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Jasmine Dispatch

Bangkok 101
June 21, 2000

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Where do you begin? Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, is as appealing to your senses as India was confronting. Whereas in India the poverty and disease would break anyone's heart, the prosperity of Bangkok easily makes you forget about the woes of the world, as you lose yourself in hour-long sessions of soothing Thai massage, or sip mocha frappacinos as you tour the trendy Siam Tower mall, where you can take in the latest American films and try on the latest in designer fashion from Armani and the like. The walls that men freely used in India as public toilets are fashioned with perfectly pruned ivy in Bangkok, and the rivers that once overflowed with debris are less impacted by trash, since Thailand is very successful at keeping liter to a minimum.

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But there is a give and take in everything. What India may lack in aesthetics, it has the depth of a richly spiritual place. There was a certain sense of character in the faces of people, a people who know suffering, who know poverty, who know the strength it takes to overcome in the face of adversity. Bangkok, however, has genuinely lost kindness and any such sincerity to capitalism and the opportunistic desire to make a buck any way, anyhow. This is a town where you can have anything you like but not without paying dearly for it if you aren't careful. Something as simple as a taxi ride, for example, can become quite an ordeal.

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First, you will never get directly to your destination. Touk-touk drivers will drop you in to visit local gem and diamond dealers, clothiers, and any other business with whom they have negotiated a commission for bringing them customers, even if it is against the will of the customer. Can you believe the nerve? I wanted to go to a place ten minutes from my hotel, and it took literally two hours to get there, even when I explained I did not want to buy a new suit or a snakeskin wallet. (I did at least get to see some very nice sapphires.) Taxi drivers make it a point to blatantly lie to tourists to get their business. They approach you with a smile as if to point you in the right direction and when you tell them where you are going they reply that the venue is closed.

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I was standing a stone's throw from the Wat Po temple when this happened to my friend Abdullah and me. Had he not been here for a few weeks and known the taxi driver's scheme, I may have missed the chance to visit this amazing monument. So, if you can actually reach your destination, Bangkok has wonderful sites to see, like the amazing temple at Wat Po featuring Bangkok's prized 46 meter long reclining Buddha. Buddha in this position depicts the moment of his death. Despite the fact that most call this temple the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, the literal translation means "Temple of the Bodhi Tree."

This stunning monument was just the beginning of beautiful Buddhas. Inside the What Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a complex just next door to Wat Po inside the Grand Palace grounds, is an amazing Buddha made of jasper. It was discovered hidden inside a stucco Buddha and went through much travail to make it back home to Thailand. After being captured by the Lao and taken to Luang Prabang and Vientiane it was recovered by the Thais and consecrated in the temple in 1782.

Links

Map of Bangkok
Misc. Info About Bangkok
History of Bangkok
Marv's Trip to Bangkok - Has a Lot of Pictures

From there I crossed the main road back to Khao San, the Melrose Place of Bangkok, where tourists can purchase the latest American tapes, pastries stuffed with marijuana, an Oakley backpack, or a Tommy Hilfiger T-Shirt. Cafes have a listing of the times and titles of the in-theater movies that will play throughout the day -- talk about dinner and a movie. And street vendors set up make-shift bars that serve cold beers to other tourists who go under the body-piercing needle. Yes, quite a scene, a twenty-four hour realm of indulgence for anything your heart desires, which may actually sound like heaven, but it made me truly understand the saying "too much of a good thing."

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After having it all from frustration to a cool Thai iced tea at "My Mom's" café, one of the few places here that have good food and good service, I found the easiest, most hassle-free way to travel is by boat. The extensive ferryboat system links the city by its numerous rivers. It's a set price and a calm trip away from the buzz of it all. An airy boat ride from Khao San Road will take you to the belly of the beast, Chinatown, where all the goods that tourists haggle for against inflated prices are easily purchased factory direct from the hundreds of manufacturers throughout the district.

Still a well-kept secret by the locals, there were few tourists in the area. I felt as if I'd stumbled into the top secret realm of low prices, and I have to admit, for a brief moment visions of dollar signs begin to flash in my head. I quickly regained my sanity before being sucked into the vicious cycle of capitalism and laughed as the big picture grew clear. As I watched Thai people pack up boxes of sports jerseys and baseball caps that they would have sold to me for ten dollars a dozen, I realized how easily we are tricked, buying the same item for twenty to fifty dollars apiece at home.

Vocabulary

opportunistic - taking advantage of opportunities as they arise
indulgence - the act of taking unrestrained pleasure in one's desire
aphrodisiacs - something that excites, especially sexual desires

While Bangkok is style-conscious, name-brand styling, Mercedes Benz driving, and cell-phone toting, even the most trendy and affluent come to my favorite place, the Chatuchak market for good deals. Over two thousand vendors come to the parade grounds in Chatachuk to display their goods. It takes two days to visit the market, which sells everything from spices and aphrodisiacs to clothes and lamp shades. Not to mention the delicious fish balls, chicken skewers and roast duck that you can sample for your dining pleasure throughout the day.

So, if shopping is what you're looking to do, Bangkok is the place. It is also the connecting stop to many of Thailand's gorgeous tropical islands. If you know someone who is visiting, advise them to read Bangkok 101 first. It will save them from hassle, heartache and frustration. For the Team and me, it will serve as a springboard into China! Can you believe it? We're heading into our final country - the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and Communism. Stay tuned as we bring it home!!! See you soon!

Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...jasminehamlett@bigfoot.com
 

Team - Fantasy Island? NOT! Leonardo DiCaprio and The Beach
Jasmine - The Oldest Profession, Alive and Not So Well in Modern Thailand
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Team - Missionaries: Making A Difference?

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