Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mind the gap

Night train Nong Khai - Bangkok
 It was a funny way, the one I choose to exit sleepy Laos… The pick-up brought me and some fellow travelers way too early to Thanaleng station, where we were supposed to take the connecting train over the border, to Thailand – Nong Khai station. What to do with one hour to spend at a remote and desperately empty railway station outside Vientiane? Ok, first pay the USD 10 for the 1 day overstay but then – then kill two bottles of whisky with the local station staff and the crew of the train you are about to board. Yes, that’s what happened, my little knowledge of Lao vocabulary flattened the way into the funny round at the only table of the station. The 6 of us really killed the two bottles within one hour (felt like 10min). The driver of the train was a responsible guy, he only had a few glasses, instead of several. Then it was time to go, ciao Laos, welcome Thailand, country no. 4.

Bangkok - from Bayoke Tower

The night train brought me to Bangkok, where we arrived in the early morning hours. The vibrations and noises of the train kept me easily awake, even though the early morning times. Looking out of the windows, I could see how we slowly but surely arrived in a bigger town. The tracks took us through slums, school areas, Don Muang airport and Porsche garages. All those environments were overlapping and seemed to sort of coexist, without much interaction. As we finally made it to the station and as we all managed to squeeze ourselves out of the tiny doors, we had to stop on the platform for another little while. Everyone dropped his bags and stood still, in order to listen to the Thai national anthem (and I thought we had left areas of Vietnam-like nation pride).

It did not take me long to arrive in the ‘’Big Mango’’. On the first day I managed to figure out how; (1) to ride for free in all the Tuktuks (just tell them to stop at their friend’s tailor- or jewelleryshop, the driver will get a coupon for food if he brings customers), (2) to end any conversation with aggressive street vendors who intend to sell you ‘’bumbum with young lady’’ (just ask them about their daughter) and (3), to find a drumset! After not having hit any snare or tom for almost two months, my hands started to abuse any pair of chopsticks available. To find a true set and rent it for one hour was a true relief – for an addict like me. Two days after, my drummers heart experienced even greater joy, after playing jazz in Paris and seeing Jojo Mayer live in Bern, another milestone was achieved, I joined a late night blues session in the heart of Bangkok. Should you ever be in Bangkok and tired of all the lady boys, hookers and street vendors of Khao San road (the most famous backpacker and tourist spot), I strongly recommend to walk to Samsen road 13 and enter ‘Adhere the 13th’, where you can enjoy high quality Lao beer and live blues at its best. Should you be a musician yourself, you would be more than welcome to jam along – a great place.

BKK China Town
During the 5 days in Thailand’s capital city, I also figured out that the best way to travel around the city is the boat-busses, which circulate on the many rivers and canals with high frequency. For a fraction of what a Tuktuk or taxi driver would charge you and with a lot more atmosphere than the subway or the sky metro the boat busses bring you around town in no time. They also bring you to Bangkok Chinatown:
Maybe together with the Chatuchack weekend market, Chinatown and the surrounding Little India and Arab Corner made it to my favourite places in Bangkok. And guess what, with the aid of funny gestures and ‘miiaaoo’ noises, I found a place where I could finally satisfy my cat-hunger (Bangkok has it all, from drumsets to lady boys to cat soups)! The soup was delicious (no kidding here), although the meet was very well boiled and maybe I did not experience the true flesh taste due to the quite spicy soup. I shall go for another one in Chengdu therefore, one without a soup around it. Plus, I don’t know, maybe it’s the cat, but somehow I feel like I could go for a rat right now…
Apart from the food experiences in China Town, I was also fascinated by the network and cluster effects that perfectly played their power in those areas. All Hindus, all Chinese and all Muslims somehow managed to live together and to create their very own Bangkok around them. I could even pull out my few words of Arab, in order to communicate with locals at a mosque.

Hello? - Anyone? - Minglaba?
Then it was time to leave vibrant Bangkok, country no. 5, Myanmar and my friend Fred were waiting in Yangon for me. My previous position at Panalpina Airfreight allowed me to travel for free from Yangon International Airport to Yangon down town. After riding on the back of a local pick-up to the main bus station, I quickly made friends with a Qatar Airways airfreight staff, who paid for me the bus ride downtown. I never imagined that my internship in Basel would one day allow me to ride a bus for free in Yangon Myanmar… Once Fred and I met up, we wanted to arrange a short call home, in order to confirm our arrival (see picture) – our efforts were not honored with success.

In Myanmar were welcomed by the friendliest people I have met so far on the entire trip. People are happy to see foreigners, have a short talk with them and maybe show them their business. We came to see a local printing office (where my little knowledge about Heidelberg machines was a good deal of help), as well as a local movie production office. The latter also inspired us to go to a local cinema – which was a great deal of fun too. Other than being impressed by the locals and their friendliness, we visited various pagodas in Yangon. Dressed up like locals (with a long skirt) we visited also the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the most important buildings in Buddhism. Unlike in Mecca, anyone is allowed to visit the pagoda, even a nonbeliever like me. We visited this mighty place a sunset time and stayed until the night arrived. Impressed by this much gold and the sound of 3154 little bells in the wind, we could not leave. We circled the pagoda twice and hat good talks with monks who came to this place from near and far. Later that evening we explored another local custom and chewed some tobacco nuts. All the men are doing this here, all day long. Once they are done with a nut, they spit it out on the street – which is fun to watch and irritating at first for sure.
Shwedagon Pagoda
Yesterday we spontaneously entered a local train which took us during three hours around entire Yangon. On the way we saw beautiful places, had funny conversations with locals and witnessed how Buddhism is not able to deal with family violence. In brief, take the local train should you ever come to Yangon, it will make your day. At the time we were back, the daily rains as well as darkness have arrived – mystical. 

Fred vs. Asia
Next destination: Inle Lake.

Stay tuned, GH.

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