Sunday, September 7, 2008
Day 13: Bangkok -- Scams and Protests!
OK, so I finally saw some of the "forbidden" Bangkok. I fell for the 10-baht tuk-tuk deal, but my driver for fairly fair (heh, what a play on words). For one, he admitted that it's 10-baht before I sat down in the tuk-tuk. He basically explained that it's so cheap because he'll first take me to a market (which ended up being 3 markets), since the owners and all of the tuk-tuk drivers are in cohoots. The way this works is that the tuk-tuk drivers convince tourists to go for a low price, such as "only" 10 baht; then they take them to the markets, and if the tourists stay there for more than 5 minutes, the employees of the market or store give the driver a coupon (or voucher) redeemable for 30 baht of free gasoline. My driver took me to 1 market, then 2, and then I got pissed and he said that 1 more and he'll take no money from me. Indeed, he ended up giving me the ride for free after he got his 3 vouchers. Gasoline, by the way, is about the same price as in Chicago, but for a poor country, that is a lot of money. In any case, the tuk-tuks don't guzzle too much petrol.
So after taking me to 3 markets, where I had to basically play stupid and pretend I'm interested in those items until the 5 minutes were up (those market employees actually keep track of the time, and if the tourist leaves before 5 minutes, the driver doesn't get a voucher!). The last market ended up being near the protests, so I asked the driver to drop me off. This was making my trip more risque, which I like!
Maybe this wasn't as insane as me and my friend Vadim wanting to go to the China-North Korea border city of Dandong when we had 2 free days in Beijing last year, but this was along those lines. The protests weren't dangerous anymore, though, or at least that's what Thai newspapers and television were saying. So I went there upon my request as the driver dropped me off across from the last of his markets and drove off.
While there, nearly everyone was dressed in yellow, which is the protestors' color. Why yellow? Well, apparently it has something to do with the king's color (or the color of his birthday, as someone told me). I don't know what this means, but oh well, I got the general idea. Thai people of all colors LOVE their king. They really do. The protestors, having adopted his color, was camping out and offering free food. Yes, I got my free portion of pad thai and water there. NICE! If only I had known about this fact sooner. But I didn't feel comfortable getting this for free, so before I got my pad Thai, I bought a yellow bandana for 20 baht ($0.60). Then I inquired about the food and was told that it was free because all Thai protestors donated to this cause, or at least the ones who wanted to. There were also TV screens, the "people's" security and staff, a stage for music and speakers, loudspeakers, etc. It felt like a quiet revolution when I was there. It felt safe, too. What surprised me most if that most of the people when I was there were old or middle-aged. There were a lot of students, too, but they were not the majority. What are, and were, the protestors protesting? Check out my photos for those answers!