Thursday, August 14, 2008

Well *that* was an adventure.

Thursday August 14, 2008

I’ve been here a couple of days and I really haven’t done anything exciting. I’ve gone for a walk and made a couple of purchases. It’s just that doing those very basic things are completely different here. I haven’t even gotten into the state of the sidewalks here. They’re completely uneven… you’ll be going along the road on a nice sidewalk then suddenly it’s a motor big parking lot and you’ve got to go down into the street. Then up again (and the curbs are HIGH- helps with the monsoon flooding I guess), then there’ll be an even higher section, then back in the street and on like that. Oh, and precious few intersections (even extremely busy ones) have anything aproaching a crosswalk. Some will have a painted crosswalk area, but this has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the traffic will stop for you. I’ve encountered only a handful of actual walk lights and when they turn green you get a count-down – 10 seconds to cross four lanes of traffic. OMG!!! And again, half the time a motor bike or tuk tuk tries run the yellow and just drive right into the crosswalk anyway. Now… few of you have ever actually walked anywhere with me, but I generally do not jay walk. I nearly always wait patiently for the light to change, and will even stop and wait when the red hand is blinking – not wanting to risk it. So this whole “wait for a break in traffic, then run for your life” thing is quite new to me. I’m still alive though… so that’s something!

Anyway… like I said I haven’t done anything yet that I haven’t done before, it’s just that doing them in Chiang Mai is a whole different thing. A whoooooole different thing! But today I did something I’d never done before – I rode in a tuk tuk and in a songthaw. That was my big goal for the day, take a tuk tuk out to where the school is and find a new place to stay. Well, 2 out of 3 went okay. I found a tuk tuk on the main road a block from my guest house. I got completely ripped off (as usual… I just don’t have the haggling gene… and still it was only $3) – but then I thought about all the times I waited for the #8 and waited and waited. I would have paid $3 for there to be a bus right there waiting to take me where I wanted to go. I showed the driver the address of the school that I’d printed out before I got here. It had the address in English and in Thai. I had found the road on a map, but couldn’t quite figure out the address but I hoped that a local would know where it was.

I was mistaken. I was soooooo mistaken! After a white knuckle (but pleasantly breezy) 10 minute ride, he dropped me off and waved in the direction of a building across the street. I thanked him and crossed the street (see above with the no crosswalk – this time I was lucky and there was a Thai woman crossing the same street - herd mentality baby, follow the lead sheep!). Only a few of the buildings in the area had addresses posted that I could actually read (fair enough – I don’t read Thai yet), but I wandered around trying to find it. This particular office-park type place was a bit sketchy. Only a few of the office spaces were filled. There were a bunch of Thai women sitting outside a shop so I asked them for help... you know just showed them the address on my piece of paper. They didn’t know where it was, but one of them had me follow her back into completely scary looking closed down bar, back through a back hallway (and yes I half started to think someone was going to murder me) and finally to an office where two nicely dressed women were sitting at their desks & watching the Olympics – mens gymnastics actually. Can’t blame them – I love those guys! ;) Neither of those women had any idea where the school was. So I wandered back outside and walked a few blocks in each direction trying to find an address. I found one a few numbers higher and one a few numbers lower – but nothing with the right number… nothing looked even remotely promising.

So I crossed the street again and saw a KFC, Sizzler and Starbucks sign. I got the sense that even if that building wasn’t what I was looking for – it couldn’t be all that bad. ;)

Kids… I found the mall! Like a *real* mall! Not some market with dried fish on a stick, not someone’s junk room / electronics store… a genuine, air conditioned, little shops with window displays… purses, shoes, stationary, TVs etc. There was even a food court and a grocery store in the basement. It was at that point I breathed a sigh of relief. I was really getting freaked out about the whole concept of ‘store’ here… and although I like outdoor markets as much (or more) than the next person, there was just something comforting about being someplace with actual cash registers. Still no Dr. Pepper… but the grocery store had liters of Coke and frozen food. I could handle this.

Oh but eeeeewwwwweeee – the chicken & shrimp. You know how in the grocery store they’ll have nice cuts of meat behind the counter, and you ask the person behind the counter for 2 steaks or a pound of shrimp and they put on their glove and put it in paper and wrap it all up and hand it to you. Yeah – that’s not how they do it here. There was just a little table with ice on it and a big-ol pile chicken thighs with some plastic bags and a set of tongs. But it was all out there in the open, like I could totally sneeze right on the whole pile. Or a kid could come up and stick they’re hand in pile of shrimp… and no one would ever know!! Ok. That was frightening. But on the other hand – all the produce was wrapped up in plastic wrap. Bizarre… I’m not going to think too much about it.

So yeah, I found the mall…there were some Monks looking at shoes – I’m not so freaked out anymore, I just try to give them a wide berth and call it good. They know the rules better than I do – l’ll just let them avoid me. And I found the toilets. There was a nice big sign “Men / Women / Toilets” – but when I got there… squat potties. No thank you. There’s adventurous… then there’s having pee on your socks for the rest of the day.

Ok – so the school wasn’t in the mall, and I really hadn’t expected it to be. I wandered back outside and found an internet café (I’m LOVING the internet cafes!) dorked around checking my email and enjoying the air conditioning for a while. I checked the Ajarn website for teachers in Thailand and someone had recommended a place to stay for the month, so I jotted down that info. As I left I asked the clerk if he knew where the school was. I showed him the paper and he communicated that he wasn’t familiar with the school but it was around here somewhere. Then a woman came up and started speaking to me in English, she didn’t know where it was either, but they called it up online and got the phone number, and kinda oriented me… the place I was in was #12… I was looking for #15… it was just down the road that way, here’s a pay phone you can call them there, it’s only 1 baht, do you have baht, etc. She was super helpful. And when I left I said “thank you” in thai and she said “Good bye, have a nice day, God Bless You.” LOL… I’m guessing she learned her Thai from a Christian school. I walked down the block towards where #15 and it just wasn’t there – I asked a few more people… no one knew where it was.

Finally I called. But it was a busy street, a less than clear pay-phone, and the woman on the other end had a bit of an accent. It took a long time to get the basics out… I was right across from the Orchid Hotel… by the 7/11 (and immediately realized how retarded that was… 7/11 stores are about as common here as they are in the US) she managed to tell me that I needed to get a car, and I needed to go towards the mountain. Which was good – because I could see the mountain so I knew which direction to go in. But if she gave me a cross street I didn’t understand her. I just started walking.

Now… I realize she told me to get a car… but I also remember emailing the director of the program and asking how far from town it was – she said it was 3km… which is about a mile & a half right? I figured I was already at least half a mile from town if not more, and it couldn’t really kill me to walk a flat mile. I’d walked at least a three or four miles wandering around the city yesterday. But it was HOT and HUMID. Just being outside I was sweating… but after a few blocks I was dripping. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat that much in my life… it was disgusting. Seriously – I was a sweaty gross pig – forget pit spots, I’m sure my entire back was wet and the neckline of my top was getting wetter and wetter. NASTY sweaty. I thought a couple of times about trying to get a tuk tuk or songthew, but I didn’t see any just stopped anywhere, and I’m not at all sure what the protocol is about waving one down. So I walked quite a distance before I finally saw one (across the street – of course!!!!!!) I showed him my paper… and again, he didn’t really know where it was, but I figured once we got down the road a bit I’d see a sign. NOPE!!!

We made it quite a ways out of the city – I’m sure we went more than a mile… past the university, past a couple of other office type complexes, but I didn’t see anything even close. We got to the zoo – looking increasingly less businessy… and finally he pulled over and asked a few guys sitting there. They went back and forth – everyone looked at my paper… no one knew where the school was. At this point I was sweaty & tired and after all that walking I was really starting to think I might pass out. I’d stopped to get bottled water along the way (at another 7/11) but I knew I wasn’t up for much more wandering around. So I took out my *other* piece of paper that showed where my guest house was, and after a bit of deliberation we headed back to town again.

Only… I really needed to find lodging so when I saw the Residence complex that had been recommended to me I had him pull over and let me off. I wandered into the office and arranged for my lodging. It was rather humiliating – I was *really* sweaty. I’d tried to dress nicely in one of my work shirts and had my hair down, but seriously – I could not have been less attractive if I’d tried. And all the girls in the (air conditioned) office looked all cute. I got that all sorted out. Basically $300 for the month including a deposit I’ll get back when I leave. The bathroom has that funky shower next to the toilet thing again… but I’ll just deal. The room has TV, a fridge, internet access, air conditioning, and it’s close to the mall – it’s plain as all get out, but I’ll survive. Now provided I can actually find the school someday… I’m set.

So I went back out to the main road and caught another songthaw. I showed him my paper with directions back to the city… and he looked at it for a minute and waved me in. Now, I don’t want to be all prejudiced or anything… but based on my experience today I’m willing to say Thais have pretty poor map reading skills!!! Both of my papers had the address in Thai on them… so it’s not like I was trying to get them to understand something in English. This guy had NO CLUE where he was going and basically took me on a scenic tour of the city. At one point I thought we were close to something familiar… but he kept on going. And then he stopped and asked a tuk tuk driver for directions… and still proceeded to get lost. Finally he stopped the car and came around back to look at my map again. I really just needed to get to the corner of two main roads… it should not have been that complicated. Finally we got close and I banged on the window to stop… and again I’m sure I was over charged. I didn’t care, I was “home”.

I picked up 6 liters of water on my way down the soi (lane) and have already downed one of them. I don’t want to make myself sick drinking them too fast, but I fully intend to drink at least 3 of them tonight. I actually don’t feel that bad now… you know, in my underwear & tank top in front of the fan again. =P Classy, I’m telling you!

I didn't take too many pictures while on my quest to find the school... but when I got home we had our regularly scheduled rain storm. This wasn't even the worst of it, by the time I found my camera it was lightening up.... then of course my batteries died so... here's 6 seconds of the monsoon from my guest house.


liz said...

I am SO enjoying living vicariously through you. I love how though you must be homesick and scared, you have embraced this EXPERIENCE and ADVENTURE! I think of you often...hang in there!!

Magatha said...

I got so stressed out reading that. You can tell how I am so not suited to adventuring. ;) I wonder what disabled peeps do about toilet facilities? You know, peeps who absolutely cannot squat?

I wonder if your tuk tuk and songthaw drivers can actually read? Maybe you're going to have to learn your school's name and address in phonetic Thai.

I'm impressed with your fortitude!

Jenn said...

What is it about tuk-tuk drivers pretending they know where they're going and then driving you around aimlessly? I never had an adventrue quite as dramatic as yours, but I did have my share of getting hopelessly lost in India. The stopping to ask a bunch of people is also very familiar. Magatha makes a good point that they might not read Thai...that hadn't occurred to me.

I'm afraid that most of the public toilets are going to be of the squat variety, but presumably not so much at your school or the places you will work. Then again, who knows?

Exuberant Color said...

It sounds like you will sweat off and walk off some pounds whether you want to or not. Ick, squat toilets? No thanks.

I'm glad to see your sense of humor is holding up through all of this.

Michael5000 said...

This is the best trip ever! I mean, for me.

I think you are kind of having fun too, though. You certainly aren't pushing papers on the hill, I'll tell you what.... : )