Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A fine day for a walk

Today’s long walk resulted in the sighting of two elephants, an Erawan statue, and a Harley shop, along with a short ride on a 100 cc motorcycle. Not a bad day.

I left the hotel and paid 24 Baht (65 cents) to board the subway system and ride a few miles to the Thailand Cultural Center where I headed back up to the heat of the Bangkok streets. I’ve mentioned before that I prefer to walk when I can for a variety of reasons. This walk however tested that resolve. Adding to the heat of the equatorial latitude, the uncertainty of my destination and the difficulty of validating my progress began to wear on me after about an hour of trekking. The total trip was four hours including a one hour lunch.

A note about Bangkok maps…. There are so many streets in Bangkok, there is no way to make an accurate map that can be both carried, and read.

A note about Bangkok street signs…. Hmmmmm a picture is worth how much?

If you are lucky you’ll find a sign with English spelling for the street name. It might say something like Rachada Phisek, or Ratchadapisek. Either spelling is “same same” here because both are wrong so it doesn’t matter how wrong, really. But if you are looking for a two word sign, a one word sign may just slip past your radar as your overloaded senses scan for anything recognizable.

More often than not, you will find road signs like the ones shown here. Note that not only can you not read what is there, but the assumption is that you only need to know the cross street. Only an imbecile (or Farang) would not know the name of the street on which he is walking. I rarely knew.

No matter how you have decided to pronounce those street names in the comfort of your home, or the sweltering streets of Bangkok, you will not be understood, by a Thai. No less than three times, I stopped to check my progress and asked a Thai “Rhachada Pisek?” while pointing in what I thought to be the most probable direction. In each case the very friendly Thai would look puzzled and after a while he would say “Where you go?” I repeated “Rachada Pisek” and he again looked puzzled. After a while, he’d say “Rachada Pisek?” in as near as I could tell, exactly the same way that I said it. After confirmation, he happily pointed in the direction I expected while speaking to his friend in Thai. Invariably, an argument between the two Thais ensued while they debated what must have been the various ways to reach Rachada Pisek road. Finally after a couple of minutes they would pronounce together “You hire motorcycle.” Each time save one, I proceeded on foot, in my “best guess” direction.

The one time that I did not proceed is worth mentioning because I happened to approach three auto mechanics in their shop. The shop is most closely described as a stall, sort of like the stalls at the flea markets around Houston. But the guys were very anxious to help. They talked for minutes to try and determine where I wanted to go. They looked at all three of my maps and finally one of them went over to a 100cc motorcycle and cranked it up. He motioned for me to get on and we headed out… into oncoming traffic. Motorcycle cabs are all over Bankok and they are great (I’m told) for getting from one end of a lane to another, trips of a mile or two. But this wasn’t a cab, it was just the guy’s commuter vehicle and he was taking me where I wanted to go. Well, he would’ve if he had known where to go. It turns out that we were less than a quarter mile from my destination, but none of the mechanics knew where it was. It was a Harley shop, near an embassy. Hmmmm how low profile are the HD shops around here anyway? For that matter, how low profile are the embassies?

My new friend stopped and asked directions twice, made two u-turns (into oncoming traffic) and finally got me to Power Station Motor Sports (whew.) I was convinced that I was on a taxi at that time, so I hopped off and offered to pay the guy. He waved me off in true biker fashion and sped off (sort of) on his way back to work.

Is it hard to get around Bangkok? Only if you care where you go. Is it fun? Yup.

By the way, if you want something better than a hamburger, ask for prawn fried rice.

They will also bring you a cup of this sauce. Be VERY careful in trying the sauce.

This will be my last post from Bangkok for awhile. We head home tomorrow morning. But stay tuned, we’ll be back here no later than October and I’ll resume my struggles in Asia.


No comments: