Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bangkok Intro

Sawatdee! We have been in the Land of Smiles since the 18th and are slowly starting to settle into the new surroundings. It was a 12 hour flight from New Zealand to Bangkok and I am pretty sure we are done traveling on airplanes for awhile after that trek, also the fact that the Thai government has our passports for the next 60 days. This is part of working in Thailand, they take your passport for 2 months of processing your work visa and by the time you get it back its only valid for another 45 days and the process starts over again. Bureaucracy of finest brand in our opinion, but oh well!

Our first outing into the big city of Bangkok (7million people reside here) was full on. Like any good tourist visiting the Thai capital we started our day in...Chinatown. Yes, here we are in Thailand and our first stop is the bustling Chinese quarter of town, but it was truly worth the trip as we were thrown into a netherworld of gold shops, food vendors, clothing and shoes stores with the same brands you are buying at Macy's and Target. Only here the price is about ¼th what you are paying the states, send us a list of your clothing needs and chances are we can secure it for you. It was incredible walking down the sidewalks, but calling it a sidewalk will conjure up the wrong image for you so let me describe it. There is a road, about 4 lanes wide, but anyone with anything wheeled is using this road and every square inch is being used, trust me. Next to the road is a slightly elevated piece of concrete that even if stripped bare of the stalls and food vendors might resemble the sidewalks you see in the states. However, when they built the sidewalk they failed to remove the trees and bushes, so adding to the mix is foliage that for the average Thai person is of no concern because the branches are 5 feet 5 inches tall, but for my towering height of 5'8 and Deb's circus like height of 5'9 the branches become spears destined to remove a retina or worse. Negotiating these streets is made even more challenging as there are most definitely not any kind of emission standards on vehicles, clouds of exhaust fumes hang in the air like storm clouds and then disappear after 1,000 people walk thru them and breath it in. Our lungs are officially clogged again after having them cleaned out in the fresh and pure New Zealand air.

After going to Chinatown and the infinite markets, we headed to the temple or Wat (pronounced Whaat) Po. It was a beautiful and peaceful place in the middle of the controlled chaos of downtown Bangkok. Buddhism is the major religion in Thailand and monks are held in the highest of regards here, every man is expected at some point in their life to become a monk. Usually they do this around 18 or 19 and for about 3-6 months, although some much younger boys join temples even earlier in life. Friendly as can be, the monks live on the generosity of other and are often seen receiving donations of money, food and drink on the street from citizens and tourists alike.

Karma, the stuff of sayings like, “what goes around comes around” and “you reap what you sow” is a also a major part of Thai culture. People here are extremely superstitious and believe that what you do today can affect your eternal well being. That being said not all Thai's seem worried about doing wrong and we can attest to that. Being a day of firsts for us we decided to take a Tuk-Tuk (took-took), three wheeled cab, to a temple with two other teachers. The driver was a friendly enough guy and seemed to know exactly where we wanted to go. Well, after a couple of near accidents and near wetting of pants (traffic laws absolutely do not exist here, kill or be killed is the only rule) on my part we arrived in PatPong, the red light district of Bangkok. Miles from our destination the driver insisted we pay and get out, having royal shafted the Farangs (white people) out of 200 baht or about $6 and stuck us in the middle of pleasure land. We didn't stick around long enough to see the underbelly of this district, but what we did see was enough to let us know that late night Cinemax ain't got nothing on PatPong!

We took a cab to Wat Tamrit and toured this temple for about an hour before eating great food from a street vendor. The food here is extremely good, but SPICY! I mean it literally makes your tongue swell up and trachea shrink. Good stuff though! We also took a water taxi up the Chao (river) Phraya to see the Wat Arun at sunset, beautiful site and we will head back for the full on tour later this week.

Our first day of orientation was too much and not enough at the same time. Too much information on Thai culture and language and not enough time to take it all in. We still have 6 more days, but something tells me that we will be shooting from the hip much of the time teaching. The rest of this week is going to be orientation and some sight seeing tours of the city and surrounding area. There are about 85 other teachers with us preparing for their tour of duty in Thailand. I have already met 7 other Minnesotans which has been fun, but Deb and I are finding out fast that being 28 means we are the elders of the group. In Thailand the elders pay for everything when in a group, part of this culture we are rebelling against though! It has been a great few days here and we are excited to be embarking on this part of our trip.


  1. This is better than National Geographic and Travel Channel rolled together! Now the work begins...are these 85 teachers fanning throughout the country? Coordinating this kind of troop every five months must be some project! Is it truly economically feasible for the Thai educational system to train so many Americans? Are there people from other English-speaking countries, too? Gretchen

  2. If I were the Thai government I would take your passports too - you two can't be trusted...

    Joe - consistently impressed with your ability to recapture the moments in blog-form! And keeping with your "elders" role, I will take any Target items please.

    Love to you both!!!

  3. Joe, your writing is amazing! It is quite funny and I feel like I can picture both you and Debbie. I can't wait for more. Give Debbie a hug for me (even though she says she hates them)!


  4. hey guys! what an adventure! great stories so far can't wait to hear more. by the way we are in the cities just saw gunther. he is actually getting around much better. miss you!! take care
    hans says he loves and misses you