Sa-wat-dee is phonetically “hello” in Thai. That greeting, accompanied with the wai - the prayer-like gesture of hands held together under the chin used in place of shaking hands - and a genuine smile will get you just about anywhere in Thailand. That and a really good phrasebook. And baht (money).
Just don’t hand a 20 baht bill to a 7-11 attendant and expect more than just two coins in change. No paper. (A 5 baht coin and a 1 baht coin. Duh.) I had a tough time getting my head around the fact that 100 baht was about three dollars. I hate math.
So, what was I doing in Thailand? Learning about oil wells for work, drinking Chahng (elephant) beer with my teachers, eating the most amazing food (Yam blah meuk (Hot/tangy salad with squid) for breakfast? Chai, kor! (Yes, please!)), and visiting some of the most fabulous temples and buildings in the Pattaya area.
Pattaya is about two hours south of Bangkok. Our driver made the trip in about an hour - door to door - because there isn’t much traffic at 3am.
For those of you still reading…
On Saturday, January 14, I dragged my sorry ass to the shower at 2 am so I could be presentable and finish packing so as to be on the road by 3 am.
The next 30+ hours are kind of a blur, but suffice it to say the flight from Fargo to Chicago was a blink. The flight from Chicago to Tokyo, Japan just about killed me. And the flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, Thailand frosted the travel marathon only to be followed by an hour in a car to take us the final hop to the hotel in Pattaya. We arrived at 3am Monday, Thai-time.
I have to tell you a little story about bathrooms. Pay attention to the signs on the stall doors, ladies. The sign that looks like this (___ is not for a “West-culture” person expecting a standard stool. The English woman behind me in line laughed out loud when I - half dazed and jet lagged - opened the stall door and stated “Oh, HELL No” and did an about face back to the line for the next “I need to SIT down to do my business” bathroom stall. And that was in Tokyo.
Walking out of the airport in Bangkok - Suvarnabhumi - was unlike any experience I can make comparison…except maybe the sensation of walking fully-clothed (jeans+t-shirt+luggage) into a full-on sauna. That might be a good way to explain it. If I didn’t smell like an airplane bathroom before walking outside, I certainly did by the time we found our driver and got to the hotel.
The hotel where we stayed was also where the training was held, so that kept things uncomplicated. Everything was open-air unless an actual hotel room or conference room. There were no hallways or enclosed stair-wells. And the hotel staff was amazing, constantly sweeping and cleaning and smiling. Always smiling.
The class itself was brutal. Lots of math. Lots of acronyms and slang. The math plus a whopping case of jet lag means I have no clear memories until Tuesday afternoon (Thai-time) or so.
After class Tuesday, we did walk down to Beach Road which was really just an exercise in gawking. And trying not to become a statistic (“another tourist hit by bus/car/scooter”) on the evening news.
I’ve discovered a new skill I posses, however: bargaining. That first night away from the hotel I bought two dresses for 320 baht (originally 300 each) and I didn’t offend the vendor. Although I did offend the 7-11 clerk when - confused - I expected change for a $20 when purchasing a can of Coca-cola Light (no Diet Coke…Coke Light) with 20 baht. Body language is an interesting thing. All she did was sigh, tip her head to the side a bit and give me a pained expression that told me “You are in Thailand, dumb-ass. If you can’t learn the language, at least learn the money.”
After class on Wednesday, our instructors, Daeng and Lex, and their technician, Loom (how awesome are those names?) took us to supper at a favorite seafood restaurant they frequent. I’m so glad we went with them…for several reasons. First, I would have never been able to find the place. Second, I would not have known to bring my own drinks. The guys showed up with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and a kind of brandy I’ve never seen before, plus all their mixers. The bottles were arranged on a little rolling cart pushed up to the end of our table, along with a bucket of ice, and the waitress mixed drinks as the evening progressed. I stuck with beer.
We had rock lobster, blue crab, various mussels and such, and a kind of fish I can’t remember. All freshly caught and alive just moments before showing up on a dinner platter. The guys showed me how to break the crab “just so” and I ate everything they put in front of me including fish eggs and innards, super-spicy sauces with vegetables and seeds I didn’t recognize.
How we managed to pass the exam after so much food and drink the night before, I’ll never know. But I do know that one tips based on how “wealthy” one is, not on the level of service or price of the meal. Interesting, that.
On Friday, the last full day in Thailand, one of our fellow class-mates, an expat from the UK, generously “toured” us about. He has his own vehicle and a working knowledge of the language after having lived in Thailand off and on for the past 30-odd years. That and he is on his second marriage, both to Thai women. We saw the Sanctuary of Truth, Wat Yannasangwararam, Khao Chi Chan, Buddah statues and parts of the area we would never have found on our own. Including a beach where I was super grateful my sunglasses hid my openly staring at people in all shapes and sizes and various stages of dress.
I must go back with my big camera. Must. But I think I’ll figure a way to stay in Bangkok. Pattaya, though beautiful and interesting, was so very much a tourist trap.
And when I do go back, I will shell out the extra cash for, if not first class, at least business class seats on the plane. Shoe-horned into a coach seat in the tail of an airplane, no matter what the size, should be one of the inner circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno. I considered staying in Thailand for many reasons. Avoiding the return flight altogether was high on the list.