Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bangkok vs Joko: Round One

If this were a boxing prize fight, Bangkok definitely won round
one today.  It wasn't even close. Sure, I got a couple light
punches in, but for the most part the city toyed with me today.
A bantamweight amateur stepping into the ring for the first time
fighting the world heavyweight champion.

But it was only round one. I learned a few moves and a lot of
respect for my opponent.


The day started off with a relatively simple task: getting my
laundry done. Back home, I would have gone to a laundromat, or
a washeteria as they say in the British. I even found a few of
those in my travels today: Thai laundromats.  They had funky little
24" washing machines but no dryers. You can use them and then string
your clothes up at home to dry. No clotheslines in my highrise hotel room.

I thought it would be simple.  There's a dry cleaning/laundry services
shop right across the street from the hotel. I went down at 8 AM to
drop off my stuff. They weren't open yet. No hours posted on the door.
I come back at 9:15; still not open. At 10:45, I looked out my room's
window where I could see the front door of the place and saw the
proprietress opening her doors. I get down there with my 6 KG of
dirty, stinky clothes, everything I own short 2 shirts, and a couple
pairs of socks and underwear.

They want to charge me by the piece. 80 baht for pants, 60 for each
shirt and on down the line.  Ridiculous! Even in touristy Phuket there
were plenty of places offering to wash & fold at 50 baht per kilo
($1=29 Baht). BKK (the abbreviation for Bangkok) was trying to take
me out with a single haymaker!  My temporary roommate and I were too
savvy for that! No! We had the power of the internet! We'd find
someplace else that charges by the kilo.  Back to the hotel room!

After a bit of googling we found a place (it was listed on Foursquare)
that we thought was not too far from the hotel. Just a couple blocks
that way, then a couple blocks the other way, under the freeway, first
soi (side street) on the left. No problem.  Aren't we clever?

So we started walking. My, the noontime sun on a 93F day with 90%
humidity can be harsh. Oh wow, these sidewalks are so narrow we have
to walk single file. Oh, gee, now that we're down on the streets, their
actual layout looks nothing like what we remembered from Google maps.
Turn down this soi? Okay. Oh, dead end, except for possibly proceeding along a
canal that smells so bad it would be near impossible to make it to the
next road without vomiting. Turn back. Next soi. Still no luck. I look
in my English-Thai dictionary for the word "laundry". It's not there. I
find "wash clothes": sag. I start asking people, "sag? nai? (where)".
They look at me blankly or highly confused. I start miming washing clothes
and repeating "saag?  saaag?  saghk?", hoping I might stumble upon the
proper intonation for this Thai word.  One guy finally got it, and walked
us half a block down a soi to the Thai laundromat with the washers and no

Meanwhile, I'm sweating like a fat girl at the tampon machine with a bent

We passed an internet cafe on the way to this impasse and decided to head
back to do more research. We were 21st century Americans! Interwebs savvy!
We'd find the place! We got onto Google, found it impossible to switch
it off the Thai-language version of google, but still managed to find the
listing for the place we were looking for.  It should have been right
accross the street, one soi down. Off we go again into the midday heat.
Mind you, this is a Saturday, and unbeknownst to us, half of Bangkok is
closed on Saturdays.  We might have walked by the place half a dozen times
and we wouldn't have known it as their big steel roll down door was down.
Well, it should be here.  It's not. Next soi? Okay.  Down to the next block.
Oh, this soi goes for quite a ways, oh gee, we walked another 200 meters we
didn't need to because the laundry place is not there!!!  More miming and
"sag nai?" to no avail. 

See, we weren't in a fair fight. We were handicapped. Imagine for a momentthat you're dropped in a strange city with few contacts and then you suddenly lose the ability to read. That's what today was like. All of a sudden, I was illiterate. 95% of the signage for businesses and such are only in Thai, and I'm sure I'll pick up some what these squiggly scissors-shaped
lines mean, but for now, I can't read a darned thing. Makes life hard.

Drudge back the mile we've walked to the hotel and regroup... and get some
AC. Now look, I point out, according to Google, whose rules Bangkok has
already demonstrated not to be too interested in following, there's THREE
of these laundry places on Ekkamai Road, which is just a short cab ride away.
Let's hail a metered taxi, pay the 50 baht fare and head over there. One of
them is BOUND to be open?  Right?

The best laid plans of mice and Joko's...



Yay! The cab dropped us off near where we thought the laundry places were and
we only had wander aimlessly for 5 minutes or so before we found one.

Now, lunch! Up and down Ekkamai Road and all we could find were overpriced
sushi and indistinguishable street vendors with open pots of food we couldn't
recognize. Sure, I know I will start to love street food sooner or later, but
for now, we were experiencing culture shock in it's most severe form. Any
restaurant, preferably indoors, serving food we knew how to pronounce would be awesome.

I was ready to start the next leg of our quest for the day which was to find me
a new JVC Everio camcorder.  My morning research had discovered Pantip Plaza, an entire 6-story shopping mall in Bangkok devoted to nothing but electronics. If you want to buy anything gadgety at all, Pantip is the place to go.  My research showed it wasn't that far from the Airport Link train line (on which our hotel sits) and that was how I planned to get there. So I tell Will that we should
just continue on our journey and find eats near there.

We hail a cab. I knew there was a train station (BTS) at the north end of Ekkamai and I ask him to take us there. He turns around and starts heading south.  Wait a minute, BTS Station? Airport Link? I gesture back the way were going. OH! Airport Link is not BTS, he tells me, it is Airport link! I learned that BTS doesn't mean ALL BTS stations, just the ones on certain lines. Then I realize
he's taking us to the NEXT station, the one I planned on walking from to Pantip
Plaza. I ask him just to take us all the way there. He points at his gas gauge.
The fuel light was on. He was about to run out of gas. No worries. It didn't
look that far on Google Maps. The cab driver assured us it was a short walk.
We'll hoof it.

Warning: Places are further apart on Google Maps than they look. 3 KM is a long
walk in the Bangkok heat, especially when you suspect that maybe you aren't even going in the right direction. Every so often, I'd ask a random person, "Pantip Plaza?" and they gestured to just keep going along as we are.  We started wondering if maybe people were just being polite and sending us on our way. I started to even doubt that I remembered the name correctly. Maybe it wasn't even called Pantip Plaza! I didn't write it down!  Plus, it was still hot and we were still hungry.

We were, however, definitely entering the shopping district. There were big plaza  type malls every block, and each one we hoped would bear the name "Pantip Plaza". When a McDonald's appeared out of nowhere, it was a Godsend.

I can hear my friends on AF now: "Oh, gee, real nice, Joko, you're in Bangkok
one freeking day and you already had to eat at McDonald's?"

You don't understand. 

We were so tired, confounded at every turn, confronted constantly by the foreign and alien. McDonald's was just what we needed. I have never tasted a more satisfying coca cola than what came in that waxy paper cup.


It was only a block or so past Mikky Dee's that we finally found Pantip Plaza.

And had to wander all 6 floors of it... and still not find my JVC Everio. 
Apparently, JVC camcorders are not sold in Thailand. Despite selling every
computer peripheral, cel phone, SLR camera, laptop, case, cable and accessory
known to man, only a handful of stores even sold video cameras. All they had
were the same 4 Sony models, starting at 11,000 Baht ($375), although when I
expressed a mild interest, the guy at IT World immediately dropped his price
to 9,800. One guy said JVC wasn't sold in Thailand for warrantee issues.
Another said it was because they were "hard to sell."  Whatever. I didn't buy
a camera today.

I have to have a JVC.  First of all, the model JVC sells in the USA for $125
is as good as that $350 Sony. Second, I already have three JVC batteries, and
since the batteries themselves cost $40 and running out of battery life is
the worst thing that can happen to me when I'm out recording video, I must have a JVC. 

I think I may ask someone back home to buy me one of these cheap $125 JVC's in the states, take all accessories out, pack it in a box with some socks, underwear and maybe a book or two and ship it to me. Maybe even apply some sandpaper to the exterior of the camera to make it look used. That way, it won't fall under the import rules here in Thailand as it would be just personal possessions.

The shopping wasn't a total failure. I bought a watch battery for my ukulele
tuner. A multi-voltage DC adapter for a musical gadget I brought with me. Will
bought two pairs of shorts and two t-shirts. I was shocked to find a pair of
shorts with a size 40 waist and bought that too.

On the way back, I again suggested we try to save money and take public
transportation. I had bought a map of the bus lines and knew which bus would take us back to the hotel. Now, where to find that bus in the maze of
pedestrian-unfriendly overpasses and traffic crossings that is Bangkok,
I wasn't sure. 

When the tuk-tuk driver looked at us with his pleading eyes and his cute, little

Vespa taxi, we couldn't resist. Mind you, a regular taxi would have been the same price and more comfortable, but we rode back to the Hotel in style.

I should have ended it there.  I realized I had been beaten in round one and I should have let the Tuk Tuk ride been the round ending bell.  But no.

I had one more thing I wanted to do.

 See, when we were wandering around looking for laundry places today, I found what appeared to be a pawn shop nearby. They were selling
cel phones, ones that would have been nice 7 or 8 years ago for 50 to 150 Baht.
That's all I need, and I did want to have a cel number by the end of today.
So with Will resting in the hotel, playing World of Warcraft in the AC, I went
back out. 

Almost died stepping off the curb looking left instead of right.

Found the pawn shop. The phones were locked in a case.

I mime looking and an unlocking motion to the lady in the shop. She responds in Thai. I shake my head and enter the shop, trying to show through charades what I wanted. Just look please. Maybe buy. She said more in Thai, shaking her head no doing what kinda looked like a faster paced version of the Queen of England's wave. She didn't get up and went back to what she was doing there on her tablet device. I stood there for a moment like an idiot. Apparently she didn't have the key or she simply didn't want to deal with me, this farang guy. Too much trouble, perhaps. 

Round Two is tomorrow.  I may have gotten beaten up today, but I'm in it 'til the final bell! 


  1. I hope you remember where you left your clothes. Sounds like a stressful day, but you seemed to eve made it. Will your room mate be teaching at the same school? Are you going to look for a place toether? It sounds like it would be good to have a English speaking friend.

  2. What I learned from Indonesia is that having too close of an English speaking friend is a crutch that prevents one from getting out there and learning the language and customs of the people who live there. Yes, my temporary roommate will be in the same school as me, and I like the guy, so we'll be friends. That said, I think living on my own is the way to go.

  3. The key to living overseas is to be able to accept failure. But that's a lot of failure in one day!


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