The Intrepid Traveler

def. intrepid: dauntless, lion-hearted, valorous, stouthearted…

So maybe I didn’t really qualify for the ‘intrepid’ tag, as I faced the 2 day journey as scared as Custard.

I’ve been bad, i’ve been very bad – it is now 4 days since I left my casa in Madrid and no new blog posts! If it weren’t for the fact that I know that no one is really reading this, I would be feeling mighty bad right now. Oh and I guess i’m also a lot more safe than all my dear friends in London at the moment, so I forgive you for not clamouring to find out whether or not I made it to Bangkok in one piece. Sort of…

The plane trip to Dubai was quite exciting, I was dazzled by the amazing service after years of only flying easyjet or ryanair. Unlimited drinks including mango juice and alcohol (I had to ask to make sure it was free), my own personal TV with a selection of over 100 films to watch (I watched Water for Elephants) and rather good food by airline standards. They handed us a menu at the start of the flight and I was delighted to see Lamb Rendang on the menu – Yay! Spice! I was seated in one of two seats by the window – it was one of those situations where when you board you sit there and cross your fingers every time an obese person walks past hoping that they won’t be next to you. As it turned out a very small man sat next to me and he didn’t say one word to me the whole flight. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to be his BFF, but when you’re on such a long flight I think it’s polite to engage in SOME small talk.

When I arrived at Dubai airport, I followed the strict instructions from my father on where to go to get my visa (you can pay for VOA), only to find out that British passport holders don’t need one! I don’t know what he has been paying for all these years?! Dubai airport at 2am is a little intimidating. Men stare, the only women working there are Asian/foreigners and no one was very helpful. I spent 30 minutes trying to find the place to get the free shuttle bus to my hotel, and when someone FINALLY pointed me in the right direction it had just left and the next one wasn’t for another 40 minutes. Frustrated and close to tears (I was tired and feeling very alone) I decided just to hop into a taxi and was very glad to be given a pink ladies taxi, I felt a bit safer. A list of rules for Ramadan adorned my hotel room, one of which proclaimed that it was forbidden to eat or drink in public during daylight – so much for being a very developed and forward country! When we landed in the middle of the night, the pilot announced that the outside temperature was 40 degrees C. At first I thought I had misheard so listened again to the announcement in Spanish. 40 degrees… at 2am. You know how when you open the door of the oven, a wave of heat storms out? Well it was like that, except it didn’t end… and it only got worse during the day, with the addition of the suns rays. I personally think a religion (prevalent in desert countries) that requires its followers to abstain from drinking water during the hottest part of the day is just cruel.

Anyway, after a fitful sleep, I called up one of my mothers friends, Crystal, who is living in Dubai. The two of them went to junior school together and hadn’t seen each other for over 30 years but Facebook had put them back in touch and when my mum informed Crystal that I would be in Dubai for the day, she very kindly offered to take me around and look after me! I can’t stress how grateful I was for this, there’s nothing better than to have a friend when you’re in a strange country all alone and Crystal’s family treated me as one of their own. I should also add that they had 2 super cute Cocker Spaniels – Ginger and Pepper, so obviously I was very happy! We drove all around Dubai, to see the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm. Couldn’t spend too much time outside the car as the heat was unbearable. I have to say my opinion on Dubai was not changed by my experience there, however I come away with one strong compliment – the architecture is inspiring. Every building is pushing at the boundaries and the limits of imagination. I hope that the opera house that was planned will go ahead, though I know a lot of construction has been out on hold because of lack of funds. There is a juxtaposition between the state of the art glossy buildings and the vast expanses of sand from which they sprout, yet at the same time they blend oddly well together. It is just a pity that the sand fills the air too, so the visibility is pretty bad.

The flight on to Bangkok was less exciting. The novelty of the beautiful uniform worn by Emirates stewardesses had worn off some. I was tired and out of sync and the flight was rough. Oh hang on, there was a bit of excitement, a passenger fell ill and an announcement was made asking if there was a doctor on the plane! That has never happened on one of my flights before and I secretly wished I could have stood up and said something heroic and incredibly pompous like: ‘Here I am’! Anyway, we were asked not to disembark in Bangkok until the medics had come on board. Needless to say there were two people who still jumped up and tried to get off when the wheels touched down and when the stewardess asked them to sit, they just ignored her. I kept myself entertained by watching Hanna – a film about a child, genetically modified to be a soldier. It started off well and then the plotline took a nosedive. For once, Cate Blanchett sucked, the only redeeming feature was the exceptional acting talent of Saoirse Ronan and the realistic and endearing father-daughter scenes between her and Eric Bana. But I digress…

I arrived in Bangkok at 8am, the contrast between Bangkok and Dubai was immediately obvious. Everyone was so friendly and smiley in Bangkok airport, it immediately lifted my spirit. My taxi driver met me with a placard and I promptly passed out in his car. I still haven’t beaten the jet lag. It doesn’t help that I keep on staying up late to skype all you people in Europe.

Since arriving, I have explored my area a little, my apartment is near the national stadium, Siam Square and the famous MBK centre. I have managed to find all the little conveniences I need/forgot when I packed in a hurry. The first night I ate at a street stall, and I have to say the food was insanely tasty! Although not so sure about the quality of the meat… Contrary to the advice of my parents and guide books, I have been eating all sorts of ‘bad’ things: ice, water, cut fruit… the list goes on. It’s hard to survive in a tropical country and not get tempted by the cool drinks offered on the side of the road, the fresh carrot juice is my personal favourite!

Yesterday I went to the Chulalongkorn University to meet Hong, one of my mentors. The university is located in a beautiful campus, full of lush green grass, little lakes and fountains and a blend of traditional and innovative buildings. The students all wear uniform which is amusing, but I have to say they do look rather smart, and were all immaculately groomed. I have to confess, the first few male students I saw, I thought were gay. However, I quickly saw more and more guys in skinny jeans and came to the conclusion that the whole male student body could not be gay – it must just be their style. I now understand why Rocky’s mother gave him makeup to fit in with the other Korean boys at school, though I don’t really get the attraction of this metro sexual style. I guess they have to make the most of what they have, and unfortunately a lot of Asian males do not have a tough, manly physique (this does not apply to you Rocky!) I had lunch at the canteen, I was that loser that you see in the films who has no friends and sits alone in a room full of chattering students. Sadly no one was brave enough/bothered to come and talk to me.

It turns out that Hong teaches Theatre Design and has a graduate student, named P, who is writing his thesis on Muay Thai and it’s demise in modern Thai culture (how that is linked to theatre design I do not know). Anyway, he gave me P’s number and we have arranged to meet up soon! He seems very nice via text, I hope he is in person too, as he could be very useful for my research and I imagine would be willing to go with me to some fights and help me interview some masters. I felt quite pleased with my progress – only the second day and I already had made contact with Hong, had a promising meeting planned with P, AND, most importantly, I had bought my Thai mobile phone! Exciting times! Hong was rather disturbed by my willingness to walk everywhere, I know it’s hot and sticky in Thailand, but us Londoners are made of sterner stuff. I walked the 500m from the departmental building to the phone store, watching the Chula students riding along beside my in the pink University shuttle bus which goes all around the campus. Can I just point out the campus extends one block… juuuuust one.

I come out to Thailand for 2 months and the people who happen to randomly be here at the same time is surprising. For one, my cousin Katherine has arrived today – I can’t remember the last time I saw her… perhaps at our grandmothers funeral? That would have been at least 6 years ago though. Anyway, hopefully we should be meeting tomorrow, which will be great! Our fathers are brothers and they rarely see each other either, however they randomly met up in Japan a few years back when they were there at the same time. Now all it needs is for the other four to meet up in some far flung location! My friend Timur is also passing through Bangkok on the 19th, I haven’t seen him for at least 2 years so it will be good to catch up. What with P and Dror’s local friends, I hopefully won’t be alone much longer! Not that it’s all that bad, everywhere I go people seem to be friendly and I now have the email address of two locals I met – one while eating on the street, the other at the art exhibition today. But that is another story…

I set out warily, but after a few days, i’ve acclimatised, and not only to the heat. I just know i’m going to love Bangkok and Thailand. It feels right.The cowardly dragon is cowardly no more.

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