Saturday, 29 August 2009

The art of losing face and the amazing Mister Paz

Sawasdee from Bangkok.
Lots to update -meant to get on line yesterday but it didn't happen and already I am forgetting some of the stuff which has been occurring.
So where did we leave off? Oh yep waiting our pick up for the train at Surat Thani. So along come a man in a van and we get bundled off to a place in the middle of nowhere (this we are finding is the usual course of events) everyone has to get out show their tickets and is then branded (well not quite but we're all stuck with a sticker - there are varying colours of sticker depending on where you're headed and from then on you are herded, divided, subdivided etc as you journey along (it is exactly like one man and his dog and we are the sheep BAH!) So after hanging around for 10 minutes all looking puzzled and occasionally being startled into trotting around in little flocks of confusion. A kindly looking shepherd whistled to Si and me and pointed to his mini van with a wink he motioned us into the two seats up front with him. We thought cool - we get to see where we are going and have some more space -then he piled our big rucksacks and our day sacks under our feet up there too. So essentially we were concertinaed and balanced precariously so that one sudden break would see us smashing through the windscreen. I had the added joy of sitting on the handbreak (fun for me and fun for the driver which was nice!) Oh well with a journey of only 3 hours who's complaining?
The journey was awesome as once again we travelled through miles of jungle with mountains all around. Eventually it grew dark and we arrived in what could only have been Surat Thani a bustling little city at that time of the evening with mostly Thai folk eating in the cafes and scooting about on mopeds. We were following the main streets for a while and then suddenly the driver took us down increasingly dingy dark and poverty stricken side streets stopping when several men darted out of a building and flagged him down. There then began a truly scary bit of business where these men and a women were all shouting through the windows, opening the doors and prodding the travellers shouting "Bangkok? You go Bangkok?" It seemed they were touting people to break away from their chosen route and go off with them. In the end they got to S and I in the front seat and on hearing we were going to the train station dragged us out the van. My terrified confused glances and beseeching of our non-English (and you would think by his own puzzlement no-Thai) speaking driver were wasted. We were hustled off through the alleys with growling dogs and strange dark faces peering out of doors and handed to a third man who took posession of some car keys from a fourth guy and put our back packs in the boot of a car. He motioned us to get in and then we saw some money changing hands before we were driven off in the back firing automobile. We kept reassuring each other that this was okay and they were taking us to the station (which we knew was about 10 kms away from Surat Thain town) but we were holding hands very tightly and then Simon started laughing and pointed to a road sign which said "Slaughter House" Obviously we lived to update the blog again... but for a few blood chilling minutes we were afraid we may be leaving you, our dear readers, bereft of another chapter.
Once at the station we settled down on our wooden seats to while away 4 hours until our train came. First class is the only way travel folks! The beds were way better and our private compartment allowed us to sit up for a while enjoying a couple of drams of Thai Whiskey and reflecting soto voce on the early travel terrors. We both slept reasonably well and spent the morning sitting on the lower bunk eating brekky and watching as the scenery changed from rice paddies to the increasingly built up burbs of BK. Some culture shock as we went slowly past some pretty poor shanty places where we watched families sitting on the floors of their corrugated shed houses built next to railway line and on stilts top keep them from the stagnant and filthy ponds they lived over.
Once in Bangkok we dutifully ignored all the taxi touts and went straight for the official pink metered cabs. Hopping in and giving the driver our destination (Soi Rambhuttri - near the Khao San Road but less manic with Backpackers and travellers and touts) I said the name a couple of times and he was saying Yes yes yes. Once we set off I realised his meter wasn't on so asked. He said No Meter I charge 100 baht. Okay we thought that's about what it would cost anyway and he is basically pulling a fast one on his bosses - fair do's. About half an hour later he pulls into the basement carpark of a high rise apartment block in the financial/business district! We explain again where we are going and then he's slapping his forehead and banging the steering wheel and driving like a loony. Next he's on his mobile and jabbering away and then he hands me the phone and barks Speak! On the other end is a lady who speaks English asking where we are going. She understands first time and then says that the driver wants 300 Baht to take us there... No way says I did she realise he was driving off the meter despite our asking that he use it? Anyway it all got a bit frantic and in the end I offered 200 baht by way of sharing the blame for the lack of understanding when we originally gave our destination.
We've done a lot of reading about Thai culture since we've been here and they have some very cool philosophies about things (based on the Buddhist culture here) One is Sanuk - this word encapsulates an ethos which seems to be there's no point in doing anything unless it is fun.. it is the art of making things fun. Remember a few blogs ago when we described watching the hotel staff on Phi Phi working their sarongs off all day unloading a supply boat? We said we wer struck by their team work and by how much fun they seemed to be having despite the hard work ? THAT is sanuk in action. Sort of related to this is there fear of losing face. If someone drops a box or trips up the observers of this mini calamity will make sanuk (make it a fun thing) this is to help the person it has happened to save face. Our taxi driving incident was the art of losing face... it was awful! I felt terrible because I was sorry for the driver but frustrated that our inability to communicate with one another meant we couldn't find a compromise. Everyone was hurting. Our driver passed a temple just before we got to our true destination and taking his a hands off the wheel he practiced the wei (showing respect by placing palms together, fingers touching your forehead and bowing your head) He kept fingering the amults and Buddha statues hanging from the mirror. When we stopped he quietly said "I velly solly" I thanked him and smiled and made the wei to him and Simon shook his hand and we were all smiling and nodding. I love Thailand!
I guess it was fate that all this happened as we ended up right by the Sawasdee Guest House which had an amazing room with a bed the size of a house and hot shower (for a change) and cafe, restuarant, right in heart of a laid back area all for 26 pounds per night which is hugely expensive after paying a tenner a night for the last few weeks.
Last time we were in BK (I can't remember if I mentioned this - we went to crazy China town and when we finally escaped the maze we landed further up the river (this area) and went into a bar called Mister Pas food bar. Mister Pas and his pal are huge foodies and have a picture of Gordon Ramsey outside their little restuarant. Mister Paz's friend although Thai has travelled fairly widely and was a cool customer dressed in black jeans and shirt and cowboy boots, shoulder length hair- think Antonio Banderas in Desperado but with Ronnie Corbett's face and you have him. Anyway we promised we would go back when we returned to BK and so we did the other night. A great night out all in all as we kicked off at a cool Thai bar and met a young German girl (well woman she was a Dr) travelling the world she'd just been in India working on a medical project and had heard the Dalai Lama teach. Great chat with her before we wandered to Mister Paz's. The menu is European and we had quid ink spaghetti with seafood and honestly it was wonderful. Antonio Corbett was there again in his role as chilled out charley. There was one other table in their with a group of rich Thais and a young french guy but we spent the entire time talking food with Mister Paz and Ronnie Banderas. After the meal Ronnie and I went outside for a cig and Simon got chatting to the french guy )only briefly before the guy left. On my return Mister Paz came over with a drink for both Si and me from the french guy. When we came to pay ....the French guy had already settled it! How amazingly cool is that?
Yesterday we went to the Great Palace - home of Thai Royal family. Beautiful and intense. We saw the emerald buddha (actually made from Jade) and he was wearing his rainy season outfit... he has three outfits for different times of year and the King comes and chages his clothes and hat each time) The greatest thing though was the murals... they go on and on and on and are awesome. I think you could spend years looking at them. Anyway 4 mins left here.
I guess this is the last post of the trip. We are looking forward to seeing everyone soon. I guess it only remains to say

"Having a great time; wish you were here!"

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