Is this the real Thailand?

Trip Start Aug 08, 2009
Trip End Jun 01, 2010

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Where I stayed
Richmond Hotel

Flag of Thailand  ,
Thursday, August 13, 2009

We have 3 days of orientation here in Bangkok before we go "home" with our host families. We got into Bangkok very late and it took a while to get through immigration. The moment we walked outside, this moist heat just hit me. We drove and drove and I didn't get to bed until about 3 am since Casey and I were wide awake. Patch, Nadya, and Nantaporn told us though that we haven't seen the "real" Thailand yet. It's hard for me to really come to any solid conclusions yet, having just seen Bangkok. It's really different. I don't know how else to say it. You look one way and see sketchy alleyways and delapidated houses and rank-smelling water and stray dogs and then you look the other way and see a huge, pristine mega mall. And everywhere is crowded. The streets are insane. There's so many cars! The traffic just has no rules. Theres trucks crammed full of people hanging off the back and the tuk tuk (3-wheeled drivers) and busses and the motorcycles are weaving in and out of the cars, I think it's so scary!
The first day Casey and I had our first experience with dragonfruit, which is delicious. It's a lot like kiwi, but white. We then took a van to the U.S. embassy, but the traffic jams were too bad so we took the skytrain. We got on, and it was completely empty but by the next stop any sense of personal space that I might have had was completely gone. We went to this conference room with an American man in foreign relations, who spoke to us about Thai schools and we asked questions.
After the embassy, we went to lunch at this restaurant on the Chao Phraya River, which is so big! We got lots of food, and shrimp that still had the head and legs on. It was awesome, we got to decapitate them. You have to actually pay for the bathrooms, but since we ate at the restaurant, we got a ticket to use. And you have to bring your own toilet paper everywhere. In most places, the toilet is sort of a hole in the floor, so.. it's a lot like camping haha. Then we fed the catfish in the river. There's a video of us feeding them, I thought it was super exciting and Casey just laughed at me. There were so many though! More than 50 at least, and they were jumping and flopping everywhere. I wish I had a harpoon or something, it would have been food for months.
On our way to the Grand Palace, there was a truck with 2 guys sitting in the open back and we kept seeing them next to us when we were stuck in the traffic jams, and we would wave and give them thumbs up and they'd just start cracking up. Our first Thai friends!
So the Grand Palace was pretty much incredible. I took so many pictures, I can't even describe it. And the Emerald Buddha.. wow. There wasn't any photography allowed of it though. The whole thing made the mosque that I thought was awesome in D.C. look like a plaything. It was incredible, and it has to be experienced. Nantaporn sprinkled water on our heads from a lotus flower. It's an important flower in Buddhism. We took pictures with some of the armed guards, who just had to stand there and couldn't talk or smile. The vendors in Bangkok are very persistent when they try to sell you things. We went shopping in a few different places but I only bought a new camera charger since I lost mine and a wallet. Everything is very cheap here. You can get just about anything for 10 dollars or less. Well, except a TV or something. We ate in a food court where you get a card to use at any of the restaurants and put baht (Thai currency) on it. I haven't been able to make many phone calls because the pay phones are unbelievably difficult to use here.
The second day we stayed at the hotel for most of they day, talking about rules and Thai customs. When we came back from lunch, there was a lady there to teach us some Thai. She looked Thai, spoke Thai, but had all the manners and personality of a German. She was so scary, and would start yelling just randomly. Speaking of Germans, there's about 50 or so here for a 9 month exchange teaching English in different schools. They're all about 18. When we were at lunch, Patch laughed at me and said, "Keep your eyes on the food, not on the eye candy!"
Casey, Patch, Nadia, and I went swimming that night in the pool. It was beautiful and there were even geckos on the ceiling. I taught them how to play Sharks and Minnows and Marco Polo and danced around in the water. It was fun. During the orientation, Patch gave a little demo of how to use the public toilets (holes in the floor, like I said) that I have a picture of.
Then on Saturday night my host dad came to pick me up. It was so nerve-wracking. Our whole group did a little show of kids song ( I played row row row your boat on the flute) and sang the national anthem. I felt really awkward and out of place, and the language barrier is hard. It was hard to understand their accents and I know barely any Thai. But it's something to adjust to. I feel like a small child, not knowing what to say or do. But I'll get used to it. I said a tearful good-bye to Casey and left the hotel. So now I'm in Ayuthaya with my family. But I'll write a different entry about this once the day is up.
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