My eyes cracked open.
This doesn’t feel like a bed, I thought getting out of the chair I was sleeping in. And this doesn’t look like a bedroom, the wheels in my head turning ever so slowly as I looked around the car park.
The attendant walked over, smiled and presented me with a bottle of water.
“Kharp-un-Krap,” I grinned. “And thanks for letting me sleep in your chair.” I assumed it was his.
I also assumed it must only be seven or eight in the morning as I looked at the time on my phone. It slapped me back with a reading of 13:00.
I scratched my head. My backpack was by my feet and it had everything in it with a new addition – a book wrapped in plastic titled, ‘Gypsy Boy’ by Mike Walsh. And all my internal organs where still internal.
I don’t remember buying a book.
I don’t remember how I came to be in this car park.
I don’t remember how I ended up sleeping in a chair.
I don’t remember what happened last night after I parted ways with Maya and Daniel, good friends honeymooning in Bangkok. I do remember drinking local beer called Chang (6.4% although it has been tested at 12% on occasion). And I remember continuing the night with an American, Blayne, and his partner, Josie. But that’s it.
Now I’m in a car park in Bangkok, don’t know where.
And it’s one PM.
I smiled and grinned, thanked the car park attendant once again and hit the streets. As I walked along, enjoying the tipsy feeling that a night of drinking gives me (I don’t suffer from hangovers. I just wake up tipsy) I watched two tuk-tuk drivers playing checkers.
I continued walking and was stopped by a local who took the initiative to play tour guide and explained that, “Today is special Buddha holiday. All yellow tuk-tuk 20 Bhat. They take you to Standing Buddha and Golden Mountain Temple. You go, Mister. You enjoy special price on special day.”
“OK,” I grinned and hopped into the first yellow tuk-tuk I saw.
The driver grinned back and took me to the first stop, the Standing Buddha. As we rode along the streets in the three-wheeled motor I noticed on the ceiling the pictures of Thai girls covered in soap bubbles giving massages to one another.
“You like, Mister?” the driver grinned. “I take you to girl?”
“I like girls but I don’t pay for it,” I smiled back. “Just take me to the Standing Buddha. Then Khoa San Road.”
“No problem,” he revved off.
We arrived at the temple and my driver waited for me outside. I strolled around, noticing the small corners of worship within the temple. Some people were praying, others just wondered about. I came round to face the Standing Buddha, standing at 45 meters.
It made me wonder how, for a religion that preaches no need for materialism and wealth, everything was made from gold. And they had charity boxes for money donations everywhere (which I know every religion has. Maybe if they didn’t spend so much on pimping their places of worship, they wouldn’t have to ask for monetary donations).
The temple was a large area with statues of various characters and sizes, the majority being of Buddha. Satisfying my spiritual need, I returned to my tuk-tuk driver who had purchased peanuts and offered some to me.
“Thanks,” I grinned. “Khoa San Road?”
“Golden Mountain,” he said.
“Right, then Khoa San Road.”
He expertly shot us into traffic. “You want girl, Mister? Very sexy.”
“No, really, I’m fine but again, thanks for offering,” I leaned back and watched as we passed a large round-about with three tall arches in the middle.
Golden Mountain is named for the temple at the top of the hill. Walking in, I was greeted by the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in the form of colourful statues. I walked along the road, stopping to look at the golden statues, sipping on the free water offered.
The 20 Bhat entry fee had me continue around the hill rather than go up it. Sure, it’s less than a dollar but I wasn’t paying to go into a place of worship. Not really my thing.
I headed back to my tuk-tuk.
“OK, Khoa San Road?” I asked as I hopped in, munching on some peanuts.
“One more stop,” he said. “Jewelry store. Special day, special prices. You no pay tax.”
“I don’t do jewelry,” I began but realised quickly I was in a discussion that I could never explain or win.
We pulled up outside a store. The door was held open by an official looking person who greeted me with a smile and waved me in.
“Hello, Mister,” she smiled. “Today special Buddha day. No tax today. Duty free prices only.”
“Yeah, I heard,” I smiled and looked into the glass stands. I walked around, figuring I may as well enjoy the air conditioning before returning to my means of transport.
“OK, Jeebs,” I sat back into the tuk-tuk. “Khoa San Road, please.”
“Wait, Mister. One more store,” he zipped us off.
Like I had a choice.
We rode around for about 20 minutes before stopping outside of a tailor shop. All tailor shops in Bangkok are run by Indian immigrants.
“Hello, sir, are you after a suit today?” the tailor looked at me with suspicion.
I don’t blame him. My beard was bushy, my hair curly and I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. And I had woken up in a car park not two hours prior.
“No, I don’t wear suits,” I answered casually. “My tuk-tuk brought me here. I dunno why but here I am.”
“OK, sir, thank you for coming,” and he held the door open for me.
Jeebs seemed upset that I had returned so soon. “You go slow, Mister. Me get government coupon. Petrol.”
“You want me to spend at least 5 minutes in the shop so you get a petrol coupon from the government, right?” I verified with him.
He nodded, grinning at my finally understanding.
“Well, I’d like to go to Khoa San Road but that hasn’t played out too well, has it?” is what I should have said. I don’t know how, “Alright, next time,” came out but off we went.
To a tourist centre.
I walked in. A guy invited me to sit at his desk, hungry for the commission he thought I might be bringing him.
“So, what am I looking at here?” I asked in confusion.
I hate package tours. Too pass the 5-minute threshold that Jeebs needed for his government coupon, I asked, “I’m waiting for my friend to arrive next week. What’s good to do?”
“Come back with your friend,” he said, handing me his card. “Then we talk. Goodbye.”
“Can I look at the photos on the wall?” I asked.
“Come back with your friend, Mister. It’s better then.”
Ignoring the hint, I looked around at the photos on the wall, ooh-ing and ah-ing at each one before finally exiting the place.
“OK, Jeebs,” I said. “Khoa San Road, please.”
“One more stop,” he said and pulled into traffic. “You go slow, I get coupon. I take you Khoa San Road.”
“Fine,” I was fed up with him. And hoping it wouldn’t be another –
I sighed. How do I stick around for at least 5 minutes in a place where I stick out like an Evangelist at a science convention? A Indian opened the door before I had even hopped out of the tuk-tuk.
“Hello, sir. Are you after a suit?” he smiled with suspicious eyes.
I smiled back as I stepped into the air conditioned shop. I looked around at the rolls of material lining the wall. “Actually,” I began, “I’m a writer doing an article about how suits are tailor made here in Bangkok.” I turned to him with a $3 smile. “Would you be able to help me in my research?”
“So you don’t want a suit?” His suspicious smile turned into a gruff pan-face.
“No, not today,” I ignored his look. “As I said, I’m writing a piece on how suits are tailor-made and I need to research for my article. It’s free advertising for your shop really,” I raised my $3 smile to a $5 one.
He blinked twice before he said, “Don’t waste my time, Mister. If you don’t want a suit then please, leave my shop.”
“But it’ll be free advertising,” I played dumb.
“I didn’t ask for any advertising now get out,” he lead me to the door, holding it open.
I smiled 30 cents worth. “Thanks for your time.” I jumped to the tuk-tuk. “Was that enough?” I asked.
Jeebs grinned and nodded.
“Great, now please take me to Khoa San Road.”
Khoa San Road reminded me of Kuta, Bali. Full of bars, some advertising how they don’t check ID and have very strong cocktails, everyone was hustling for money.
“Thanks but I’m wearing a pair.”
“I’m good, thanks.”
“And hide my curls?”
“I’m vegetarian but thanks.” (I’m not).
“Massage, Mister? Happy ending?”
“My endings are always happy.”
“Ping pong show, Mister?”
“No, thanks. How about tennis?”
“Do I look like the kinda guy that wears suits?” I sighed.
Maybe I should have stayed with my tuk-tuk driver.
The Donwai Riverside Market is in the Nakhon Pathom province, just outside of the borders of Bangkok. My host, Nina, and I arrived just after noon to the shaded market pace. Every stall had fans running and although it seemed that all the 15 million people that make up the population of Bangkok were there that day, it was a comfortable temperature.
The majority of the stalls were selling food. Traditional Asian, Thai food. And they all had samples for tasting.
“Nothing I like better than free food,” I grinned as we were greeted by shopkeepers that were just happy if you had a taste. No pressure to buy anything.
I was warned, just as I was about to slam my head in a crossbeam, to be careful of the low hanging crossbeams. Some were padded with foam, from previous knock-outs. I smiled a ‘thank you’ as I sampled cakes, every farm animal that ever existed, chilli pastes that will provide a ‘fire-in-the-hole’ morning tomorrow, seafood, dry fish, salted eggs, black jelly, honey, pomegranate wine (5%) and pineapple wine (11% and which Nina bought two bottles of) and some clear liquor (40%) that had my knees shake a little. I even sampled a chilli paste made with a leaf insect.
The insect was cut into sections – head, body and tail. I avoided the body parts and tried the paste, which had a rim-burning action to it. But the shop keeper was not going to let this ‘falang’ go without some amusement at my expense.
“He wants you to try the insect,” Nina said.
I stared at the bug. The shopkeeper had chosen to present me with the middle section. There it sat on the spoon just waiting to be taken in by some foreigner stupid enough to fall for this trick.
I looked at the shopkeeper who was smiling. I looked at Nina who was worried. “Fuck it,” I said taking the spoon. “You only live once.” I chewed on the body and whatever was made of its insides was now on my tongue. And it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t good enough for seconds but it wasn’t so bad.
But the chilli, with its ass-on-fire effect had me coughing and the shopkeeper in tears of laughter. “Ollay,” I said through clinched teeth, meaning ‘delicious’ in Thai. I stumbled off to find a stall with something sweet to sample, leaving the shopkeepers laughing.
We passed by a small Buddha temple where Nina stopped for a quick blessing.
“Let me show you something,” she said as I followed her in removing my sandals and sitting on the tiled floor, ankles behind me. “Take this,” she handed me a red cylinder box that had small, numbered pick-up-sticks in it. “You have to shake it until only one stick falls out. Then you see which number you got and get your fortune from the wall.” She pointed to the wall of printed notes with Thai, Chinese and English printed on each one.
I shook the box and eventually a stick fell out. “15,” I read out the number.
Nina grabbed the paper, tore off a leaf and handed it to me to read out. “You’ll succeeded in anything you do, especially commercial. If you’re expecting a baby, you surely will have a son. If you’re seeking a spouse, you’ll meet the right one. You’ll find the lost treasure you’re looking for as well as great fortune. For you who are sick will get well and healthy. As for other things and debtors, all is good. Whoever casts this number will live a happy life every night and day.”
I stared at Nina. “Pretty good fortune,” she said.
“Pretty good?” I blinked. “This is exactly what I’m seeking (more or less). Wow.” For once, a horoscopic prediction that actually gave me hope.
From the market we headed off to the National Buddhist Centre in Phutthamonthon. It was a vast area surrounded by a moat of water with perfectly maintained gardens, bonsai trees, hedges shaped like elephants, reindeer and other shapes. And of course, a giant statue of Buddha.
Nina bought two lily flowers and we sat on the step. She showed me how to fold the petals back until uncovering the flower within.
“This helps us meditate because we focus and concentrate on this action,” she explained.
When we were done, we handed the flowers to the people going up to place them under the giant Buddha.
The whole place was under water two years ago when the huge floods almost turned Bangkok into a beach.
“They had to cut down a lot of the trees here because the water killed them,” Nina explained.
Looking back at the huge Buddha statue I asked her, “Why is it that all Buddha statues are so huge?”
“So that every one who prayers can see it, no matter how far they are from the statue,” she put it rather simply.
That evening Nina cooked up some Tom Yum soup with a serving of rice, left over pork and chicken curry and some calamari that her mother had brought over. After dinner we watched Shaun of the Dead while sipping on pineapple wine. Then I jammed on the guitar thinking of my good fortune and the amazing people I’ve met on the way, excited for tomorrow’s adventures – hitch-hiking south to Koh Samui for my time at the Vikasa yoga retreat.
My fortune was right. I am happy every night and day.