slice-of-thai.com Journal 1/8/2003-1/15/2003: Bangkok and Nong Khai

This is an entry from my travel journals about Thailand and Laos.

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8 Jan 2003

After a 11 hour flight, 3 hour layover, and 4 hour flight, I arrived in Bangkok around 11am. Getting into town and my normal, dumpy guesthouse in Siam Square is really becoming a lot easier. My Thai must be getting a bit better because now I can understand when the Taxi driver asks me if we should take the toll road or not, and our conversation makes it slightly past the standard-issue questions of: Checked into Muangphol Building in Bangkok, $12/night for a room with hot water, aircon, and (unfortunately) a TV. They seem to have upgraded the place...now the furniture is a bit nicer, the hallway is painted and sports video cameras to give the impression of security, and there is only one cockroach in my room.

This guesthouse is on a small soi (alley) just across the street from Mah Boon Krong and Siam Center, giant high-end shopping malls with movie theaters, an entire floor of futuristic looking karaoke booths, more cell phone and cell phone accessory shops than the entire population of Thailand could ever possibly need, an RC car racetrack, and a McDonald's, Swensen's and, yes, Starbucks. The main difference since my last visit two years ago is that nearly all the sticker shops are gone, replaced by cellphone shops.

The elevated electric train squats over Mah Boon Krong, Siam Center, and Rama I road like a giant spider with its legs reaching out to the shopping centers and adjacent sois.

My soi is cool because, in addition to having cheap guesthouses, it has a row of vendors selling really good food from rolling street carts, with a diverse set of customers ranging from tourists to Mah Boon Krong Food Center employees who'd rather eat out here. Less than a block away is a 7-11 and a full service tour agency.

The elevated train station is completely plastered with posters, flags, and banners for the Bangkok International Film Festival, however none of them actually identifies what or where the festival is or how you get more information.

I felt pretty awake (for some reason, in this direction it is always a lot easier to overcome jet lag) so I decided to attempt to find the Lao Embassy to get my visa. The owners of my guesthouse checked some mysterious paper guide (hint: you can barely trust the Lonely Planet, never trust printed Thai tour books!) and concluded the embassy was in nearby Sathorn district. I flagged a Tuk Tuk driver and asked him in at least 2 different ways if he knew where the Lao embassy was and of course he said yes. 30 minutes later we were still circling around Sathorn asking every Tuk Tuk driver in town. One of them finally concluded it was in this other, extremely remote suburban district. 30 minutes more (carbon monoxide levels reaching critical) and we were there, asking more Tuk Tuk drivers. I was wondering if the next place would be clear on the other side of town. Somehow we did manage to locate the embassy, and it of course was closed. This is the sort of exciting day you should prepare yourself for when traveling in Southeast Asia.

9 Jan 2003

My friend Micheal, whose wife is Thai and whose inlaws live in Bangkok, arrived in Thailand today. He will be chilling out all day at his family's place, in a very distant suburb of Bangkok.

In the morning I make my way via the comfortable, aircon elevated train to Thai Airways to get my Thai Airways domestic tickets from Bangkok to Khon Kaen, a city in the northeast where Micheal and I will begin our journey northward into Lao.

I make a second attempt at the Lao embassy and get my visa. It takes 2-3 hours for them to process how many ever hundreds of little pieces of onionskin paper forms they need to feel comfortable with me entering their country, so I take the donwtime as an opportunity to wander around this district of Bangkok (Bang Kapi). Basically it is pretty boring. It's about like visiting Sunnyvale.

The most interesting feature is Ramkamhaeng University. While eating thick, stringy noodles made from fish at a local restaurant, I saw a table with 3 Thai and 2 Farangs. I instantly assumed they were visiting the university students, but over time I noticed the farangs seemed unusually at ease and fluent in Thai.

I later figured out they were an American and (I think) a Columbian with one Thai parent who decided after high school that they wanted to move to Thailand for their University education. One of them was studying business. On a previous trip, I visited Thai students at Chulalunkorn University and many of them were desperate to go overseas for more education and/or a job. So it was kind of surprising to see the guy make this choice. But it was clear he wanted to seek out his roots.

Tonight for kicks I visited Khao San Road, the traveller's ghetto described in earlier reports. It has grown even more. Fortunately they have closed off most automobile traffic, so it's not so insane trying to ply your way down the street. There was one new trend: in a few places, clusters of some of the dumpier establishments have been scooped away and replaced by giant, gleaming, shopping-mall-like mega-guesthouses sporting giant Chevy's-looking restaurants, jewelry shops, upscale hippie bead places, travel agencies, and subterranean malls. This is a bad sign as it indicates the end of what makes Khao San so interesting. Fortunately, if you walk down nearly any soi adjacent to one of these monsters you will still find blacklight-lit alleys full of sarong shops, temporary and permanent tattoo parlors, budget instant clothes laundering solution providers, and even a few Hookahs piled up on a table for some unspecified later use.

The major obstacle of the day on Khao San Road was a large setup of light trucks, generators, lights, camera, and equipment for a movie being fimed outside the seedy, underground "Lava" nightclub. The filmmakers had enhanced the seediness by filling the stairway down from street level with smoke and installing bright red uplight to light people as they pass under the existing red neon sign. The actor who gets out of his shiny black limousine turns out to be an incredibly well-known and popular Thai actor, sporting a neat all-white suit. I eventually notice that some part of the crew is farang. Later I catch the sound guy and he explains. This is the film project of a half-Thai-half-American woman studying at Loyola Film School in LA. She somehow managed to scrape together funds for a multi-week film shoot on location in Thailand, and she brought a bunch of fellow students with her to handle some of the tech aspects, along with quite a load of pro sound gear. Apparently, she is also extremely well connected in Thailand. The director of photography is a well-known Thai artist and she was somehow able to secure this actor for her film. She seemed to be the only person on the team who spoke fluent English and Thai and it was rather an amazing sight to watch her work. The sound guy seemed rather taken wih her and expects to see her name at the film festivals rather soon. Of course, I forgot her name. Someday I'll find it on the web and fill it in here.

Ate veggie indian food at a truly amazing Indian restaurant on Khao San. They really serve good stuff here, like nothing I've found in the bay area. In the restaurant is a TV playing odd but entertaining Hindi epic musical series from VCD. The show alternates between spoken/action pieces and lavishly produced musical numbers. There was even a scene where the grey-haired wheelchair-bound matron, who was apparently being either kidnapped or protected throughout the whole show, gets up from her chair and comes running to the rescue of her alleged protectors just as they are getting their ass whipped by the bad guys. She comes at them full throttle with guns in each hand and finishes them off with a little grandma kung fu. I assume this was a comedy.

Another interesting feature of the TV show was that there were no commercials. Instead, the advertisement, an annoying little product logo for some kind of candy, was placed over the movie 100% of the time, blocking some part of the action from your view. As if to prevent you from getting used to it, the little bugger would slide around the screen, getting bigger and smaller and generally avoiding people's faces. I really hope nobody at the American networks sees this.

10 Jan 2003

This morning I met with Tom, a former coworker from Generic Media who decided to go back to his native Thailand after GM poofed out. Tom lives in Bangkok and he picked me up in his family's nice black Beamer! This is the first time I have travelled around in Bangkok in a privately owned car. It was an odd experience primarlily because it was so incredibly quiet—most Bangkok public transportation is open to the air and even the taxis are tin-can thin. While you are driving your air-conditioned Beamer or Benz, you almost get the (false) impression that you are not in fact in the middle of an insane bumpercar sauna. Fortunately, Tom is an experienced Bangkok driver and we managed to stay alive for the entire day.

This revealed anoher fascinating Thai custom. When you park in a lot (indoor or outdoor), you leave the car in Neutral and the parking brake released. This allows the parking lot staff to compress all the cars together by pushing them around the lot. When you arrive, they make a space by pushing around the other cars so you can leave.

We visited the computer supercenter, Panthip Plaza. There were still plenty of pirate CDs/DVDs/VCDs availalble but now they all seem to follow the format where you request what you want, and they go behind some mysterious curtain to burn it for you while you wait. Perhaps this allows them to resist prosecution when the CIA goes through on a piracy sting.

We visited a Chinese language school being started by Tom's brother. We also visited what used to be the largest shopping center in Asia, Seacon Square. Fully modern like Mah Boon Krong, most of this shopping center looks like a western shopping mall, but there is one section reserved for small (couple of table) vendors. Apparently HAM radio is big in Thailand because in this area you could buy a huge variety of used (salvaged) electronic components, antenna wire, power supplies, and special extra strength UHF/VHF antennas which look like marital aids.

Another big feature in Seacon Square was Lotus Superstore. A relatively recent phenomenon, this two-story department store is like Safeway and and Target/Price Club combined. It has been taking the Bangkok suburbs by storm. With their enormous purchasing power, Lotus can outsell any local vendor, and wherever it comes, traditional, small local business dies. The sections of Seacon Square which contain small vendors selling items similar to Lotus were barren, with only a few holdout vendors. Unfortunately, this appears to be the future of Thailand.

After passing by Tom's house and visiting his folks and many nieces and nephews, we returned to central Bangkok by wading through a few hours of rush-hour traffic. We had some good but expensive Wonton Soup in a trendy Siam Square eatery.

11 Jan 2003

Michael came to meet me in central Bangkok today. We wandered around Bangkok a while and purchased one of the 250 minute telephone internet access packages from one of the boondoggle monopoly Thai telecom companies, so Micheal could check his email from home.

We also wandered around the Silom area of town, going up some interesting Sois. We wandered down one alley to discover, nested in amongst the skyscrapers, a small but populous village of people from the northeast (Isaan) area of Thailand. Their houses varied from modest apartments to shantys. Hundreds of kids were engaged in some kind of large, noisy festival involving improvised games and dancing. On arrival we were offered food, rather strong thai whisky spiked drinks, and a place to sit. We later figured out that it was Children's Day in Thailand, and the village had gathered at this government-constructed central meeting area (different from a school) to celebrate.

Food vendors rolled their carts around to distribute free gelatin worms in sugary milk, ice cream, and other delectables which the kids normally only get through good behavior. The kids played various relay races combined with fruit eating contests and some kind of flour blowing contest I never quite figured out. The village headman (puu yai) stood up and made some kind of announcement on the microphone, and then another woman took the mic and danced around.

This was a typical Thai event where there was no clear separation of activities. Games would slowly evolve into existance like ants forming a trail, and just as soon be replaced by others. A makeshift racquetball net was strung off available objects and there was a court. Then dancing took over the space and karaoke started to appear. But everyone seemed to be having a good time, and not bothered that these odd farangs had wandered in. We wandered off before the somewhat english speaking lady who had welcomed us was able to set me up with the karaoke lady.

We wandered to a pier of the Chao Praya river and took a couple of boats north, noting a man pulling a fish out of the green, bubbly surface of the garbage-strewn river water next to the pier (would you eat it?). We got off at Tha Pra Athit and wandered north to a park, where at least 200 Thais were engaged in some evening Aerobics, eyes peeled on the leader standing up on a podium making her moves to Techno versions of Elvis Presley tunes. In the background the cables of the local suspension bridge over the Chao Praya echoed the sentiment as they all met at its peak.

Had another really amazing Indian meal with Michael, before he returned home to the boonies.

12 Jan 2003

Mostly a chore day before leaving for northeast Thailand.

Wanted to get some drops for an irritated ear (too much time with earplugs :), and I asked where I could find an english speaking doctor. Naturally, my guesthouse directed me to the absolute most expensive hospital in town, Bamrungrat in the Sukhumwit area. This multi-story wonder even has a large, special area for "international patients" where you present your info and they digitize your passport photo and make you a little admission card on the spot. It also has a "residential wing" with hundreds of serviced rooms for rent where you can stay if you are an outpatient, and presumably also where your family can stay if you are an inpatient (since it is Thai tradition for one's family members to stay with a patient in the hospital).

The international desk directed me to an ENT specialist (the department takes up a whole floor). Again here I got to witness the massive overemployment that comes with cheap labor. One nurse's job was to take my papers. Another's was to direct me to a seat. A third's job job was to take the blood pressure of patients seeing my particular doctor (of which there were 2 the time I was there). Then about 8 or 10 other nurses just semeed to stand around a lot.

Finally I got my drops, and including all the hospital fees, doctor's fees, and medication, it came out to right around $15 !

I finally found out where to get info about this Bangkok Film Festival and noted that Sadtrii Lek (Iron Ladies) was playing. This Thai film won film festival awards and this was an opportunity to see it and its audience in Bangkok. The film is about a male volleyball team from Northern Thailand consisting almost entirely of transvestites or transsexual men. The team was the laughing stock of the league and the subject of much prejudicial treatment by the conservative league organizers, but was extremely popular with the audiences and went on to win the Thailand championship. Apparently based on some kind of true story (?) it is an interesting expose on the public and private face of how homosexuality is treated in Thailand.

On the way back to my guesthouse I checked out the scene on the elevated train platform. There was a group of high school age kids playing rap music on a boom box, trying to teach themselves how to breakdance. There was an odd troupe of performers, two of whom were covered with glitter and had golden wings, doing very strange spoken word, music and dancing number which nobody seemed to understand. There was an explanatory sign in Thai but the letters were way too small to read (at a distance anyone felt safe to occupy, anyway). Eventually, someone tossed some money in their tin and the performers disappeared, perhaps going to the next station?

13 Jan 2003

Off to the airport for a domestic flight to Khon Kaen in the northeast. This was my first Thai domestic flight. I was quite amazed at the sheer number of flights going to beach destinations in the south like Phuket and the distribution of people in the terminal. I thought they should call it the German terminal...

The flight was uneventful, though we were surprised to find that we were not mobbed by touts and taxi drivers at Khon Kaen airport. In fact we even had to wait for a taxi to be called. We travelled to the train station by sharing a cab with a gregarious (almost to the point of insanity) and fairly wealthy looking Thai/Lao woman. We managed to read the schedule on the wall in the train station (another first) to see that a northbound train was not due for another couple hours, so we wandered around a wholesale market and ate lunch. This market sported much stuff we had never seen elsewhere in thailand—apples, strawberries, pears, and other fruits common to the Bay Area. I bought a big bag of lam yai (sort of lychee like fruit) and we were off.

We took the third class train, by far the most comfortable and best way to see the countryside. First class gives you airtight traincars with cushy seats, except the aircon is invariably broken (or some train operator decided he didn't like it and turned it off) so it's really a rolling sauna. Second class has similar seats with fans, and in some cases the windows don't open—same problem. Third class has harder bench seats in facing pairs with windows that always open. Because there is often plenty of room in the third class, you actually get double the legroom of other classes and the air is always cool. This same pattern sometimes also occurs with buses in Thailand.

The trip was interesting. As we sped on we occasionally passed huge trainside fires, set either by riders throwing lit cigarette butts out the window, or by the locals (as a way of burning their own trash or that thrown out of the train, or just for fun). You want to put your elbow out the window for comfort but occasionally you get a few hairs singed off. Another side effect of the fires is that bursts of soot periodically enter the car, and you have to remember to brush off the soot as it lands on you, or face looking like a chimney sweeper at your destination.

Along the way was mostly huge fields and dense vegetation. Another nice feature is that kids and adults in these farms still find it interesting to wave at people on the train, farang or otherwise.

We arrived at Nong Khai, a city on the Mekong which forms the border with Laos in this area of Thailand, around 6. The tuk tuks in this area of Thailand are motorcyles with giant 5'x7' covered cargo/seating carts welded on the back of them. We loaded down one with our gear and it scraped along at 20 miles an hour to our guesthouse of choice, Pantawee guesthouse.

The Pantawee Guesthouse was an island of clarity in the ocean of confusion that is Thailand Travel. As you pull up to its flashing, gleaming, multicolor flourescent presence you are greeted by multilingual signage describing every possible adventure you might want to have and how much it costs. As you walk through the spotless thai/farang food cafe, past the full-service beauty salon and traditional thai massage parlor and the brochure-laden tour desk manned by the theatrical, all-knowing ladyboy, you reach the reception desk, which has been completely covered with exquisite color laminated posters showing you exactly what each type of room contains and costs, complete with pictures. You choose a room type, and a hotel staff boy accompanies you on your journey.

Upon entering the room, he initiates a precise rite which is obviously very important to the hotel staff, whereby he demonstrates the key-activated power system, lights your bed and bathroom light—but not the one at the desk—turns on your TV to the appointed channel, points out the towels, then the aircon, then the fan. At first I thought I must be in some kind of model room for this price level, because all of the walls—and I mean EVERY square inch of the walls, was covered with letter size, color, laminated posters explaining everying I might possibly want to know as a guest here. There was everything from room rules, to laundry prices, to the 25 baht I could pay to have alms prepared for me at 5:30am so I could go out and give alms to the monks as they walked by, to pictures, specialty descriptions, and a copy of the the Wat Pho diploma of the Thai masseuses who worked in the massage parlor. I could order food off the wall, or arrange an aircon daytour to Vientiane. There was even an article from the US's Modern Maturity Magazine explaining how Nong Khai is becoming a hot retirement spot for foreign nationals.

As if all this wasn't enough, there were binders. Binders and binders and binders of spiral-bound, laminated full color brochures of tours I could take from the Pantawee. Two of them were laid on my bed pillows, as if I would not notice them otherwise. The remainder occupied a huge vertical file which was screwed to the wall.

This was not a model room—they have actually created this plastic, laminate, spiral bound paradise in each and every room. Everything is so clear that whenever your eyes are open you are sure to be enlightened about something. There were even signs in the bathroom.

I knew it wasn't a model room because I didn't like the first one and upon entering the second, he followed just the same introduction rite (as if the TV worked differently there? As if I wanted to watch TV at all?).

After having a good laugh over reading our walls, we wandered around Nong Khai. It was totally dead. We visited some of the normal, dumpier guesthouses of the type I had stayed at last time I was in Nong Khai. One guesthouse, Mut Mee along the Mekong River, with its wicker buildings and relaxed riverside restarant, was just as I had remembered it. It seems the Pantawee is the only new thing in town.

The most remarkable thing at the time was that it was not sweltering hot. As a matter of fact, it was downright perfect for a Bay Area type. The Thais were all freezing (some of them had died of hypothermoa during the 60 degree cold spell because they didn't have, have never needed, and cannot afford blankets). The guesthouse proprietors also blamed the lack of people on the cold. For us it was the most wonderful blessing imaginable...the possibility of walking all around during the day, even perhaps doing something athletic, without dying of heat after minutes.

We ate Isaan food (som tam, laab, spicy stuff) at a local resto and then wandered down the multi block street market until we found our favorite, the best Thai dessert on the planet—sweet sticky rice with Mango. Mmm.

14 Jan 2003

After a sleepless night I decided to get a quieter room at the Pantawee (it seems almost impossible to pick a quiet room—there's always some unexpected construction or water pump or something that reveals itself after you have purchased the room). So I got to experience the ritual one last time.

Mostly today we wandered around and prepared for later tours. We spoke with the ladyboy about renting a car and driver to take us around to various natural and historical features. In sweeping gestures s/he explained that we could rent both for a day for like $30. Later, we returned and instead of the ladyboy there was a serious looking man at the table who told us the car was gone, and instead we needed to rent a $35 pickup truck which we would have to squeeze in. When we actually showed up for the vehicle the next morning, it was the ladyboy again, and she set us up with a 12 seat minibus for the same price, overriding the obviously objecting man, who probably figured (correctly) the guesthouse could make a lot more money if it reserved the minivan to collect tour groups coming over the bridge from Laos. It was an interesting clash of good customer service versus strict efficiency.

We wandered around Nong Khai's market. Everyone seemed to be selling this compressed pork meat cube thing called muu yaw. It was a goopy white chunk with little pink things in it, neatly wrapped in a banana leaf. We would see this substance repeatedly throughout Laos, found in everything from curries to baguette sandwiches. Some tour books considered this stuff raw meat and advised staying away from it at all costs, however I saw it being steamed at many locations, so I'm not sure what the deal is. For now we avoided it.

We saw a lot of goods (including the french bread baguettes left over from the french colonial influence) imported from Lao.

We wandered down Nong Khai's long, public river promenade (someone had the foresight to prevent the river from being totally obscured by raging capitalist interests), and like many tourists, stared at Lao on the other shore imagining what adventure awaits there. It was somewhat frightening considering the loss of civil rights we would face in this communist and supposedly socialist nation, but given what Bush and Ashcroft have been up to recently it didn't seem like that big a difference any more.

One interesting thing we noticed about Nong Khai is that there are basically no english-speaking guides whatsoever. You can hire transportation but getting the details about each place is up to you. There are quite a few interesting places here so it seems like an opportunity waiting to be taken.

15 Jan 2003

Spent the day touring various places 80-100 km away from Nong Khai in our luxury minibus.

We stopped at Wat Pha Tat, with a neat old chedi. Next door we saw a flock of kids parading around inside a building, led by some monks on a microphone. Many of their parents (or teachers?) sat attentively outside while the kids performed various exercises. Apparently this was a sort of Buddhist booster school, where schools from all around the territory send their classes for a day to learn more about Buddhism from a monk.

We visited Wat Puttha Bat Bua Boc, a large inland Historical Park southwest of Nong Khai that consists of a large forest with several dozen neatly trail-accessible weird mushroom-shaped rocks. Some of the rocks were naturally formed and some were carved (such as a well). All of the man-made structures were thousands of years old (and over time had been re-used, for example by the addition of buddha images in some places). Nobody really knows who first created the structures or why.

All of the rocks were named after different aspects of a local folk tale about a beautiful Thai lady who finds a new suitor to take her away from her abusive husband by sending a message downriver, and then rigging the resulting duel to make sure the new man won. After a few happy years together, the new couple's union and contentment are spoiled by "vicious rumours" and they separate and later die sad deaths. It's rather unclear what the moral was. Anyway the rocks were neat.

This park also contained some supposedly thousands-year-old cave/rock paintings of bulls and men, which you could walk right up to and check out. It also feautures a temple which, like hundreds of other such temples in Thailand, is said to contain a bone of the actual buddha. I think the buddha must have had like 100 arms and legs and at least 500 ribs.

Most important though was that you could climb about 500 feet up a bluff and get a beautiful panoramic view of nearly undeveloped countryside to the north, with the Mekong and Laos in the hazy distance. Worth the trip just for that.

Then we went to a place along the Mekong river west of Nong Khai called Wat Hin Mak Peng, past the spring-roll-wrapper capital of Thailand, Si Chiangmai. It was an enormous temple compound with multiple temples and chedi in beautiful condition. Part of it sat on the river's edge and you could look out with a beautiful view up and down the river. Supposedly, this temple was started by a famous forest monk and the believers here took on even more precepts than usual, such as only wearing used (cast off) fabrics for their robes, as part of a monk's denial of material things.

However, I have to say the place emitted a completely different impression. There was a tall, garage-sized glass tower with a decorated altar inside which, instead of having the expected buddha, actually had a seat for one of the local monks, as if he were some kind of deity or perhaps some kind of museum exhibit. Equally odd was the obscenely luxurious, also glass-walled common area next to that where the books and pamphlets of said monk were on SALE in two display cases, in front of the gorgeous view and expensive teak furniture. Everything about this temple was first class. Even the toilets, located next to the spotless dish washing trough with 30-40 spigots. Strangest of all, there was a beautiful chedi in the center of the compound, way taller than any other part and as big as some of those seen in Bangkok. When you climbed the 80-100 steps to the main chamber you realise it was created entirely to honor this late, forest monk. There is a giant brass sculpture of him in the center and as you enter a tape recording of his teachings starts playing. Surrounding the sculpture on every wall are 8-10 full size glass display cabinets containing ... all of his possesions! This is rather odd given that a Buddhist monk is supposed to possess only robes and an alms bowl. They put on display everything from his collection of robes to his Q-Tips, toothbrush, bic disposable razor 10-pack (buy 10 and save!), flashlight, and electric back massaging device.

What is going on here? Is this some super-rich area of Thailand where confused followers have decided that spending as much as possible is the key to their salvation? Has this forest monk faked his own death so he could get away from them? Or, did he really possess all that junk and encourage this sort of materialism? Very odd.

That evening we got a Thai massage at the shiny place down next to the lobby of our hotel. Our massage was fine but odd since the masseuses were spending 100% of their attention on the tennis game in progress on the TV. Thai player Paradon (sp) was making it big in some kind of international match and basically everyone in the country seemed to be watching.

In Nong Khai we had passed by this strange little place called the 'Danish Baker' so many times that we just had to find out what it was. The place was crowded with farang in various states of inebriation. The menu included some Thai food but also danish meatballs, sausage, and a variety of other gravy-laden foods. I had breaded veal, gravy, and potatoes (a decision my stomach regretted for about the next 12 hours). At a certain point a Thai lady showed up, perhaps the owner or landlord, and service dropped off as all of the waiter staff suddenly spent all their attention on her, bringing her drinks and telling her how great she was.

That evening the water in my room didn't work. I called the front desk and told them there was no water. They told me "look in the refrigerator." After clarifying that they sent up a boy who ran around the roof and hung out my window and generally hit things with a hammer, to no avail. He called up an older man who basically did the same thing. While they were busy monkeying, the boy got bored so he came into my room, turned on my TV and watched his favorite show, even though I was sitting there trying to read. I imagined how he would be castigated by the hotel staff if they knew he had deviated from the standard service script. I felt sure that things would have been different if there were some laminated card on the wall explaining how to fix the water and treat the guests. Anyway at some point the water came on again. The boy asked the older staff guy in Thai what went wrong, and the staff guy responded that he had no idea, it just started working. The boy turned to me with a smile, "ok work now," shut off the TV and confidently left my room.

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