I am sitting in the airport terminal in Bangkok as I write this blog post about my latest world adventure, my business trip to Thailand. Truth be told, this was not one I looked forward to. My preference is for the Western hemisphere, especially Latin America, if I must travel at all. Theirs is a more familiar culture with a language that I can understand at least to a limited degree. Here, though, nothing is familiar.
A few coworkers thought this would not be the most difficult of trips, because of the planned nature of it. Perhaps this could be true in part, depending on one’s perceived levels of difficulty, but elements of this time were undoubtedly challenging. To begin with, there was no opportunity to take a break from the time I arrived at the customer’s location on Monday morning until the final Saturday of the trip. There was not any opportunity to look around and see the country I was visiting, only work in a lab from morning until almost midnight, sometimes later. Granted, most hours were spent waiting – for the reactor to heat to the proper temperature, for the customer to be ready, for the reaction to finish. However, being stuck in a lab for 12 hours or more is unpleasant, especially when it continues for day on end.
To say the food was odd is putting it mildly. Thai food has a reputation for being spicy (and there is nothing quite like being given a dish covered in chopped chili peppers), although the dishes I sampled all featured something of a delayed reaction. The first bite is pleasantly warm, just enough of a kick to enjoy the meal, but with each subsequent bite the warmth becomes an unquenchable inferno. Sometimes there is even a delay of several minutes, so the heat does not begin until after the final bite. And then there is the food itself, not the spice. My trip provided me with the opportunity to sample ostrich, snail, and frog. Squid was also served, but one look at red and white tentacles emerging from the stew like a sea monster eliminated all desire to try that. It took several days for the food to be edible, and even then, my portions were small. It isn’t very good.
The last day was also a disappointment. The plans to see the city fell through yesterday thanks to a miscommunication that was not to be remedied, so I was dropped off at the airport for my flight to Seoul at noon. Understand that my flight was not to leave before 1 AM, so I was effectively stranded at the airport for 13 hours. Needing the opportunity to kill time, I hired a tour guide to take me around Bangkok for a few hours. That was mostly good, with some excitement at the end. Not even five kilometers from the airport, the car’s front tire blew, so we were stuck on the side of the road for about thirty minutes until we could get it fixed and moving again. Being stuck on the side of the freeway in Thailand is not something I wish to experience ever again.
I realize that this post is sounding like a long list of complaints, and honestly that is precisely what it is. There simply is not much to say about the trip that is not unpleasant in some way or another. I have never been so happy at the thought of returning home.
The above really was written in the airport, but now several months later I am including something else that I did not dare write while in the country. If you are not aware, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and it is illegal to insult the king or the royal family. Thailand has built up a personality cult that for me was totally unfamiliar. Having the king on coins and currency I would expect, but seeing his face on the side of a building, on a bridge, beside the road, and anywhere else you could think of… quite frankly it was creepy. And maybe the king really is that great, but it was unnerving hearing nothing but praise about the king. It seemed really unnatural.
All told, I really don’t want to go back any time soon.