May 092013
 

It is the middle of April and I get word that I may need to head to Bangkok Thailand for work, training on the existing system sold prior to when I started working at this company and a demo of an updated version of the system for a bid on a second project phase. There are no direct flights to Bangkok, Thai Air has seemed to cut that route out, so all my options put me at one stop somewhere in Asia. Naturally, I pick Cathay Pacific, as they stop over in Hong Kong – and I get miles as they’re part of the whole One World alliance with American Airlines. Flights checked in, Jason and the wife drop me off at LAX around 10:30 PM Saturday night – April 27, counter for work starts. Earlier, we had moved the rest of the big items out of Yuki’s place to our place, so I’m pretty beat from the day’s events. Oddly enough, we had Thai food that night; apparently, I’m subconsciously priming myself for a week of spicy foods. Nothing too eventful happened on this trip, went to Bangkok, went to Hong Kong, and came home. Hit the jump for the long version of this story.

Starting off at LAX, I check my bag and get my boarding pass, get through security fairly quickly, then head to the gate. I pass the usual gates that I’ve departed form on previous trips to Hong Kong and then get to a section that looks completely different. The gate location isn’t familiar with me as it’s in the newly still sorta under construction part of the international terminal. Smells new, looks new, the benches have integrated charging terminals for standard US plugs as well as usb ports. I connect and dome some last minute charging of my phones and ipad.

Aside from the new terminal, the plane is also newer than my previous Cathay transcontinental experiences, no more remote in the head or arm rests, everything is now touch screen. The novelty wears off quickly as I’m starting to feel the fatigue from the day’s earlier activities. Soon after take off, I’m asleep. I sleep fairly solidly for about 11 or so hours, not too bad and a fairly significant chunk of the flight completed. The dry air and not getting any water left me with a little sore throat. Some cough drops and water seemed to fix that. I enjoy the porridge breakfast and read a little for the rest of the flight. It is Monday morning, I have effectively lost a complete day to travel and time changes. The sky is covered with clouds when we land in Hong Kong. My layover is about an hour and a half so I head over to the food court area and grab a “milky bun” and a lemon ice tea from Tsui Wah; ask for some extra condensed milk on my bun and my short addendum to breakfast is complete.

Finishing up, I head over to my gate and board my flight for Thailand. There are about 50 12-15 year old kids on the flight. This is Jack’s patience seeing it’s own demise, I resist the temptation to punch one or ten of them. Food coma comes and I pass out for the next two hours, waking up just in time for the decent into Bangkok. On the jet-way, I get blasted by moist hot air. It’s the hottest time of the year. No, this isn’t going to suck, I’ll just get used to dripping sweat everywhere; welcome to Bangkok. I get through immigration and customs in little to no time, exchange some money at the rate of about 27 Baht per Us dollar; and start heading down to catch the express train to the city. I pick up my plastic RFID token and take two steps towards the escalator when I realize I should grab a pre-paid SIM card for my phone. The 7-11 cashier asks what kind of sim I need, and I show her. $299 baht gets me a 7 day phone SIM with unlimited data; good to go. I get to the platform just as the train pulls in, and get on. The sky is fairly clear with a few clouds. Most enclosed spaces are air conditioned. I get off at the Makkasan Railway station. I walk to the exit and have the guy there call for a taxi. I’ve given looks of confusion when I mention my hotel, Conrad Bangkok. So turning on my cell, I pull the hotel information and show them, suddenly, there is acknowledgement of understand and they tell me that the name of the hotel is pronounced “Con-Lat”. The taxi driver still needs some assurance to the location and calls the hotel for some address information, and off we went. The cab driver acknowledge missing the turn to the hotel so we ended up taking about a twenty minute detour; but alas, I got to the hotel.

The hotel is quite nice, there is a glass partition between the bathroom and the bedroom which I just found odd, but then I discovered the volume nob that controlled the speaker inside the bathroom that is directly linked to the television, so effectively, I could watch TV while soaking in the tub and not miss the dialog. I snapped a few pictures of my view from the 23rd floor of the building. This will definitely do for my week long stay.

I relaxed a bit in the room then went downstairs and got lunch. Figuring that I should slowly acclimate my system to the local food and water, I ate at the hotel’s cafe. Some Tom Yum Goong and chicken curry to start off my foray into Thai cuisine. The Tom Yum wasn’t as spicy as I would have expected, I figured that it was the hotel’s way to being gentle with their non Thai guest. But was was quite good, in addition to the usual size shrimp that accompany this dish, there was a large prawn. Damn tasty. The chicken curry was a bit of a disappointment; the chicken was over cooked and the flavor just wasn’t there. But I did enjoy the Tom Yum, so not a total loss. After lunch, I headed out to explore the city. I wanted to try some geocaching, but most of the spots I found had too many people around, and it was quite hot outside. I went up and grabbed a rechargeable RFID card for the BTS sky train system; and I also picked up a different rechargeable RFID card for the MRT underground train system. This is odd to me as in Hong Kong, the different lines are all on the same RFID card system called the octopus. I guess the two companies that run the BTS and MRT systems just can’t get along. The systems are a bit limited on how far they reach, they are still a fairly new system and hopefully they expand the system. It would help greatly in reducing the vehicle traffic congestion problem. In general, it felt like I was in Hong Kong during summer, tons of people, and hot and humid as a sauna.

Dripping with sweat, I wandered into one of the red light districts, Nana, one of the stops along the BTS. A small street off Sukhumvit, there is a decent sized plaza of go-go bars. It is still daylight so things are just dead. There are a few spots with folks drinking and having fun, but it’s fairly quiet. I head up to the third floor, grab a chair and just sit to cool down and people watch for a few hours. Over in the corner from where I’m sitting, there is a hair salon, and it is busy. Women getting ready for the evening’s activities are lined up inside. The salon also looks like it doubles as a food delivery service as I constantly see trays of styrofoam containers filled with hot food go from the salon out to the various bars around the three story tall plaza. Looking down into the plaza, there is a small shrine, and about 95% of the ladies walking in stop and do a quick prayer in front before continuing. Some even remove their shoes, walk into the shrine and place food or burn some incense. I find this an interesting juxtapositioning of religion and the sex trade. It is about 7 PM and the night is starting to creep up, the neon lights that were on are now brighter, and bars that try to save on money are now just switching on their own neon lights. More and more women are starting to enter the plaza, whisper a quick prayer at the shrine, and disappear into one of the many bars that make up the place.

A young girl carrying a bag of food sets up next to me, unwrapping various foods and such from their plastic confinements, a slight breeze kicks by and one of her baggies is blown away. She squeals in exclamation and tries in vain to retrieve the now airborne plastic bag and looks at me desperately. So I do what comes natural to me, I laugh at her; well more the event than at her, but she frowns at first but smiles when she realizes the unspoken humor I found in the whole exercise. She has a couple of friends join her for their dinner, I get off my stool and push it over to her as she’d been standing the whole time. She smiles and sorta thanks me, then offers her food to me. I decline politely – aside from a complete stranger offering me food, I’m not that big a fan of stuff that seemed to be completely doused in fish sauce. I get offers a couple of more times for her food, so I think it’s fairly genuine. I keep smiling and politely declining. I’m not too sure I’ve completely acclimated to the local food just yet, so the adventurous part of me is still a wee bit cautious. And the simple fact that I generally don’t take free food from completely strangers. I continue to watch the various people come in and out of the plaza from my vantage point, and the girls eventually finish their food and leave – the one next to me returns the stool to me. The down side to business travel is that I’m usually alone, so it gets a bit boring. A friend of plastic baggy girl comes by and pokes me in the ribs flirting with me then pointing to the bar behind me signaling that she works there and that I should go inside. I smile, nod, and she runs off inside. The evening has gotten slightly cooler, but it’s still fairly hot, just not as hot as it was earlier. I wandered inside the bar, and wonder why I hadn’t gone in earlier. It was fairly empty inside, a few topless go-gos dancing on the stage to my left, and there’s an empty hot tub to my right – none of these is the least bit interesting to me, the air conditioning inside is on full blast and it feels amazing inside; yeah, should have come in earlier.

I sit down in the middle area between the stage and the hot tub, and a waitress comes up and points at the menu asking what I want. Taking a quick look, I ask for a coke first. I get a glass and can of coke, it costs about as much as a beer, but hell, there’s no cover charge and I get to see nekkid women prancing around on stage. The place is pretty slow. The three girls that ate their dinner next to me outside are now completely nekkid and in the hot tub getting the suds to cover their bushy regions. At this point, I forget exactly which one is plastic baggy girl, they all kinda look the same. A little while longer, a large chested girl, obviously doctored, joins, and the girls are immediately fascinated with the new girl’s assets and are now groping her and conversing in Thai about the apparently new boobs. This is about as exciting as it gets. A few people come in, order a drink, finish said drink, then leave. I ordered a beer when my coke is done, finish my beer and leave. I guess it was still fairly early at 9:00 pm, and the bar was quite empty so being the focused attention of most of the wait staff, I felt a little uncomfortable, so I finished the beer and decided to head back to the hotel. Work starts early and I should take some time to recover from the flight.

Tuesday was the first day of work. I had breakfast at the hotel’s cafe. I was fairly impressed by the selection for the buffet. I filled up on fruits, yogurt, and some flavored yakult drinks. Met up with my co-worker and grabbed a cab to the work location, the distributor of our products in Thailand. The trip took about 45 minutes without much traffic, traffic coming into the city was insane however. Guessing that the reverse would be true on our way back, we were not too worried, that is until we were informed that traffic is unpredictable in Bangkok. The day went well, we spent time training the distributor’s tech folks on the systems and demoed the latest versions. Lunch was at a local spot, and the local guys were surprised at the lack of reaction to spicy food. And in all honesty, I was kinda surprised that it wasn’t spicier. Sure, my asshole was burning from the spices, but I was expecting the food to be much more spicy that what I normally have in the US. It was about as spicy as the Tom Yum I had from the hotel the previous day. It was a fairly long day, and we accomplished quite a bit. My co-worker was still jet lagged but we had dinner at the Japanese restaurant in the hotel before he went off to bed. I returned to my room to grab the tripod and lenses. A quick shot from the room as night was beginning to envelope the city.

I head back the streets to snap some pictures. It was about 9:30 pm when I left the hotel so I wandered back to Nana to see it quite crowded. Street vendors of foods, fruits, sex, luggage, dvds, etc. I wandered back to the bar I was at the previous night and it was fairly crowded. I grabbed a seat next to the spa of nekkid women dancing in the bubbles and ordered a beer. The mamasan of the place much have recognized me as well as every time she passed by me, I got a little poke in the ribs. One of the two girls with enhanced boobies is sitting next to an older Japanese fellow half fighting off his advances on removing her top as well as grabbing her boobs. She’s more resistant to the motions of him removing her top than to his grappling of her boobs. She’s obviously disinterested, but trying not to show it as it’s money for her so long as he’s interested. The exchange is quite entertaining. The mamasan comes back around and sits down and chats with me, and soon enough, discover that each of us can speak Cantonese, so we’re chatting about the business. I’m learning quite a bit tonight. The girls work, they come in, and punch a time card, I actually saw this before chatting with the mamasan. The game of the night is to get lady drinks purchased for them by the patrons, these are 150 bhat, and can be a shot of tequila, or a little glass of cola. Most of them are drinking cola. With the drinks, the girls can stop their little dance, put some clothes on, and sit with the customer, to chat, get groped, kiss, fondle, etc, but nothing beyond some heavy petting. Anything beyond that requires a bar fine to be paid. This is a payment to the bar to “release” the girl, and then she can do what ever she wants with the customer. You’ve effectively bought the girl out from the bar for the evening. With this knowledge in hand, I then notice that every now and then, a gogo would be holding hands with a usually old white guy, and heading out the doors. About half and hour to an hour goes by and the girl returns…. alone. Then goes to re-punch her time card. So apparently, once bar fined, they’re done working for the night and gotten paid. However, the more entrepreneurial girls will try to get bar fines multiple times to sort of double and triple dip. I learn that within the plaza, there is a hotel that rents out rooms for about $10 bucks *shiver*, I hesitate to imagine the conditions or even the smells form these seedy little establishment. I finish two beers and gave the mamasan a drink for hanging out with me. Then waitress and all sorts start asking for drinks. It’s very quick to establish that the women here see one thing, and are quite the little vultures about getting it.

I leave the bar and wander the other establishments. They’re much the same, but with varying degrees of sordidness and quality of entertainment depending on your view point. Walking around one of the corners, I’m confronted by a group of um, we’ll say women for now; sitting around chatting. One of them comes up to me and wraps ‘her’ arms around me and whispers, “I know you like lady boys”. Well, obviously from the raging hard on I had… no wait; at the very least, it could have been a some what attractive lady boy, as opposed to what amounted to a man in a wig; yeah, as quickly as those arms went up around me, I already had on my practiced smile and polite decline to any and all services offered. Too bad some of the real girls here are not as bold, oh wait, no, they’re all THIS bold. Okay, time to turn to photographer mode, for which I’ve learned that pretty much puts an invisible two foot barrier around you and all these harpies; pre, post, and never to be operated.

Wandering the streets, I snap some more nighttime pictures. Even at 11:00 pm, the streets are filled. Vendors that were there earlier in the day have folded up shop to make room for vendors at night or outdoor bar spots, so at any given moment, there is something being sold at the same spot along the roads. I’ve beginning to feel like Thais have the same tastes as Mexicans with their cars, adding all sorts of glittery effects and LED lights to their side mirrors or front grill. At the very least, it makes for some cool long exposure pictures.

Heading up to the BTS platform, I snapped several pictures from this vantage point. Again, aside from being raised about the ground, the system is very reminiscent of Hong Kong’s MTR system.

While leaving one of BTS on my way back to the hotel, I saw an interesting figure on one of the buildings. I just thought it kinda cool so I snapped a few shots for two different angles. I have no idea what it is or what it’s supposed to mean.

The next day we spent time with the integration company that works with the distribution company for our products here in Thailand. It’s May 1, and for most of Asia, it’s labor day and a public holiday. The traffic was pretty clear all over the place with most shops closed and very few people going to work. Since we were out there, the distribution company and integration company was working, the integrators brought a group of engineers and bombarded me with questions. It was another productive day and we actually worked through our lunch, they bought around a menu and we ordered Japanese food. It was another long day, but we ended about an hour or so earlier than the previous day, and since my co-worker had gotten a good amount of rest, we decided to hit up some touristy spots. First attempt was to getting into a cab, and when the cab took 15 minutes to move 10 meters, we gave him 40 baht and got out, walked to the closest BTS station, Chit Lom and took it out to Saphan Taksin. Below is a picture of the traffic the cab was stuck in, yeah, it would take us another couple of tries to realize that attempting to get anywhere on these roads was an exercise in futility.

Getting on the streets, we wandered around until we realized the actual distance to our destination, Wat Pho. I snapped some pictures along our route, and from the Saphan Taksin station, we got about as far as Charoen Krung 34 before we gave up, and headed toward the river.

Not wanting to grab a taxi, we went the adventurous method and found the pier which was also a ferry stop. I snapped a few shots here while we waited for a ferry, and growing impatient, we asked the guy sitting on the dock if he would ferry us. While my co-worker went to chat with the fellow about a ride, I pulled up my phone to look up any geocaches, I haven’t found anything yet, and lo and behold, there was one no more than 16 feet away. The cache was actually on the dock I was standing on, and after a short look and quick feel, I found the little magnet case. Signed the log and replaced the cache before my co-worker returned. Then after bargaining a bit we dropped the original price of 1,000 baht each to 600 baht for both of us we headed towards to boat. At first we thought we were going to get the long boat which was parked at the ferry stop, but he took us around to the dock behind us and put us on that boat, for which apparently his wife piloted with their small son, and he stayed back with the money.

We boarded the little boat and headed up river towards Wat Po. The sun was starting it’s decent down over the horizon so the lighting conditions were perfect for some pictures while we glided along the Chao Phraya. I snapped quite a few pictures on our 10 or so minute long jaunt up the river.

We get off the dock and I snap a few more pictures from this vantage point. My co-worker tells me that there’s 20 baht fee for getting off at this dock. He paid it, I would have just laughed at the lady if she told me that, and just walked off. I chalk this up to Farang Tax. It’s such a small amount that it’s not worth arguing over, but it’s also a frigging scam that siphons easy money from whitey. Its funny, the time I’m alone and wandering the streets, I don’t get bothered once. But if I’m with my co-worker, everyone and their mothers offers tours, rides, women, etc. Definitely thankful for the slanty eyes and yellow tinted skin; at least here; blue eyes and alabaster white skin isn’t a far cry from carrying a sign that screams “Come bother me, I have money”. We head over to the temple grounds and wander in, we were told that they close at 6:30 PM since it was May day, they close earlier. At the entrance, the guide tells us that the gates close at 6:30, but so long as we purchase our entrance tickets before that time and enter, we’re good to wander around inside for as long as we want. We buy tickets and get into the place. The first stop we make is the building with the Reclining Buddha, shoes must be removed so I’m wandering the building bare foot. The thing is massive and I snap a few pictures.

The walls of the building are covered in murals. Very impressive.

I wander the grounds snapping pictures as natural light fades. I regret not bringing my tripod. There are several photographers with their tripods, they look like locals, but then again, I almost pass for a local with how I’m dressed. The place is quite massive and spending some time snapping pictures, it’s soon dark.

Night fall upon us, we wandered to an open exit and left then walked up along the river to find a restaurant called “The Deck” which was recommended to us by the hotel concierge. We didn’t find it as we went the wrong direction or rather, we followed my incorrect gps, but we did find a nice Thai restaurant and had dinner there. Food was decent and a pretty nice view of the river.

Done with dinner, we headed out to the main street and tried a couple of times to hail a taxi. What I mean by this, is the following, wave down taxi, show them the hotel address, then promptly get rejected by the taxi driver, saying he doesn’t know the location, doesn’t speak English, there’s too much traffic in that area, etc. We lose several cabs this way. Getting wise, and realizing that it was the location they were unwilling to take up to, we find the closest BTS station, the National Stadium, and ask for a cab to take us there, and bingo, we get a cab and we’re taken to that station. Hopping back on the BTS we get back to the area for our hotel and just return and crash. My feet are aching from all the walking. I’ve been using the tub. I shower first, then fill the tub and just relax while listening to the TV and watching through the glass wall. I’ve been doing this for the past few nights.

The morning routine was the same. Get up, get breakfast, then meet up with the co-worker and head out to the distributor’s office. Today was going to be short. At the distributor’s office, we wait for our contact then from there, head to the integrator company’s offices for a meeting with the directors above the engineering team we met the previous day. The meeting was a quick powerpoint presentation. It was at this meeting that I learned that the integrator company believed that I was French, based on my name. They seemed quite happy to learn that I was Chinese. The meeting goes well and lasted about an hour and a half. We were then taken to the local BTS station and left to our own devices. Later that evening, we have a dinner meeting with the head of the distribution company, or direct contact in the grand scheme of all things. But for now, we have a couple of hours of freedom so the co-worker and I return to the hotel, change, then meet back up and head out to do some souvenir shopping. We both pick up some things and head over to the Italian restaurant for lunch. Pizza was on the daily special so I ordered that, it wasn’t too bad, the first non-Thai meal so far. We split up after lunch and I headed out to the Emporium, which is a fairly large shopping center off the BTS station Phrom Phong. I spend a few hours here, mostly enjoying the air conditioning, but picking up a few more things. I grabbed a small polished sea shell serving plates with small carved spoons. They were having a sale so bought one of the sets. After returning to the hotel and doing a little research, these were legit Thai products and quite reasonable priced so I noted that I should try to return to the place after dinner to pick up another set.

I showered and got ready for dinner and met my co-worker in the lobby. We were going a bit far out of the main city for our dinner, the Crystal Design Center is what it’s called. Apparently, it’s an upscale shopping center with fine dinning. Our first taxi said he didn’t have enough gas for the trip and asked if we could stop and get gas. It was 5:30 and our meet time was set for 6:30 so we declined in the interest that we wanted to get there as soon as possible. The next cab claimed to not speak English or know where that place was. The next said no because there was too much traffic. After about 5 cabs, we found one that grudgingly agreed, he also refused to turn on the meter and said he would accept a flat rate of 400 baht. Disgruntled as he was, we started off. Again, we were trapped in traffic as we had been the previous day, it was about 6:10 when we decided that we were going to follow the same path as the previous day, give the guy some money and get out to take the BTS. He was even more upset when we left, but who cares, we got to the BTS, took a few stops down, then transferred to the MRT and trekked it to Lat Phro, where upon getting to the street, we hailed a cab. There was a bit of traffic, but we got to the CDC around 7:00 PM. I had called our contact to let him know we were running late. Being in the traffic business, everyone understood and there wasn’t an issue with being tardy.

We sat down and they had already been drinking some white wines and there were a few plates of food on the table. We ordered a few other items and join in the conversations. Tonight, the owner of the distributor company along with our contact, there was two high level members that represent the end user customer for the distributor. These were the folks using our product, The start of the dinner was fairly rocky, they already had some bad experiences with the prior project and the people they dealt with from my company, so things were a little on edge. We discussed this a bit and reassured them that those people were no longer with the company. We explained what we accomplished with the trip and they started to open up. Wines were discussed and I suggested that if we’re successful, on my next trip out, I’ll bring something from my own collection. The owner of the distribution company then took me and asked if I could pick out their next wine. Knowing very little, but what little I knew was from California wines, I picked the Layer Cake 2009. They were fairly impressed with the wine, which helped open up things a little more. We moved from discussing business to other things such as hobbies, and I told a few anecdotes. More food was ordered and when I went to pick up some food, one of the end user directors stopped me, warning that what I was about to pick up was quite spicy. Our contact then stopped related to him that on an earlier lunch outing, I had already proved that I can handle the relative heat from the spice; which seemed to make him laugh at his quick assumption. Towards the end of the dinner, the directors’ moods quite different from when we first sat down. He expressed that tonight’s dinner felt more like a meeting among friends than something for business purposes. He stated that it is a much better experience than previous dealings with our company. My co-worker and I believe that this outing was a test to smooth over those issues they have had from the previous dealings. In a few weeks, we’ll learn if any of this was successful if we get awarded this contract. This also means that I’ll be returning to Bangkok to facilitate installs and configurations.

Dinner ended around 9, and we were dropped off at one of the MRT stations and we made our way back. My co-worker as an earlier flight than I, so he booked it back to the hotel to pack and get at least a little bit of rest before making his return trip. I booked it back over to the Emporium in hopes that they were still open and I could pick up another set of polished sea shell serving platters. As I entered the store, the employees were lined up and being given their end of day pep talk of sorts then exiting the shop. They closed at 10:00 and it was 10:05. So back out to the street I go with camera. Walking by some of the street food vendors, since it was my last night, I decided to roll the dice and grab some grilled stick meat. This also gave me the chance to clandestinely snap some pictures of the working girls lined up along the street while I waited for my food.

I enjoy my stick meat on my walk back to the hotel. The last bits of my things are packed with the exceptions of what I needed through the evening. I crashed out around 1, waking up around 5. Getting my gear together, I checked out the previous evening, but did a final key return before hailing a cab to the airport. It was early enough that there wasn’t much traffic and I got to the airport in short order. Checked my bag and headed through security. There was a fairly large display of Hindu gods churning the milky ocean as it were; so I snapped a few pictures before heading to my gate and starting my trip to Hong Kong.

To be continued…

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