19 April 2009

The Thais That Bind

So, there I was, in the top of an ancient temple in the former capital city of Thailand, conversing with a Buddhist nun from New Jersey, while my friend Dayna, disguised as a man, laid out golden leaves for making wishes to Buddha, and I was secretly plotting how best to get away with defiling this temple with the aid of my teddy bear.

Note: if the previous sentence sounds in any way exaggerated or unrealistic to you, then this must be your first time reading my blog. Welcome, and enjoy your stay.

But perhaps I should rewind just a bit. Houston (or rather, the Greater Houston Area) is one of the medical capitals of the world, with over 100 hospitals just in Houston and many more in the surrounding area. Some of the best quality medical assistance in the world can be found in and around Houston, and indeed many of Houston's residents (including my father and one of my bestest friends) originally came for treatment for everything from cancer to heart problems and wound up staying there.

Of course, in today's economy, not everyone can afford to go to the most reputable hospital. In fact, many can't afford medical treatment at all. My friend Dayna needed medical treatment, and although she was covered by insurance, it was actually less expensive for her to fly to Asia and pay cash for help. Let me restate... Although she was covered by insurance, it was actually less expensive for her to fly to Asia and pay cash for help!

So, she decided on Thailand. Although best known for its insane cats, the country has a medical system that meets government standards which exceed those of the American Medical Association. And some of the world's most renowned doctors can be found here. So Dayna saved her money and set up an appointment.

Her mother wanted to come along, but was unable to get out of work. Since I'm already out of work, Dayna's parents asked me if I would come along to help her out. I have to admit that the possibility of sight-seeing and taking photographs in the really cool parts of Asia appealed to me a lot, but, more importantly, no one should have to come alone to a foreign country for medical treatment which will result in weeks of convalescence. So I came along to play nurse. And take pictures.

The flight was supposed to take something like 26 hours or something like that, but it seemed quite a bit longer. Due to my... ummmm... full?... schedule, I was unable to pack and stuff until the last hours before the trip. The result is that I got like 6 hours' sleep the night before the night before the trip, and no sleep the night before the trip. I was on my way to the airport at 3:00 AM and made it to the gate just in time to board a surprisingly full plane.

First stop, San Francisco. Nothing to report.

Then on to Tokyo. This hop took a while. I was sitting next to Dayna. Did I mention that I had gotten no sleep the night before? Yeah, I mentioned it to Dayna, too. But the b*tch wouldn't let me sleep. In fact, at one point, my eyes were closed, and she started poking me with something sharp. When I asked what she needed, she said, "Nothing. I just thought you were asleep." At one point, I asked why she didn't want me to sleep, and she basically said, "No reason."

Yes, you're right... Revenge will be mine. It is a dish best served cold, and eaten with your hands.

Aaaannnnyyyyyhhhoooooooo..... So, we flew to Tokyo. Then, we landed. In Tokyo. That's the way it works. We had a four-hour layover, so we took our sweet time. We had some real Japanese food at a real Japanese restaurant. (Tokyo is in Japan.) Then, on the final hop to Thailand, I was sitting two rows behind Dayna, and was able to get some sleep.

The plane was late before it even picked us up, so we arrived well after midnight in Bangkok. (teehee) We fought our way past tourists and anxious cab drivers, snuck through customs (I was seriously hoping they wouldn't search my bags), and found our pre-ordained (by Dayna's doctor) driver waiting for us.

The hotel wasn't bad. We arrived, I showered (Dayna prefers to sleep dirty and shower in the morning) and then laid down on our separate beds. Beds which I had fought for. The hotel clerk took us for... ummm.... girlfriends (which gave Dayna, an "out" lesbian, no end of amusement), and wanted to give us a room with just one bed, but I fought for separate beds. I mean, Dayna's my friend, and all, but, well, EEEEWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

Anyway, we were lying in our respective beds, and Dayna wanted to watch a movie. She bent over her DVD collection to select something and I hit her from behind with my camera tripod.

I finally got to go to sleep.

The next day was our first day here. First stop, we went to the mall (it was a big building with a sign out front that said "The Mall") for some toiletries and stuff. Inside, we became so confused by the wide array of McDonald's franchises, Dairy Queens, Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, Apple stores, Clinique counters and other Thai vendors that we forgot what we were there for and had some Thai food for brunch. That was fun. Then... ummmm.... OK, I admit, I don't remember anything else for the rest of that day. Weird, huh? That's been happening to me a lot lately. I don't know whether it's early-onset dementia or I'm being abducted by aliens, but I'm pretty sure it's something in between.

But I digress.

So, anyway, Dayna's visit to the doctor was a few days away, so the next day we decided to do some sight-seeing. We took a trip to the Grand Palace, where the king lives, but it was closed. So we decided to take a tuk-tuk around the city and see the sights. Some of them, anyway.

A tuk-tuk, taken from the Thai phrase meaning, roughly, "Oh my god, we're all going to die!", is a motorized trike with a shopping cart welded onto the back for passengers to sit on. Imagine a roller coaster, but without safety restraints.

It was just about the most fun I've had in my adult life.

Now, when I say that we decided to "take" a tuk-tuk, I don't mean that we climbed into the back and let the driver have his way with us... Dayna distracted him with a map and some questions, asked in German, and I hit him on the head with my tripod. We left him tied up in an alley while we used his vehicle to see the sights.

We visited a monument called "The Standing Buddha". Because it's a Buddha statue. And he's standing. I never realized he was so tall. The statue was 32 meters tall, and made of gold. Sorta.

Then, we visited a couple of other temples. Nothing to report. Finally, we found the alley where the driver was asleep (I hope) and we untied him and left his tuk-tuk there, along with the fees he would have charged and a tip.

We're adventurers, not thieves.

Tired, we headed back to the hotel for some Thai food. We looked at the menu and, after about ten pages or so, found some. It was good, but I really expected Thai food to be spicier.

The next day, we.... ummmm... okay, I don't remember that day, either. I think we visited some shrines, because I have pictures.

So, the next day, we got up bright and early to go on a tour. We knew that there would be some temples on this tour, and there are restrictions involving women, their attire, and their interaction with Buddhist monks, so Dayna put on some of her butchest clothing, put her hair into a pony tail and didn't shave. Still, I don't think she pulled off her "male" act very well.

We traveled to Ayutthaya, which was the capital city of Thailand before Bangkok was made the new capital. The city was burned down centuries ago, but since stone doesn't usually burn very well, much of the city was mostly still there. Especially the ruins of a few old temples.

The first temple was surrounded by Buddha statues. I guess there were a lot of Buddhas. Or incarnations of the one Buddha. I took some pictures.

We wandered about the grounds, and found some stairs.

I can never resist stairs.

At the top of the stairs was a small room with a Buddhist nun and several small (four feet or so tall) statues of Buddha. The purpose of the room was to purchase gold leaves from the nun, go to each statue, leave a leaf there, and make a wish. Dayna is a devout non-practicing Buddhist, so we went and made her wishes. I think her wishes were answered, because my breasts started growing later that day. Anyway, while she was doing her thing, I was chatting with the nun. One of the first things I noticed about the nun was that she looked like a Caucasion. This was confirmed when I heard her English, with a Northern United States accent. I asked, and she said she was from New Jersey, but has been living in Thailand for twenty years. I swear, I've never heard a nun from any religion use so many bad words.

Now, there's this thing I do... I have this bear... his name is Oatmeal. I acquired him during my time in the military, circa 1990 A.D. So he's like 20 years old. His original purpose was to act as a sleep aid, but he was just so darned cute that I showed him to everyone, and eventually started taking pictures of him, and later, when we were told in vaguely hostile countries that we couldn't go out alone and always had to have a "shore buddy", if I couldn't find anyone who wanted to go see something other that the local clubs and prostitutes and stuff, I could just stick Oatmeal in my coat pocket. If I were asked, "Where's your shore buddy?" I would open my coat, reveal him, and say, "Seaman Recruit Oatmeal." That generally worked... the SPs would laugh so hard they would forget for a short time about the fact that I was violating the rules.

Apparently, I got away with a lot in the Navy.

So, anyway, at some point, my friend Jean pointed out that I was always taking Oatmeal with me when I travel, and that I was always taking pictures of him, standing in front of flowers, sitting on national monuments, doing things. I don't know when it started, but somehow it's become a "tradition" for me to take Oatmeal pictures when I travel. So my camera case has a special compartment for him.

So, there I was, in the top of an ancient temple in the former capital city of Thailand, conversing with a Buddhist nun from New Jersey, while Dayna, disguised as a man, laid out golden leaves for making wishes to Buddha, and I was secretly plotting how best to get away with defiling this temple with the aid of my teddy bear. Dayna finished her wishing and we headed outside. Many many Buddha statues... where to start?

There were many statues, as I just stated, and all of them were somewhat older than my home country. Raiders in the past had done some damage, so many statues were damaged. For this reason, we weren't supposed to touch them.

This was made abundantly clear. But you know me. I figured, though, that if I were caught placing Oatmeal on the statues, I could simply say that Dayna was a witch and had used a mind-control curse to force me to do her bidding. That way, she might have to be in prison for a while, but I would be set free. In fact, I would look like both a victim (of witchcraft) and a hero (for helping catch a witch). The only possible downside I could see to this plan was that when Dayna's parents asked me to keep an eye on her, they might have meant something a little different than getting her arrested.

So I was careful. I really didn't want to see Dayna in jail, but that was a risk I was willing to take.

So I took some pictures. The next stop was a temple that featured, among other things, the largest Buddha statue in all of Thailand. That's what the tour guide said. Of course, he also said that it was made of pure gold on the outside and filled with brass, but any idiot (with an advanced degree in particle physics and/or cosmology) can tell you that that much heavy metal concentrated in that small a space will result in, at the very least, nuclear fission due to critical mass, and possibly the creation of a miniscule "black hole". This would be bad. Idunno. What I do know is that the statue was, indeed, quite tall, and quite impressive. And kinda pretty, if you like shiny things.

The last stop was the old palace. The buildings on the palace grounds had been built by European contractors in the European style, making the entire place the single least interesting place in all of East Asia. It had two redeeming qualities. The first was a single building built in the Chinese fashion, but we weren't allowed to take pictures inside, so I won't say anything else about it. I'm really in love with photography.

The second redeeming quality was that there were several banyan trees on the premises. Banyan trees are among the most interesting in the world. They appear to be made entirely of vines and roots, and periodically a limb will send a shoot in the ground, which becomes another tree. In the past, entire forests were discovered which turned out to actually be a single tree, since the parent tree doesn't always detach from the child tree. As a Druid, I'm bound by both law and tradition to note any nifty-cool trees I find and take pictures of them.

This concluded the active part of the tour. We took a boat back to Bangkok, a two-hour ride. Lunch was served on the boat, and we saw many temples and houses along the banks.

So far, so good. Ish. Sorta. The following day, Dayna was restricted to the hotel room by doctor's orders, so I stayed there to keep her company. That's just the kind of friend I am.

The trip isn't over, though. There will be more to report later. Right now, I'm off to enjoy a Thai massage. I wonder if they have anyone named Sven working here... I've always wanted a long massage from a big, muscular guy named Sven.

So, for now, sawàt dii kâ.


HermitJim said...

Sounds like an interesting trip so far...

Suzanne said...

cool trip!