Nothing like 16 hours of sleep to start any trip off right! I woke up at guns blazing and contact lenses glued to my corneas at 6am, determined to find the suitably name Temple of Dawn. Along the way I stumbled through some gritty back alleys which reminded me of the worst things I’d smelled since the last time I was here until I happened upon some of the finest mango sticky rice that I’ve ever tasted. I never actually found the temple but apparently it’s better for sunset anyway. What I did find was some prescription strength painkillers as my body is still in WTF mode from the recent onslaught of daily yoga. It wasn’t even 8am, and the day was just getting started.
Next up I returned to the Wild Orchid Villa, which is not as wild as it sounds but has some great coffee. After hanging out with the Yoga Teacher Training adventure team leaders and exploring what the life of an adventure team leader is like I saw my chauffeur pull up. Dr. Sunil’s dentist empire has a convincing webpage, some solid online reviews and it’s own fleet of cars that promise to whisk you from your hotel to an bright future of dental wellness. I’ve been to Bangkok before, seen most of the temples and have floated through many a market, but what I hadn’t done yet was jump into the hit-or-miss, cost saving world of medical tourism. How could all those smiling people on Yelp be faking it, right? My concerns eased up as the driver pulled into a gated community and up to a giant mansion-turned-dental-compound. There were life-size statues of religious figures in the hallways and ornate carpets on all the walls. Carpets ON THE WALLS! There was also a needless amount of well dressed, helpful people that wanted to explain all sorts of things in numerous private rooms. Some of the rooms were just stairwells with a curtain separating you from the rest of the hallway. Nonetheless, the marble floors were so flawless that we were instructed to wear shower caps on our feet. Incidentally the only other time I’d had to do that was at the Taj Mahal. X-rays were taken, and the prognosis was handed out in between being massaged by two giggling Thai girls. I’m serious. I was led from the lobby, into small meeting rooms, to the massage girls, into procedure rooms about 12 times over the course of 3 hours. But at the end if it, I walked out with more fillings than I even knew that I needed and a earful of dental hygiene instructions. All in all, it all came down to the same exact advice as the US, at a fraction of the cost. Floss daily. Don’t brush too hard. And now, no chewing on ice cubes like a frustrated creative head case. Damn it, I loved chewing on ice.
It may or may not be a problem and it depends on who you ask, but I tend to think I deserve rewards with a good amount of regularity. I decided that what better way to unwind than to get a massage at Turkish bath. After entering the building I quickly realized that my concept of what a Turkish bath was somewhat inaccurate (at least outside of Turkey) and I stepped into one of the most bizarre flesh markets that I’d ever seen. Imagine a room full of Thai guys separated from a group of Thai girls of all different shapes and sizes by a dividing glass wall. And the girls are wearing bikinis with number badges on them and smiling maniacally. It was also really bright and I was standing there, feeling kind of out of place and still holding Dr. Sunil’s folder with my X-rays. The guys looked away while the girls waved at me. A man who introduced himself as Mr. Chun walked up to me and said that for 1500 Baht (USD$45) I could get a massage, bubble bath (with vitamin bubbles whatever those are), and full “boom boom”, a phrase he underscored with an extended forearm and fist. I asked where the bathroom was and while I mulled over what seemed like a pretty good deal, even if I just settled for a massage and nice bubble bath, one of the girls walked in and proceeded to unleash a heavy stream in the urinal next to me. I left the bathroom, waved and Mr. Chun and the girls and headed back outside, grateful that my tuk tuk was waiting for me.
As we zoomed back to a more familiar territory I spotted a more typical looking massage place, hopped off the tuk tuk and stopped in. This experience was much more familiar and for 400 Baht (USD$12) I got an amazing massage while I thought about what a wonderfully bizarre day it had been. After the massage Jeanie gave me her card and offered to come down to the island of Koh Pha Ngan as my companion. I politely told her that I was going to be pretty busy with yoga and personal transformation, but thanked her kindly and went on my way. At this point I found myself walking through the streets with perma-smile, blissed out from my massage. Men and women alike smiled back, partaking in a societal level of oxytocin exchange that I’ve found in few other places on this planet. As I cut through a hedonistic neighborhood called Nana, the shear amount of stimulation and temptation were hard to ignore. Strong, delicious smells from street food vendors, drink specials and buckets of local beer spilling out of bars, and stunning girls at every turn smiling and holding eye contact as I walked by. Sure each of them all want to encourage me to part with some of my Baht, but the truth is everyone, everywhere wants something from you, and at least in this case it’s apparent what it is.
I felt my spiritual resolve bend under the weight of such exotic temptations on offer for such a nominal cost. On one hand I feel a deep calling to continue towards all that is soulful in this world, but I also can’t deny the excitement I feel from flirting with the edge of morality. After all, I reasoned with myself, isn’t it’s ALL part of the human experience? And aren’t I here to experience as much as possible? If so then why would I deny myself any of it? OK, except maybe on moral grounds but even that is a pretty damn slippery, subjective, entirely contextual and fleeting set of guidelines as it is!
A thought experiment: If you had enough money to live decently well in an exotic place, full of sensual delights and far from your typical context, would you? If I was smart with my savings I could probably do just that. In an instant I felt like part of this trip was to answer that questionf or myself. In the past I’ve compulsively worked on things that promote others, while often neglecting my own wellbeing. Recently I have begun to wonder how much of that compulsion is rooted in an anxious kernel in my character that is camouflaging a need to outwardly prove myself. Regardless, if I think I can influence the world in a positive way, is it my obligation to do that? I had taken refuge at a little bar for dinner where my mind was spiraling around this inner debate. I was frowning and mulling it over as I washed down some insanely good street food with some local beer. These internal quandaries have been stretty standard for me throughout my life and in the past could leave me feeling pretty mentally exhausted. But this time when I finally felt that I’d reached a heady impasse, my last few months of my meditation practice kicked and told me that neither is right or wrong and that they’re just different paths. And more importantly I told myself “you already know the right answer, so chill the fuck out, cool your head and just follow your heart, bro. And if you fall off, get back up and continue with as much grace, compassion and self-love as you can muster.” Mother fuckin’ mindfulness, works every time! I laughed out loud as my entire perception opened back up to the world around me just in time to see some lighting coming from behind those buildings. And just like that the sky opened up and the street was plunged into a sopping, tropical chaos.
People ran for shelter and those that didn’t care walked around like Halloween zombies, makeup streaming down their faces, old people, young people, locals, foreigners, prostitutes and john’s alike. As for me, I found myself taking shelter under a metal stairwell at the back of the open air bar that I’d been eating at, joined by a prostitute who’s pending client had got up just before the rain started to pursue a ladyboy that had come strutting by. Jolie was her name and she was not the most happy of Thai people I’d met on today’s adventure. She gestured at the Muslim ice cream vendor across the street and went on to tell me that if she was prime minister she’d kick out all the Muslims and only give Americans one week visas. I tried to tell her that I was Californian, not American, but I don’t think she registered the full weight of that distinction. Her English was decent thought so i decided to pivot the direction of the conversion and take the opportunity to get some English/Thai phrases out of her her which hopefully would be humorously inappropriate for mixed company, as is usually how I begin learning a language. The rain continued so I bought her some dinner and once she got bored of translating phrases she went on a tirade about the Thai government so I began spacing out and thinking about writing this story about my first day in Bangkok. Jolie apparently felt neglected because after the last bite of pad Thai she got up, used one of the derogatory phrases she’d just taught me, on me, and stormed out of the bar. The waitress saw what happened and came over “I don’t have a boyfriend” she said, at which point she placed a whisky in front of me and winked.
What a weird place this is. And I can’t help but love it. I guess what I really want in life is to experience as much as possible in my brief time on earth. Pleasure, pain, passion, chaos, happiness, drama, meaning, excess, sacrifice, interconnectedness, solitude, the sparkly bells whistles of the infinite and the supreme stillness of nothingness. Mine is the relentless quest of the experience junkie, a journey through the full spectrum of the human experience.
The torrential rain had subsided so I paid my check and walked out into the drizzle, ready for what the rest of the night had in store. After all this city never sleeps. But that’s another story, for another time 🙂