Hey there! It's been a while. Not that I've been lazy! At least, no more than usual. No, it's because I was in the Himalayas without a PC. Yeah, I know I said I'd put up a "gone fishin'" interlude post but...that never happened. (*Cough.*) If you're wondering about my Everest Base Camp blog/podcast "spectacular" (and I don't use those quotation marks lightly), that'll be up shortly; the audio (all 7+[!] hours of it) is all uploaded online; I just need to get the post organized. And once it's up, this entire paragraph will be rendered obsolete!
Speaking about obsolescence, how about me? Hey, remember that I was in Singapore? Of course not, because that just happened. I was planning on writing from Singapore (being, like Hong Kong, one of those places that just needs a single name, no "City, Country" format required), but as I'll explain in a bit more detail later, I have three options of things to do on this trip - planning to do things, doing things, and reviewing things I've done (either by writing or sorting through photos). My time in Singapore was mainly spent on the first two. But why take my word for it? Let's get into the haps for what happened since I left Kathmandu!
First off, the flight from Kathmandu to the quick layover in Kuala Lumpur was not what I was expecting. Ash - one of the people from the Everest Base Camp trek, who was on his way back to Melbourne - had told me that his flight over had been on a small plane, one so small that it would not even be able to accommodate my luggage in the overhead bin. As such, I figured I couldn't really do much but surrender my larger bag at the airport. But, lo and behold, it was in fact a pretty large plane, with more space than necessary. In fact, the overhead compartment above me was only half-filled when we took off. I crinkled my nose at the thought that now I had to wait at the airport to pick up my bag, but the deed was done, so there was no going back. The flight itself was fine; I spent the first portion of it trying to find something to watch in the entertainment system (I started off with The Illusionist, then realized about two minutes in that I'd seen it before - not a good sign that I'd completely forgotten it, and then watched a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter movie called, I think, Dark Shadows. It was...fine. I'd never pay money for it, but for something to pass the time while eating my in-flight meal, it fit the bill), and then spent a somewhat larger portion taking a nap, which I needed more than I probably realized. Before I realized it, I was in Kuala Lumpur.
After getting out of the gate, I immediately lost sight of Ash (who was half-a-plane ahead of me). He had mentioned that he didn't really like people, and he was a bit dour at times (and I say that as someone who liked the guy), but I thought maybe he'd wait to say a quick goodbye. Nope, no such luck. C'est la vie. I made my way through the airport (which was way nicer than I was expecting, much like the airline - I don't know, maybe I have been mixing up Malaysia with some other country?), and found my gate. After a fairly short wait (20 minutes, perhaps), we began boarding, and damn, for a 55-minute flight, the plane was enormous. It was one of those 65-row jobs, each with eight or so seats. I guess Singapore airlines mostly does international travel (because it sure can't do domestic), and so really has no room for small planes on their fleet. But either way, a 55-minute flight is still a 55-minute flight; you got a single drink, and they didn't even bother to pass out the proprietary headphones needed to use the in-flight entertainment. I just spent the time reading more of Cat's Cradle until we landed.
Upon getting to the Singapore airport, I rushed. Lord, did I rush. I wanted to make sure I arrived at the baggage carousel before it started moving. Call me paranoid - I would - but the fact that there's so little oversight about what bags you pick up just makes me nervous about strangers eyeing my stuff. Also, it was already 9:30; I wanted to eat and get to the hostel as early as possible. So, I went through immigration quickly and got to the carousel, where I stood about seven feet from the opening port. Literally, I would be the first person to see and react to any bag coming through. And come through, they did. The first two were a large pink bag and a broken white plastic one. There were then some other, less memorable ones. I waited some time, and saw the pink one and broken one come through. It really made me wish to some nonexistent airport god that these carousels knew who arrived to them, and passed out luggage accordingly (really, the whole system could use a makeover). More luggage came out. None of it mine. I began getting impatient. The pink bag went around nine times before finally getting picked up, and I still hadn't gotten my bag. About four big loads came through. I began getting worried. Looking around, the crowd thinned, and so did the incoming line of bags. Having waited more than 40 minutes, I became disheartened when I saw an official-looking lady in a red suit walking towards me. As I was expecting/dreading, she asked for my bag ticket, which I showed her. She then took me to their lost articles office.
Seriously, I've been on this trip for more than six months. This is the first time I've checked my large bag. First time, and it gets lost. I felt...well, sort of validated, actually. Not just of my not-checking-bags philosophy, but also of the fact that the most valuable things (camera, phone, computer) are always on my person for flights.
Anyway, the running theory at the time (and I have no reason to question it at this point) is that the issue was caused by the fact that, in Kuala Lumpur, I changed airlines as well as planes, and they only had an hour-and-a-half to make the switch, so it never made it. Thankfully, Kuala Lumpur is just a hop-skip-and-jump from Singapore, so when they found it (no "if" here), it would be delivered speedily. The lost article employee was also quite accommodating, giving me S$120 (about US$96) cash for any immediate needs, as well as a small bag containing some "essentials" including some toiletries, a comb, a size-XL plain white t-shirt (I was half hoping it would have some design, even just a Singapore Airlines logo), and some other odds and ends. They also said they'd hand-deliver the bag to my hostel when they got it. Honestly, if I got everything within a reasonable period, I'd make out, marginally. Not that I felt the trouble was worth the hundred bucks and small shampoo bottle, but hey, gotta think positive, amirite?
Anyway, after leaving the office, I decided to get something to eat for dinner. As it turned out, there was a McDonald's right there. Bam, I could continue My Disgusting Quest™ then and there. My local dishes for this place were a Teppanyaki Chicken Sandwich and a Matcha (green tea) McFlurry. To be perfectly honest, both of them were pretty darn decent. I'd actually say it was the best McDonald's meal I've had on the trip thus far. Plus, in addition to ketchup (which you pumped into these really shallow cups/plates), you could also get chili sauce as a condiment, which should be a thing in all fast food places. After finishing with that, I tried to get my bearings, and walked over to where the MRT (metro) was. I could get on to get to the Chinatown stop, where my hostel was.
Wait, no. I had to pay for the ticket in cash only. That's okay; I was just given some cash.
Wait, no. The largest bill the machine accepted was S$5, and I just had 10's and 50's. That's okay; I'll just ask one of the employees.
Wait, no. The metro desk closed down four minutes ago. That's okay; I'll go back up and ask one of the bank kiosks to exchange the cash.
Wait, no. The last train from here leaves at 11:06, only two minutes. That's...huh. I admitted defeat at this point, mainly because even if I could exchange the cash and get the ticket in time, there was no guarantee that there'd be any connecting trains still running when I needed. So, I went back up to the arrivals floor, worried that the majority of my newfound cash would go to a taxi. Thankfully, the information desk was open, and said that for S$9, I could just take one of the public shuttle buses. I liked the sound of this, so did that, but not before also buying a new SIM card (which I guess is going to be my modus operandi from here on out?), which was unlimited data for five days. It's like they made it just for my trip!
Being late at night, there was only one other group on the shuttle, so I was at the Rucksack Inn by 11:45. Along the way, I appreciated what I could - the city did seem as clean as it's famous for being, and all the taxis made it very clear if they were available to hire with little electronic signs. But I was probably too tired - exhausted, really - to appreciate anything. Thankfully, the folks at the Rucksack Inn were pretty kind. And the place, for being a hostel, was very neat and tidy (that's one part of Singaporean culture I really like). Part of this was because you had to take your shoes off before entering. So I removed my boots, and we walked past a couple completely empty rooms, until they found mine. Of six beds, four were already filled, and while I completely understand their rationale, I could not help but look longingly at one of the empty rooms. Here's the thing about me and hostels. I have no problem staying in a hostel...when there's no cheap hotel available. Which, in some places, Singapore included, there's not. Others say they like hostels because, hey they meet new people. .......Eh. I meet people everywhere. I don't need to be stuffed into a bunk bed with them to start a conversation. I like having my own room. But the main thing is, when you share a room - or rather, when I share a room - I can never get over the feeling that I'm always bothering everyone else. Typing on my computer; reading with the light on; hell, just entering - it all seems like an invasion of their privacy. I realize I should probably get over these feelings, especially since I'll be doing a lot more hostel-staying in expensive Australia and New Zealand (unless I can arrange some CouchSurfing, though that's a lot harder to organize when you're on the road), but anyway, that's just my two cents. In any case, the folks I felt I was bothering here was a pair of German girls. I considered taking a shower, but realized that my towel was in my big bag, and unless I wanted to dry myself with that white t-shirt, I'd just have to forgo the night (which, after Kili and especially after the Everest Base Camp trek, I had no substantive qualms doing). So, I just went to bed.
Now, one thing I didn't realize about my hostel room until I woke up was that there were no windows in there. It made sense - it was an internal room - but it really made me realize how much I took for granted the fact that rooms usually have windows, even if you leave them covered. Because when I woke up, I had no semblance of time whatsoever. It could have been midnight, noon, or 5am. The fact that everyone else was sleeping didn't help the situation. Upon checking my phone, I saw that it was 10am, so I got up and had some breakfast. "Breakfast" here being a very simple toast setup; a couple bags of bread over the fridge, some butter, peanut butter, and jam on the counter, and a jar full of tea packets to drink. Not going to win any awards, but eh, it fed me. I then got some of my things together and walked out at 10:30, but not before being told by the front desk that the airport had found my backpack, and were going to deliver it within a couple hours. So that was good news!
I didn't have to go far to find my first little place to visit, which was the...let me try to get this right...Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I guess there's a relic there from the Buddha, likely of his tooth. I went in, genuinely surprised that I didn't have to take my shoes off, and was able to walk around the edge of the main part of the temple. There was a prayer service in session, which I watched for a short while, a bit vexed when people took photos. Well, that's not entirely accurate; I don't really mind people taking photos. It's flash photography that bugs me. But anyway, I went out, grabbed a couple little free books (with enticing titles like The Meaning of Life and The Secret to Happiness), which I thought would make for enjoyable quick reads back at the hostel during some down time. (I'll just skip to that right now - they were Buddhist philosophy [obviously], but didn't say anything I didn't already know. To put it another way: I know that freedom from desire is how you end your own suffering. Just like everyone knows that following the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule is probably for the best. Reading about it, though, doesn't inspire to follow said philosophies any more than before I began reading. Long story short, I didn't really get too far in either book.) I then saw that there was a museum on one of the upper floors of the temple, so I went up. Filled with Buddha statues of all shapes, sizes, and origins, it was actually a fascinating place. There was an IKEA-like path to follow, and as you did, there were short narratives about the life story Buddha and the "future" Buddha, in the voice of Buddha himself. It's been years since I've learned the history of the religion, and I thought it was very well-told, and meshed well with the artwork. There was also a section where portions of the Buddha's 14,000 (I think) relics were contained. They were small colored globules in glass containers. I was a bit iffy on some of them (the bluish-green "brain relics" in particular), but it was nice regardless. Finally, there was this bronze statue from Taiwan of the Zizai Guanyin ("Fearless Avalokitesvara"), which looked particularly awesome, and I want something similar for my future home. You'd have to see the picture (when I eventually post it) to understand.
After leaving the museum, I walked around Chinatown, mainly the quote-unquote "backstreets" where the little hawkers markets were. Plenty of crap to be bought, from cheap crap (Angry Birds-themed training chopsticks) to expensive crap (jade wax seal stamps, ready for carving). In some ways, it felt like a lot of the other places I'd been to, particularly in touristy parts of China (for obvious reasons), but oddly enough, I found myself smiling. Maybe it's because the air was actually breathable here, the water drinkable. Or maybe it's because the hawkers weren't too pushy, only giving a price when I picked something up. I dunno, but I actually kind of enjoyed just strolling around, seeing the random Tintin shop and an example of the world's largest currency mixed in with all of these little stands. There was one old Chinese tailor who tried to get my attention with "Hey, where are you from?", but I just responded with the soles of my shoes. Besides, I was looking for somewhere to eat. My TripAdvisor app had noted a good dim sum place in the area, but after 15 minutes without finding it, I decided to try a different place, which was a little less than a mile downtown. It was called Ya Kun Kaya Toast. Not that I paid any attention to the name - I just saw that it was cheap, well-rated, and fairly close. When I arrived, I also saw that it was busy; I couldn't even find an open table. Ah, but this isn't America! Before long, someone came out, and asked me if I was alone. I said yes, and she led me to a table where two guys were in the middle of eating their own meal. I sat, and before I could get my bearings, an old man came up, handed me a menu, and asked what I wanted. I tried looking at the menu, but he pointed at an item and said something - I don't even remember what. I just said, "Sure." Before long, out come an iced tea, a couple poached eggs, and a plate of toast. I start drizzling some soy sauce on the eggs (the old man handed me the soy sauce; it was the only thing that made sense to put it on), when another lady came to me and said some numbers. In the din of the restaurant, I could barely hear, but I assumed it was the price, so I handed her a S$10 note, and got what was most likely correct change back, making the meal S$4.70. It was quite good, especially at that price. The iced tea was refreshing, the poached eggs and soy sauce worked well together, and the toast (I guess I should have figured toast would have played heavily into their repertoire) had a delicious mix of butter and brown sugar. Probably not for dieters, but it was definitely good, and surprisingly filling. After finishing, I got up, walked outside, and immediately said aloud, "I have no idea what just happened."
After continuing to walk around the immediate area (where I saw a bona-fide food court, including a Mexican place - more on that in a bit), I decided to walk down to Marina Bay, which is one of the major attraction areas in Singapore. It was not a long walk, but it kind of seemed as though it was, because of how humid it was. It didn't surprise me at all to find out that Singapore was within one degree of the equator. Like, I think, most Californians, I don't mind heat, but that's mainly dry heat. When it gets humid, all bets are off. I probably don't need to explain it; you all know how it goes. You get hot when you're moving, and when you stop moving, you get sweaty. Really sweaty. But this is not a blog about my sweat, so I'll leave it at that for now. Once at the marina, I walked around a bit, and saw their local Esplanade/Theatre. It looked like they were just ending a series of dance performance art shows, so I took a program, thinking that maybe I'd come back later to see one. But failing that, I decided to just sit for ten minutes and watch a rehearsal for one of those shows, which was just going on in the lobby. After that, I walked through one of the many, many malls in the city (which Singaporeans love as an extension of loving both shopping and climate control), but saw nothing that even remotely interested me, so walked back out to the waterfront, which I walked around. I saw a couple of the sites, including a big "fork" hotel (in that it was three towers sharing an extended roof) and a large statue of the merlion, which is apparently the city's symbol. I briefly went into an art/science museum, where I could have seen exhibits about mummies and National Geographic photos, but I figured, eh, I've seen both of those things before. What I've never seen before, though, was "Tiger Street Football", which was just a short walk down from the museum. This was a "street soccer" match inside a cage, much smaller than a normal field, and much faster. In fact, an entire match only lasted 14 minutes, so I decided to watch a full one. It was a professional street soccer team vs. "one of the best" local teams ("The Braindeads"), and unsurprisingly, the professional team wiped the floor. As it turned out, this was an entire tournament, with dozens of matches to go, but I wasn't really that invested, so I got a drink at a local Starbucks (where they refused my Starbucks card on account of it not being a Singaporean one), and continued on.
I saw somewhere that there was a botanical garden in Singapore, including a National Orchid Garden, so I got to one of the metro stations and got a ticket to go said gardens. As it was, there were actually about a dozen different gardens located within the whole of the botanical garden, so I kind of floated from one point to another on my way to the orchid section. Some were interesting (the rain forest section in particular, despite the weather being even more humid under the trees), some less so (namely, the bougainvillea section, though that may be a bit unfair, as I personally just associate bougainvillea with my grandma's backyard). The National Orchid Garden, though, was significantly better-maintained that the rest of the gardens, and well worth the S$5 entry fee. It's a good thing I got a new appreciation of flower photography in South Africa, because I put it to good use here.
Once finished with that, I took the metro back to Chinatown (worried about sitting down, as my quick-drying pants show moisture like nobody's business, and when you've been walking in the humidity and building a sweat...), and then hoofed it back to that food court that I'd seen earlier in the day. While there were a wide variety of all sorts of cuisines, I made a beeline for the Mexican place. See, on the last day of the EBC trek, one of my fellow trekkers asked me, "If you could just have any food right now, what would your fantasy food be?" For others, there were dreams of fried-egg-and-beetroot burgers, or beef brisket, but I just said, "Nachos." And sure enough, this place sold nachos, so I had to make good on my wishes. Now, there were no Mexicans working in the kitchen, so I had to temper my expectations, but the end result was decent, if a bit pricy (the base price for nachos was S$15, which can get you a lot of nachos in California; oh, and drink prices here are also really high, no matter what means you get them through). Could have used some more cheese, and maybe some jalapeños, but it more or less scratched the itch. Afterwards, I went back to the Rucksack Inn, where I spoke with this British couple who were the roommates I hadn't met yet (as they came in after I fell asleep, and I left before they woke up). They were nice enough, and apparently just beginning their travels, which will last for six months and cover almost the same places I will in the second half of my trip. Who knows, maybe I'll see them down the line? (Didn't bother getting their info, though, so probably not.) I then took out my laptop, went to the common area, grabbed a cup of tea, and marveled at how fast Singaporean Wi-Fi was. For perspective - the Radisson in Kathmandu had free Wi-Fi. You could then pay $15 for high-speed Wi-Fi (which I did) and this was supposed to be five times faster than the free stuff (and I think it was). The free Wi-Fi in this lowly hostel? Ten times faster than that. I took full advantage of this, doing all the downloading I felt needed doing to keep myself and my computer up to date. I also used the time to prep and convert my EBC podcast audio (and when you're talking 7 hours, conversion can take a while). Halfway through, I thought I heard thunder through my music. I took out my ear buds and looked out the window, and sure enough, without my realizing it, a huge thunderstorm had begun. The heavy sheets of rain were briefly illuminated by flashes of white light, as people scurried to fro on the street outside. I sipped my warm tea like a smug jackass.
When my computer battery was just about done, I brought my laptop into my room and found out that the Wi-Fi still worked great. So, I continued what I was doing when a new guy came in to fill in one of the beds vacated by those German girls. He was a rotund, middle-aged Indonesian man, apparently staying here because his Singaporean friend kicked him out of the house so that his parents could visit. Also, he likes hostels because he likes meeting people. (I think that will be one of those phrases that just turns me off by the end of this trip.) He exchanged some pleasantries with the British couple and myself, and I felt I wouldn't mind him. But then he went to bed. My. God. I have never heard a human being - or any living thing for that matter - snore as loudly as this man. When I finally went to bed that night, I had to put in my ear buds, put on some music, and turn the volume up most of the way. And even then, I could still hear him. I won't fault him for it, but with all my "I-hate-bothering-roommates" talk, I at least know I sleep like an angel.
I woke up the next morning at 9am, 10am? (It all blurs together in that dark room.) Either way, I had a quick, smaller breakfast and went to the metro at 10:30 to meet up with Karl, a friend of mine from Capcom. Well, that's kind of the irony, I guess. He worked in the London office, and then transferred over to the US office, where I got to know him quite well. Then I left on my trip, and sometime later, he resigned (I think anticipating the layoffs a-comin') and began working for Rockstar's Asian branch, based in Singapore. Truth be told, him being in Singapore was really the reason I came, if only for the novelty of two former employees (I consider myself "former" at this point, because I'm not confident they can take me back when I return) from different countries meeting up in a completely different country. Anyway, we met up with each other, and promptly grabbed another metro to one of his preferred dining spots, where we could grab some brunch. It was a place in this mall - Karl was really the one to open my eyes at how there are literally malls every other street corner - that served breakfasts of all different nationalities. He got an English breakfast, natch, whilst I mixed things up with a Spanish hash meal. Pricy, again, but quite good. While eating, we had a bit of a discussion, primarily focusing on some of my exploits, in particular the EBC trip. (In fact, he may know more about it than you do at this point...unless you're reading this after I've posted the podcast, and you've already listened to the podcast. Then you probably know more.) He also gave me his thoughts on Singapore. See, when I look at Singapore, I see an Asian city that, as I put it, "has its act together". Things are clean, there's a good metro system, it's safe, and there's a focus on making sure everything progresses. But he countered by saying that it's really a soulless city. There's not much in the way of natural culture - it's all either borrowed or fabricated (literally fabricated, like the man-made island). When I told him about the places that I'd been to, he said that I had pretty much done all the main things you could do as a tourist. There wasn't much to recommend there if you were just being a visitor. It's not made for visitors, per se, nor is it made for natives. It's made for Western ex-pats, with all the comforts of home.
I totally understood what he was getting at. So I'll put it this way about Singapore - of all Asian cities I've visited, Singapore is, by far, the one I would most want to live in. It's okay to visit, but it's meant to be lived in.
Except the weather's kind of iffy, as we discovered when we exited brunch and the mall and found that it was pouring rain outside. This made it abundantly clear why all the buildings here have large overhangs. We waited under one such overhang until the rain was reduced to a lesser trickle, and then walked along, continuing to talk. When it seemed as though maybe possibly it could start raining again, we stopped at a Starbucks to get a drink. We sat, and this time our conversation steered more towards video games. We talked about the current state of Capcom (not great), the current state of Rockstar (which, having Grand Theft Auto V being declared the biggest entertainment launch in history, is faring a bit better than Capcom), as well as some of the general gaming news, which he's been able to keep up with much better than I have. After having spoken with person after person on this trip who treated my calling myself a video game marketer with anything from benign interest to forced tolerance, being able to have an informed discussion about gaming felt good, man.
Before I let him go, I forced Karl to take me to a frozen yogurt stand, as I knew he likes froyo nearly as much as I do. (And I should note, this all occurred over five or six hours; we weren't just constantly stuffing our faces). The place we went to wasn't self-serve, but I gave it a pass this once, mainly because I was tickled at the fact that they called sprinkles "color rice". We had our yogurt, took a picture for old times' sake, and parted ways on the metro, him to go back home to call his sister and wish her a happy birthday, me to just go back and chill out for a while at the Rucksack in. And chill out I did, up until dinnertime. I decided to go somewhere in Chinatown. I could have gone back to that food court area, but I felt that I had some sort of obligation to eat local. Unfortunately, in Chinatown, eating local means eating Chinese, and I still hadn't gotten over all the Chinese I ate in China. But along my meandering, I saw a sign for "Tak Po", which I remembered was the dim sum place that I was thinking of having lunch in the day before but couldn't find. So, I sat down, and looked at the menu. Most of the dim sum items seemed fine, but when you got into the clay-pot meals, that's when you got some oddities, like century eggs, and frogs, and chicken's fe-
"Y'know what," I said quietly, to nobody in particular, "screw it, I'm ordering frog." Fried frog with dried chili, to be exact. I also got some rice to serve it on, a trio of fried shrimp dumplings, and two drinks (an aloe vera juice and a Diet Coke); I figured there would be need to wash stuff down. After I finished the shrimp dumplings, a bowl of rice was placed in front of me, followed by a clay pot, filled with some veggies, a thick brown sauce, and...frog pieces. I don't really know what I was expecting, but there were six skinned body parts of what was most likely all the same frog. Two legs, two arms, a torso, and I think the top half of its head. As mentioned, no skin, but it was all still on the bone. After prepping myself with some veggies and sauce on the rice, I delicately look one of the legs in my chopsticks, and ate off the meat. It was light and soft, and had that salty aquatic animal taste. But more than anything, it just seemed...off. Somewhat wrong. That's probably just my Western bias pooh-poohing a foreign dish, and I'm sure I'd happily eat it if I were starving, I can't really give it a recommendation. I mean...chicken. Just eat chicken. It's heartier, tastier, and feels right. But hey, now I can say that I've eaten frog.
Except the head. I just set the head aside.
Afterward, I went back to the hostel, and spent the remainder of my night (we're talking hours here) doing some more of my New Zealand planning. Namely, because I'm within a four-month window, I can actually book all of the bus trips that are taking me from here to there and everywhere in between on the two islands. I also booked a couple of the activities that I'd be doing (I stupidly sent an email to the company asking why my trips didn't count towards some of the activities like it said in their brochure. It was pointed out that the brochure I'd been using this entire time was for a different company. I quite literally hung my head in shame for a few seconds), as well as a couple more hostels. Not totally set, but almost there. Having figured out a general schedule, I then looked at flights from Auckland to Argentina. While the price had increased a little bit from when I had previously checked (from about $1150 to $1300), it was probably not going to get any lower, so I looked at booking. As it happed, the lowest price was for Emirates, which I consider good; I like flying Emirates. However, unlike the way you'd think you'd fly from Auckland to Buenos Aires - like, you know, Auckland to Buenos Aires - it goes in the other direction. Auckland to Dubai to Buenos Aires. 41 hours total.
And you know what? I'm doing it.
Yes, that makes me completely nuts. But at least I'll be comfortable on every hour of that flight. And part of me really wants to beat that 26-hour flight from LA to Moscow to Madrid, which this blows out of the water. Also, and hear me out here, I'm saving a few hundred dollars on this flight, as well as the accommodation cost that I'd be spending if I arrived earlier. Really, the only downside that I can't talk myself out of is the fact that I won't be crossing the International Date Line, which, in 26 years (three of which were working at a Japan-based company), I've never been able to do. Oh, but wait, the Emirates website is still not playing nice with my credit card. I copied the flight information and decided to save it for the next day. I went to bed, trying to pretend the Indonesian snoring was just a gentle sea breeze.
Now, Sunday. I have to say, when Karl told me that I had seen the best stuff that Singapore had to offer tourists, I was actually quite relieved. Because, as I mentioned at the beginning, on this trip, I have three states of being:
- Planning to Do
- Reviewing What I've Done
And all three are important. But you can't do any two simultaneously. So when I found out that I didn't have to do anything on Sunday, I knew I could focus on the other two. Upon giving it a bit of thought, though, it became clear that to best utilize the good Wi-Fi I had, I had to plan. All the things that constitute review, be it sorting through and filtering photos, or even writing this blog entry, could conceivably be done offline, which may be the case when I'm, say, on a train to Kuala Lumpur (note, that's where I'm writing this right now). So, planning it is. And I knew I had no choice but to plan for Australia, because I had an entry point/date, an exit point/date and absolutely nothing else. I needed a mid-trip location, some flights, general tour plans, etc. So, I started that process.
And Christ almighty, it was not an easy process. See, Australia's expensive. In Sydney, the cheapest hostel - hostel - is $35 a day. My favorite hotel in Morocco was half that price. Flights are expensive, bus trips - if they have service between two points of interest - are expensive, and trains are expensive (and can take a week). Planned tours and packages are also expensive. Basically, when you have to pony up more cash, you tend to be less willing to commit. And so my planning for four, five hours Sunday morning was just me opening tabs and saying, "Man, that's expensive. What if I...man, that's expensive, too." Also, this lasted until noon, maybe noon thirty, because even after having breakfast, it seemed like midnight when I went back into the dark, windowless room. I was hoping to turn the light on, but the two Brits slept until well past noon (lightweights; I went to bed an hour after them and woke up five hours before). So there I was, tap-tapping in the dark, until I came to a realization.
I need my train ticket.
I looked at my confirmation email, which said I had to pay in cash at the train station, and had to pick up the ticket by 7:30 the morning of, or any time before. I figured I might as well just go now, get some lunch, and grab the ticket to save myself an hour the next morning. Man, I underestimated how good an idea that was. You see, I was under the impression that the metro station and the train station were linked, or at the very least near each other. It made sense to me; after all, other trains/metros had similar relationships. But after standing on the crowded metro for 50 minutes, I wandered around the station, baffled. Where were the mainline trains? I eventually went to the ticket office and asked if they had what I was looking for. They just wrote down on a slip of paper where I really wanted to go, which required me to take a bus, as it wasn't even within walking distance. I thanked her, grabbed a quick lunch (where my cat-like reflexes failed me, and I spilled a drink on the floor; thankfully, they eschewed their no-refills policy for the occasion), and then went on the bus. I think I may have gotten on the bus at the wrong side of the street, because we actually returned to the metro station before getting to the Train Checkpoint (it's less a loop and more a Mobius strip). The bus ride took an additional half-hour, which I would have never accounted for if I had just decided to get the ticket Monday morning. So I got the ticket, which was good, but I got a good sense of how much time I needed to commute (an hour and a half), which was even more valuable. Always double check your plans, kids, especially when commuting is involved!
Anyway, I took the long trip back to the hostel where I basically got back to planning. Again, it was mostly for Australia, but at one point, I just got sick of Australia, so I looked at the end of my trip, when I was done with South America. I have been saying to people that if I have time/money left (meaning, if I fully extend to 13 months), I would visit Costa Rica before coming back to the US. So, I looked up some things to do in a few different Costa Rican cities, and I came to the conclusion that, I'm probably going to be kinda tired of traveling by that time, so another beach, another forest, another volcano probably isn't going to excite me all that much. So, then and there, I officially nixed Costa Rica from the itinerary. I'm gonna be flying straight from Quito (probably) to the US, most likely the United airlines (as theirs was the cheapest flight that didn't have a long layover in Mexico City, but rather, Houston). The only question is when; the date I used in the search was April 15, so give or take two weeks on that, and you probably have my ending period.
After a quick dinner (no frog this time, just a simple sandwich), I got back to the room to find a leggy German girl had replaced the Indonesian man. She said that she and her friend had just come from Bangkok, where it was fairly rainy (ruh roh!), and we talked for a bit, when she said that she and her friend were going out to watch the fire walking for the Hindu festival that was happening nearby. (Oh, did I mention it's a Hindu festival at the moment? I did...in my EBC podcast.) She asked if I would like to join her and her friend for the evening. I said thanks, I normally would be interested, but I still had some stuff to do. When she left, I laughed, because I realized that it is these kind of moments when somebody would come up to me and say that I "blew it" (which has happened before). I guess it goes to show how out of touch I am with the always-tryin'-to-get-some culture. But truth be told, I did have other things to do. First of which (and I addressed this after also politely refusing to go out drinking with a traveling New Yorker [a polite one] who had also moved into the room) was to call up Emirates and try to book my flight over the phone (by which I mean Skype). It was not nearly as efficient as online booking (in fact, the whole process took 35 minutes), but hey, my credit card was accepted, and the flight booked, so I'm not gonna complain.
I took a quick break to start my packing, which I had not done since receiving my backpack and turning most of my clothes in for laundry (though I must say, I liked the hostel's policy of charging a flat rate for a bundle, rather than charging per item). So I rolled up everything, put it away, and removed stuff that I didn't need anymore, including the little bag of sorry-we-lost-your-bag goodies I was given. These I gave to the other folks in the room, to whom I assured this was not philanthropic generosity, but rather opportunistic handovers. I also stumbled across the little Ziploc bag in which I would put Factoria the Travel Monkey, which I thought I had lost. I was actually really relieved to find this, because the original tag for the monkey had fallen off on the EBC trek, and I put it in the bag to reattach later, when I had some tape. I was afraid that the cleaning folks had thrown the bag, along with the tag, away. I was seriously getting ready to send a letter to my sister to apologize for losing the tag. That's how attached I've gotten to this damn travel monkey. So finding it tucked away made my day.
After a quick shower (which I must have done at rush hour, because it was below-room-temperature cold), I packed up the last of my things, and finally bit the bullet and confirmed some bookings for Australia. Just a couple: two flights - one from Sydney to Alice Springs and one from Alice Springs to Cairns, and a Red Centre (Ayer's Rock) camping trip. Just those three items alone cost over a thousand bucks, so it was no small decision, but I'm glad I did it, so now I have dates and can start firming things up. Then, at 1am, I decided it was time for me to get to bed.
I had asked one of the hostel employees to wake me up at 6am (I didn't want to use my alarm because, again, bothering people), but ended up not needing that, as I woke up of my own biological clock at about 5:45. I packed the last of my things, made sure I wasn't leaving anything behind, and left the room. A quick breakfast and I was out the door by 6:20. I got onto the metro, and took the long ride to the Woodlands station. When I arrived there, I checked how much cash I had left. I had meticulously planned my cash usage starting the day before. I didn't want to have to bother with exchanging; I wanted mostly everything spent before I left the country. The less I had, the better. I even set aside in different pockets my metro payment coins, my bus payment coins, and my leftover money. Before getting on the bus, I went to the station Starbucks. I checked my leftover pocket. One two-dollar bill, a one-dollar coin, and a ten-cent piece. Of all the things on the menu, I could get a cinnamon raisin bagel for S$3.10. Perfect. I ordered a drink (paid with credit card), but then saw some bananas, which were a dollar a piece, and I knew were probably the better option for the long train ride ahead. So I changed my mind, got two bananas, and headed out. I'd be leaving Singapore with S$1.10. At least both coins were brand new and shiny - hopefully my nephews will like them.
I hopped on a bus, and got to the train station at 7:50, ten minutes before they started boarding. At 8am, the doors opened, and I quickly sped through the Singaporean/Malaysian immigrations checkpoint, and I must say, I still smile a bit every time I see my passport get stamped; that thing is growing more charming with each new country I visit (except for the page where Hong Kong's cheaply-stapled pass is). I then walked out to the cars, and found that there was only one first-class seater car, in the front. As the first one in, I took a second to appreciate that, yeah, it actually wasn't too bad. I had a seat all to myself, and there was even an outlet next to the seat. Unfortunately, someone had broken a pin inside one of the socket holes in my outlet, but I was able to use the outlet just behind me (and the person hasn't complained, so good on them). Were it on time, it would be a seven-or-so-hour train ride. I spent the vast majority of the time writing the bulk of this blog entry, occasionally looking to my left - out at the green, green treescape that I had envisioned when I thought of Malaysia - and to my right - to a portly old British man across the aisle who is playing some sort of Age of Empires-like game that I can't quite figure out. As far as non-European train rides have been, it was the smoothest one so far.
The arrival in Kuala Lumpur, though, was a bit unexpected. I was just filtering through photos, and all of a sudden, we were there. I hurried to close up my laptop and gather all my things. Some guy walked up to my seat - whilst I was grabbing all my stuff, mind you - and asked, "Hey, you leaving bro?" When I nodded, he smirked and said, "Good." Yes, I realize it was his seat from thereon out, but still, I thought the smugness was undue. In any case, I got off the train, and went into the Kuala Lumpur Sentral [sic] station. The place was a bit disorienting at first. There were metro trains, intercity trains, and some other variety of train. And they all had separate ticket booths, and none of them were in the same place, and the tickets for the intercity trains didn't have very good signage, and long story short, I was just wandering around the place for twenty minutes before I saw some guy in a uniform (probably on his break judging by the fact that he was getting a drink out of a vending machine) and asked him where I should be going. He pointed me to this area way in the corner, completely out of the way and not marked at all. I went over and got a queue ticket. 4015. And they were currently servicing 3954, 3955, and 3956. Hoo boy. I sat down, reconnected my two backpack components, and prepared to wait. 3957. 3958. 4015. Oh. Well, that was a big gap. I went up and got my ticket, which I later found out turned out to be less than $20 for a sleeper (even if it is a second clas- er, excuse me, "Superior Sleeper"). Not too shabby. I then went to get some food, but when I tried to use my credit card, their reader wouldn't connect. I tried a different card, and that too didn't work. I begrudgingly went out and got RM20 ($6-7) from an ATM to pay. I went in the same line as I was in before, hoping that the lady would give me something extra for the inconvenience that her machine caused, as well as my own loyalty. However, whoever was before me was ordering some manner of feast, and so the other lines finished up first, prompting them to ask me to order from them. I did so, hoping to catch the one lady's eye. But I didn't, and I got nothing out of it. Walking around the station after eating, I realized that there was an even bigger variety of food options here than I initially realized, so my returning withdrawing cash was a wholly unnecessary exercise in the long run. And now I had extra cash in pocket. So, I decided I'd just buy a couple items with it, since I didn't think I got a meal on the train. I sat down at the station Starbucks to take full advantage of their halfway-decent Wi-Fi, and ended up booking the hotel that I'd be meeting my mom at in Bangkok, as well as looking into getting a Thai SIM card, and also checking out a few more details for Austra.......
Man, I can never stop, can I?
Anyway, partway through this, a couple girls came up to me, and dropped a card on my table. (Rereading that sentence, I can tell you think this is going somewhere wildly different than it is.) The gist of the card said, "We're part of the deaf and mute community, and we're selling some handmade trinkets for RM10 (like, $3)." They then held out a handful of little necklaces. I didn't know if this was a scam (well, not in the sense that I'd actually get something in return for my money, but in the sense that the deaf/mute thing may have been to tug on the heartstrings and get me to pay more than the necklaces were worth), but if it was a scam, I thought it was a clever one, one that I'm willing to approve of with a buck or so. But then, I think they actually were legit, and I wanted to help them even if I didn't have the price they were asking for. I gave them a RM5 note and waved away the necklaces, and they moved their hands from their mouths, which I have just confirmed is the international sign language gesture for "thank you", so either they were legit, or else it was a nice touch. In any case, I wish them well.
(As an aside, you might be wondering why my mind immediately jumped to "scam". It's not because I've become bitter, but rather, because scams have been on my mind as of late, as I've had a story idea bouncing around my head for a while about a guy who becomes, basically, a middleman for Satan, but I had no thoughts on how he could get into that position. After that jewelry scam in Kathmandu, I was thinking that next time something like that happens to me, I could counter by saying I'm also a "dealer" and "my employer" can give them whatever they want, with heavy implication that I'm working for the devil and trying to take their soul. Then I thought, "Hey, I could make this character do the same thing, and then gets recruited for the position." And I figured I could work in a general motif of scamming, so that's why it's been on the brain.)
When it got to about 8:30, I figured I should prep to leave. I decided to get some dinner to bring with me on the train, so first I used up the little cash I had left to buy a can of ice tea and a bottle of the most generic-looking root beer you've ever seen (I can't wait to get cheap, plentifully available bottled water again). I then decided that, for the first time in months, I was going to Eat Fresh™. There was a Subway in the station, so I ordered a footlong turkey sandwich, with more or less the same trimmings I was used to (no spinach, but they did oblige me in getting lots of jalapeños). It wasn't cheap ($7 with no extras), but hey, it was a nice, filling, and fairly nutritious sandwich. I got up to the register and...Cash only? At a Subway? I frowned and walked to a nearby ATM. I tried to take out as little as I could (which would still leave me with a bit of cash, unfortunately), but all I got was my card back. Grumbling, I went to another ATM, and again, my card got spit out, without cash and without explanation. I figured at that point that I was being given a sign that I should not have this Subway sandwich, so I decided to swallow my pride at being a jerk-who-has-food-made-and-walks-away and walk away. I tried going to other places to get some food, but this time I would ask "Do you accept Visa?" before ordering. Most said no. In fact, my only options were McDonalds and Burger King. I swear, I wish healthy food places would get into the plastic age. Seeing nothing at the McDonald's that looked distinctly Malaysian, I figured I'd skip this country, and just got some grilled chicken at the Burger King (which could have been mistaken for a KFC if you only looked at the right half of the menu.)
It was then time to board. I got down to the train, and found out that my car was on the far end. I passed by the compartment cars, passed by the seater cars, and was the first to mine. So, the "Superior Sleeper"/2nd class sleeper was just a full line of bunk-ish beds. There were no compartments, and no seats (though I guess you could take out the mattresses and fold the beds into seats). Each bed had a little window on one side, and a privacy curtain on the other. I got into my bed, watched others get into theirs, and immediately realized that this is, by far, my favorite train setup so far, at least as a solo traveler. The thing is, in a compartment, you are there with up to three other people. You're enclosed together, but you have no escape from those other people. I learned this very clearly on my Johannesburg-to-Cape Town trip with the crazy old man. I couldn't block him out, even when I tried to. And I had nobody else to turn to. In this setup, the entire car was one compartment, and you had dozens of other people you were sharing with. On the one hand, if you wanted to talk to people, you had many more options. On the other hand, with so many people, your individual "responsibility" to communicate is lessened, and your privacy curtain provides a natural barrier to close off everyone. In short, the setup allows you to be more social or less social, depending on your mindset. In shorter, I likes it.
I pretty much finished my food by the time we took off, and lay down, reading more of my book. All the while, the guy above me, er, next to me, er, across from me (he kept moving from place to place to place; when they took his ticket, they told him he had to stay in his own bunk) kept asking questions of people. He seemed like a nice enough fellow from Kazakhstan (I didn't make any Borat jokes), but this had to have been the first time he traveled. When I told him I was from California, he asked how many hours the flight was between California and Kuala Lumpur. I tried to explain that I was traveling for some time, but every time I mentioned a place, he asked how many hours it was from that place to a completely unrelated place that I hadn't been. He was also asking a Korean guy why he had difficulty pronouncing English words, ignoring his own thick accent. And on and on. Before long, I just felt like I wanted to sleep, so I set my book aside, pulled my curtain, put my feet on either side of my backpack and tried to sleep. Oh, what am I saying, tried. I slept great. There was the occasional wake up in the night when the train started or stopped, but for the most part, I slept like my usual self (and as of the EBC trip, I now have four separate people who all say I sleep like an angel).
I'm not really sure when I woke up. I didn't bother checking my phone. Actually, I did, but the time didn't catch my eye as much as the fact that the battery was going down, because I didn't shut down all my apps before going to sleep. So I promptly shut down my phone, and decided to have a breakfast of iced tea and a banana (Wheaties has got nothin' on this champion). I cracked open the can on iced tea, take a small sip, set it on the tray next to me, start digging through my backpack to look for the banana, and promptly knock over the can with my elbow, spilling most of the tea on myself and my bed. Two spilled drinks within three days - I really think I am a klutz. I then spent the next several minutes using my bed sheets to mop up the mess (and my camera wrist strap was especially, and confusingly, soaked). Thank got that privacy curtain was there, so nobody could see my shame. Once everything was dry...dry enough...I had my banana and continued reading until we were called out for the border crossing.
They told me I could leave my luggage in the train, so I took just my passport and went into the immigrations room. The Malaysian departure was simple enough, but I had to fill out an arrival card for Thailand - well, everybody did - and they only had one pen. God bless my youthful speed and impatience, as I was the first one at the counter, so I was the first one to use the singular pen. The immigrations official then asked how long I'd be staying in Thailand. "Two weeks, give or take," I said. He stamped my passport. "Okay, you can stay for 15 days." My eyes bulged. I had answered without giving much thought to the bike riding schedule, and I was worried that I might not cross into Cambodia until my 16th day or something like that. After getting my passport back, I immediately went to the train and tried to get in. The security guard told me that I had to wait an hour, and that I should get a drink. When I explained that I had nothing on me, he let me go in briefly. I got my Kindle, my phone, a small pack of cookies, and the root beer. I checked my phone and to my relief, the scheduled itinerary of the bike tour had us leaving a couple days before my stamp expired. Crisis averted. I then took a swig of the root beer and continued reading, occasionally stopping to be awed at the size of the flies landing on me.
Then, I heard a groaning creak. I look up, and the train is moving. It's moving slowly, but it's moving. I grab my things and stand up. Maybe it's repositioning, so I figured I wanted to be as close to my car as possible. But then it moves faster. And faster. Pretty soon I'm jogging to keep up. "STOP!" Some lady yells. Well, not just some lady - an employee of the train service. I explain that all my stuff is on there, and then it's explained to me that it's coming back in half-an-hour. No word as to why it was leaving, but I was at least pleased to hear the explanation (though I think it would have been better to know beforehand). I continued reading for another half-hour (I'd actually wager it was closer to a full hour, but I couldn't check, as I'd turned my phone off), with a few false alarms coming here and there, mainly in the form of lonely engines. When the actual train returned, I found all my stuff, just as I left it. I lay down, and continued powering through the Cat's Cradle. In fact, I ended up finishing it (though it's not particularly long). What an odd, odd book. It seems to have been written specifically for academics to write analytical papers on. I need to check if it coined the term "granfalloon", because I swear I've heard it before.
Anyway, quite literally four minutes after finishing the book, we arrived in Hat Yai. I got all my stuff together, and before I could even step off the train, I was already being asked if I needed a taxi or bus. Come now, gents, we're all trying to depart; don't step on to the train. After passing them, and passing dozens of other guys asking if I needed a taxi, confused when I said I wasn't leaving the train station area, I tried asking the Information desk where the parcel room was, as my next ticket was delivered there. Unfortunately, the roar of the train made it quite impossible for him to hear me, so I just meandered around until I found it. I showed them my passport, they showed me an envelope with my name on it (and what I can only assume is my name in lovely Thai script) and asked for 10 Baht (about $0.33). I hadn't gotten any money yet, so I had to leave, find an ATM (where I got as much cash as I could - I assume this is a very cash-based society), and gave them entirely too much money. They gave me my ticket and my change, told me the correct local time (I had gained an hour, which meant that our late train was now suddenly on time), and sent me on my way. I now had seven hours to burn.
After getting out of the train station, the first order of business was to get a Thai SIM card. I went to the first shop I could find, and found one of those deals where Internet is unlimited, but you have limited 3G access. I had to temper myself and remember that I was only going to be here a few days and probably didn't need that much 3G and the slow-speed was probably fast enough and so on and so forth. I swear, the temptation to have the best can only be outweighed by the temptation to not run out of money down the line. I then went into a local grocery store, where I got a couple small items (figuring I could get more if I wanted before the next train). I then decided to walk around Hat Yai a bit.
Hat Yai is...not that interesting. Not around the train station area, at least. There's plenty of shopping, to be sure, but nothing looked particularly captivating. It just seemed like your typical medium-sized city. I walked down the main street that led from the train station, hoping to find a good-looking place to eat, but most of the places on the street were just clothing and gold shops. I did eventually see a mall-like area, and there I saw a McDonald's. "Welp," I said, "I might as well get this leg of My Disgusting Quest™ over with before I get into a place with lots of easily findable Thai places." (Note: I really like Thai food. It's not in the same strata as Mexican, but it's pretty high up there.) So, I went to the mall, which required me to set my bag on a table for a security guard to scan. He gave me a quick glance when it looked like the table would break under the weight of the backpack. I then saw two items which seemed like good choices for local flavor: a spinach pie (imagine one of their apple pies, and then fill it with spinach/cheese instead), and the...oh I'm gonna butcher this...the McKeao Yum Chicken Plate, or something like that. It was basically a plate with a small pile of rice, and a small pile of a cut up breaded chicken breast strip with some veggies and chili sauce. And there was an egg on top of the rice. It actually wasn't bad at all; it didn't seem quite like Thai food, and it didn't seem quite like what I'm learning McDonald's to be, but it was definitely somewhere in between.
They had some outlets, so I stayed longer than probably should have, nursing the melting ice in my cup (hmm, I hope the ice is safe here...) while eating some small sliced watermelon pieced that I had gotten at the grocery store. I also signed up for one of the local Wi-Fi services (one you have to give a mobile number for), but that ran out before I knew it, and when I couldn't wait any longer, I went on my way. And in doing so, I completely forgot my entire bag of groceries. It's funny how easily I can remember quotes and lyrics from years and years ago, but I can't remember to pick up a bag that I told myself to pick up thirty seconds previously. Anyhoo, I explored the mall a little bit, and then left to go back to the main street. Maybe there was something more interesting downtown, and I just wasn't walking far enough. So, I walked for ten minutes. Fifteen. Nope, it actually got less interesting. I turned back and made way to where I came from. I passed by a Starbucks, and noted with approval that they had outlets, so I went in, got the obligatory don't-kick-me-out drink, and sat down with my laptop. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any Wi-Fi. Actually, I found dozens of options, but they either needed a passcode, couldn't connect, or were subscription-based. So I did the best I could in my offline state - I wrote more of this blog entry and filtered through photos, and did so for a couple hours. I then went to a different grocery store to make up for the items that I had generously donated to some McDonald's employee, and went back to the train station.
I got to the train station about 40 minutes before the train was supposed to depart, and waited...and waited. I looked at each of the other trains passing by. None of them were mine...at least, I didn't think so. At 6:45 (when we were supposed to be on our way), I asked one of the guards if I was in the right place. He told me I was; the train was just late...or at least, the part I was supposed to be in was. Apparently, half of the train (the half my car was on) needed to join with the front half. But hey, it's all good; at least I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I contemplated purchasing some food from the railside stands, but held off, as I had read that the food on this train was relatively cheap and good (for train food), so I wanted to test that out for dinner (I had bought a kid's single-serving box of cereal for breakfast). That's when I saw them - the weird fellow from Kazakhstan, as well as another guy from my previous train, this one from Korea. The Kazak guy was freaking out because our car wasn't there, giving wide-eyed, fearful arguments with guards and such. The Korean guy, for his part, was standing calmly. I liked the cut of his jib better. I tried to convince the Kazak that they weren't going to leave with half the train missing, but he seemed inconsolable until the latter half finally showed. As we were boarding, I asked if this was the first time he'd traveled. "No...Is second time."
We got in, and the design of the car was similar to the one that I took from Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai. Except it wasn't in "night mode" yet, and so the top bunks were stowed, and the bottom bunks were set up as a pair of seats. I didn't like this setup nearly as much; I'd honestly prefer beds 24 hours a day. But that's just cause I like me some privacy. Anyway, I got in, and saw that, between my little pairing and the pairing across the aisle, there was a waxen-looking old man, a mother-daughter pair, and myself. The mother, sitting on my side, invited the daughter to sit next to her. I thought maybe that meant I seemed like more pleasant company than the old man? In any case, I didn't tarry there very long, because I actually was feeling a bit peckish. So, I walked to the dining car (asking the Korean and the Kazak if they'd like to join me - more than anything to explain where I was going without seeming antisocial - which they refused), which was at least six cars away. There's something interesting about walking through trains; seeing all the different people, wondering why they also prefer rail travel, giving your polite "excuse me," either explicitly or through some internationally-recognized grunting. This time, the biggest contingent I found appeared to be some kind of high school band. Maybe college; I'm terrible at telling ages. But they all had instruments, and it seemed like they were all wearing oversized white shirts and pajama shorts. I'm not sure if it was the first time they'd traveled by train, or if they won some contest, but they all seemed really excited, hardly noticing me as I passed. I eventually made my way to the dining car, and from the moment I got in there, everything got surreal. Probably because it was relatively empty, the car jostled more than any of the other cars, the windows showed nothing but icy blackness, and there was some sort of upbeat Thai funk music playing. I don't know if that's actually a thing, but that's how I'd describe the sound I heard. The menu was also a bit confusing - the meal I ordered (for $6) said it was both a ginger chicken dish and a duck curry dish. Turns out, it was. Rice, ginger chicken, duck curry, veggies, soup, fruit, and a bottled water (which was completely unsealed, but I'm still alive, so all good there). Not a bad deal. And, while not great, it was definitely the best train food I've had on this trip, low though the bar may be. During the dinner, the Korean came in to sit with me (he quickly said he was trying to get away from the Kazak for a bit). Within half a minute, the Kazak guy followed. They had brought in their own food, which was against the rules, I guess. So, they were kicked out (not without the Kazak guy having...I dunno, I guess it was an argument...with the chef of all people. The waiter said to me later, "Tell your friends they have to buy food if they come in here." I assured him they weren't my friends. I'd even call them "travel companions" in the absolute loosest sense.
Anyway, I got back to my seat, and looked for a new book to read. After going through my library twice, I decided on Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurn and Somebody-or-Another (I forget the full name). But somehow, I pressed a series of buttons that deleted it from my Kindle instead. So I just chose The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I think I must have mixed up with Memoirs of a Geisha, because I thought for sure it had to do with feudal Japan. (I've never read/seen Memoirs of a Geisha either.) I got through the prologue and got sleepy, but I didn't want to be a jerk and ask the mother and daughter for move so I could make my bed. Instead, I just pretended to sleep. I closed my eyes and propped my shoulder on my backpack, which in turn propped up my head. However, the trick was to do that thing that sleeping people do, and slowly, slowly slip. I let my elbow slide from my backpack, ever so slightly, until it finally came off, "startling" me "awake", and then I immediately went back to my original position, as a sleeping person would. Within twenty seconds, I felt a light hand touch my knee. "Excuse me," the little girl said (I think her mother was encouraging her to practice her English), "Do you want the bed down." "Oh, no," I lied, "I don't want to bother you." "It's okay," the little girl replied, "You need your sleep." Awwwww, I thought to myself, Aren't you the cutest little thing. Now I almost regret deceiving you. So, the attendant was called, they set up the bed, and I hopped in. Once getting comfortable, I wasted no time getting to bed.
I woke up, maybe 6:30 or so, and upon hearing the bustling sounds of folks and seeing through the cracks in my privacy curtain that some of the beds had been put away, I decided I would sleep for another hour or so. Or pretend to sleep, at least. I probably would have slept, if I could have. But I had to make do with just lying there, being quiet. When I realized I couldn't pull it off any longer, I opened up the curtains, and before long, my wonderful bed was no more than just a pair of seats. I spent the next couple hours reading, and occasionally looking out the window at the landscapes passing by. Lots of greens, lots of rice fields (I think), and lots of those jutting towards of light orangish stone coming from the ground. I had my camera with me, but I think there's a curse when you're on a train. When you have the camera out and prepped, there's nothing interesting to take a picture of. When it's put away, then you see some awesome stuff, and even the best reflexes can't get it out in time to snap that picture. A couple examples of stuff I missed included a stork trying (and failing) to balance on the top of a tree, and a guy on some sort of...thing, where it was like a big motor in front followed by some skis, and he was going across water. I don't know what was happening, but I was loving both of the seconds I saw it for. I was pining for a lot of untaken pictures, because I did nothing but look out the window when stopped reading at about 10:30, thinking "We'll just about be in Bangkok now," completely forgetful of the fact that I've never once been on an on-time train. As it turns out, we ended up a full two hours late. I was regretting not having some extra food, because I was getting pretty hungry, and that tiny box of cereal didn't really hit the spot.
When we reached the train station (a very impressive building), I looked for the bus stop. I had everything planned out - I could catch the 159 bus, which, after two stops, would take me to within spitting distance of my hostel. I passed by a couple taxi guys, smugly brushing away their advances, and sat at the bus stop. I waited. 7. No. 24. No. 21. No. 112. No. 34. No. 7. No......I kept waiting. This bus was supposed to arrive every ten minutes. It's been twenty. I decided to wait another thirty. When that didn't happen, I went to the information desk and asked about the 159. The old man seemed confused by the very notion of buses. I swallowed hard, knowing I'd also have to swallow my pride and take a cab. I knew they'd all try to overcharge me, so I kept a solemn stance, "No meter, no drive." However, either because it was a holiday, or because they're all crooks, they all said, "Oh, I don't have a meter," despite the fact the name of the cab is TAXI-METER, for crissakes! I then gave an ultimatum - 100THB or I walk. This was still about 40THB more than I would have paid by meter. But they decided it was not enough of a gouge for a taxi, and put me on a tuk-tuk (which should have cost 30-40THB at that distance). I was gritting my teeth - less at their schemes, and less at the nominal money lost, than the fact that my best-laid plans fell apart - but I got in the tuk-tuk. He started taking me, and then about halfway through, it was obvious this guy had absolutely no idea where we were supposed to be going. He kept driving too far, turning around, driving too far, going the wrong way. Thank God I had Google Maps and a GPS, or else who knows where I would have ended up. Several times, he asked to take my phone, whilst driving. How more uncomfortable can such a request be? Finally, once we got close enough, I frustratedly told him to pull over and let me out. I shoved the 100THB in his general direction, and when he asked about his tip, I gave him a glare that made him physically wince and drive away. I then made the rest of my way to the hostel.
The hostel, called Baan Dinso, was actually pretty nice. Unlike most hotels, you actually get your own room (you just have to share the bathroom). Each room also has its own air conditioning unit, which is a godsend. Anyway, I lay down, relaxed, and spent some time in my room, trying to get my bearings (and more importantly, to charge my phone). I also took a shower, which I felt was due after two nights of being on a train. After getting spruced up and my phone juiced up, I decided to take a walk. I honestly had no idea at the time what part of Bangkok I was in (I now know it was the old part of town, apparently), so I just chose a direction and walked that way. I first stopped at a memorial for some students who were killed in the 1973 battle of democracy or independence or something to that effect (my Thai history isn't so strong, and there was very little English description). While there, some random guy came up to me, explaining some of what everything was. Then he asked where I was from, and seemed tickled pink that I was an American. He told me that it was a Thai holiday, and that he was going around, and this and that, and now he needs to go, goodbye. Wait, goodbye? I think I've gotten so used to shills and touts that a person just coming up to me and both starting and ending a conversation seems foreign to me at this point. But whatever, nice meeting him.
I then kept walking until I saw a street with rows and rows of flags hanging above it. That's almost always a sign of something, I figured, so I walked over, and walked onto what must have been the main shopping street of this part of the city, at least insofar as tourists are concerned. Because there were just as many white people as there were Thais walking by the countless little stands, which sold everything from Buddha trinkets to light-up shirts to fake IDs (and I seriously, seriously considered getting a fake ID for my alter ego - and who knows, might still do so - but I wasn't terribly impressed by the quality of their California ID; "same same" seems to be used much more loosely in Thailand). And of course, roadside food stands. The only part that really bugged me were the guys - who seemed to often be Indian, oddly enough - who come up to you asking if you want a suit. Now, I had considered having a custom (and I mean custom; shoulder cape and everything) suit made in Thailand, but I won't be here long enough, and I wanted to do in on my terms, not theirs. So I brushed most of them off. One of them I actually followed in, just because I asked "how custom" he could make his suits. He took me inside and showed me a perfectly normal looking suit, because he just thought I meant size-wise, I think. I could tell he wanted to sign me on something, so I suddenly put a spark in my eye and a smile on my lips. "Here's the thing, I have an idea - just an idea - for a suit that will outdo all suits." I stared off into the middle distance as the dollar signs flashed in his eyes. "I need to go back, draw it; I'll have the design, the colors, everything! Do you have a card?" He gave me a card, and let me leave without hassling me anymore, thinking full well I intended to return the next day.
Do I feel guilty lying to these folks?
After getting through that street, I made my way southward, and found myself in a large open park, which I later found out was the royal park. I figured that the incredibly fancy buildings at the far end were all part of the Grand Palace. So, I decide to walk through the park to get to it. Except that the park is enclosed on most sides by a fence. Not an impossible fence by any means, but one that you're clearly not supposed to climb over. I literally walked around the circumference of this huge park (which was a couple football fields, I'd say), and found, like, two entrances. I'm honestly sure what the deal was with that. Unfortunately, none of the entrances were near the Grand Palace, and I wasn't feeling like walking all that way. So, I decided to get something to eat. I suddenly remembered that I had downloaded the TripAdvisor Bangkok city guide, so I took that out, and looked for food options. Nearby, there was one of the top 30-rated cheap restaurants in the city, a vegan place called "Ethos Bakery". Why not? I followed their map, went down some streets and...Huh, not there. Maybe if I go this way instead...no. Maybe it's on this side of the street? Nope. As it would happen, I never found the place. At all. My guess at the time was that maybe it was closed for the holiday. So, I looked up other good places in the area. A half-mile away, it said there was a good place called "Shoshana", so I figured, sure. The map said that it was actually on that shopping street, so that was convenient. I walked there, and found nothing. I went back and forth, and found nothing. I went into some of the back alleys, and according to my GPS, was literally on top of the place, and found nothing. I asked someone where the place was, and they said, "Behind the Burger King." Which was odd, because the Burger King was on another street. But whatever, I went, and found the place, almost a full block away from where the app said it was.
Long story short, the TripAdvisor Bangkok city guide app is trash, at least as far as navigation goes.
I was a bit disappointed to find that Shoshana was an Israeli food place (I probably should have checked that before deciding to walk there). Not because I don't like Israeli food, but to be honest, I wanted Thai. So, I walked back to the market street, and decided to get a roadside pad Thai 40THB (~$1.25). And it was plentiful and good. You can't do pad Thai bad, I think. After finishing that, eating at a small table behind the stand with a couple silent strangers, I continued down the street, and ordered some coconut ice cream, which was also 40THB for a half-coconut filled with scoop after scoop of ice cream. Considering everything was under $3, it was one of the best-value meals I'd eaten in a long time. Now all I needed was some spicy papaya salad!
I decided to walk around the area to digest my food, and I came across a variety of other food stands, each of which looked good in their own way. Especially with prices as low as they are, the temptation just to grab one more item is just so damn high. But I was planning on getting a massage, so the last thing I wanted was a stomach full of undigested food. I passed by so many varieties of people - plenty of normal tourists, a bunch of hippies, some guys who were seriously wiggin' out on something (based on my experience observing druggies as an RA, I'd say it was ecstasy), and of course, the people trying to get you into their stands/shops/parlors. Whilst walking past one bar in particular, I heard some guy playing a guitar and singing. I don't know if he was actually American-taught, or if it's one of those things where you lose your accent when singing, but when I heard him play, I could have sworn there was some 45-year old white guy from the Midwest singing. It was amazingly good. I only heard two songs of his - one of them was "Leila", and the other one (the one I fell in love with) I couldn't even recite the lyrics. I'm not one for normally tipping street musicians (unless they have a cool gimmick and/or cool accordion). I then walked to the place where I was getting my massage.
Now, I should preface this by emphasizing that this was entirely on the level. This was not intended to be the "Thai Massage" that people always talk about with a wink and a nudge. This place was fancy, and legitimate. (We'll get to the less legitimate places further down.) It had a sliding glass door, a reception desk, a VIP area, all that. I ordered the most expensive item they offered - an $83, 2 hour production that should have just been called "The Works". After being led into the VIP section, I was able to take a quick shower (the room also had a sauna - does anyone at these places actually go for those?), and then the work began. Oh, I should mention that even though this was a fully on-the-line massage, I was a little disquieted by the temporary underwear they gave me. When I first saw it, I thought it was a sock, it was so shallow. I was thinking of taking a picture of myself wearing the underwear to post online, but as I put them on, I realized that doing so would probably get me arrested, as they were, for lack of a better word, fishnets. Less for coverage, more for keeping everything in place. Still, I figured they weren't going to try any funny stuff, mainly because the masseuse was, like, 55. But anyway, the massage! Like I said, it runs the gamut - foot massage, Thai massage, oil massage, hot stone massage, and herbal compress massage. It was all in there. I don't really have much to say other than that it was the massage I needed after the EBC trek. Also, I swear that some of the Thai massage moves are taken straight out of medieval torture catalogues.
Afterwards, I decided to go back to the hostel, and I again got people asking me to come into their places, or do I need a taxi, or whatever. I was getting tired of brushing people off, so I decided to try a new tactic: just look bat$#!+ crazy. So, I started talking to myself, to which I would make aloud when someone grabbed my shoulder or something. I'd even look at then, darting my eyes back and forth a bit. Here's a bit of the monologue:
"Have you seen Miguel? I'm looking for Miguel? If you see him, tell him I'm busy. Yes yes! Busy busy busy! Yes yes yes! Tell him now the rain has gone, that I was waiting for too long. I have neither right nor reason, I will not allow this treason. Drop a drop into the fire, then you have a drink tonight. Pale old Miguel, he's not looking good, he's not looking right. Yes yes? Understand? I'm a busy man. Busy busy busy. Let him know...."
Basically, I would just spout off stream-of-consciousness non sequiturs, and occasionally would rhyme. Skipping ahead to today, I actually expanded it by reciting (mostly out of order) a YouTube video that I really like for some reason:
"Here's a dog. Here's another dog. Oh, God, look,another dog. Cute! I like dogs! Here's a little dog! Here's a big dog! This dogis two dogs! This dog likes carrots! This dog will eat anything except dogfood. This dog is very overweight...whoops! Never mind, he just lost 50 pounds,you missed it! This dog has some bones. This dog is some bones..."
I honestly don't know if that one is funnier when there is a dog (or two around), or when it just looks like I'm completely hallucinating. Also, I'm writing down all of this fully aware of how slippery a slope this whole messing-with-strangers thing is. But hey, reread the banner for this blog, and you'll know who you're dealing with.
Back in the hotel, I grabbed my computer, went down to the restaurant (which seems to be the only place where the Wi-Fi works unequivocally), and did all of my Internet-y things that I've been needing to do for the last few days. Accessing files, sending information regarding the credit card fraud I had to deal with, all that stuff you can't really do on a phone (or at least that I don't want to do). I then went back to my room, intending to finish this blog entry before it got too long (whoops!), but almost instantly got tired and fell asleep. Then I woke up, remembered that I hadn't brushed my teeth, brushed my teeth, then went back to sleep. I woke up about 8am, 8:30. I realized that I had set my AC unit to blow way too coldly, as it was freezing in the room. So I put on my clothes, grabbed my computer, and went back to the restaurant. There, I had breakfast, which at first I thought was just toast and butter/jam, because that's all that was on the table (Jeez, thought I, I could have saved three bucks by not having this toast), but then I was served a rice/egg dish, along with some fruit and a kind of sweet cake thing. Much more like it. While I had the tasty breakfast (though admittedly, it mostly tasted of the spicy sweet Thai sauce I put on it), I continued to do more Internet-y things (hey, I hadn't finished them the night before). This included looking at some of my options for places to stay in Sydney. I looked at Couchsurfing, but I didn't see any that really screamed me (though I only looked at a small portion). I also looked at some room rentals, as well as local hostels, looking at locality, price...it's hard making those commitments sometimes. It's even made more difficult when the Wi-Fi works like a yoyo. It’s most obvious when I was downloading - speeds can increase and decrease nearly a hundredfold on a dime, and then remain for minutes. It makes the whole process a lot less smooth.
After sorting through all that, I decided to go out for another walk, see a couple sights. I had noted a couple major attractions - the Grand Palace, a couple temples, and a couple museums - just to give them a shot. I also figured I'd grab some street lunch whilst I was out and about. My first destination was the Queen's Gallery, an art gallery which was supposedly pretty good, and was just down the street from me. I walked down, and one this one stretch of the sidewalk, there were just stands and stands of people selling...tickets? I think that's what they were: bus tickets. I have no way to be sure, though, because absolutely nothing on the block was in English. And I'm not just talking a couple or even couple dozen people doing this. There were at least a hundred stands selling these mystery tickets. I've spoken before about how these merchants need to learn not to have their business right next to an identical business, but this was ridiculous. So much so, that I completely missed the Queen's Gallery. Oh, I was looking for it. Every building I passed, I looked at the name, and never saw "Queen's Gallery" written anywhere. According to my maps, I'd passed it. I made one last check, and then called it quits, to go to my next destination.
I decided to go to the Grand Palace - I knew where it was, after all. I made sure to walk on the outside of the Royal Park, but I found the biggest difficulty was crossing the street at convenient locations, because there are very few normal intersections here. Instead, there's a bunch of weird modified roundabouts, and you never know which way a car is coming from. I had my greatest moment of "crossing with caution and confidence today", as I crossed the street leading to the Royal Park. Because the traffic was so heavy, I had to go halfway and stop, cars then zipping in front and behind for what had to have been 90+ seconds. I then found...not a gap in the oncoming traffic, but a stagger, so I did a quick calculation in my head, and began walking steadily. Once I reached the sidewalk, I wished I had filmed it; I was weaving through the traffic without every quickening my pace. It was a thing of beauty. Anyway, I got to the front of the Grand Palace, but decided I'd get a bite to eat first. I was hoping to find a spicy papaya salad, but would settle for another pad Thai However, as I walked around the perimeter of the palace, I didn't see any that really said "Eat me." There was plenty of food, to be sure, but a lot of it was on a stick (kebabs, fruit, etc.), and while there were some places I could probably guess sold pad Thai, I couldn't actually know for sure, as all the signs were Thai only. Then, there were some places where I thought I could reasonably get a pad Thai, but there were no seats. And really, I was holding out for that salad. Anyway, I probably passed by a few hundred different stands, and somehow reached the water's edge before turning around (I knew that because people were offering me boat rides and there was a big body of water in front of me). I went back, and continued circling the perimeter of the Grand Palace. Eventually, after I had finished the complimentary bottle of water from the hostel, I bought another bottle of water, but that was about it.
I think at some point, I had missed the entrance to the Grand Palace, because all I could see were high walls and a lot of stands selling little Buddha trinkets. Thousands of them. Like, there were dozens of these stands, all next to each other, and each had dozens (if not hundreds) of these little Buddha trinkets. My time here, and in other Buddhist regions, has made me legitimately question how Siddhartha would take all of this, what I would almost call idolatry of his image. I know Buddhists don't worship Buddha, but were I completely ignorant of any knowledge of the religion, I would have told you they worship him hard. Which segues me into where I ended up going next, the Wat Pho, which, despite having pegged as one of my destinations, I more-or-less found accidentally. I went inside, and found that it was a bunch of temples and stupas and statues and what-have-you. I walked around, taking pictures and thinking at every single point how useful an audio guide would be (there were human guides, but you can't turn those off). I went inside a couple of the temples, but there was one where they distributed little bags for people to put their shoes in. I saved that one for last, for no particular reason. It's not like I realized a giant Buddha was in there. Yes, inside this temple was the Reclining Buddha, a 15-meter high and 45-meter long statue of the Buddha. Like, literally, my research for the place had been seeing something that said "Go there," so I said, "Okay." I was not expecting it at all, which I think made it even more impressive. And believe me, it's impressive. Remember what I was saying about it looking like people might worship this Buddha guy? Were I an ignorant savage and I saw this statue, I'd begin worshiping the Buddha. So anyway, I guess there's something to be said about going into places unaware of what you'll find.
After grabbing the complimentary 200ml water that came with my admission, I left Wat Pho and walked back around the way to the front of the Grand Palace, where I finally found the entrance. I went in, saw a sign that the real entrance was 100m away, and the price was 500THB, which, if you add in a 100THB audio guide, would be $20. I was skeptical, and maybe thought that if my mom wanted to see this...well, I didn't want to pay $20 twice. But she's been to Thailand before, so maybe she's seen it. I sent her a message, and then went to find something to eat. And really, there was only one place I knew what I was getting: that market street. Again, I probably could have stopped at one of the really backwoods-lookin' street carts, but the proprietors looked old and uninterested in me. So, I walked the 30 minutes (or at least it seemed like 30 minutes), to get to the street, where I ordered a pad Thai (from a different stand to see if it's all the same...it kinda is), walked down, god a melon smoothie, and then checked my messages. Nothing. I gave it some thought, and then figured, heck, I'll go back down to the Grand Palace. I contemplated getting a tuk-tuk, because it was close by (I could see it even). I had read that locals pay 20THB for tuk-tuks. I wanted to see if I could get away with it. I took out a 20THB bill and put it in an easily accessible pocket. I walked up to a driver, and asked to go to the Grand Palace, pointing in its direction. When he nodded, I asked, "20 baht?" No, he said, forty. I shrugged and began walking away. He asked me how much I was willing to pay. I pulled out my 20THB bill, and the rest of my empty pocket, saying that's all I had; it's all I can pay. "You very cheap," he chided me. I gave a "Who, me?" shrug and decided to hoof it down. When I got to the palace, I went inside took some time to appreciate all the myriads of people walking around, and then went to the ticket office. No, wait, I skipped the ticket office accidentally and went straight to the entrance, where they told me to go back. However, before I did, I noticed on a sign that the "Emerald Buddha" exhibit closed at noon, and the whole palace would close at 4pm. 4pm...that only gave me an hour. I weighed my options, but decided that spending $20 on an hour-long activity that should really be done in a half-day - not a valuable use of money. Thank goodness I skipped the ticket line.
I decided to leave, checking for other activities that could be done that might be fun, albeit not necessarily related to Thai culture. There seemed to be some sort of mystery theater program, which I always love, and then I could see a movie (I've heard good things about Gravity) at this luxury theater for the same price as at a normal US theater. But in both cases, these seemed to be things better left to multiple people, so I decided to wait until I met up with my mom. I then decided to walk back to the hostel (it had started raining, pretty heavily, while I was inside a 7-11, so I had to play a stop-and-go game underneath overhangs until I got my moments of light drizzles), where I wrote more of this entry. (Notice how many times I've written that so far. Notice how long this entry is?)
Then, at about 6:30, I decided to head out for the night. I wanted to get another massage (a cheaper one this time; I had gotten my luxury one), before eating. So, I went back to the market street and found a place. I probably should have guessed by the fact that "hideaway" was in its name that it was probably one of the happy ending variety. Or maybe it was when the masseuse insisted on undressing me instead of letting me undress myself (which she did with hilarious clumsiness). Hindsight, and all that. I had ordered an herbal compress massage which, also in hindsight, was a mistake, because Christ, those things were hot. I tried to imply several times to turn down the heat on the steamer, but I don't think there was a setting for that. I basically had to breathe through gritted teeth. Finally, on the very last section she did, which was my shoulder blade, I had to tell her to wait, because it was especially hot. And I wasn't imagining it - I actually have burned skin on my shoulder now. So, she asks if I want to extend the massage with an oil massage (another sign, perhaps). My body is definitely not feeling relaxed after the scalding compresses, so I want whatever I can to sooth the burn. So, out comes the oil. And it all goes as an oil massage would go. Finally, when it gets near the end, she says something to me in a completely unintelligible Thai accent. I ask her to repeat herself, which she does, to no avail. I ask one more time, and she just kisses me, tongue and all. And then she grabbed my genitals. I think that's when I figured it out.
Let me start off by completely ignoring the elephant in the room and saying, I don't do much kissing. I really prefer hugs. I specifically like hugging when the other person is wearing a sweatshirt too big for them, so that their hands couldn't even come through the arms. I think that particular thing has only happened once in my life, but I find it really comforting. Now, this kissing - tongue, hot breath, teeth sort of touching each other. It's kinda gross, to be honest. I don't know how you people do it all the time.
Now, back to that elephant. I had no intention of this massage turning into Fifty Shades of Schnorr, and quite frankly, after what happened with my shoulder (it got burned, remember?), I wouldn't really trust this gal even if I wanted it. So, all of my trip's practice at being an on-the-spot actor/improviser/liar came into play. "Fi," I said lovingly (Fi was her name, or at least what her name sounded like), "Not tonight. Tomorrow's my birthday. Are you going to be here tomorrow?" She said she was, "Good. Same time, same place. Just remember my name - Adam Schlague." She told me she would, and that for my birthday, I'd get a full "Thai Ending". She gave me a kiss (ech!), finished the massage, and helped me get dressed. I went on my way, still wincing at my shoulder. I figured at that point, I could have just been indignant, said, "What are you doing? I'm leaving!" and got out of there once the shenanigans began. Yet, the way I went about it was the only thing that came to mind in the moment. Maybe the slope is slipperier than I thought? In any case, even in hindsight, I still kind of prefer my way - leaving her waiting tomorrow night for a high-paying birthday boy who will never show up seems fitting, if somewhat unrelated, revenge for burning my shoulder.
Anyway, not as good as my first night's massage. Also, I'm probably done with massage at this point. Except maybe some foot massage here and there. 'Cause, y'know, my feet aren't burned.
Anyhoo, after getting out onto the street and making sure that all my money was where it should be, I decided to get some dinner. Even though it was an hour later than originally intended, everything was still open, so I found a restaurant that - hooray! - had spicy papaya salad! I ate that up, and kept walking. That's when I ran into the guy who wanted to sell me the suit. He asked me if I had any pictures. Thankfully, I had prepared for this moment. I told him I already gave it to him, and then looked terrified, because I had apparently given it to somebody else (and paid), thinking it was him, and oh my god, I'm not a racist, please don't think I'm a racist, and getting increasingly worked up until he told me it was alright. I apologized profusely, and then walked away, shaking my head and making angry, somewhat self-destructive gestures until I was out of his view (after all, if he'd seen me walk away normally, he'd see through the act). When I was far enough away, I decided I wanted something with meat in it, so I got a kebab sandwich thing, which was good, but not quite as good as the salad, which was the same price. I then walked home, stopping at a 7-11 to buy some body lotion for my burn. Before buying it, though, I checked on the Internet, and they say not to do that. Thanks, Internet. Instead, I bought a little red bean paste bunny pastry (and a tiny bottle of chocolate milk), which I brought back to the hostel with me. I ate my little dessert, and then took a quick shower, mostly just running slightly-less-than-room-temperature water on my burn. I then got back to my room, where I've been finishing up this entry.
And speaking of finishing up this entry...it's finished.