yesterday: Khao Yai National Park
With one day left, I thought maybe I should grit my teeth and see the big sights in Bangkok. Dodging the liars who told us it was closed, we shouldered our way into the Grand Palace.
Not only did it have the shiny gold paint of a hundred temples all crammed into one city block, but also a proportional number of tourists. I would have run screaming before we even bought the set of tickets that let us through the inner gates, but Gilby twisted my arm (and bought the tickets) so we went ahead with it.
We saw the emerald Buddha, which was interesting not only because we'd heard so much about it, but also because we'd seen the temple in Vientiane from which it had been swiped (stolen or recovered, depending on which country you ask). It was smaller than I expected, but it compensated by being really high up, sitting atop a ginormous tower of glittering things. Also odd was the fact that not only did we have to take off our shoes and refrain from taking photos, but we were also not permitted to stand while gawking, we were told to sit. Every temple seems to have its own rules about what superficial motions one has to go through to simulate respect.
It was all pretty neat, but I just couldn't take more of the throng, so we ditched our plan to see Wat Pho and instead went to visit Ken.
It had been more than a week, but Ken was still in the hospital in Bangkok, enjoying a diet of antibiotics. We figured we should drop in on him, but first we had to get to the hospital. If it were as easy as getting in a taxi and saying "Bumrungrad Hospital" in a comprehensible way, we never would have gotten there. We got the idea across with the help of a map, and I spent the rest of the ride trying to say "Bumrungrad", much to the amusement of the driver.
You know how you can say a word a dozen times and not be understood, then when you finally hear the correct pronunciation, you think "But that's exactly what I was saying!"? Well, this was nothing like that. The word he said bore no resemblance whatsoever to what I'd been trying to say. Once I heard it, I tried to parrot it back. I'm usually pretty good at that sort of thing, but I never got close. It's hopeless. Cancel my Thai language lessons.
Oh, right, but then we saw Ken. He was fine.
My last evening in Bangkok, Gilby and I were wandering aimlessly when we stumbled across the local juggling club. Balls, clubs, stilts, poi, diabolo, and flower sticks. I borrowed some flower sticks and, wishing I'd brought my own sticks, did my best to not completely suck. In theory, my establishment of some cred would lead to trick sharing or some conversation, but beyond some mutual admiration, there wasn't much to say.
I crashed the ball juggling party too, since that's the other thing I wouldn't completely embarrass myself with. That was fun. It's funny how the locals even in Bangkok refer to us as "falang" ("foreigner") when pointing at us. Coming from the great American mixing pot, I'm always intrigued, even after three weeks here, at how relatively homogeneous cultures react to people who are different.
Gilby headed off to the airport after dinner, and I flew home the next morning.
From the San Francisco airport, I took BART to Caltrain to Sunnyvale, then grabbed a taxi. In the five minute taxi ride, I chatted with the driver about his computerized navigation and dispatch system in long and complicated sentences while the meter quickly spun up to $12.