It’s Important for my Country, Said the Man with the Moustache

The flight to Thailand seemed like it took forever. They turned off the lights pretty early and it was quiet when most people fell asleep, and only rustles and whispers were heard. I was reading one of the books I took with me, The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, and began to imagine – how will supermarkets look like in a different continent, how kids go to school; the usual, banal things, that would be completely different in distant lands. After a while I put my head on Roni and tried to sleep. For a few minutes, or a few hours, I swayed between sleep and alertness, waking up by every motion of the plane and every flight attendant passing by. There were black clouds in the distance, lit by huge lightnings every here and there, and slowly we arrived at a thunderstorm. For a minute I thought I was still dreaming, until a fat man whose breath smelled of salami was leaning above us and trying to take a video of the lightnings. This is not what dreams are made of. I woke Roni up and we both looked outside hypnotized and a bit scared, and after about half an hour the black clouds scattered and golden rays began to appear from the east.

 A long line of people with toothbrushes was formed by the restroom as the sun risen. We could see the ocean through the clouds, dotted here and there with deep green islands and beaches. There it is, East Asia, where we will spend the next few months.

We are above a big continent with agricultural fields and small towns. The airport in Bangkok has a strange shape, like a big white spider, and everything is clean and decorated with plants.  The hot and humid air strikes you as you go down the plane. A weird dollish voice speaks Thai from speakers on the wall, and long conveyors lead inside. I was so happy that I could not feel how tired I was, and didn’t had any sense of time. We delayed for a bit at the airport because of biocracy since we had to fill a form with the name of the hotel in which we’ll stay at, a line which we left empty because we thought we’ll just arrive at the center and then see. A man with a black moustache and a wide smile took us aside so we can book a hotel online – “It’s important for my country that you write down the hotel’s name”, he said with a heavy accent. After a few minutes he winked at us and said we can just make something up, so we went through it pretty quick.

A squeaky clean taxi with a kind driver took us to a hotel we chose pretty randomly. They spoke Thai on the radio and I looked outside the window and tried, unsuccessfully, to understand the structure of the language, distinguish different sentences, names and tones. The city outside seemed completely different from anything I ever knew, as if it had more saturation, with its highways and road and succulent plants, skyscrapers, people doing laundry, slums, floral squares with golden statues, huge signs with the royal family in central points.

 For us Thailand was just a stop in the way to Vietnam, and up to that day I had no idea how little I knew about this country. I’ve heard dozens of stories about beach parties, light and heavy drugs, massages, ping-pong shows, shemales, prostitutes. I’ve been told that the Thais are naive and you need to bargain for everything and make them to lower the prices. I felt so stupid when we got there.

More and more Hebrew signs appeared as the driver navigated through the complex alleys that back then seemed to me like a total chaos, until we stopped in front of the D&D hotel in the center of the Khaosan, a super touristic area. A young man apeared out of the blue and collected our backpacks, and after we paid the driver we followed the boy through some kind of a dark den with travel agencies and cheap clothing stores into the hotel’s lobby. We sat there on fancy leather couches under a green flickering neon lamp, together with a group of pinkish European tourists, and in a short while the room was ready. Everything seemd weird, the hotel which was under construction and the room which had very luxurious parts but the walls were flaky and the shower was fidgeting, but we were so curious to see the city so we went outside after a brief shower, without thinking about it too much.

The street was bustling and ridden with tourists. For a moment I forgot about the long flights and felt as if we were still in a strange version of the Israeli coastal cities, and the street vendors that tried to sell us suits or tattoos with broken Hebrew had contributed to that feeling even more. We wandered around by foot until we exited the Khaosan, and looked for something to eat. The main streets were netted with small alleys, and we saw a small dark restaurant in one of them with quite a lot of locals so we went there. A middled aged woman sat by a plastic table with a large menu above it, from which we chose fried noodles with pork and iced tea. In the few weeks before the flight I often tried to imagine what it would be like to just sit in a resturant in the street, at the other end of the world, and just order an unfamiliar food from people I had no common language with. It was not disappointing, at all. The food was hot and comforting with strong flavours, and the tea was bright orange and sweet as hell. Afterwards we kept strolling around in the area, getting lost in a maze of narrow streets with people siting on the doorways or cooking in the yards, and cats with colorful collars were lazily walking around. We began feeling a bit like intruders so we came back to the main streets. The air was thick and mellow and smelled of sewerage, pollution, spices and foods. It all striked me, the airports, Russia, Thailand; all the strange people, thoughts that bothered me before the flight and all the warnings I’ve heard – diseases, pickpockets, robbers, organ harvesters, earthquakes, tsunamies. I felt over whelmed and just wanted to take a shower and rest.

I woke up again at five PM and joined Roni for another trip outside. I met him in a cute small place, a colorful phad-thai restaurant in the street. Little by little my appetite came back and the worries from before seemed distant and silly. The street was even crazier at night. BBQs were burning around every corner and loud music played, neon lights shone from above and it was difficult to walk because of all the people. We felt like children in a toy store.

The Khaosan in full of Israelis, Americans and Europeans, which makes the whole area a tourist trap. Lots of cheap clothes and jewlery, booths and wagons of light food and fruits, people selling bugs on skewers and charging ten Bahts for a photo, women with colorful hats selling bracelets and tuk tuk drivers offering transportation.

After a stroll outside we went to the hotel’s roof to have some beer by the pool. Except the music’s echoes from below it was very quiet, a small TV was on and showed trashy soap operas and condensed milk commercials. The feeling was a bit heavy and strange. We sat on the pool chairs that were scattered around, and as I closed my eyes I could still feel the movements of the plane. Afterwards we went to bed, hoping that tomorrow will be less confusing.

 

 

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