The first thing I did after I said my goodbyes and dropped off my bags was park myself at the terminal bar. I needed a buzz before confronting the unknown.
I ordered a too expensive scotch and water, and drummed up a conversation with the bartender. I told him I was starting my life over in another country, and he for whatever reason insisted that I listen to some of his poetry. Just the same, I had no desire to be alone for any stretch of time, so I indulged this weirdo.
When there was about twenty minutes to go, I went and waited by my gate. My head was spinning just the perfect amount. I timed it so that I would sober up a bit before drinks were served, then I would start hitting the scotch again. I would think about life another time. I would ponder my existence another time. I had just made an irreversible decision, and it was time to just take that ride.
My clearest memory of the flight to Bangkok was when I had finally sobered up and was beginning wonder what on earth I was doing. I had little money, next to no clue, and on top of everything else my thesis was unfinished. Bear in mind that I was still in close contact with the professor who told me to go to Thailand, but a 24-hour flight is plenty of time to sit and deconstruct all of the positive appraisals a person gives you. In order to try and prepare myself for what was ahead, I decided to look around the plane. For the most part, I could not get a read on who or what most of the people were, but I noticed a rather chubby blonde girl behind me who was unusually happy and optimistic, a stark contrast to the air of grouchy fatigue that permeated the atmosphere of the plane.
I spoke to her briefly about her plans. She was in her early 20s, and was a bit like me in that she was looking for a teaching job. I was impressed by her optimism and idealism, and took a bit of comfort knowing that another serious person was entering the country with the intent of trying to do some good for the world. She seemed to have a plan and no shortage of motivation, and I remember trying to see if she had heard anything about teaching or any advice she was given. I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember our dialogue being cut short by two crusty old men who were sitting directly behind her.
I took one look at these men and realized a bit of truth about what I was getting into. They both appeared to be in their 60s, and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. They both wore tropical shirts with far too many buttons unfastened. Messy gray chest hair stuck out from their shirts, but it was clear that they wore them with confidence. They spoke confidently about Thailand to the girl, trying to reassure her that she would be fine. However, once she asked them why they were there, they balked. They balked once again when asked where they would be staying, and that was when I knew that I had heard all I needed to hear.
About an hour later, my plane touched down. Following a series of tasks with unloading, retrieving my luggage, and getting my passport stamped, I was let loose inside the airport. It was quite an airport, too. Dozens of stores and restaurants filled my small-town eyes and sent my imagination into a topspin. I was too tired to process what I saw, but I knew that I was impressed. However, I also knew that I didn’t have the money for any of that crap, regardless of what it was, so I rushed to a currency exchange counter and cashed out what remained of the two hundred dollars that I had taken out at the airport in Minnesota.
When I exited the airport, I had the eerie feeling that everyone was watching me. I knew I was a rube in this situation and I also knew that I was not going to be able to pass as a non-rube, but I was hoping that I could meet somebody who didn’t have exploitation on their mind, because I was exhausted. I moved as confidently as I could through the airport and made my way outside. Almost immediately, a man flagged me down.
“Taxi, mistah?” he said, grinning. I nodded, but I told him I wanted a cigarette first. He clapped his hands and shouted something in Thai, and before I knew it I had a cigarette in my mouth with him lighting it. I was immediately reminded of the movie Kickboxer, and identified this man as a finder of sorts, one who would coolly try to reassure the unsuspecting tourist that they were an honored guest. Again, I tried my best to compose myself as if I knew what was going on, but I knew this man could see right through me.
The man seemed to be in a constant state of vigilance. He kept looking around as I was puffing frantically and waiting for the nicotine buzz to set in. I was starting to get fidgety just watching him. He made smoking rather un-enjoyable, especially since it was clear that he wanted me to finish up. So, I threw out my cigarette and was herded into a car. The finder stuck his hand in my face after I was seated and asked for a tip. I stuffed a fifty baht note in his hand, trying to play it off like I had money to burn. He made a few gestures of gratitude, then asked where I was going. I told him the name of the hotel my professor recommended, and he gave instructions to the driver and closed the door.
As I was looking around, I noticed that the taxi was rather nice. Unusually nice. It took about five minutes before I realized that I was in a BMW. Wait a minute. Was this right? Was there some kind of mistake? Knowing what I know now, there was no mistake. I was a damn rube, and within ten minutes of being in the country I had fallen victim to my first hustle.
Oh, well. I was already in the car. Not much to do now but pray that I don’t get kidnapped.
The ride ended up costing around $70. I tried my best to forgive myself of such a blunder as I got out of the car, but I looked up at the ridiculously elegant hotel and realized that I might have already wandered into my second blunder. I gave the name of the hotel that I thought my professor gave me. In fact, there were the words, The Atrium, clear as day on the building, yet somehow, I got the feeling that there was a mistake.
The notion was confirmed when I got inside. Right before I left, I had made a reservation on the website that my professor gave me, and the clerk informed me that no such reservation existed. Furthermore, the rooms were $50 and up per night, not the $18 that were promised on the website. However, I was too tired to go any farther. I had to eat some food and sleep everything off. I gave the lady my credit card, which had about $200 available, and I slogged up to my room.
Once inside, I knew I had to acquire food. I showered and had some coffee, then wandered outside to try and find something resembling nourishment. I was greeted at the end of the driveway by a man who was holding a laminated flyer. He wore the same grin as the finder-guy at the airport, and as I tried to avoid him, he very deftly stepped directly into my path.
“Mistah, you want girl?” he hissed. Holy crap. Here we go. I had to look, of course, and sure enough, the dude was holding what was basically a prostitute menu.
How nice, I thought to myself, I can’t wait to write about this one day.
With all the politeness I could muster, I declined the offer and pressed down the street. I found a microwave meal at a 7-11, and figured I would eat the complimentary fruit in my room along with my meal and then crash for a while. I took notice of all the fascinating snacks and drinks I had never seen before, but had the wherewithal to know that I had just inadvertently blown far too much money during my first few hours in country and I needed to hold on to what I had until I was rested and could figure things out a little bit.
As I was walking back to the hotel, I was once again cornered by the man with the menu. I had seen him from a distance eyeing me, but I was absolutely certain that he would remember the answer that I had given him five minutes ago.
Apparently, he did not.
Once again, the menu was thrust in my face. I pushed it away. I was angry this time. I don’t remember what I said, but a combination of fatigue and frustration emboldened me to the point where I uttered a few ugly words and shoved past him.
As I trudged up the driveway back to the hotel, I let out a rather loud stream of curses and oaths.
Welcome to Bangkok, Pete, I said said to myself morosely.