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25.11.13

Back to Bangkok: The Race Against the New Year

December 24, 2012- January 1, 2013

Hello Fellow Fish,

Ariel and Matt here to give you the harrowing story of the race against the New Year!




Ariel:

While some of the visas we had previously acquired were easy if not manageable, India was the hardest of all. We tried to have our visa processed in Yangoon at the Indian consulate, but would have ended up having to plan all of our time in Burma around processing it. After a frustrating phone call with the Indian consulate amidst pasting gold leaf on Buddah, I remembered why we were going to India in the first place. With Matt on his way back to Thailand, Jeff, Justin, and I ruefully decide on shortening our time in Bagan and Myanmar in general to return to Thailand to process our Indian visas. We check into a hostel on Kao San Road and dedicate our time here to obtaining our Indian visa in the most efficient way possible (read: cheap and fast). At this point India was looking like our last big country stop as a group, our funds were thinning out, and the feeling of the twilight of the trip was beginning to invade the boundaries of our wanderlusting minds. To set the scene, Matt was up north with his study abroad friends, Justin (who would meet us in India) was in the islands with his girlfriend, Lauren, and Jeff and I put our things down in Bangkok and then took off to the islands for two days before returning.

Matt: The Loneliest Christmas

I left you all last time as the group had split up for a short period. Ariel and the Foster brothers remained in Myanmar, and I made my way back to Bangkok.

I only got moved along once, while sleeping in the Yangon airport and slept surprisingly well on the terminal benches. I did have an episode of confusion when I abruptly woke up at one point frantically searching for the other members of my group, to the point of actively looking for them for about a minute before I came to my senses and realized they were not there. Once I arrived in Bangkok, I promptly made my way to the Indian Embassy so I would be able to apply for my a visa. Here, I was met with just about as many roadblocks as possible that they could throw in my way. From the embassy, I was directed to a ‘visa service’ agency that handled all the paperwork and they informed me that I would not be able to expedite my visa due to the Christmas and New Year holidays. This made things very difficult as the target date to get to India was January 1st before flight prices skyrocketed. What is more, they told me my passport pictures were one centimeter too small, I needed 2 copies of my passport, and I was required to have a lady type up my information on to the application form. These things combined would cost me about $50 dollars total, an exorbitant amount in Thai currency, on top of the fact they didn’t accept USDs. After jumping through these hoops, I had to write an appeal letter to the embassy explaining why I would need the express service on the visa. My initial wait time was 2 hours, but I jumped at the opportunity when someone’s number was called a few times and no one went up to the window. When I finally had the application submitted, I made my way BACK to the embassy and had to convince the security to let me inside to talk to an actual person about my application. Luckily, I caught the guy in charge of visas on his way out to lunch and he assured me that if I came back on that Monday the visa would be ready, a small victory for me.


That night, I trekked all around Bangkok in order to meet a friend from my study abroad days in Japan. Yukari, or You-chyan (hai?) we had met up with when we were last in Beppu. I met up with her and we were able to catch up and we went from there to a Thai restaurant to meet up with some more friends who all happened to be in Bangkok. Our APU reunion brought back memories from the good ole days. Tina, Nasser, Yukari, their respective significant others, and I all had a blast reminiscing about the good times from APU being that we had all either graduated or moved on from the University. It was unfortunate that it was so short lived, but everyone else had Christmas Eve plans with family that they had to tend to, unlike myself.

Alone, I made my way back to Khao San road. As per usual, the street was packed with backpackers and vendors, loud music and dancing, and of course the comfort of knowing I was not alone despite my feelings otherwise. I wandered up and down the street stopping once to get a beer at a place that had a good live band and again to watch an NFL game on a big screen, which was a very pleasant surprise. I was constantly defending myself against the waitress that kept prodding me about where my friends were. I told her they were coming later, just so I could continue to sit and watch the game, but she wasn’t buying it and eventually got frustrated at the fact that I was sitting at a table alone and got the manager to make me order a meal or leave. It was as if the universe were trying to remind me just how alone I was on this Christmas Eve and kept putting these people in my path to make sure I didn’t forget. When the game was over, I went to a hostel that Jeff had stayed in before. Luckily, my phone remembered the wifi password and I didn’t need to ask the front desk for access. I sat in the courtyard for hours, thinking how Christmas is a time for family and company, and here I was sitting by myself in the lobby of a hostel that I’m not even staying at, poaching the wifi and waiting for the front desk staff to leave so I could sleep on the couch. My musings were filled with doubt and self-deprecation. I was being so selfish leaving my family behind and doing a trip that meant nothing to anyone else but myself. I started to resent the fact that I was traveling and started to blame my selfishness for how alone I was for the last day or two. I’ve never been great at addressing or acknowledging my ‘feelings’ but this was an instance where I had no other choice but to do just that. It was in this state that I finally gave up on waiting for the staff to go away, and I just curled up on the lobby floor and went to sleep.

Khon Kaen, Thailand

The next day, I had plans to go due north of Bangkok to meet another friend from my APU days, Mo, who now works and lives in Japan but is originally from Thailand and was home visiting her family. So I got up the next morning feeling less despondent, and snuck in to the hostel shower. To my delight, someone had left shampoo and soap for me to use! (mine was taken at the airport). I made my way to Mo Chit bus terminal, which turned out to be quite an undertaking. Since, it is a ‘local’ bus station, there are no English signs that direct one to the station. It took the better part of the 3 hours to get there with a couple bus transfers along the way. The station itself was huge and had over 100 booths from different companies all going to different places. I was the only non-Thai person around because this station wasn’t geared for foreigners or backpackers, and the prices were indicative of that. I was able to buy a ticket for that day and barely made the bus. I was told that the ride to Khon Kaen (pronounced: cone-kyen) would take about 5-6 hours. After about 9 hours, I started to worry I had missed my stop. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and naturally, no one spoke English. All I could do was keep saying “cone-kyen” and hope someone would tell me when it was time to get off. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous because I had NO idea what this new place would be like, plus the fact that I was on my own and could have ended up somewhere completely wrong and been stuck. Despite all that, I made it. Albeit 10 hours later, but I got there nonetheless. When I got off the bus I reached for my phone to show someone an address I needed to get to. Here, I realized that the information was in an email and I needed internet to access it. After asking around, one man took pity on my plight and gave me a ride in to town and dropped me off at an Internet cafĂ© free of charge.

I was able to get a hold of Mo and she came to get me and took me to a bar/restaurant where a bunch of her old friends were gathered for a reunion of sorts. Most of her friends didn’t speak English, so I was a silent observer (drinker) entertaining the occasional broken English small talk her braver friends would attempt to have with me. 

When I was on my way to meet her family, it felt as if I was going to meet the family of a significant other, even though our relationship was completely platonic. Her father is a high-ranking general in the Thai Army so, naturally, I was a bit intimidated. Her mother operated a number of local enterprises such as, various stores and investment properties around the area and was in the process of opening up an English school on their street. When I was greeted at their home all my images of them went out the window. Her father was a regular-sized Thai guy who was incredibly down to earth and her mother was more welcoming than I could have imagined. They didn’t speak very good English so we communicated as best we could through Mo and got on famously.
 
The only picture I had with the family
Of my days spent there, we spent a few with her grandparents and extended family even further out from the town area. My days spent at the grandparents’ house I was daily woken by a rooster’s crow. I was fortunate enough, on my last day, to be able to tag along with the family to a carnival of sorts that took place in a big field next to a Buddhist temple. I watched Mo get “blessed” by the monk (like a baptism of sorts) which included chanting and having water thrown on her and everyone around her. It was an interesting to see some of the similarities in ritual between this practice and that of the Catholics. The main event of the carnival, however, was not the monk blessings, but a Thai Boxing tournament. I meandered over to the ring in the center of this field and watched all the different age groups beat on each other. During the fights, people were taking bets, and yelling and cheering when their boxer won, but there was one voice that carried and stood out above all the rest. I looked around to find out who the obnoxious observer was, and it was Mo’s grandmother standing ring side with a handful of cash waving it and cheering on her boxer. The sight was hysterical to no one but me apparently, but I was enjoying it enough for everyone else. Turns out the grandmother was a HUGE boxing fan all her life and it was definitely showing this day. Back at the house, they fed me like a pig being groomed for slaughtered since it was my last night with the family. They loaded up on the BBQ and even saw me off to the bus station for my ride back to Bangkok.

My Thai-m (get it?) spent in the northern area of the country was truly remarkable, in that I was able to see a bit of “real Thailand.” A place where real families live and work away from the hustle bustle of Bangkok and the tourist trap islands in the south. Mo was an especially good host and went out of her way to see to it that I was looked after. 

Back to Bangkok

New Year’s Eve day! The gang was finally reunited after a split of nearly 10 days! Our first order of business, get our India visas…

After the usual disappointment accompanied by strolling up to an embassy and having it be invariably closed and hours that never make sense, we planned our attack, equipped our google maps and finally got to the embassy early on that day. We asked for expedited visas and were told that it was probably not possible. Jeff worked his magic and forged plane tickets, yet again, to which the embassy's response was basically: "Great, not our problem" We even drafted letters to the embassy detailing why we, of anyone, should get expedited visas. The kicker was, at this point, that if we got a visa as quickly as possible, our flight would be almost a third of the price as if it took the normal time. Once our applications were in, we relaxed and waited around Bangkok, catching up with Matt and Justin and all sharing stories about our time apart. It's a funny thing when you spend every second with someone- you know them so well and you know them in YOUR life so well, that when they tell you a story about when you weren't there it's like someone telling you a memory about yourself. We settled in and waited and finally made our way back to the embassy to check the status of our applications. The question of course was- what has gone wrong? Matt wrote in blue pen instead of black one time, my writing was illegible, Jeff had to pay for a copying fee etc. BUT- that day, we go to the window and rejoice in song and dance at the thick envelopes in our hand containing our Indian visas in our passports! As smart young travelers, we do the next logical step in sensible world travel planning- we get drunk. We were in a funny part of Bangkok with a lot of expatriate bars and restaurants. We even had a pizza lunch while we were waiting. We found a bar run by an Ozzie guy, and had a stupidly overpriced beer while we bit off of his wifi to book our tickets. So it goes, we're all barely able to use our iPhones as our hands are shaking, we're so excited. Our ticket was something like $87 USD- to India! One thing leads to the next, we're talking and "I GOT IT! BOOKED!" Jeff exclaims. Matt and I shoot him the happiest look we can muster while still fumbling with the spotty internet in what at the moment is a life or death situation- there have been moments where flights have been booked from the time we search for them to the time we try to book them. Finally, I get through and hug Jeff, leaving Matt in the dust, we get a second round of beers, and after long last, Matt books his ticket. We're going to India.



New Years Eve (Ariel/Jeff)

We made our way back towards Kao San Road with the pledge to celebrate the New Year and our impending travel. At this point it's probably1:30 PM Thai time- our flight is at 3:00 AM the following day. We drank and enjoyed late into the night, until we split up to go find our own trouble. Matt went out on the town with a few friends from study abroad and we made a pact to meet at the hostel Jeff and I were staying at in time to get a cab to the airport. I ended up taking a nap and woke up to my alarm in time to pack and get situated. Jeff strides in on time and we pack. And wait. And wonder. And wait…No Matt. This is one of those times that you say, "This is going to be a good story" and have to make a move. One of our biggest successes as a traveling group was our independence as a unit as well as individuals. We were with each other because we wanted to be, not because we needed to be. In the spirit of the group and knowing that Matt wouldn't be upset, the time came for Jeff and me to make the decision to go to the airport without Matt. As an aside, there is a certain false security one can feel while traveling since everything is new, exciting, and at varying degrees from the boundary of the comfort zone. This tends to make what could be seen as problems exciting and adventurous. It's almost like you're thinking: "Nothing can go really wrong, we're traveling, there's no plan, and it's all part of the story". Our plan was to wait until we could connect on wifi and find each other in India. Jeff and I get to the airport, check in, and board the plane, exhausted and beginning to get hungover. We start talking to a guy next to us who feels a renewal of youth after hearing our story and bought us a beer pre take off. To set the scene, the plane of about 150 people is fully seated, seat belted, and ready for take off...

New Years Eve (Matt)

New Year’s Eve on Khao San road was an absolute mad house. After our initial celebratory beers, we made our way to the backpacker hub to continue our festivities. The entire street was at max capacity with the bars overflowing on to the streets. As the night progressed, we split and ended up bringing in the new year all at different places. There was a tacit understanding of “every man for himself” once the clock struck 12. We knew we all had to be on a flight, and it would have been near impossible to find one another in the crowd on Khao San, so it was an individual’s responsibility to make the flight. I ran in to a little bit of trouble after midnight. Almost immediately after midnight, I made my way back to the hostel that was holding my bags and was confronted with not only my bags, but also some of Jeff’s and Ariel’s, in addition to the two guitars and our ukulele. My flight departed in 85 minutes so I had no choice but to pick up everything and make my way to the airport. Traversing the street with all those things was an absolute nightmare. Confetti falling everywhere, drunk Australians stumbling in my way, and music blaring to the point that I may now have tinnitus, it seemed that the universe was telling me not to make this flight…but what does the universe know? For anyone who has yet to go to Bangkok, the traffic is always in a general state of gridlock for no particular reason. Tonight, however, there was a reason and it was noticeably worse than usual. Every taxi I hailed down either didn’t want to or didn’t know how to get to the airport and refused my patronage no matter how much money I waved in their faces. Thankfully, one Thai guy saw my problem, hailed down a cab for me and explained the situation, and got a cab to go to the airport for me. I had exactly 54 minutes to get to the airport 45 minutes away in regular traffic. I got to the airport with no time to spare, but was in a great mood. Turns out they held the plane for me as I was the LAST person to check in. They saw my bags, and politely asked if I would like to check anything, to which I politely replied, “no, I would not.” Again, this place is lawless. I get through a skeleton security check, and make my way to the plane...

On the plane (Ariel/Jeff)
The announcements are going. The humming gets louder…we are about to back away from the gate…

On the plane (Matt)
*Duty Free Shopping*

On the plane (Ariel/Jeff)

We started hearing distant humming, clanging, and babbling, and the unmistakable drawl of a Ron Bergundy imitation rings out: "Sorry, 'scuse me" "Oh! Pardon me" "Yup, comin' through." Matt is clambering down the aisle, hat askew, ruck sack, backpack, two guitars and a ukulele slung over his shoulders, work boots stomping, and smashing every body on his right and left with his luggage, not a care in the world. He spots us and smiles ear to ear with his accomplishment of just making the flight. With the pride of a loyal shepherd at a job well done, he unloads at our seats, and brandishes a new bottle of Johnny Walker in front of our faces as a new years gift. We drag ourselves to the back of the plane, pour ourselves into the empty rows, cheers to the new year with our best friends, and sleep like the dead for the hour and a half it would take to land in Calcutta at about 5:45 AM.

Conclusion

Our time in Thailand, namely Bangkok, will be remembered mostly for how different it was for us every time we went back. The city became our hub of travel and each and every time we returned it grew on us a little more. By the time we left, it was a bit sad knowing we wouldn’t be back for some time. But we were all over the moon excited for the next chapter that would turn out to be our last all together.

Tune(a) in next time to hear all about our time in India, and the final months of our time spent together. Don’t forget to subscribe on the right, “LIKE” our page in the top right corner, check out the newest feature of the blog-our twitter feed and follow us @thetunaschool! For more pictures check us out on Instagram at the top of the page and feel free to comment and share with all of YOUR friends.

Jeff did, and look how happy he is now.


Until Next Time,

The Tunas

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