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Playing Cards and French Fries

Bangkok Traffic, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Okay, while I find Bangkok kind of fascinating, we’re currently feeling a bit trapped and lost here.  Janelle semi-unexpectedly had to get some dental work done here resulting in a root canal and new crown.  So instead of leaving a day or two ago for eastern Thailand en route to Cambodia, we were booking appointments.  Yesterday, Janelle submitted to around five solid hours of Thai dentistry (she promises to write a blog post about the experience), and we still have at one or two sessions to go, meaning we will probably be leaving Bangkok and making for the Cambodian border next Friday, which also happens to be the day our Thai visas run out.

While Bangers is probably easier than any other southeast Asian big city to get around in, we are hardly seasoned travellers.  It wears on you, especially when your days are kind of aimless because you’ve already been to all the tourist places and done all the tourist things years ago.  The size, the crowds, the 24-7 buzz of motorcycle and tuk-tuk engines outside your window.  The beggars, the aggressive taxi drivers, the pollution.  None of them is singly all that bad, really, but each takes a small toll.  

Then there’s the frustration of just not being able to do things. Like shopping for a deck of playing cards.  Without much to do in the guesthouse and a lot of traveling ahead, we decided being able to play a few rounds of shithead was in order.  But where do you buy a deck of cards in Bangkok?  If you guessed a department store, a pharmacy, a grocery or a travel store… you would be wrong.  We checked there.  At a massive, multistory bookstore, our attempts to mime dealing cards got us sent to a display of dozens of different tarot decks, but no playing cards.  Seriously, there were Asian pop star theme tarot decks, but nothing with an eight of hearts or a jack of clubs.  Do they not exist in Bangkok?  Are they inexplicably illegal, like selling beer from a convenience store between 2PM and 5PM is? Or are they, perhaps, hidden behind some nearly-decipherable cultural gap?  Maybe Thais buy cards in home furnishing stores, or from a certain street in Chinatown.  Like in Canada, if you want to buy a mah jong set.

It’s like the more complicated food stalls on the street.  I’m fine with the ones where I can point at what I want and then pay a few baht for something tasty.  But then there are the made-to-order ones.  They smell great, but what, exactly, is up with the little handwritten notepads being passed around?  If I just walk up and start pointing at ingredients, will I embarrass myself?  Or worse, the nice lady doing the cooking?  Will I get something inedible, toss it immediately and reinforce every bad impression of farang? I genuinely worry about these things and freeze up and end up eating at McDonalds–and Thailand McDonalds is even worse than regular McDonalds!  The fries don’t have that special smell and taste here!  They’re just like any other fast food fries!  And they’re really expensive, too!

Why is it so hard for me to just jump in with both feet and live the life of the confident (but never arrogant!) traveller?  Why can’t I seize every experience, seek out adventure and be unafraid to look the fool?  Why can’t I be who the Lonely Planet wants me to be?