Avery Goes To Asia: Day 4-7

DAY 4

I wake up hungry. And wondering why I’m still in my clothes from the night before. And slightly confused as to where I was (these are all signs of a fun night).  I text my mother to let her know I’m alive and start piecing together the events from the night before to write down before I forget. I wait until I hear Berg stirring in his room, before I start being loud and complaining about how I want food (this is perfectly normal behavior). He rolls out to the living room, with an EMPTY gallon of milk. I couldn’t make that up if I tried. It was hysterical.

 

I am convinced we need to get dressed and start eating. I throw my hair into a nasty braid/ponytail combo, toss on some sunglasses and we hit the road, showers are for people that have time on their hands (and for people who can smell their own stench). We walk a few blocks to a shopping center called United, and wander down to a little shop where I proceed to order Copi-K, which is basically a jet fuel of a coffee with some condensed milk and a Prata with egg and cheese that of course comes with curry sauce for dipping.  The inside of the restaurant was packed, so we took a seat on the patio and chowed down, while recapping the shenanigans from the night before.  Not to be sappy or sentimental, but some of the most wonderful moments of my life have been over Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast recanting the ridiculous things we’d gotten ourselves into, I’m going to make a habit of doing this more when I get back to America.

 

After breakfast, Berg became my personal tour guide.  Now, a little more background- he’s lived here since January of 2012, but he also spent ages 12-14 (I believe) living here with his family. So this isn’t his first Singaporean rodeo food market. I am eternally grateful to have someone that cares about the culture and has a similar obsession with food, to put up with me across the globe.  Thanks again Berg.

 

We head down the MRT to head to a restaurant that serves the number one food on my list- chicken rice (my mouth is salivating as I type, just thinking about having it again). We arrive at this huge shopping mall (again, everything is in a mall here, except hawker stands of course), and make our way up to the restaurant. I immediately know it’s going to be delicious, because I can see the dead chickens hanging up and there’s quite a few people there at 11am on a Saturday (Singaporeans LOVE to booze hard and party).

 

We take a seat, and Berg knows every single person that works there. This is an even better sign.  We order drinks- lime juice, which might be a new go to drink on a hot day, it’s so crisp and light and refreshing- and Berg explains to me about two varieties of chicken rice. The first is served cold- the chicken is boiled and then when it’s finished it’s dunked into ice. The second is served hot, which is what I tried.

 

First our waitress brings us a bowl of chicken broth. It is oily, not too milky, flavored perfectly and hands down the most fantastic broth I’ve had to date. I take a sip, and know I’m in for a real treat. She brings over our rice on one plate, a tiny bowl for our ginger and chilies mixture, and our plate of chicken with a few veggies on it. I had no idea what to do. I followed Berg’s lead by placing my ginger/chilies mixture in a pat of rice, adding a little bit of chicken with broth to it, and putting it in my mouth. SWEET JESUS, IT WAS AMAZING.  I could eat that rice everyday of my life and never get sick of it. The rice was perfectly cooked, was perfectly greasy without being over powering and slid down your throat effortlessly (when it’s clumpy and poorly cooked it doesn’t go down as well). I gobbled mine and if I hadn’t known that the entire day was going to be centered around food, I might have had an Oliver Twist moment. We paid for our food (it was $10 total for both meals and drinks, which is super cheap!) and headed back to the MRT. Next stop, Chinatown.

 

When we came up from the MRT station, it was supremely evident that we in Chinatown. The buildings were all ornate and many covered in gold, the streets were packed with people bustling around and there was merchandise to be purchased everywhere. One thing that you won’t hear me say is that I spent time shopping while out of town.  I immensely dislike shopping in America, so why on earth would I spend my precious free time shopping when I could be learning or exploring?

 

We wandered around the markets where people were hawking all sorts of trinkets and “I love Singapore” shirts, and then Berg mentioned they have some of the best restaurant supply shops in Asia, right around the corner from where we were. We had discussed going to the Buddhist Tooth Temple first and grabbing something to drink (I wanted to try durian juice). I used the ladies room (for $.10) and then grabbed some Soursop juice (they had durian juice, but it was with milk, and I’m bound and determined to try the real thing) instead. I don’t know how to describe Soursop juice except that its relatively sweet, kind of like how a cantaloupe is sweet, with pieces of the fruit and the seeds floating around in the cup.  It was cold and refreshing, so no complaints here.

 

The temple was directly across the street from the market we stopped at, and I was wearing a just above the knee, one shouldered red dress, a very large white shawl, and wedges. I would NEVER enter a place of worship, let alone one that isn’t my own, with my shoulders uncovered. I know better. Before we entered I wrapped my shawl around me in a manner that was respectful, and we stepped over the threshold into the temple. We were in there about 5 seconds before a man points at our feet and tells us we have to cover our feet or leave. There was a man standing directly next to him, who entered long before us, with his feet uncovered and he said absolutely nothing to him. So we walked back out of the temple, looked in the box where they keep the shawls and foot coverings and couldn’t find any. It really wasn’t worth the hassle, so we left.  As we were walking out, Berg said, “congratulations, now you know what it’s like to be discriminated against.” Hopefully that’s the first and last time I get kicked out of a place of worship.

 

As we headed back to the MRT, we stopped by the restaurant supply shops, which had anything you could imagine to make Asian cuisine. I picked up a few fun items, and we back to Clarke Quay to chomp on some food at a place called Brewerkz (a Singaporean brewery).

 

We met up with his friend Ian from the UK (he is cray-cray), and whatdya know, we had some cider.  About ¾ of the way through my cider, I hit that dreaded jet lag wall (it was roughly 4am in America). I politely paid for my drink, excused myself, and grabbed a taxi back to Berg’s house for a nap.

 

I wake up two hours later (on the couch) to Berg walking in the front door, wasted. And speaking loudly.  I was mucho mucho confused. I’m huddled under a blanket and he keeps saying, “14 hour jet lag is real! 14 hour jet lag is real!”  Thank Berg, I hadn’t noticed.

 

[Berg would like me to state for the record since his mother {Hi Janice!} is also reading this, that he’s not an alcoholic, he’s just having fun. I would also like to point out that of ALL of my friends, Berg has set me up with FOUR hot guys {Michael, Ryan, Robbie and one you’re about to read about}. The only other person that has come close to setting me up with that many hot guys is Amy & Slade with a whopping TWO. The rest of y’all need to step up your game, so I can step up mine.]

 

Let me give you a little background on what is about to transpire: A little over a month ago, at 3 am when I couldn’t sleep, I g-chatted Berg (that sounds dirty, maybe I should say Google-chatted like an old fogey) and asked him if he had any cute, single ex-pat friends.  He told me that he didn’t and that all his guy friends here were not my type or gross (I’m paraphrasing).  Then, about 2 weeks ago, Berg said he had an expat friend that was an energy trader who went to Duke that was 5’10 that might be right up my alley. Ding ding ding. Then, a few days before I departed from Texas he g-chats me to say that his friend would like me to know that’s he’s actually 6’1”. Even better. And Mom, maybe you should stop reading right now. (Not really)

 

Back to Berg blabbering like a hyena while I’m rolled up in the fetal position on the couch wishing there was something magical that could cure my jetlag that wasn’t called Naughty G (aka the Horny Goat). Here is Berg’s diatribe, in all its glory:

 

“KJ’s coming over.  I think you’re going to like him, y’all are really similar. Wanna see a picture. Let me get my ipad, I’m gonna show you a picture. [Gets his ipad] Okay this isn’t the best picture, but here’s his picture. He’s kind of demanding so maybe you won’t like him, but I think you’re going to like him.  Also, he played lacrosse at Duke when all that happened; so maybe don’t make any jokes about that. But I think you’re going to like him.” (He repeats this to me about 4 times while I’m attempting to get ready)

 

Right as I’m finishing getting dressed, KJ shows up.  I am wearing a white lace dress and heels. KJ shows up in tailored pants and a pale blue Lacoste polo. Berg is wearing a Coors Light trucker hat, shorts and what appears to be a running jacket. Do you see an issue here?

 

To make matters even more hilarious, Berg was exactly right; KJ is very similar to me in that when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. And we were ready to go and Berg was piddling around. So I opened a bottle of Veuve, KJ opened a bottle of wine and we sat and chatted on the couch while we waited for Berg to make himself presentable.

 

Berg was correct, I do enjoy KJ. He is smart, articulate and it didn’t hurt that he is tall, blonde and smokin’ hot. Berg makes his grand reappearance, and we’ve both plowed halfway through our respective bottles.  We make roadies (I despise drinking champagne out of anything but glass, but I suppose that’s a serious first world problem) and hop in a taxi. But not after Berg and KJ go back in forth 15 times on where they’re going to take me- Korean barbeque or Sushi.

 

They decide on Korean barbeque (I was not excited about this because I felt burned out on it from eating it in Houston all the time), and we are on way to a very neat place called Dempsey. 

 

Here’s where things get fuzzy. For all of us (I’m not 100% certain Berg remembers any of this). We walk up to Dempsey and are told we have to get rid of our drinks. I am not about to dump out good champagne and I won’t let Berg either, so we chug the roadies (that’d be a great name for a band “Chug The Roadies”). We are seated at a table outside and we meet our waiter Eric. I should also point out, that Dempsey is a nice restaurant, and three thirds of our group is star spangle hammered. The first third can barely function (Berg), the second third is being overly bossy (surprisingly not me, but KJ), and the third third keeps going to the bathroom and can’t hold her chopsticks because they seem way to long (me). So naturally we order Korean sake and beers and start taking sake bombs.

 

I remember eating two bowls of sardines (this was at the beginning and they were phenomenal), some waygu beef, barely eating a bowl of kimchi soup because KJ took all my silverware and chopsticks away, talking to Eric our waiter like he actually had a clue what I was saying, trying desperately to stay awake, and drinking copious amounts of water. And the guys kept chugging sake. It was a disaster. (I conferred with Berg, and he could not add any additional details to my account). So unless I go back and consult with Eric, we’ll never know what truly went on at that dinner table.

 

I think I was in the bathroom for the 9,000th time, when the guys decided they were going to take me to a place called “Orchard Towers”. And there is only one way to describe what Orchard Towers is- a place for transvestites and hookers to congregate.

 

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but the driver pulls us up to what looks like a tall white office building, right near a shopping mall. I’m thinking, that this looks pretty harmless. WRONG.

 

As we walk around the building to the entrance, I start getting confused. Then we walk in the building, and my mind is blown. There are men, dressed as women, soliciting themselves to men. We go up an escalator (which I loved!), and it looks like the inside of an old dilapidated shopping mall from the 80’s. If any of y’all remember Prestonwood Mall in Dallas before they tore it down, kinda like that. It’s a rectangular shaped building and there are “bars” surrounding us. And I have to pee again.

 

I was afraid to go to the bathroom because I was scared that I was going to see a girls penis, (I’m truly sorry if what I’m about to say offends any of my lady friends, because I don’t want to hurt any ones feelings if you maybe have a big floppy member that I don’t know about) and to be perfectly candid, I’m not sure I ever want to see a girls penis.

 

But I strapped on my big girl panties (that may not be the best use of that phrase in this exact situation), and used the ladies room. I’ve never washed my hands that fast in my life. I walk out of the bathroom, and Berg and KJ are GONE. I start having a mild panic attack. I walk around that floor (the inner perimeter of where the bars are located). Can’t find them. I go down a floor. Can’t find them. I go back up to where I was, and see them as I turn the corner, at what I think was a food court type thing, but I was so overcome with joy that it might not have been that at all.

 

I’m sure in real life I was alone less than 30 seconds, but it felt like 10 minutes. We make our way into the first bar. It’s small, maybe 20×40 has a very small platform with two poles, (only two people could comfortably stand on it, to give you a scale of how small it was) and the room has about 10 women in there.  We walk in, get a drink (because clearly what we needed was more alcohol) and then focus our attention to the platform. There is a scantily clad blonde woman and a Thai woman doing what I think was a dance. I say think, because it wasn’t really a dance, it was more like holding onto a pole while moving your hips over your toes. It turns out; Singapore has very strict rules for “dancing” in clubs like that.  There’s no stripping, no provocative dancing, just the most awkward wiggle of the hips that I’ve ever seen. I saw my Baptist college roommate dance more aggressively than these girls. I’m thinking that this really wasn’t as bad as I thought, and I say as much to Berg and KJ. Then they point out what I don’t realize.

 

They aren’t girls.

 

We finished our drinks, and went to the next bar, a place called (okay, I don’t remember what it was called and I’m on an airplane so I have no one to ask).  Same thing. A room filled with “girls”. This one had a big dance floor and I started dancing by myself, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when a Britney Spears song comes on and there’s a dance floor? Not at Orchard Towers. I quickly realized that I was being stared at. And I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me, but I did not want people thinking I was a transvestite hooker. (Berg claims that everyone here probably thinks I’m a Russian hooker since I’m so blonde and tall, I disagree, but I’ve been asked twice if I was Russian, so who knows).

 

Next we go into a place that Berg wouldn’t stop talking about (the name also escapes me).  There is a woman named Janis (like his mom, but he says it’s like Joplin), who is probably 40 years old (and actually a woman [I hate that I have to clarify that]) that is the lead singer of a cover band. And he freaking loves that band. Almost to a point that it’s kind of weird. Shortly thereafter, KJ’s friend Maureen shows up with her friend (who I think was named Amy, but she was wearing what looked like really bad cargo shorts, so I honestly didn’t pay attention to her name [priorities y’all]). I am drinking water and getting very, very tired. I was afraid to sit down, so I went to the front of the stage where the band was playing and sang along, until Berg decided he’d had enough of cheering for Janis and it was time to go home. We piled into the car and went home, where I kind of remember skyping with Liz, but did have the wherewithal to brush my teeth and put on my pajamas shortly before zonking out around 3 am (that entire account was pretttyyyy fuzzy, and I know some other crazy things happened, but no one is precisely sure).

 

And to all the moms reading this, don’t worry. None of us touched any hookers or trannies.

 

DAY 5

I woke up at 6 am and couldn’t sleep. I reached for my phone, and immediately notice that my ROAMING was turned on. I looked to see if I had made any calls, and I made ONE. I’m really embarrassed to admit whom I tried to drunk dial at 3am, but I think it’s important to own up to your mistakes and learn from them.

 

I called my Grandmother.

 

Thankfully she didn’t answer. I’m not sure how I thought that 3 am conversation would go with my never drank a drop of alcohol in her life grandmother.

 

Hey Gran-Gran, I’m drunk in Singapore watching trannies and hookers, how’s bridge club going? Did you win?”

 

Or

 

Gran-Gran, I don’t even know my own name right now, but wanted to wish you a happy Mother’s Day!”

 

Clearly that wasn’t a well thought out decision. (Also, I’ve never drunk dialed my grandmother before, and am fairly certain I won’t ever do it again)

 

I switched my phone back off and patiently waited for Berg to wake up. And as always, I was hungry. There was a true and honest fear that he might actually sleep until 2 pm, and I would be scared to wake him up, but thankfully around 8:30 am he woke up and graced us with his presence.

 

Berg plops himself down on the couch and says, “Want McDelivery?”. THERE IS NOTHING I WANT MORE AFTER A NIGHT OF DEBAUCHERY THAN AN EGG MCMUFFIN DELIVERED TO MY FRONT DOOR WHILE I SIT ON THE COUCH COMPLAINING THAT I’M HUNGRY AND MY HEAD HURTS. I love my Mom, but that egg McMuffin; hash brown and pineapple smoothie might have been the greatest Mother’s Day brunch of my life.

 

As soon as we finished lunch, we left Berg’s to go meet KJ for lunch. While riding the MRT, Berg nudges me and tells me to look to my right. I saw my first Singaporean police officers. It’s odd because you don’t see officers, police cars or any sort of government vehicles anywhere (fun fact- in Singapore they don’t have the right of way). They boarded the train with us, and stood there with their guns like toy soliders.  We got off at the next stop and met up with KJ for lunch.

 

It was a food court type place, and since I was still not feeling 100%, I picked a simple chicken pho and spring rolls, with lime juice and then also got a Pepto Bismol drink that I think had boba (which I love), but it tasted like someone had added sugar to lighter fluid (which, let me tell ya, did wonders for my hangover). We rehashed what we could remember of our night and went about our merry way, as I had a flight to catch.

 

I made the mistake of telling Berg that since it was only one stop on MRT that I wanted to walk. After 5 minutes of walking in the scorching heat, I regretted that decision.  After a lot of complaining from both parties, we made it back to Bergs house, I hopped in a taxi and headed to the airport to catch my flight to Bangkok, Thailand.

 

I arrive at the airport, make it through immigration, and board the plane without a hitch.  I am elated. This will be a quick 2-hour flight, I’ll get in a good nap and go party my face off in Thailand. This is where I should learn that I really need to just stop making plans, because something always happens.

 

We board a very full flight (again Singapore Air) and unfortunately, I’m in a middle seat. The gentlemen on both sides of me are thin, and I want to sleep, so it really doesn’t matter that much. We take off, and after the captain turns off the fasten seatbelt sign, the person in front of me fully reclines his seat (on this plane, the seat actually kicked out a little and had reclined a good amount). It’s his seat, and I think that’s perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. In turn, I put my seat partially down. Halfway at most. The man by the window does the same. I put my headphones on, and start watching the documentary “The Boy Who Could Not Forget” (side note: I have an arguably unhealthy fixation with people who have Superior Autobiographical Memories [and the human memory in general], I’ve ready multiple books on it, including Jill Price’s book, so I was pumped they had this as an option on the flight). Moments later, the flight attendant is talking to the Korean woman behind me. She steps forward and tells both the Japanese man next to me, and myself that we have to put our seats up. When we put our seats up though, both of our knees are hitting the seat in front of us. We both comply, but a few minutes later when they serve us dinner, we find that it’s incredibly uncomfortable to have the tray table pushing into our laps.  So we ever so slightly recline our seats. DING. She calls the flight attendant again. This time I take off my headphones, and although I don’t know exactly what she’s saying, I can recognize bitching in any language.

 

The man next to me turns and we give each other a “can you believe this woman” look, and put our seats back up. She got up and went to the bathroom about an hour in, and so I moved my seat back SLIGHTLY, not to cause trouble, but because I truly couldn’t fall asleep sitting straight up in a middle seat. The moment she gets back- DING. Now she’s almost shouting at the flight attendant, who gives me an “I’m so sorry” look and asks me to push my seat up just a little if I could.  Flight attendants have a hard enough job, and I obliged and apologized for inconveniencing her.

 

I suppose not allowing me to recline my seat just wasn’t enough for the woman behind me, BECAUSE FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE FLIGHT, SHE CONTINUALLY KICKED MY CHAIR. LIKE A TODDLER. There is only one word I would like to use to describe that woman, but it’s not very nice, so I’ll refrain. Needless to say, I was less than pleased.

 

Once we had landed, I reached down into my bag (I only took a Longchamp bag with a change of clothes in it to Thailand to avoid another bag checking debacle), took my Sperry’s off, and put my heels on. All 6’4” of me stood up straight, turned around and looked that tiny little woman straight in the eyes. And smiled.  She smiled right back. What a raging lunatic bitch.

 

I debarked the plane, made it through customs without a hitch and went to get a taxi. Berg comes to Thailand for work, and I had read that the taxi drivers in Bangkok would try to rip you off (especially if you’re an American), so I asked him what I should expect to negotiate as my cab fare from the airport to my hotel. He said negotiate 300 Baht and THEY pay the tolls.  Simple enough. I make my way to the taxi stand, and go to the first person that smiles at me, hoping she knows English, because I know one phrase in Thai, and that’s “thank you”.

 

She doesn’t know English. She hands me a piece of paper and basically pushes me into a taxi. “NO! NO! NO!” I say to her. I show her my printed off itinerary with the name of the hotel written in Thai, and say “300 Baht, HE PAYS TOLLS.” She tells me it’s 500, and points at a piece of paper that in English says the passenger is responsible for the tolls. That’s not what I want, so I start to walk away.  She comes back and says “400!” and points at the paper again. I shake my head no.  We finally agree on 300 and I pay the tolls, and I hop in the cab. I show the driver my piece of paper and although he doesn’t speak English, I can tell he doesn’t know where this place is. He pulls out a cell phone and points at it (while driving mind you) and keeps repeating something in Thai. He could have been saying it was a zombie apocalypse and I would have been none the wiser. I assumed he wanted the phone number, so I pulled out a card from my bag and wrote it down for him. He then called the hotel (again, I’m assuming) and gave the card back to me. He continued to talk the entire 40-minute ride; I guess he didn’t get the hint that I don’t speak Thai.

 

We pull up to my hotel and I’m impressed (and feeling pretty gratified that my hotel research has paid off). I like to stay at boutique hotels when I have the option and ability to do so, and this was in the business district and near where I would be doing a bike tour the next day. The hotel is only about 5 stories, the lobby is clean, has gorgeous tile and the woman at the front desk was friendly and spoke a little English.  She hands me a key, and I make my way to my room on the 4th floor.

 

The first thing I notice when I get on the elevator is that it’s not nearly as clean as the lobby and that it’s miserably hot. I pull my key out of the envelope I was given to see that it’s an ACTUAL key (this is only moderately alarming because I’ve stayed in plenty of European hotels that don’t use electronic keys and never had a problem). I get to my room, and it’s unlocked. And hot. Air that hadn’t been circulated in days, kind of hot. It’s at this point that I recognize that this is a problem for me. I walked downstairs and asked the woman about the lack of cold air.  She didn’t understand. She went and found a gentleman that spoke English, and it was at that point I was informed that the air conditioning wasn’t working in the building due to construction (which I could see), but I was welcome to open the window to my room. I was not elated to stay in a hot room. I politely asked for a refund for my stay because the hotel was not as advertised, and they graciously granted my request. (What is odd is that I saw guests coming in and out of the hotel, which is hard to imagine because it was not pleasant once you got past the lobby.

 

I recalled Berg saying that he stayed at the J.W. Marriott when he came to Thailand for business, so I googled the address, found and negotiated a taxi, and continued on my journey.

 

The J.W. Marriott was on the same road as the first hotel (and only about 3k away), but the traffic was so awful that it took us nearly an hour.  That, and the cab driver kept turning the wrong way when I would to him where to turn (this happened 2 times).

 

I don’t usually get nervous about trivial tasks, but I have never just arrived at a hotel without a reservation (even that time I went to Cincinnati on a whim to meet a guy I met on Twitter [let me know if you haven’t heard that story, it’s a doozy], I called and had made a reservation as I was driving). I through the lobby and to the desk where three beautiful Thai women stood smiling at me.  I explained my first hotel did not work out and did they have something available for the next two evenings. They did! As I was checking in and giving her my Marriott information, a fourth girl appeared from a concealed door and gave me a warm rag and my new favorite beverage, chrysanthemum tea. If you all get a box of tea from my upon my return, now you’ll understand why.  It’s lovely and perfect in every way.

 

The girl that checked me in, escorted me up to my room (which felt a little silly since I didn’t have any bags, and know how to use an elevator), showed me how to turn on the lights (in hindsight was helpful because it was electronic and I wouldn’t have been able to figure it out), and drew my curtains. 

 

By this point, it was about 8pm and I was beat and starting to get hungry again. After a rushed shower, I walked outside, found a food stand with chicken satay and chomped on it as I journeyed back. I stopped in at the hotel bar, sucked down a glass of wine, and it was at that point I realized that my night of partying my face off was probably not the best idea since I had to be at my bike tour at 8 am. Although I was disappointed in my lack of energy at the time, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

 

DAY 6

I woke up at 2 am and could NOT go back to sleep. I did some writing and reading until about 5 am, and decided to “get ready” for my bike tour. Since it takes all of 4 minutes to throw on sunscreen and yoga clothes, I had some time on my hands. So I decided to explore. I took a taxi to the river since my tour started near there and started walking around.  There wasn’t much open, but I stumbled upon some monks leaving a temple and followed them for a few blocks to see what they were up to (it wasn’t much, in case you were wondering).

 

My tummy was rumbling, but I wasn’t sure where I should get food, so I walked over to a group of TukTuk’s negotiated 50 Baht’s and made a motion with my hands for food. “GOOD FOOD!” I told the man. I made my way to the back of the TukTuk, and we TukTuk off (That was bad. Really bad. I should delete it, but I want to remember it for the million times I tell this story in the future, so I won’t). The old man, who I’m 99% sure was drunk or on drugs (from his eyes, not his driving) drives me for about 10 minutes when he stops in front of a building. A Starbucks. Thankfully, there was a food stand on the sidewalk, so I don’t pay him to get him to stay there. I have no earthly idea what anything is that they’re serving, so I point and say “something good” and then hold up 2 fingers. She must have understood, because she made me a box with rice, some sort of fried pork and fish patty and a fried egg. Then she made another one.  I thanked her (in Thai), handed the TukTuk driver the food (he was really surprised) and he drove me back to where he had picked me up.  The free boat that takes people across the river (which was dilapidated and filthy) drops off near this area, so there were dozens of men on motorcycles that for 10 to 20 Bahts would take you wherever you wanted to go. I figured, since I had just put my life in a strangers hands on the TukTuk, I might as well live on the wild side and get on a motorcycle for the first time in my life.

 

Just kidding, Mom (she made me promise when I like 15 years old that I would never ride a motorcycle, and I still haven’t done it yet).

 

One of the interesting things about the scooters is that you would see 4 people on a scooter made for two people, and besides, the driver, no one seemed to be hanging on. It’s like they thought their butts were glued to the seats and they wouldn’t fall off. I also saw dogs at the foot of the scooter draped across both sides just flying by, as well as children that couldn’t have been more than two years old riding on the back, helmet free. It makes me laugh to think about how many laws America has banning things like that, yet its part of everyday life around the world. (If you ever want to get me started on something political, come to lunch with me and I’ll tell you why I think seatbelt laws are ridiculous [even though I choose to wear one anytime I’m in a vehicle]).

 

It was about time for my bike tour to start, so I arrived (and of course I was early) at Co Van Kessel.

 

I’m going to preface this story, because I think it’s significant to note what I thought would be going on during the day of biking. A friend of an ex-boyfriend suggested that she and her husband did a bike tour in Bangkok through a company called Co Van Kessel, and that it was right up my alley. I thought that was a brilliant idea, because there is nothing I love more than tooting along on a bicycle looking at sights of a city, faster than you could walk, but slower than in a car where you can miss things. I’ve done bike tours all over the world and it seemed like the most logical, and the most enjoyable choice for me.  I researched a few other bike companies in Bangkok, but this one had great reviews of its guides and seemed legit (and I had a recommendation from someone who knows me and what I like, and did I mention she’s friends with my ex-boyfriend [I should have taken that as a red flag]). So I booked it. There were options to do a morning tour that was 4 hours, an all day tour that was 9 hours or a night tour that was after dark and 3 hours.  I thought “I’ll get to see EVERYTHING if I do the 9 hour tour”, so that’s the one I booked. *I just glanced at the website again, post ride, and really wish I had looked at the photos and read a little more carefully. *

 

As I’m waiting for my 9-hour bike tour to start, I meet the only other people in the tour group, Gerda and her husband Rik.  They are from Antwerp, and I’m guessing from everything we talked about during the day, were probably in their mid to late 50’s. They were lovely, and I figured, I could keep up with them on bikes all day.  Our guides come over around this time and introduce themselves- “M” is our lead guide and “Jack” will be pulling up the rear. They both speak more English than any other person I’d met up to this point in Thailand, so I was stoked. “M” then tells us that there are three things we have to know during our ride today:

1)   Stay in a straight line at all times. (This should have a yellow flag for me)

2)   Go to the bathroom before we leave. (That doesn’t phase me, because with as much time as I spend outside, I’ve learned to hold it or go anywhere, sorry if that’s TMI)

3)   Concentrate when you are riding your bike, don’t look around too much (BIG RED FLAG).

 

The guides take us out to the bike garage (besides my hotel, their office and bike garage were the cleanest things I had seen in Thailand), and I pick a “city bike” which was essentially a single speed beach cruiser with a basket on the front for my backpack. My bike is also the only one with a bell (and as someone who likes to be the center of attention, made my day). When we started it was 97 degrees with 100% humidity. I was sweating before I even hopped on the bike.

 

We start off, M in the lead, then me, then Rik and Gerda with Jack bringing up the rear. The first turn we make takes us down a very narrow alley. Narrow enough that if a person is walking, we have to stop and get off the bike. This makes me a littler nervous, because my arms are just a little too long for the handlebars (remember, I’m a giant in Asia), so my control and balance isn’t quite right, but I continue on.

 

Now, my first impression of Southeast Asia, was pristine, clean, friendly, westernized Singapore. I was not prepared, mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally for what this day had in store. The first thing I’m noticing as we’re twisting and turning through these back alleys is that I have never seen so much trash in my life. Not in Mexico, not in Honduras, not in Eastern Europe. There is trash everywhere.  The other thing that took me off guard was how many cats there were. On food stands, sprawled out in the alley (they literally wouldn’t move, so you’d have to pick up your bike and walk around them), under tables, on clothing racks . . .you name it, and I saw a cat on it.  And they weren’t cute little cats; they were filthy, mangy, feral cats.  We saw a kitten that was so covered in mange and bugs that I didn’t even know what it was until I asked Jack. I thought it was a rat that maybe had some sort of deformity or something. I hope that paints a picture of what we’re starting to ride through. 

 

About 20 minutes of winding (at this point I realize that 2 guides are needed because if something happens to one of them while on the tour, no one would have any idea how to get help, or get us back to where we started) and we make our first stop. It’s an enormous tree with massive tangled roots, covered in what appears to be tulle, in every color you can imagine. “M” (I’m gonna stop using quotes for his name after this because it’s getting annoying, so don’t think it’s a typo, I checked their website and that’s actually how he spells his name) explains to us that this is called a “Holy Tree” and it’s actually not Buddhist, but a Hindu practice that looks over their sprit house and is said to help protect them. I thought it was really beautiful. We move along through even more narrow back alleys (I later find out that they’re actually roads), and stop at a Chinese Buddhist temple that is for the God of doctors to help heal the sick and had three alters, one for heaven, one for mercy, and one for the after life. The significance of stopping here did not dawn on me and become heavy on my heart until the day was over, but I think that stop on our route was intentional and retrospectively incredibly thought provoking.

 

We hop back on our bikes and turn down wider streets and start making our way through thousands of shops and what appear to be homes.  By now, I have decided that because it’s so narrow, I’d rather be at the back so I can see how Rik and Gerda are navigating on their bikes, so that I don’t crash into someone or something. I turn to Jack and ask him where we are.  He tells me that this is the wholesale area and where people go to buy things if they need many of them. 

 

What I’m about to say will make me sound like a snobby, pretentious and privileged asshole, but it’s the truth- I would not have bought one thing from any of those shops. Every single shop was in disarray, swarming with bugs, filled with cats, dogs and feces. To me, it was gross (I’m a neat freak and obsessively clean my house, but even so, this was still exceptionally foul). We continue on biking through this area, dodging dogs, scooters, children when we get stuck behind a truck.  You see, the street is only big enough for one car to fit through (and even then, that’s tight), so when a truck stops to make a delivery, you either wait, or find a new route.  We waited about 5 minutes before M waved us down a side street (another alley). We go about 30 yards before I see, what I’m sure everyone already smelled.  We were in a meat and fish market, not FDA approved, I might add.

 

Look y’all; I will eat just about anything. I eat any American food (except pudding), and don’t turn my nose up at food placed in front of me. I love trying new things and would say that I’m easily the most adventurous and open-minded person I know when it comes to food.  But there is no way I’d try anything in that market. I thought it was foul, and I couldn’t even smell it. There was rancid meat everywhere. Fish rotting. I had to breathe through my nose because I could actually taste the decaying flesh in my mouth.

 

After we passed through the meat market, we were back out on an open and very busy street, where we jay-biked (it’s like jay walking, but on a bike) and were pretty close to being struck by speeding TukTuk’s, scooters and vehicles that were 5 years past needing a new transmissions.  We come up to a river and cross a bridge with a gorgeous view, and a canopy of vibrant trees (they looked like they were mimosa trees, but I don’t think that’s exactly what they were), and I’m thinking, “Okay, this is where we really get going.” Little did I know . . .

 

After we carry our bikes down the steep bridge, we cross two more busy streets and walk up to a train station. Imagine a new, sleek, shiny train station. Now picture the opposite of that. That’s where we were.  It was Bangkok Central Train Station, and nothing, including the trains had changed in 116 years. We were told to follow Jack, while M went and picked up our tickets.  Jack walked up to one of the hundreds of vendors sitting along the train tracks (there were maybe 6-8 train lines), and handed the three of us ice-cold bottles of water.  I asked how warm it was, and was told it was 38 Celsius (which I believe is close to pushing 100 Fahrenheit). There was zero air circulation in the station.

 

This is a good place to note, that I don’t like to sweat. I love hot weather, but I’m not a particularly sweaty person. When I run, if I start to get super sweaty, I just slow down until I cool off. So you can imagine my utter disgust when I look down and see that my shirt is drenched. And I’m about to get on a 116 year old train.

 

We climb aboard said train with our bikes, and take a seat. M explains that we’ll be going 45 minutes outside the city and then biking our way back. EXCUSE ME? I chug my water and put my feet up on the seat across from me, because it’s becoming abundantly clear that I am in for a big time adventure.

 

One of the really neat things about this train, is that many of the vendors that were at the train station board, so people are walking up and down the aisles, selling everything from hardboiled eggs, various kinds of meat, herbs and spices, cold water, toys for children and even clothing. I was sticking my head out of the train window like a dog, because it was so blistering hot that I was starting to get a heat headache. M provided me with another bottle of water, and I started chitchatting with Rik & Gerda. They had just been to her sisters wedding in Chaing Mai, then went on a bike tour in Phuket, were in Bangkok for a few days, and ending their holiday by heading to Australia to see family.  We also discussed the extreme levels of poverty we were seeing as we took the train through the city and out to the countryside of Bangkok. There were extremely beautiful and well-developed buildings sitting right next shanties filled with trash and debris. It’s incredibly fascinating to me to see excessive wealth right next to poverty.

 

We arrived at our stop, climbed off the train with our bikes, and turned down a narrow dirt road, only wide enough for one car to pass. After a few minutes biking, M stops. We’re in front of a canal, with paved sidewalks on either side of the canal.  Each sidewalk could fit maybe two people walking side by side, or a bicycle. They are narrow. And there is absolutely nothing between you, the sidewalk, and the canal. M reminds us of the three rules again, and lets us know that if we need to get off and walk, to let them know, because it will become very tight and we’ll be crossing many bridges.

 

We start down the canal. I am GRIPPING my handlebars, because I’m afraid that if I let go for even a millisecond, I’m going in that water. Water might actually be the wrong description for what was in the canal. It looked more like trash, floating on oil, floating on top of sewage, with a little bit of water underneath. The sides of the canals were littered with “homes” (more like lean-tos) and beautiful lush vegetation and foliage.  The “sidewalks” were concrete, but they were not even. Petrified of falling in (because if you fell or teetered either direction you were in the canal, as the each home had a bridge leading to it from the sidewalk) I would stop anytime there was a pothole, uneven concrete or a cat and walk my bike until I felt safe to ride again.

 

Re-reading that, it sounds like the scenery wasn’t pretty. It was. But it was a raw beauty. The kind of splendor that makes your heart burst with happiness and sadness at the same time. It was real life.

 

We continued on for about 30 minutes with the sun beating down on our backs, when M stopped. There was a bridge, and it became evident we were about to cross it. “One by one”, he said. Gerda and Rik were small people. M and Jack were little people.  Me? I’m bigger than the average Thai person. Definitely bigger than the 4 of them. And I’d spent the last 5 days chowing down and sipping on whatever my fat little heart desired. I was terrified.

 

To be clear, this wasn’t a concrete bridge. As I watched the first 3 cross the bridge, the only thing I could think about was an episode of “The Care Bears” where the bears were fighting some sort of dark and cloudy enemy and there was a wooden bridge, with slats missing, that they had to cross. They solved the problem by doing a “Care Bear Stare” and creating a rainbow bridge to replace the rickety dangerous one set before them. My problem was that I left my Care Bear in my mother’s attic in Dallas.

 

I turned around and told Jack that I was too big to cross it. He shook his head. I had no choice. I let my breath out, and gingerly rolled my bike ahead of me on the bridge. It creaked, but didn’t break. I slowly and carefully made my way across, testing each board before I stepped on it. When I made it to the other side, I finally let myself breathe again. I did it.

 

We started down the canals again, and one of the things I loved, was when little naked children would hear us coming, run out of their houses onto the bridge, and yell at us “HELLO!”  And they would keep yelling “HELLO!” at us, until we said something back, it was absolutely precious.  We saw a ton of wildlife as well, everything from native birds, giant fish, and komodo dragons. Yes, dragons lived in the canals too (all the more reason I didn’t want to fall in). After about 45 more minutes of riding, we stopped to drink some water, and it was then that I realized that I was mentally exhausted from concentrating so hard on the ground in front of me, physically exhausted from my death grip on the handlebars, and emotionally drained from seeing the impoverished conditions these people lived in everyday. It was at that moment, I said a prayer of thankfulness that I hadn’t gone out the night before and had a clear mind, and fresh muscles.

 

Around noon, we finally stopped riding along the canal, and pedaled up to what I thought was just a giant swamp, which had the nicest, looking dwelling we had seen all day. It turns out that this was actually a rice field, and deep in the middle of nowhere was this restaurant.  M and Jack walked up, removed their shoes and greeted the only person there, a tiny little Thai woman. She was clearly expecting us.  M asked us what we’d like to drink and then popped open the coldest more refreshing Coca-Cola I’ve ever had. Jack and M went to sit on a table with floor seating, so naturally, I plopped myself down next to them.  They had no idea what to do with me. As I soon found out, they had a huge traditional Thai meal planned for the three of us at a larger table, while the guides sat on the ground and consumed nothing but coke and something that I saw them purchase on the train. 

 

This made me feel wildly uncomfortable (I like for everyone to be included), but it didn’t seem to faze anyone else, so I kept my mouth shut.  As we sat down at our table, we suddenly hear gunshots, in very close proximity. I had no idea what was going on, but I think Rik sensed my fear and pointed across the rice patty at the bird’s scattering- the rice farmers were scaring off critters to protect their crops.  I relaxed a little.

 

They served us fried rice, a soup with egg tofu (I honestly can’t remember what it was called), a chicken & chili dish, an omelet type platter and fresh watermelon and pineapple for dessert. I wolfed it down like I’d never seen food before. Then, I realized, most of the food probably came from one of the markets I had ridden through. And that we still had to ride back to the city. I started to panic in my mind. I could not imagine “getting ill” along the canal in front of M, Jack, Rik & Gerda. (Side note: the number one question people have asked me, is if I’ve been sick or gotten an upset stomach from all the food I tried here, and surprisingly I haven’t) By then it was too late to find a time machine to un-eat the ridiculous amount of food I had just consumed, so I chugged on some cold (bottled) water and prayed for the best. We all used the restroom, and saddled back up.

 

The first 10 minutes back on the bike were down a wide dirt road with water on both sides. I was elated; I could cruise around like this all day. I was in heaven.  I pulled out my camera, shot some video, chatted with Jack and was as happy as can be. And then we pulled up to another one of those scary bridges that lead to the canal. I loudly expressed my disgust (something along the lines of, “seriously guys? This again?”), and crossed the bridge back to the canal.

 

This time though, the path was smaller, and more beat up. Everyone, including the guides, was getting off to walk their bikes.  We’d have people on scooters with 3 children hanging off come by, and it took every bit of balance and strength not to fall off as we let them pass. It was getting absurdly hot (over 100 degrees), so we stopped at a tiny shop along a railroad track, where emaciated cows were grazing. M provided us with fresh bottles of water, and then said the five words that win my heart and love forever: “Do you want some ice-cream?”  I think I hugged him, but I was so excited that I couldn’t be sure.

 

He walks inside, and returns with 5 green-tea ice-cream cones- you know the pre-packaged kind that everything drips to the bottom of the cone and you chomp it at the end? I stood outside that tiny little store, with no air-conditioning, and as sweat dripped down my rear end and made it’s way to my legs, I was overcome with emotion.

 

My life is blessed beyond measure. This was the adventure of a lifetime. I don’t deserve this much happiness.

 

I wiped the tears from my eyes and regained my composure. We had 3 more hours of exploring to do. I was ready. We rode along the canal a little longer, and the amount of trash and poverty escalated. It was eye opening. We finally made our way to a dirt road again (I rejoiced!) and M explains only 10 minutes of riding left until we get to the boat. I CAN MAKE IT TEN MORE MINUTES! Hooray! We toot along, and wouldn’t you know, we hit the canal again. It was so narrow, I had to walk my bike about a quarter of a mile because it was so narrow, and I couldn’t mount the bike without falling into the canal. While walking along, Gerda stops in front of me. She pulls out her camera and starts photographing something. I scoot as close as I dare, and look into the water.

 

It’s a dragon. A six-foot long, decapitated dragon. I don’t even want to know what kind of critter can eat the head off something like that. *Shudders*

 

A few minutes later, we turn a sharp corner, and there is a boat waiting. It’s probably 20 feet long, and sits low and deep in the water.  The guides load our bikes into the back, and then explain we need to sit so the weight is evenly distributed.  I slide into the second row, with Rik & Gerda up front, and the guides behind me (and the boat driver behind them). Then we start cruising.

 

We’re clearly getting closer to the city because instead of these ramshackle houses, we start to see temples, and other housing developments. It was so nice to sit down, relax and start digesting what I had seen. We make our way down the canal (there were children swimming in it, which was disturbing on so many levels), and we slow down and pull over.  Time to get on the bikes again.

 

We start riding, and I’m up front with M this time. We’re now in a more urban area, but still riding along the canal. I wasn’t prepared emotionally or spiritually for what I was about to see.

 

I thought we were in a landfill. The only reason I knew we weren’t was because there was water on one side, and people. Hundreds of people. There were dozens upon dozens of ADULTS standing in their homes naked (their homes had no doors). I didn’t know where to look, or what to do.  These people were starving and living in deplorable conditions. Children had distended bellies from hunger, and many had skin conditions that made me want to heave. But the thing that really struck me, was that they had small shrines, perfectly kept and clean, with large amounts of foods sitting there as a an offering to their god(s). While they were starving. I still can’t stop thinking about that. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.

We stop again at another open-air shop, and they give us more bottled water. We park our bikes there, and walk over to what M called “a real Thai market”. There was meat everywhere. Women butchering fish, frogs, pigs and anything else you can imagine. It was still upwards of 100 degrees with 100% humidity, with flies swarming, and the local Thai people were purchasing the meat. I was shocked, and said as much to Jack.  He explained, that whatever I was eating in Thailand probably came from a market like this, and that this is how the Thai people live.

 

We walked back to our bikes, and rode a few more minutes to the sky train. Once again, I want you to picture a modern, sleek and fancy train station. That’s exactly what this was (thank God, because we were quickly losing steam). It was clean, air-conditioned and super speedy. We got to see some of the modern architecture, and new developments in various parts of the city during our 20-minute ride.  We then hopped off, and rode down the river back to the bike shop.

 

I was exhausted in every possible way. The day was not what I had expected.  It wasn’t chic or glamorous. There were no fancy buildings or high-culture activities. This was real life for a large portion of the 16 million residents of Bangkok. And I felt fortunate to have been able to learn and see things I never would have known existed.  Would I go on this tour again in Bangkok? Probably not. But I have no regrets about how the day was spent and am beyond thankful for such a life-changing opportunity. And in case you were wondering, we were gone for 9 hours and rode 40 miles (I’d say 35 of those miles were on canals and rickety bridges).

 

I found a cab, and headed back to my hotel. I had dinner reservations that evening at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (which is the exact opposite of where I had been all day), but after I took a long cold shower, and then soaked in a hot bath, I couldn’t move. I sheepishly called room service and fought to stay awake until they showed up. After eating a few bites, I fell into a deep slumber.

 

 

DAY 7

I roll over and reach for my phone.  I have no idea where I am. I find the phone and open my heavy eyes. 3 am. FANTASTIC. I sit up, and my first thought is how sore my arms are. My next thought is how much my rear end hurts.  Not typically the feeling you want to wake up to in Bangkok.

 

I took another shower, got ready and packed my things. I ventured out to the market that was just starting to open a few blocks from the hotel, and browsed around at the knock-offs, and cheap Bangkok souvenirs. I walked a few more blocks and found an Egyptian restaurant called Nefertiti opening for the morning.  I asked the store owner (Achmed) if they were open (there were a few Egyptian men sitting at tables already, but I was getting weird looks, so I asked), and he escorted me to a table. I briefly chatted with Achmed, and then placed my order. I had pickled veggies and hummus, with bread and some sort of Egyptian omelet.  It hit the spot.

 

Since it was a pleasant morning, I sat there (it was an open air restaurant) and sipped on my coffee and watched the other patrons as they smoked on something that came out of what looked like a hookah pipe.  I have a couple of Egyptian doctors, who always go smoke hookah after I take them to dinner, so I figured that’s what it was, but there was a young guy sitting next to me, so I asked him. Apparently it was not hookah, but rather something called “shisha” (I later learned they’re basically the same thing), and he offered me some of his pipe.  Not wanting to be rude, I took a puff (praying with all my heart that I wasn’t doing something illegal or mind altering).

 

By this time, I needed to head to the airport to catch my flight, so I grabbed my bags and took off. Thankfully, the most dramatic thing that happened on my flight back was that my laptop battery died toward the end of the flight. Once in Singapore, I went to Berg’s house to meet up with him so we could go to dinner. 

 

Berg arrived home, and informed me we were gonna go do Newton Circus with a group of guys- Ian (the crazy Brit), a guy named Chad who went to Tech (and I told Berg before I got there, that I thought I knew who Chad was, but he was skeptical), another guy named David, and three other guys (but I can’t recall their names any more). So the way they do Newton Circus is what I would consider the “right way” and also the most efficient. Since they go there regularly, and are clearly ex-pats, all the hawkers know them and want their business.  So here’s how it went down. We walk into this huge open-air pavilion and take a seat at square table in the corner that can seat 8 people.  This table is right next to the beer stand with a vendor named Kai, who for 3 out of the past 4 years has sold more Tiger beer (sick!) than any other person in Singapore. These guys and Kai are best friends. Seriously. I think Berg might be better friends with Kai, than he is with me.  And I’m totally okay with that.

 

We sit down and Kai brings out a huge tub of Tiger, and then ties different colored straws around the neck of the beer bottle, so each person can keep track of how many beers they had. Then at the end of your meal, you pay him. Singapore has horrible customer service. They don’t have to, because the island is so small, that they know eventually you’ll have to come back. Kai is the exception to this rule. He was uber attentive and such a nice old man.

 

Next Berg went around to a couple of different stalls and ordered our meal, which we all shared family style. We had butter chicken (one of my favorite dishes I had), garlic butter naan (incredible bread- this is the only thing I ate that I thought might honestly keep me at the bathroom for days, but thankfully I was wrong), tiger prawns (think shrimp the size of my face), sambal stingray (barbequed stingray), and baby kai lan (a kale like veggie). I wasn’t having beers this night, so I had my new favorite, lime juice. That was one of the better meals of my life. Everything was good. Here’s something I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet, but is definitely worth noting- food in Singapore is hormone free. So when you get a chicken, it’s the size a chicken is supposed to be. When you eat beef, it tastes better. The limes are tiny, but more flavorful than the giant limes I’ve grown accustomed to.  Everything just tasted better, and it’s what I attribute my lack of upset stomach over the course of the trip (because I tried some pretty weird foods).

 

While we’re eating dinner, I tell Chad that I’m certain I know him from Tech. He says he’s never met me.  I asked him if in 2004 he did So-Sing during homecoming (he was a Beta, and I was a Tri-Delta), because I was confident that was in our group of 20 that built the float and sang and danced to Michael Jackson’s “Bad”. He said he did, but he still swore up and down that I wasn’t there. Then he remembered that a few weeks ago, one of his friends tagged him on Facebook in a picture from So-Sing. I told him to pull it up, because I guarantee that I was somewhere in that photo.

 

He pulls up the photo, and guess who was standing directly next to me? Chad. In his defense, I had jet-black hair 9 years ago, but still, there I was (Carrie, you were standing right in front of us).

 

After some Tomfoolery at Newton, we drive over to Berg’s local bar (it would be the equivalent to Little Woodrow’s in the Heights for me). We walked in, and everyone knew his name.  The guys ordered drinks, had chugging races with yards of beer (I stood by and cheered) and we had a tame, but lovely time and then headed home around midnight.

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