked in tech hardware manufacturing for a few years, was a video editor for about 6 months, then started my career in computer technology which took me from Colorado to California. I recently quit my job to travel around SE Asia and am about to marry a Vietnamese girl and take her back to America with me."
We went for breakfast and had a typical Asian breakfast in that it was no different from any other meal. Thai iced coffee is delicious. The menu was in English, as are many many things in Bangkok. My had said that almost everybody here speaks English.
I asked Max about his career and he said he had been in IT, mainly Oracle, and retired at 48. He's 54 now and plays stock market.
We were on our way to The Ancient City and drove for a while. Bangkok is a very spread out city. I've noticed that there are many five story apartment buildings, some with pillars and balconies. These building are like an entire San Francisco block as a single building.
I wondered what it would take for Saigon or Long Xuyen to become a city like Bangkok. Hanoi is already halfway there. Bangkok has very little litter and I've seen people cleaning up on the side of the road. There are several driving ranges nearby. There are many carson the road and a stellar tollway system. Traffic in Bangkok is still a little crazy, just in cars rather than on scooters. There is graffiti done by locals rather than foreigners. I saw men in a water tanker watering plants in the median of a boulevard. It's not that I want Saigon or Long Xuyen to be Bangkok, it's just interesting to consider the steps between.
We arrived at The Ancient City, or Ancient Siam, which is a collection of large scale replicas of famous sites in Thailand. They are smaller than the originals, but still large enough to walk into. We got two bicycles to ride around. They both had baskets on the front which turned out to be a great setup for easy camera use. The sights were cool and it was an easy way to get a feel for what Thailand had to offer. Many of the temples were familiar as I'd already been tromping around Angkor. I took a lot of photos.
I saw a turtle running across the street and would've missed seeing it had it not been for the sounds his feet were making as they scraped the street.
We returned to the car and headed off. I saw a sign that said simply "Modify Dog" and thought of Repet.
We went to a local mall to figure out some issues with my phone's data plan. When I got my SIM card it came with a data plan, which I was unaware of, and my automatic e-mail drained most of the balance in my account. I turned off the auto e-mail check but still needed to fix the balance and the data plan. I gave them 100 baht more, which is about $3, and got 6 hours of data with 50 baht more for calling. This way of doing things makes so much sense it's a shame that it's not more prominent in America.
We also stopped off at a few shops to look at camera gear. The D700 is just as expensive here as it is in America, and the LX3 is just as hard to find.
We headed home. I decided to try out Skype on my data plan and was incredibly disappointed to find that the Skype app on my iPhone was preventing me from making phone calls "due to contractual agreements" that did not apply to my circumstances. Damn poorly programmed software, damn AT&T.
Shortly after we arrived home My came walking tiredly in and showed us her fresh new driver's license. 20 years old and finally able to drive. Max had told me earlier that she would probably get the nice 2006 Toyota SUV we've been cruising around town in.
Mint also came home soon and we all went to dinner at the same restaurant we had dinner at last night and breakfast this morning. The food is great, the drinks are good. At the back of the restaurant one of the employees was changing her baby's diaper. On TV there were elephants dressed up like panda bears, then they were lifting a yak out of an oil change pit at a gas station that it had fallen into, then a yak gave birth to a baby yak, then they were testing cell phones for lightning attraction.
Yak birth is not appropriate dinner media, and cell phones do not attract lightning.
The TVs here support multiple audio channels and some shows broadcast in both Thai and English. You can switch between them just like a DVD.
They have pizza delivery motorbikes. I'm going to take this idea back to San Francisco and make a million dollars.
I saw a girl at a bus stop with a t-shirt that said "I <3 6/9". That date has no significance in Thailand so I assumed it was a sexual engrish t-shirt.
We went to a nearby park where there are waterways, big grass lawns and the Kings museum where you can read blurbs about the king and see what kind of things he's into. As we approached the museum a man blew a whistle and everybody in the park stood up. "National song." We all stood there, most with their hands at their sides as the custom goes, until the song was over, then we all returned to what we were doing.
We saw the museum. The King seems like a great man, great leader and a great role model for a well rounded lifestyle. My and I went for a walk around the park as the sun was setting. We found a Chinese garden and inside of the garden I found a very large weird animal which I thoguht was a baby crocodile but ended up being an ant eater. We saw several more ant eaters swimming around and got lost in the park while we were looking at them and talking about animals. We found our way home, found her sister and father and went home for the night.
I thought about the next few weeks and about what I'll do with my time. The dynamic change between backpacking solo and being a hosted guest is pretty significant. As a backpacker you can go where you want when you want and do what you want, but as a hosted guest there is a shift towards group outings and to the lifestyle of those hosting you. It's an interesting shift and it's easy to lose sight of the fact that you are in fact traveling. I don't want to outstay my welcome or expire the hospitality of my hosts, and I want to continue my travels to northern Thailand and Laos. I have 9 days until I need to be back in Saigon to meet Tien. I really need to figure out a tentative schedule...