Well, the final day has arrived. Last weekend I got together with some former teachers and students at the naval base in Sataheep about three hours southeast of Bangkok on the coast. I was surprised by the arrival of my former principal, now retired and raising cattle in the northeast! Never saw him as the cowboy type, especially at 75 years old! They also managed to track down two of the teachers I worked with in the English language department at my old school. I had lost contact with one of them over the years,so it was great catching up on old times. She’s still a “rebel” —- trying to bring new ideas to her school where she teaches and looking forward to the day she can retire in a few years and start her fruit garden. Somehow I don’t see her as the type to just sit around and watch the fruit trees grow, however! It was really a wonderful weekend. They even got me to sing karaoke,,,,,, (Step AWAY from the mic! Did a duet with one of my former students— I know the though of me singing “CottonFields Back Home” and “Love Potion # 9” — Hey, I got into it.. had them sing it with me at the “Love Potion # n-ah-ha-ha-ha-iiiiiiiiiiiine!” part!)
As sad as I feel about leaving, I have to remind myself that I am lucky that I have the time and the job that affords me the opportunity to get over here for the length of time I have had. Besides, there’s next year to plan for! Went to the top of the Bayoke Building yesterday to watch the sunset from the 84th floor— a fitting way to say goodbye……
Anyway, I’d like to leave this on a lighter note and tell you just some of the things that I have learned traveling here……….
TOURISTY THINGS I’VE LEARNED IN SE ASIA
1. A mild sedative makes a 17-hour non-stop from New York to Bangkok literally fly by! (We took off already??)
2. Always carry Deep Woods Off and a good all-purpose antibiotic with you.
3. Never have laundry done at the hotel. There is always a laundry nearby that will do it for a fraction of the price!
4. If someone in a tourist area approaches you speaking English, keep on moving. The bigger the smile, the faster you should move. (At Ankor Wat climb the nearest monument immediately!)
5. It is OK to start ignoring the 20 taxi drivers who will scream,”Taxi, boss??!!” the moment you leave your hotel.
6. It is impossible to let one day pass that you don’t learn something new.
7. When bargaining, cut the price by at least 50% to start a base. If you don’t bargain, they will think you are an idiot. In a tourist area cut by 60% at least
8. There are hidden switches in every hotel room in this country that make everything you thought was broken work!
9. There is Thai silk and then there is mixed fibers and polyester. There is actually a trick with a match to tell the difference.)
10. If you are using digital equipment, be sure to bring enough from the States. (If you can find it, it will cost you twice as much.)
11. If they are selling it at the weekend market, do you REALLY believe that it is a 400-year-old Buddha amulet? (PS if you do, want to buy a 400-year-old amulet?)
12. While driving in a bus on mountain roads don’t sit in the front– you reallly don’t want to see where you are going).Don’t sit in the back either unless you bring a barf bag with you.
13. Try to engage the bus drivers in Laos about the need for guard rails on mountain roads. Real change comes from the bottom up– it’s a start.
14. After a few weeks in the countryside, just keep telling yourself that Bangkok really is a part of Thailand!
15. Coins dropped in the machine to obtain subway tokens never work the first time they are inserted. The number of times you have to reinsert the coins is in direct proportion to the length of the line waiting behind you. Of course, this never happens to a Thai so this gives them one more reason to smile at you forgivingly, but if they miss that subway for work may you come back in your next life as an ant.
16. Learn to smile serenely and say, “My ben rai” (Never mind. It isn’t important) (Boh pen nyang–in Laos) and really mean it! It is a state of mind that will serveyou well, Grasshopper.
17. Being a Westerner and walking like you really know where you are going will get you entre into just about everywhere in Thailand no matter how you are dressed!
18. “Express” bus means it stops every 30 feet to pick someone up as opposed to the regular bus that stops every 10 feet. It takes about 2 hours to travel 30 kilometers.
PLUS SIDES: The bus driver never gets the chance to drive at the preferred 300-kilometers an hour.. Lots of interesting people on the bus.
19. Take taxis from the cue outside the airport terminal. You’ll save a load of money. (About 250 baht as opposed to 700 to 800 baht)
20. Always take metered taxis with meters that work. Always be sure the meter is set AFTER you get into the taxi. (Should be set at 35 baht.) For some strange reason, all the taxis in a tourist area will have “broken” meters.
21.In a country that values a”cool heart” (never loose your temper/ take life slowly), this need NOT apply,however, when you are actually driving a vehicle of any kind. Also seems the softer your brakes are, the faster you should drive.
22. Always wear long pants when visiting temples.Wear sandals (not flip-flops) not shoes you need to tie as you will be taking them off at every temple and house you enter.
23. Travel with handi-wipes. Bring zip lock bags with you…. great for added protection for electronic devices and to keep stuff together.
24. It is sometimes easier and cheaper NOT to book certain things in advance if you are traveling in the “off” season.
25. The slower the method of travel, the more interesting the journey.
26. Best not to carry you passport around with you. Unless you are planning to change money, just make a copy and keep the passport in the hotel safe.
27. Photocopy all important documents you are carrying with you—- licenses, credit cards, insurance cards, passport, travelers check receipts in case they are lost or lifted.
28. When visiting a new place always ask the hotel staff what the typical fare for taxis, pedicabs, minvans are in the city. Will save you lots of time and money.
29. If the wind is blowing, watch the sky. You probably have about 5-10 minutes to find a shelter before the rain starts!
30. In Cambodia accept the fact that no one will be able, or willing, to answer the question, “How long will it take to go to _______?” Because, really, who knows ?? It can be ten minutes one day and three hours the next depending on the daily condition of the roads and bridges. But rest assured that no matter what, a wait of some duration will be involved.
PS in the Cambodian counting system,somehow, “Please wait for 5 minutes” translates as “1 hour– at least”
31. I know I’ve been here too long when I understand immediately and accept without question the sign “No foot ascending WC may breaking!” (Don’t stand on the toilet!)
I’ll keep that in mind on the17-hour plane trip tonight!