Travel Journal: Bangkok

I’m going to start keeping a journal of the places I travel. Why? Well, I pack a lot of stuff into these trips, and it would be nice to have a place to go back to remember exactly when I did what. So, with that in mind, here’s the first part of a lengthy bit of travel writing about Bangkok, Kyoto, Osaka, and Koyasan.

Bangkok

The Trip In

We landed late at night at Bangkok Airport, following an obscenely long travel day of PDX – SEA – ICN – BKK. After a couple of beers with a client in the Seoul-Incheon airport, I was hoping for a quick, sleep-filled flight, but it was fairly warm and I was unable to go to sleep easily. Still, all told and aside from the woman who coughed on me for the entirety of the 11 hour flight from Seattle to Seoul, everything was pretty okay.

Movies watched

  1. Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy
  2. The Longest Day
  3. The Dead Don’t Die
  4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  5. (Part of) The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Ironically, I wanted to sleep through The Dead Don’t Die, but fell asleep during the last movie. It was fine, I was just exhausted. I need to give it another shot. The Dead Don’t Die was dull and seemed more like an exercise for Jim Jarmusch to get his friends together than anything. Just a lot of dull moments following each other with hints of a better script throughout.

Sunday

Woke up early, got breakfast at, possibly, the most excessive breakfast buffet known to man, and went back upstairs to get some work done and listen to the Astros’ last ALCS game over the MLB.com radio. A bit of the way through the 7th, I figured they would do just fine without me and went for a walk with some coworkers. We went through one of the giant malls that you usually find in Southeast Asia, those shining diamonds of tourism and glamour set right next to side streets where the houses are little more than tin lean-tos. Floors of designer gear aimed at wealthy Chinese and Japanese shopping-tourists – not to mention Emirates on vacation. We walked around aimlessly, talking about life, our jobs, leaving our jobs, and reasons for leaving jobs, and, ultimately, wound up at a cafe next to a gas station.

After a brief repose, I met up with another coworker. He and I went for another amble in the heat – I told him about the song “Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen” – and found a small place for lunch. Two pad thais and two sodas for four dollars! The price and the food were good and the restaurant staff were friendly. He and I then went back to the hotel, I did some more work, and then planted in the hotel bar & lounge. In the course of a few hours when we were there, I met a couple from the local Chabad House. They were wandering around hotels looking for Jews who hadn’t done anything for Sukkot. I shook the lulav and etrog and chatted for a bit. The guy – Mendl – invited me out for Simchat Torah the next day. I said that, as I had no other plans, I’d give it a shot.

We went for dinner that night at one of the restaurants at the hotel after missing a connection with a few other people who were going somewhere else. Had mediocre sleep that night; jetlag began to strike.

Monday

Meetings through the day with nothing major to report. That night, though, I wound up going to Simchat Torah at the Chabad House. The people were very friendly once I got through the “Are you really Jewish or are you a terrorist in disguise” screening at the entrance. As normal for Chabad and Simchat Torah, the whiskey and vodka flowed like the Chao Praya. I chatted with a lot of people, including one guy from San Francisco who owns rental properties in Portland and is, thus, the enemy. Lots of ex-pat American Jews in Bangkok, either because of finance or retirement. I drank and ate, then danced with the Torah like it was in a very low-key circle pit. Chabad has turned praying into an endurance sport in this regard, and they are to be commended for it.

Toward the end of the night, I met one guy who tried (and failed) to convince me to buy tefillen. He then offered to just give me some, which was very nice. We arranged to meet on Wednesday, which did not happen due to scheduling problems. Again, a very nice man, but Chabad does not, as a rule, strike me as a schedule-oriented bunch.

Observations

  • The shul was in the bottom floor of what I assume is an apartment building catering to Westerners. I walked by it twice on Sunday, but didn’t notice anything that indicated it was a Jewish center. I assume this is very much intentional, given the rise of racism the world over.
  • Inside, the shul was simple. Some tables and chairs, a heavy bima in the center that was a little larger than a speaker’s platform. The ark was nice, though, and they had two Ashkenazi scrolls and two Sephardic scrolls. Those Sephardic scrolls, I learned, are very heavy. The women were behind a barrier, except for the girls, who ran around the room while the men prayed.
  • At one point, some Bar Mitzvah-aged boys ran around with huge bottles of whiskey.
  • The Chabadniks were shocked that I was not married, and Mendle offered to make me a match. I turned him down because I did not, by any ways, means, or hopes, want to stay in Bangkok a moment longer than I needed to.

All in all, it was a wildly different experience from a Reform service and I definitely see the appeal of joining the community, especially if you have decent Hebrew. The fact that I was practically stumbling back from the hotel – carefree! In Bangkok! – spoke wonders to how they’re able to throw a community together out of – ostensibly – every kind of Jew. It reminded me of Rabbi Zalman in Kent, who traveled around South and Southeast England, connecting Jewish students and holding services for holidays. I wondered how he’s doing, and should really reach out to him and see how things are.

Tuesday

Long day of meetings. We held a members reception at the top floor of the hotel bar, bit nothing following it aside from small-group schmoozing and drinking. Noticed here that most people seemed fairly low energy. Unsure of the reason. Talked with Ania, Oleksandr’s wife, for a bit. She was nice and gave me some pointers for Kyoto. We had a final drink in the hotel bar and called it a night.

Wednesday

Incredibly long and brutal day of meetings capped off by a 30-minute voting session. Following that, had a few rounds at the hotel bar with members, then went out to a small place nearby for pad thai and a huge Chang. I returned to the hotel and slept poorly again, thanks to stress dreams. Included:

  • Carrying Grandolph’s corpse around a village in Eastern Europe, trying and failing to find an appropriate place to bury him. In the dream I called my dad to ask why he wasn’t the one doing this, and he gave me a verbal shrug on the phone.
  • Went to a synagogue where the chair of the org’s certification group was the rabbi. The synagogue’s focus was on worshipping god through physical fitness. Kind of like masculine Christianity, but Jewish. It was a very strange dream.

I woke up at 3am and could not get back to sleep. I knew that I was looking forward to vacation.

Thursday

Relatively laid-back day. Had a lot of work to get through and hoped to be able to do so by the end of the day Friday. Spent most of the day with the Security group. Phil cracked jokes and Alex deemed the group a bunch of imps. I went to dinner with a few members at a nearby Indian restaurant at the Holiday Inn, called Maya. It was pretty good, though a little pricier than I think it should have been. I returned to the hotel with the members and had a round of beer before crashing for the night. Topics of conversation included.:

  • Inclement weather (tornadoes)
  • The size of pint glasses
  • Permission to be nice to Phil as part of higher-tier membership dues.

Went to sleep early and got a full(ish) 7 hours of sleep.

Friday

A half day of meetings led to shirking some duties to go to the Bangkok Aquarium. It was nice, and they seemed to care about the fish. I guess. They weren’t eating them in front of us, which I took to be a good sign. Not sure how you are supposed to tell if fish are comfortable. Do they get more aggressive? Do they go insane? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

After fish-jail, we went to a steak place across the street from the hotel for beers. Ed made it clear that he was “disappointed” that the bar was out of some beer. The server said “Ah” and walked away. I’m sure he has bigger things to worry about. Like if water is going to be potable that day. Or if he’s going to be able to easily afford to eat. You know, minor things like that. The beer they did have was perfectly fine. I got a Tuk Tuk, which was billed as a cream ale. My experience with cream ales is limited, but it tasted fine. Don’t know that I’ll seek it out again, but if I find myself in SE Asia again, I’ll be on the lookout for it.

The beer reminded me of the beer stall in Singapore. Singapore is another place I’d be perfectly fine with never going to again. The beer stall was fine, though.

After the beers, we went back to the hotel lobby bar, and had a few drinks before I left for the airport. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see those guys again, and it was nice to be able to spend a bit of time with em. At least a few of them I’d consider to be friends, and parting with friends, especially when you don’t know when you’ll see each other again, is always bittersweet.

En route to the airport, my driver thought I said no to the highway, which resulted in a winding path through the streets of Bangkok. There were a lot of downtrodden streets along that route. Poverty is hard to acknowledge and accept, especially when you know that a lot of those people share the same dreams as everyone in the world: Stability, prosperity for their life, and – hell – drinkable water on demand.

At the airport, I ran into Oleksandr and Ania. We chatted for a bit, parted ways at our gates, and I caught my flight.

Kyoto by way of Busan, Seoul, and Osaka

Saturday

I left Bangkok late and, as a result, missed my connection. After a very frustrating conversation with Kiwi, I got a refund on my Busan -> KIX flight and booked at the airport with Korean Air. It was more expensive that way, but I have solidly inscribed Kiwi in the Book of Grudges after they told me it would be 2-4 hours before I could talk to another agent about re-booking my flight. I decided to go the route I did because doing so put me on a dependable airline, direct with the airline, and did not throw me into a situation where I might have to take a weird route. My advice if you want to go with Kiwi or another semi-travel agency would be to only do it if you’re travelling domestic. If you’re flying international, give yourself more than enough time for transfers in case something goes slightly wrong, because you’re going to need to go out of your way to go about your day.

Anyway, the bright side of an extended layover in Busan was that I was able to listen to the Astros game at the airport!

I landed in Osaka and got through immigration at 6pm. There, I met up with Brad, took a long bus trip to Kyoto, dropped off my bags at First Cabin – a capsule hotel that charged me $130 for the week! – and went to dinner with him and Yumiko at a nearby Italian place. Apparently, Italian is a big deal in Kyoto. I had a risotto and some kind of white wine that was tasty. Brad and Yumiko’s kid, Kanna, displayed patience that would desert her later in the weekm and was fairly innocuous throughout dinner.

After the meal, I went out for a beer at a nearby place called Marib, went to my hotel, and passed out.

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