Jordan, Travels

Iftar in the Sky

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/20/iftar-in-the-sky/

Where do you want to go today?
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All over Europe I’d seen signboards like this at train stations. This one at Frankfurt’s airport features Philadelphia, Dubai, New York, and Mexico City along with the regional European destinations.

I kept my last 5€ and instead counted my trip to the airport on Frankfurt’s S-Bahn as the concluding travel day of my train pass. At Flughafen I checked in and munched on a few of the brownies that are not welcome to linger at the diet-conscious abode of my hosts. Before long, I was flying. They served us a nice dinner, I got potatoes and lamb – good stuff! The flight was about five hours and one time zone.

At some point after dinner, as I was admiring the orange moon on the horizon, an announcement was made, and then made again in English, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may now break your fast.” I hadn’t thought about Ramadan as I ate. Given the choice, I would just as easily have waited for iftar with everyone else.

As we approached Israel, I remarked to my German seat neighbor, another long guy who had requested an exit row, that this was to be my first time outside of Western culture. It was an exciting time.

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Jordan, Travels

More Than I Bargained For

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/20/more-than-i-bargained-for/

At Queen Aliyah, I cashed an American Express Traveler’s Check for $50 US into 35 Jordanian Dinars, minus the three dinars commission. This was to pay the 10JD fee for entry visa. Once I was admitted, I had to wander through the airport, looking for the Airport Express bus, which charged 1.5D to get to Amman, which is a lot less than what a cab would have cost.

On the bus I was befriended by two young Jordanians, Fauzi and Mohammed. From the bus station in Amman, I found myself in a cab full of Jordanian men, welcoming me to Jordan, showing me a few sights. The cabbie stopped in front of a hotel that he wanted me to check out. No, I insisted on the Farah Hotel that I’d picked out of Lonely Planet. Fauzi and Mohammed accompanied me there, as Fauzi wanted to grab a meal together. This struck me as weird, but harmless, so I dropped my stuff off upstairs and joined a couple of locals for some meandering through Amman at night.

I offered that I was actually pretty well-fed from the airplane. Maybe just some coffee?

Fauzi grabbed some coffees at a corner vendor. We walked along, carefully crossing the street to find ourselves next to the Roman ampitheatre, which was closed off for the evening, but it was impressive anyway. Fauzi took us to a restaurant called Rannoush on the far end of the nearby service taxi depot, where he had a pair of burgers and fries, and the three of us had fruit smoothies, which they called cocktails. As with the coffee, my readiness to pay was declined: Jordanians welcome strangers.

A little ways past 10 PM it was getting chilly and I was ready to get back to the hotel and rest. For much of the night I listened politely to long exchanges in Arabic, taking the surrounding chaos in. The restaurant was run by Fauzi’s cousin, and another cousin showed up who spoke some pretty good English.

We made our way over to a beat-up old Honda, which came to life by manipulating some loose wires inside the dash, but only started after rolling downhill a bit, allowing the driver to pop the clutch.

I hadn’t expressed my inclination to head back yet, I just figured that we were heading back toward the hotel. In reality, we just joy-rode around awhile, as young men tend to do when they find that they have a car on their hands for a change. I could dig it. We returned to where we had started, hanging out around the service taxi depot. When I expressed that I was getting chilly, Fauzi took off his American-made jacket for me to wear.

Danny and Fauzi
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Sporting his jacket, Fauzi and I pose for a picture.

Another joy-ride later, during which the driver’s door fell open at one point, and we climbed a few steps to a dirt path to the driver’s place, and found ourselves in a large room furnished with nice mattresses, pillows, and blankets. We hung out for awhile, and I was invited to stay the night, we could drive back to the hotel, get my stuff, and stay with my new friends. I had no trouble trusting this group, but I was not eager to give up the comfort and familiarity of hotel customs and culture for the weirdness of staying in authentic Jordanian housing with my new friends that I had trouble communicating with.

Around 2:30 we went back out to the car, and got it working by popping the clutch in reverse. I have always been curious if you could do that. Some guys pulled up in a white mini-bus and engaged my friends in a long argument in Arabic, which sounded like it might have something to do with the propriety of moving an American around in such a shoddy vehicle.

I thought it interesting that my first night in a Muslim, Arab country, I should find myself waiting in the back of a car in the middle of the night, while a prolonged discussion took place as to whether I should be taken into the back of a van. I really had no idea what was going on, and became increasingly wary.

Apparently, my friends lost the argument with the two guys from the mini-bus, which I got in to with Fauzi and Mohammed. They were dropped off at their place, at which point I was offered yet another hotel, no thanks, I already have a place. Here’s a map …

At the Farah I was asked for some cash for their trouble. This was different from Fauzi’s attitude, where he’d seemed slightly offended when I earlier chipped in a dinar for gas at the gas station. I gave the guy a dinar because, hey, it was a cab ride. How about two, for transporting my friends? No … now we are getting in to let’s-take-advantage-of-the-rich-American-tourist territory. I gave him half a dinar more, and made my way to bed.

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Jordan, Travels

Walking Tour

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/21/walking-tour/

Slept in, managed the hole in the bathroom floor without any trouble, took a shower, wandered downstairs. I thought I’d check out the Lonely Planet walking tour of Amman, and struck out towards the third traffic circle, where Lonely Planet starts.

A Jebel in Amman
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A view of one of Amman’s Jebels, or hills. This is what Amman looks like, in my mind.

I wasn’t sure that I was heading the right way, just that it seemed the right direction and that anyway, it was uphill, so I had a view coming.

I stopped for a moment to greet a kid who was just finishing the installation of a muffler on an older Saab. I found myself conversing with the car’s owner, who had a slightly exaggerated American accent to go with the fifteen years he’d spent in the hotel business in Los Angeles. The kid released the pressure on the jack and the car’s rear plopped to the ground. Raed thought Third Circle was way out there and that I’d be walking forever, but he’d happily drive me part way there.

As he learned that the tour was self-guided and that I was extremely laid-back about timing, Raed detoured way out wherever to pick up his daughter from the Montessori school. We got there fifteen minutes early, so in true LA fashion, he drove around a little so as to avoid waiting in the hot sun.

Once we retrieved the little girl, Raed drove me to Third Circle. He demonstrated Jordanian driving at its finest through a couple of the traffic circles, where you have to barge your way in and honk a lot, like a constant game of chicken. He explained that yes, it took some getting used to for a California driver.

I dug that Raed has recently returned to Jordan to settle in to middle-age. Before this, he secured his finances in the United States, and now he can kick it with the family in a cheaper country and build himself a fine house to raise his daughter in. I figure that he sees Jordan as I see Chicago: a nice place to retire to once you’ve had your fill of Cali.

The walking tour was uninspiring. To be fair, it is Ramadan and I tend to enjoy myself wandering around aimlessly, without a vague narrative and a trail on a sketchy map to adhere to. At some point I stopped in a supermarket and got a litre of pineapple juice and a can of fruit cola, just for the heck of it. I stole away in to a quiet corner and chugged the cola, away from the eyes of the thirsty, fasting masses.

Along the way I passed, among others, the Iraqi Embassy. It had a barricade around it, so I walked in the street alongside it, a safe ten feet away from enemy territory. Word.

Looking down upon Amman
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Traffic gridlock in the market below.

There were some good views of Amman along the way. This means rectangular white houses with dark windows piled up and down the hills, under a blue sky, and a warm sun. At one point in the late afternoon I found myself standing on a jebel overlooking a street market below. The sound of the market mixed with the horns perpetually honking in the perpetually grid-locked traffic, and I felt like I was way up in the balcony, watching an orchestra tune itself. Though, after awhile, I snapped out of it, as I realized that the orchestra wasn’t going to perform anything for me.

According to the walking tour, I was supposed to work my way down to the Roman ampitheatre, which I’d sort of seen the previous night. I was instead sucked into a downtown market, where I was surrounded by crowds of folk hurrying along, buying and selling fruits, veggies, bread, meat and other comestibles. It was more intense than the other markets I’ve visited in Europe. The best part, for me, is the hawkers repeating their pitch over and over and over again, that they give it a musical quality and sing their deals out to passers-by. They’re like birds singing their songs of courtship, standing beside their colorful displays to attract customers.

I wandered farther along into a flea market, gazing at furniture, telephones, probably-pirated CDs and VCDs and whatnot. I saw a Commodore 1541 disk drive in the same pile of random stuff as a dirty Commodore 64. Nostalgia!

There are a lot of guys in the streets who have a handful each of mobile phones for sale. One guy who spoke good English, bade me over to sit by a friend of his, who was doing just this. He explained that basically these guys were selling these phones really cheap, that they’d gotten off of other folks who had fallen on hard times or had otherwise found themselves without need for a particular cell phone. Other vendors, like the furniture guys, were selling stolen goods. Sure.

He wanted to offer me a cup of tea, but alas, it being Ramadan and all, this was not possible. If I made my way back in an hour …

“Im shah Allah,” I said. If Allah wills it. Like the American, “Well, I’ll sure think about that, and let you know.”

I wasn’t sure where I was, and I wasn’t eager to backtrack, so I walked up a jebel to get a look around. Great view, but I was still lost. I ended up asking directions from a series of curious locals, asking where “Romani” was, referring to the Roman ruins, as “downtown” where my hotel was, didn’t register. Near the end of this detour the sun set and when I poked my head around a doorway to get a better look at yet another friendly welcome, I saw a bunch of guys had a meal set up, to which I was invited.

Now, I’d already had some tap water today. One lady warned me that I’d suffer horrible, horrible diarrhea. Raed said that he’d had some diarrhea when he first moved here, no biggy, though bottled water was cheap enough. Now I was drinking lemon juice from shared glasses and eating, among other things, vegetables, and everything else that I’m supposed to avoid, for my health. But how am I supposed to figure out and decline what’s going to make me ill, in the face of Arabic-speaking hospitality? Never one to refuse a free meal, and possessing, as I do, an iron stomach, I dug in.

We were in a dark little courtyard surrounded by stacks of older televisions. As far as I could tell, they were a crew of work-mates, sharing their iftar mansaf. One guy spoke some French, and we were able to exchange a few words. The meal, mostly chicken on yellow rice with flat bread, was filling. When the lemonade ran out, I recalled my pineapple juice, producing it to a round of applause. As the meal broke up and men began to scatter off, I once again bade them thanks, and continued on my way back towards the hotel.

A street in Amman
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Culture shock? Maybe a little when everyone wishes to welcome you to a bright, sunny country where you can’t decipher the alphabet.

Near the very end of my expedition, I was able to pin-point my location on one of the Lonely Planet maps, when an Iraqi refugee appeared before me. He was an English teacher hoping to get refugee status in the States, and he just wanted to assure me that the Iraqi people hated Saddam Hussein and looked forward to the likely war that would bring about his demise. What did I think?

Sure, I said, George Bush wants what he calls “Regime Change” and if Saddam pisses off the inspectors, as he has always done in the past, then war is the likely result. But Bush won’t go to war without the proper pretense of inspections.

It is one thing for my president to want war. It is another thing for me, my countrymen, our Congress, and our allies to support him. It seems incredible to me that any person should desire so strongly for America’s bombs to fall on his country to get rid of his tyrannical leader. What do I think? I suggested that what I wanted all the more, what I would pray for as he prayed for war, was that the Iraqi people would organize themselves so that they need not rely on my own inconsistent nation to act in their favour. The Iraqis need to be able to fix their own problems, and that one Iraqi with one bullet in the right place at the right time could spare the world of Saddam Hussein with far less pain and suffering than another war with America.

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Jordan, Travels


Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/22/jerash/

Roman Ampitheatre
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At the Roman Ampitheatre with Fauzi, and another friend whose name escapes me.

I had considered spending the next day and a half at Petra, returning Sunday to catch the red-eye flight I was scheduled to ride to Bangkok. The morning found me reluctant to leave my bed. I think that I’m too used to solitude, and where I can have all that I’d ever care for as I walk down the street in Europe or America, such is not to be had in Jordan, where I am obviously from somewhere else, and most people are eager to exchange good wishes, be it a smile, a nod, a wave, “hello”, “Welcome to Jordan” and others. Particularly those who speak some English, are all the more eager to hear from an American. In the quiet comfort of my bed, I get my mind to myself, and my dreams, and there’s no need to figure out how to get a service taxi or a minibus by asking overly-friendly folks for directions … and the ol’ immune system gets extra time to insure the body against whatever challenges the diet has introduced it to.

Until the phone rings. Fauzi is here. Well, okay, I secretly wanted to get out of bed and see the country that I’m visiting. I did the old toothbrush thing and met Fauzi and Mohammed and another guy in the lobby. We walked over to the Roman ampitheatre, which I’d neglected to visit the day before. This time we got to climb around and take pictures.

Bus to Jerash
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Mohammed and a night-time co-worker doze off on the bus to Jerash.

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Overlooking the ancient Roman ruins.

Inside an ampitheatre.
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A hallway and stairs inside one of Jerash’s ampitheaters. I like how well it is illuminated by available sunlight.

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Those Romans sure built a lot of columns. It is believed that these held up storefronts facing onto the market area, at right.

We took a cab somewhere where Fauzi had hoped to meet a friend, who wasn’t there. Another cab to the bus, and off to Jerash. We wandered around these ancient ruins for a while, Fauzi and I, then we rode another bus over towards Ajlun Castle, only we ended up in a barbershop, more Fauzi friends, where he made some calls, and then hitched a ride in a pickup truck to his Uncle’s house, nearby. The sun was coming down, which steals time from visiting castles on account of iftar.

Like Fauzi’s father, Fauzi’s uncle also spends time working in Chicago – airport taxi, or in the summer, ice-cream truck. Back in Ajlun he keeps his family in a nice house, where he can treat the occasional guest to a lavish iftar feast. Fauzi and I, in the parlor, were treated to mansaf – chicken on rice, with bread, veggies, and yogurt, with water, tea, coffee, a plate of fruits, and some sweets that are served only during Ramadan, that taste like the folded-over pancakes that they resemble. I had remembered to pack some Frankfurt brownies this morning, and these I shared with Fauzi and the kids, who romped around the guest room with us for the evening.

A few times, one of the young boys tried to drag me into the family area, I think, to see the computer, but I resisted, because I knew enough about the culture that male guests stick to the parlor, so as not to intrude on the domestic modesty of the family itself. I recounted this much to my gracious host, and he agreed with my assessment of the situation. It pleased me to have been a proper guest, in this regard, in order to complement my host’s excellent hospitality.

Ronal at the Nargila
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Ronal demonstrates the art of smoking flavored tobacco from a nargila.

Arab Salon
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Our host, at right, expounds at great length, with considerable gesticulation, on some subject in Arabic. Interesting enough to watch …

After this, we went to another friend’s place nearby, where Ronal, a guy who spoke English with ease, made an appearance. I was put considerably at ease with the ability to really communicate with somebody for a change. We went over to yet another house in the same town where the guy had been playing with his TV but dropped that in favor of being a stunning host, plying us with fruit drinks, teas, and a nargila, from which we smoked a smooth, flavored tobacco. All in all it was an extremely pleasant evening.

To get back to Amman, someone called someone’s uncle to borrow a pickup truck. The fee for this was negotiated to JD12, which struck me as a fair amount of money, though it was cheaper than a cab. It is possible that I could have spent the night in someone’s parlor, and caught a cheap minibus back the next day, but I suppose that given my refusal two nights before, they figured it polite not to press me with such offers. Ronal drove us to Amman at top speed over Jordan’s steep rolling hills, four guys in the back seat of the crew cab, and me in the front next to Ronal, without seatbelt, holding on to the “Oh Shit!” handle and reassuring myself of the statistical unlikelihood of us dying a horrible death, however insane Ronal’s driving.

At some point in the trip I peeked over at Ronal’s instrument panel. Ronal asked if I was checking his speed, and I explained that I was actually checking the gas tank, and I explained that the American custom is to fill someone’s tank when you borrow their car. Ronal explained that this was unnecessary, given the 12JD. I’d have only wanted to do this myself had I more money than sense. The point for me was that a lot of what I had been experiencing was unfamiliar to me, and reaching out to establish the occasional cross-cultural equivalency reassured me.

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Jordan, Travels

A Christian Iraqi

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/23/a-christian-iraqi/

Cats Begging
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A pair of stray, non-Muslim cats, among the many who showed up to beg for my afternoon chicken wrap.

Working Mens' Iftar
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Working men enjoy their iftar meal at a restaurant near my hotel.

Today I decided to deliberately relax. I slept in, yet again, and then wandered down to the Roman ampitheatre, and found a quiet little café overlooking the ruins, where I was charged 2JD for a chicken wrap and lemonade, while the sun was still in the sky. I shared a few bits of chicken with some fellow non-Muslim stray cats, who hung around the place begging tourists for food. The quiet, mid-day relaxation was what I find “normal” for California, and this helped me to relax and catch up some on the journal.

As the short afternoon rolled along, I found one of the last remaining sunny spots on some steps near the forum. I exchanged a few smiles with another guy who set his letter aside and politely asked me for a conversation.

He was a Christian from Iraq, with a degree in Computer Engineering, waiting in Jordan to see if he would be awarded an EU visa, where he might have a chance at a more rewarding career than in Iraq. Of course, he’d rather try his luck in America, but as many had already lamented to me, the land of opportunity is pretty hard to get to these days.

He has my sympathy. I explained what I knew, that UK had the most restrictive immigration, and that he would be at a disadvantage in somewhere like Germany, where the economy is actually pretty slow right now, and they prefer people who speak German.

I tried to reassure him that I ran into several foreigners working in Germany, most notably at the hostel, and that he may be able to get by working somehow, perhaps near tourists, until he could land the tech job he wanted.

He was far from home, but I figured it beat staying in Iraq. We talked some politics. He said that when he saw the towers go down on 9/11 that it saddened him in such a way that he wished a disaster would have fallen on his own house instead. I tried to wrap my head around this and figure out if I felt the same way. I apologetically offered that the same could soon happen to his home anyway. Sanely, he did not seem eager for this to happen. He did offer that, for whatever excesses or stupidities one might criticize America for, if the same military power were in the hands of a Muslim country, the result would be one thousand times worse, and that religious fanatics would not hesitate to use unconventional weapons on infidels.

I combined this opinion with the reminders of World War II that I had just experienced in Berlin, and I too suddenly felt grateful that America’s military power belonged to a nation with such relatively benign motivations. On this trip, when I’ve found myself trying to account for the perceived evils of American foreign policy, I’ve come to figure and explain that in America, we have most everything we need, and we are bordered by two large oceans and two very friendly, peaceful, neighbors, and we are happy enough in our own country, that we really don’t care too much about the rest of the world, and we’re not too interested in running the bloody show, so when we find ourselves with this responsibility, we do an understandably half-assed job.

My companion then offered me the opinion that the Arab world is being held back by Islam. My own opinion is that we have Christian fanatics in America, but they’re fairly marginalized. A few centuries ago, when Europe was occasionally run by fanatics, a lot of evil and stupidity went on in the name of Christianity. Europe’s example suggests to me that religious autocracy is something the Arab world will also outgrow. He responded was that Islam was structured so as to facilitate fundamentalism; Unlike Christianity, whose Bible is a third-hand account of Christ’s word, translated a few times over, Mohammed wrote the Koran himself, in Arabic, giving the words greater unambiguous authority. Muslims who wish to emulate the prophet, who had several wives and waged war against non-Muslims, have greater “moral authority” to perpetrate their evil than do their Christian peers. I had to admit that I was pretty ignorant of the Koran, and thanked him for providing me with a new idea to study.

This was the only day I did not join anyone for iftar. I managed my way back to the hotel, and had a piece of flat bread that one of the TV guys had pressed on me the day before, washed down with a 300 fils Sprite.

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Jordan, Travels

Amman Courthouse

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/24/amman-courthouse/

I met up with Fauzi again, who had to go over to the courthouse, so I went with him, since I didn’t really feel like planning my own itinerary, and besides, how many tourists visit a courthouse? As we entered the courthouse, Fauzi asked me to give him 20JD. This is a pretty hefty sum, and its not like the courthouse was charging for admission. Fauzi was a little anxious and he didn’t have the English to explain why he needed 20JD, but it was Fauzi, and he had earlier said something about helping out a friend, so I handed him the cash.

Punchin' Out
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Civil servants hustle to clock out on a Sunday afternoon, and get home by sunset, to enjoy iftar with their families.

I followed him around, at first, as he ineffectually wandered around the bureaucracy with some paperwork. Before long, he dropped me off with a cousin who worked at the courthouse, where I sat and watched a handful of guys processing records. One chubby guy had a little bit of English that he was happy to exhaust on me. The guys all seemed pretty good-natured, and I figured that in another time or place, their counterparts would be working the IT help desk in some similarly complex organization. I spent some time reading, getting up to stretch my legs once in a while. Around 12:30, I figured that in a normal universe, I’d be out to lunch with the guys, but this is Ramadan. The courthouse was bustling with activity, so I refrained from sipping on my water, as I had no idea where I’d be able to do so out of sight of anyone on fast. Thinking on it more, it occurred to me that I was sitting in a bustling courthouse on a Sunday.

It must have been a good two hours or more, before Fauzi returned around 2 or 2:30, as the day’s work was winding down. I got the impression that he’d not met with much success, but the best he could explain to me was that he’d had to “do work”.

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Jordan, Travels

Iftar Rannoush

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/24/iftar-rannoush/

We ended up on a packed commuter bus back, and my presence on the bus through the slow chaos of Amman’s rush-hour traffic seemed an amusing novelty to the other passengers, some of whom offered me their seats, which I thankfully declined. We hung out at Rannoush, the restaurant he’d taken me to on our first night together, which his cousin runs. Fauzi wanted to head out of town to another cousin’s place for iftar, and from there to the airport at 7, when he had to go to work. I spent some effort trying to explain that if we could drop my bag off at Royal Jordanian’s office at Seventh Circle, I’d really appreciate it, because then I wouldn’t have to drag my bag to his cousin’s house and then to the airport, and on top of it all, I could check-in and reserve a nice seat on the airplane. But did this work out, logistically, with also getting to his Uncle’s house?

That Fauzi kept interpreting my “7th circle” to mean “7 pm” underscores the difficulty involved in trying to express this complicated query. With the help of some diagrams, and Rannoush’s proprietor, who spoke a bit more English, Fauzi agreed that seventh circle sounded like an awfully good idea. So, we would head over to the hotel, and grab my bag.

Except then Fauzi wanted to call his Uncle to explain that we wouldn’t be able to make it. So … I tried again … Fauzi … we can get my bag and then go to your Uncle’s and skip the seventh circle if it is out of the way … ?

At the hotel, Fauzi explained that he had to run over to his place, can I hustle back and meet him at Rannoush? Okay, but first let’s go to the hotel’s reception desk together, and they can probably interpret for me what you needed the twenty dinars for … oh no, that’s just for today, I’ll give it back at my Uncle’s house. … well, okay then, I’ll see you at Rannoush.

Slicing the Meat
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Rannoush’s cook slices meat, to prepare for the evening rush.

I hung out with Fauzi’s cousin, who was preparing the place for the iftar rush. His cook sliced the kebab, preparing schwarma to go. Rannoush is between a bus depot and a service-taxi depot, so they do a brisk business with the working men who break fast on the go. He offered me some food, and was pleased when I declined, explaining that it was no great burden for me to wait a bit longer like everyone else for the sun to set. I was a little anxious about my shortage of dinars after Fauzi’s loan this morning, and as we waited for Fauzi to return, his cousin confirmed my impression of Fauzi that while he has a “white heart” he is sometimes not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I prefer to attribute difficulties to ignorance before malice, the ignorance in our case compounded by language and cultural differences.

Fauzi returned pretty late, at which point we did not take off for his Uncle’s place. I guess it was too late for that, which was fine with me because I’d worked up an appetite for schwarma and fries, washed down with a fruit cocktail smoothy, compliments of Rannoush.

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A Ride to the Airport

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/24/a-ride-to-the-airport/

It was getting near 6. Time to catch a bus to the other bus depot, where the Airport Express leaves from. Of course, I could have hung around Amman a few more hours, and caught a free Royal Jordanian shuttle from seventh circle as late as 10PM, since my flight wasn’t scheduled until one or two in the morning, but I didn’t mind dropping JD 1.50 on the Airport Express to ride with Fauzi.

Fauzi then asked me for another 5JD. He’d asked for 5JD to get on the bus for Jerash which shouldn’t have cost more than 2JD, even if I was covering Fauzi as well, or a round trip which we didn’t take. The cross-town bus fare wouldn’t have been more than half a dinar apiece, so I explained to Fauzi that this was my last 5JD, you see, after which I’ve only a 2JD to pay for the Airport Express. See?

But 5JD was too much, so Fauzi bought a pair of candy bars to get bus change. One for each of us …

Stuff at the Market
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I saw this at the bus depot and thought that if I worked for National Geographic, this is the classic sort of picture I would take, so I took it. I don’t know what this stuff is or what I’d do with it, but I love the picture.

Now … which bus? This question shouldn’t have been so hard, but if Fauzi was pressed to get to work on time, maybe he wanted to get clever with the routing. We caught a bus that dropped us off out at some traffic circle that was not the depot for the Airport Express, where we walked over to a bus stop on the road to the airport, watching various other airport buses go by, but not ours.

Eventually, a service taxi stopped and Fauzi said we could take it. “How much,” I asked Fauzi, since I only had the 2JD on me.

“Three JDs,” he replied.

Now, this is awfully cheap for a ride to the airport, where service taxis don’t go, though I’m still not quite sure why service taxis are cheaper than regular taxis, so 3JD was not entirely implausible. “But Fauzi, I only have two JD.” Fauzi stumbled a moment, and then said okay, which I took to mean that he’d cover the rest, which only seemed fair anyway considering that he was ahead at least that much after the five at the bus station.

The ride to the airport was pretty pleasant, speeding smoothly down the highway. Along the way I passed my 2JD over to Fauzi, so that whether the fare was 3JD total, or 3JD a head, he could take care of things when we got out. On our way into the airport the driver stopped to solicit a 10JD ride into Amman to a trio of Chinese businessmen, who politely declined. Soon after he dropped us off at the terminal, and asked for his 5JD. Fauzi handed him my two, and the cabbie got upset with him, alleging that Fauzi had mis-quoted to me, or at best mis-heard the agreed-upon fare, which was 5JD, which was really good considering that he normally charged 10JD. Fauzi, the cabbie declared, was no good, and at this point in the game, I was inclined to agree.

What I should have done at this point, was to sweetly ask, in the presence of this somewhat bi-lingual cabbie, “Fauzi, what of the 5JD I gave you at the bus station?” After all, even if we weren’t splitting the 5JD fare, Fauzi would reasonably expect to have 1.5JD budgeted for the Airport Express, and he was at this point taking no initiative to fix what seemed an awfully big problem.

Even though at this point I was really dubious of Fauzi’s intentions, there must be some Asian ghost in me who wanted to see my frustratingly hapless “friend” not lose face, and restore harmony between us and the cab driver. I offered the cabbie the 5€ that I’d saved by using my train pass to get to Frankfurt airport. At about .7€ to the JD, 5€, 2JD should work out. The cabbie agreed to take this payment.

At this point in the game, I was pretty upset with Fauzi. Jordan has a reputation for simple hospitality rather than sophisticated cons, which is what I’m supposed be wary of in Thailand. “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity,” I quietly reminded myself yet again. The best understanding I have of the situation is that perhaps Fauzi had some other trouble going on, and we didn’t make it to his Uncle’s house, which left him to abuse our friendship. Poop happens.

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Jordan, Travels

Queen Aliyah International

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/24/queen-aliyah-international/

Queen Aliyah International is peculiar, in that you can’t pass through security to check in and get a good seat until two hours before your flight, so I had the chance to kick it in the waiting area with a disgruntled Slovenian who was also annoyed with the 5JD exit tax you pay on top of the 10JD for a Jordanian Visa, on top of the airport being silly, and Royal Jordanian rescheduling its flights every day, as both of our tickets had different times printed on them, for the same flight, during the 1AM hour, and we were now scheduled for an “on-time” departure at 2:40, though I’d been told 2:30 when I reconfirmed my ticket the day before.

5JD to exit, huh? I didn’t even have 5€, just the two dinar coins I’d saved as souvenirs. Fauzi came by as I tried to nap on the concrete floor, and explained that he’d have come around earlier, except it was busy and he’d been in trouble for showing up late. I asked him about the 20JD he had earlier claimed to owe me, explaining that I’d need 5JD to leave the airport. He looked uncomfortable, and then his boss called him away.

Later on, another of Fauzi’s friends dropped by, curious if I remembered him. Yes, I did. Fauzi’s pretty weird, huh? Yes, he is, and I told him about the 20JD, and the spot I was in. He seemed genuinely concerned, and said that he’d talk to Fauzi if he could.

11PM rolled around and I was let through the metal detector. The “airport tax” guy said he could only take cash, so I had to go back to the unsecured area to cash a traveler’s check around the corner. Along the way I hustled past Fauzi, who was standing idly around the corner from where I’d been waiting the past few hours. “Why are you going this way?” He seemed concerned that I was misguided or perhaps, in trouble.

“To cash a check to get the 5JD so I can get out of here,” I snapped, accusingly.

I exchanged one of my 50USD American Express Traveler’s Checks for 5JD, and the remaining $38, which immediately reassured me: here I was, in the middle of the Middle East, struggling against bad mojo, and now, after two months on the road, I had two new tens, an old ten, and three single, comfortable, familiar US dollars. I shifted from moderately pissed off to feeling pretty darned good, which the guy who subsequently stamped my Visa picked up on, himself cheering up at the prospect of a happy foreign visitor. He smiled and noted with pride that he was a Bedouin.

There was still more waiting at the terminals, which smelled of curry, because at our gate there were two flights boarding for India. The smell was different, and welcomed by my nose: my own pants smelled like dust, with just the slightest hint of dirty sewers. This was not offensive to me except that it was an alien sensation that made me feel uncomfortable, like I was wearing Amman on my legs. The idea that an entire developing nation might instead smell of curry, overpowering the essence my pants had acquired, struck my fancy. I wasn’t eager to soak up this new idea, though, because I was bound for Bangkok, and I’m inclined to hope that Thailand has a slightly more comfortably Western flavour.

I figured a cold Coca Cola would be just the thing to refresh my spirits for the remainder of the wait. There was none at the duty-free shop that everyone has to walk through to get between terminals. What a pity. I found, of all things, a Popeye’s, but they only had Pepsi, and my discerning American palette wanted Coke, dammit!

There was a coffee stand which had a menu item for “Coca Cola products .60JD”. I interrupted the guy’s phone call, holding a dollar between my hands.

“Do you accept the almighty American Dollar?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I’d like a Coke, please.”

“I don’t have any.”

Which seemed like a weird thing to expect to find at his coffee stand in the first place. So, I contented myself with the water fountain at the gate, only after spending some time waiting for the gate to open, in conversation with an Indonesian Muslim returning from his pilgrimage to Mecca, who wanted to explain that Terrorism is not Islam, just crazy, wrong, fundamentalists. I was willing to accept this, but when he told me that I might find God if I looked, I explained that I never had found God, and had come to believe that all I’d likely find if I did look was only whatever I expected to find, on some level, which wouldn’t necessarily be God, so I’d just as soon not queer things by looking for something beyond my understanding. This argument I trimmed considerably, as I wasn’t eager to engage in a deep philosophical debate on the nature of God with a Muslim just returning from Mecca, who would have to contend with my foreign philosophy in a foreign language, with the established understanding that people who adhere too strictly to the their understanding of Religion can do so to a fault. I wasn’t eager to to interfere with the hazy goodwill he seemed to be feeling from his spiritual buzz.

At this point, I was ready to wait for the hedonistic paradise of Thailand, where lovely women run around in public, and people wouldn’t ask me if I believed their economic and social progress was being held back by religious conservatism. My kind of place.

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Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Thailand’s Welcome

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/25/thailands-welcome/

After waiting forever to get on the plane, at 2:40, I set my watch five hours ahead to Thailand – GMT+7. Where did the night go?

Royal Jordanian served us some chicken and rice substance, an echo of mansaf. I started watching “Road to Perdition” but like everyone else on the plane, I couldn’t stay awake. Up again at 2PM and they served us breakfast near 3.

WARNING: Insulting customs officers on duty may leads to penalties including imprisonment.
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Translation: “Welcome to Thailand. If you’re going to make an ass of yourself, please wait until you’ve left the airport.”

Royal Jordanian had only given me one of the two required cards for immigration. No biggie, I had to go back to a counter to get the second form and get back in another short line. An air-conditioned bus ferried me away from the airport, and I made small-talk with an Englishman, watching Bangkok float by beneath. I’d read that instead of wearing deodorant the Thai simply shower in cold water several times a day, and among the sights from the highway, I saw some laborers hosing off behind a warehouse. The weather was muggy, almost damp, and the sky was alternately sunny and overcast. When I got off the bus at Sukhumvit Road, it was raining. Thailand is not Jordan.

A lady who got off at the same stop helped orient the Englishman and me, and I struck off for the Hotel Atlanta, which I’d selected from Lonely Planet because, while on the high end of the budget price range, it offered a coffee shop, and writing desks. It was way down the far end of its sidestreet, and had a big sign on the left of the door that read “SEX TOURISTS NOT WELCOME” as well as another sign reassuring me that if this was the place I’d been looking for, I’d found it. The cheapest rooms were taken, so I settled in to a suite for 535 baht – about $13, the price of a bed in a European hostel.

They gave me an iced tea while I checked in. A porter helped with my bags and showed the room, demonstrating how to turn on the air conditioner. Up until this point in my life I have never encountered a porter. I tipped him 5 baht: about twelve cents. Tipping isn’t customary in Thailand, but all us foreign tourists probably confuse the issue. If the tip was less than he had figured, his thanks did not betray this fact. All about face.

It being a rainy day, I didn’t feel so much like heading outside. I wandered down to read Dr. Max Henn’s guide to Thai etiquette. It offered the same advice I’d gleaned from Lonely Planet, but with the authoritative, cynical tone of a curmudgeon, who opined that before long everywhere would be just like everywhere else, and the only point to travel would be to make an ass of yourself in someone else’s front yard.

I wandered into the restaurant, where after a while I was awarded with one of the three copies of The Menu. The Menu is a thick tome, heavily foot-noted, explaining everything there is to know about Thai food, as well as the history of The Menu itself, which has historically been stolen and copied, so now each of the three available copies is different, with four more unique variations held in reserve so that as soon as someone steals one copy of The Menu to copy the Atlanta’s style, it will already have changed.

I ate two separate meals, which were cheap. The feasting was in part to make up for all the fasting during my brief exposure to Jordan’s Ramadan.

I looked through one of the English-language daily papers. In the job section I noted that age discrimination is extremely straightforward: age range is listed in the job descriptions. I can accept a lot of different cultural standards, but for me the idea that someone who is 40 is not qualified for a job simply because they’re 40 is plain wrong.

The Atlanta’s restaurant has a selection of movies they’ll pop on the tube for folks to watch. Tonight featured an old black and white where a plane is hijacked and finds itself in Shangri-la.

I thought I should check out the night-life, just to see. Ethan had recommended a nice bar where I could go to relax, untroubled by working girls eager to sell me their companionship. The first menu I saw at Q had the expensive drinks, from which I selected a “Longer Island” iced tea for around $5. After scoping the place out, I had a seat to watch the scene.

While I sat, nursing my drink, women on all sides were checking me out. I had to appreciate that this situation was reversed from the Silicon Valley: here, I was the one surrounded by ladies!

I relaxed and watched an older, chubby white guy making nice with one of the older ladies. Their pattern of interaction seemed consistent with my reckoning that she’d like to see some money for her companionship, but then what do I know? Her two girlfriends were checking me out.

To my left was a group of girls that featured an energetic, light-skinned girl with pig-tails and braces. Sixteen? Heck if I know. One of her friends was chubby and butch, a nice change of pace for Bangkok. Another friend turned my head a few times with her own commotion, and then asked me to dance.

Toffee is studying Mass Communications at Bangkok University. She’ll soon be off to Manchester, England, to hone her English. She asked if I had a girlfriend back home. We whiled the time with her friends, holding hands. We saw each other off by exchanging e-mail addresses and a good-night kiss when the bar closed at 2AM. I made it back to the hotel at 2:30, and was asleep by 3.

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Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Chao Phyra River

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/26/chao-phyra-river/

I had checked in to the Atlanta without a reservation, and at that time I was informed that they could only host me for the night. After sleeping in ’til 10AM, I headed downstairs with my luggage to check out, or possibly score a cheaper room. Were there any available? No, but I could stay in my suite until Thursday. Sure!

I had eggs, bacon, dry white toast, and a pot of coffee downstairs while I tried to figure out my next move. I wandered down to the Nana Sky Train station, with the idea of finding my way over to a point at which I could take a Lonely Planet walking tour. But how to get there? The nice lady at the Tourist Information booth asked, “why not take a boat?”

“How much is that?”

“Not more than 15 baht.”

Gee …

I took the Sky Train to Central Pier, where I caught the appropriate boat upriver, wowwing at Bangkok’s riverfront. The last commuter boat I’d taken was in Venice, with Janet. This boat was far more inscrutable than its Venetian counterparts. Instead of color-coded route-maps, there were markings to indicate spaces reserved for monks. We made several crazy moorings through nasty clouds of the boat’s diesel smoke, passengers occasionally leaping on or off or at least making very wide, calculated strides between boat and pier.

Inside the boat
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A view from inside the boat, while mooring at a stop. Note the plume of dark exhaust.

Riverfront housing.
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How the “other half” live: with a cool riverfront view.

Unfinished tower.
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I really love this tower. I suspect it remains unfinished, as a victim of the 1997 crash. The color variations add to its tiered, wedding-cake personality.

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Another imposing waterfront tower. Probably a western luxury hotel.

My stop was interesting because I got to walk along a raised walkway between stalls of people selling various things, mostly food. I made my way slowly around the walking tour, fending off tuk-tuk drivers who wanted to show me their lucky pagodas. I didn’t get to see much because the shiny Wats – Buddhist temples – that make up the backbone of Thai tourism really don’t impress me much. Plus I’d moved slow enough that a lot of things were closed, around 5PM.

I should explain here that a tuk-tuk is a small vehicle based on a motorcycle, that is hired out to passengers. Tuk-tuk drivers are known to sell bogus tours to tourists and generally just try to squeeze the walking sacks of easy money that we represent. Lonely Planet had specifically mentioned the “lucky pagoda” scam – Wat Po is closed today, but he’ll drive you around for a long time to see the lucky pagoda, which doesn’t exist. But how do you know some random small shiny temple is or isn’t the “lucky pagoda”? Ethan boiled it down for me: never, ever take a tuk-tuk!

There were a lot of food vendors near the boat pier, which was also next to a University that was letting out. I strode through the market and grazed from the vendors, by pointing my finger at interesting-looking foods, and ingesting the objects of my curiosity. Good. Cheap. Orange Juice for 10 baht. The lady greeted me in English and was very excited when I addressed her as ma’am. I returned to her stall to sample a red juice, figuring it was cranberry. Whatever it was, it was horribly vile. Beet juice?

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Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Blowing the Budget

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/26/blowing-the-budget/

In the evening, I decided to check out a bar that Ethan had recommended. The Woodstock is located in the Nana Entertainment Complex, which is full of titty bars and their ilk. It helps develop discipline to walk through throngs of pretty girls and avoid eye contact, shrugging off the aggressive few that grab your wrist, insisting you come in. Well, you know, I’m tough.

The Woodstock was nice and chill. I watched some pool-playing, sipped some beer, and exchanged smiles with a pair of pretty girls. When I saw that the one girl sucked, I took her up on her offer to join in a game of pool. I ordered another beer, and the girls added “and two Heinekens.” My impression was that I was now treating them to beer. Fair enough, such is the way of the world between a gentleman with a few baht and the honeys.

I lost both games. I really suck at pool. I think the wait staff were looking out for me, because when I paid for the pool games, there were no Heinekens on my bill. I settled up and wandered toward Q, on the idea that I shouldn’t spend any more than the 1,000 baht I had budgeted for the day, of which I had about 200 left, after 500 for the room, and 200 at the bar. (At around 42:1, 1,000 baht is just under $25, 500 baht is $12.50, and 100 baht is under $2.50.)

Walking down the street, I was approached by, among others, an older, very skanky-looking prostitute, desperate to offer me anything. I said “no thanks,” and kept going. She took my arm, then started grabbing my thigh.

I became extremely conscious of my wallet, wedged in my left-front pocket, far from her attentions. My camera was locked in the safe in my hotel room, leaving nothing of value in my right-front pocket. Her pawing did not excite me, and seemed non-threatening, I kept my mind on my money and picked up speed to shake her off.

She broke off after a few paces, and then I recalled my right-rear pocket, where I keep the day’s “spending money” separated from my wallet. I may well have forgotten to button that pocket at the bar, and at any rate, I found that my pocket had been relieved of a little over 200 baht. I turned around, and then turned around again: even if I did find her, what was I going to do about it? No, all is fair in Bangkok and for $5 I wasn’t going to raise a fuss. Judging by her looks, she needed the cash bad enough, and I’d already kissed it goodbye when the girls ordered the Heinekens. That cash was destined to part with me for a lady tonight, and now it was done.

Q had more folks than Monday, and the gender ratio was less in my favor. As all the tables were claimed, I sat down next to a group of ladies and ordered a beer. The music was good, so the evening became all about the dance. Felt good.

There were a fair number of pushy men on the dance floor, and not enough women who were interested, which made it feel more like California. I behaved myself, because I like to dance around the ladies, and if there’s another guy who is pushy they can squeeze over my way and enjoy themselves.

I exchanged glances, nods, and smiles with a lovely young lady with a round face, a white skirt, and a sparkly pink blouse. She spent as much time dancing as I did. We spent the latter part of the evening dancing near each other. When it came time to leave, I told her that I’d love to go dancing with her again, and we exchanged e-mail addressen.

After that, I ran into Toffee again. She wandered off to chill with her girlfriend and when the place closed at 2AM, I went over to chat with her a little more. When I stepped outside, a white guy, a Finnish exchange student named Ari, asked did I want to split a cab over to this other place he knew that was open ’til 5? I was good to go, but who can trust a Finnish exchange student? For good measure, I invited Toffee and her friend along.

We found our way over to Tony’s, which is a big night club that was closed except for a little Karaoke bar upstairs. We got a table in the corner, and I wandered off to answer nature’s call. When I got back, the girls had each taken receipt of tall, blue, fancy-looking mixed drinks, and Ari had a bottle of Heineken, which he recommended because it was cheap, so I ordered one too.

The waiter showed up with a bill of over 800 B. This seemed like an awful lot of money, I figured the girls’ drinks were pretty expensive. The waiter stood between Ari and me and insisted we pay up. Ari threw in his last few baht, and I threw in the remainder of my 1,000, and we were still a few baht short, so Toffee’s friend chipped in.

Now, this totally blew my short-term budget, which made me a little apprehensive. I chalk it up to cultural differences that I wound up paying for those drinks. According to my research, the Thai have a strong notion of social hierarchy, and the “higher” person in the group bears the most responsibility for the bill. From what I’d read, as I was the oldest, malest, foreignest, wealthiest member of our group, that was pretty much my bill to cheerfully pay, even if it made me broke. Ari did his part too. Only then do we start leaning on the girls. The waiter figured that if we were running around in male-female pairs, that the guys were naturally paying, and the girls wouldn’t want us to lose face by offering to pony up. It doesn’t look good if someone who is doing well has to go knocking up his poorer friends for cash. Oh well.

In retrospect, it is also entirely possible that the waiter was scamming us as well. This too is not inconsistent with cultural expectations.

We got to talking, and it turns out that Ari knew the gal I had been dancing with. He explained that Dee was mad at him, because she’d caught him sleeping with one of her friends while dating another. He told me she had a boyfriend, and I said I wasn’t interested in such things. He offered to share her number with me from his cell phone, but I declined, on the theory that if people want me to call them, they will give me the number themselves.

Toffee sang. Toffee sings wonderfully and it is something to hear “I Will Survive” rendered by a lovely woman with a beautiful voice that handles English as a foreign language. She sang more English pop and a few Thai songs, including a duet with her girlfriend. I did a not horrible “Country Roads” and Ari was excused on account of his lost voice.

It blew my mind that a great many of the songs are subtitled in Thai, with English approximations of their syllables. Accurate transliteration of Thai into English is impossible without tonal diacritics, and a drunk fàràng with a microphone trying to keep pace with the rhythm strikes me as an awfully bizarre source of entertainment. Just what are the karaoke people thinking?

It was past five and time to get home. The boys were broke and we were all far from home. Ari revealed his resourcefulness by producing the 100 baht note he hides in a shoe for just such circumstances. He went his way and the girls took me in their cab to my hotel. Toffee mused over the “Sex Tourists Not Welcome” sign, and opened her door to give me a goodnight kiss. Her tongue, which I had encountered the night before, led me to wonder if she wished to be invited in. “Only ten more days ’til I leave for Manchester,” she’d said earlier. The lobby was not locked, and I picked the morning paper off the step and gave it to the guy at the front desk. He woke up and gave me my key. I was to bed at 6AM. It didn’t even feel late.

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Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Tourist Security and Hotel Shopping

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/27/tourist-security-and-hotel-shopping/

I had a well-deserved sleep-in, then wandered my way down to the Woodstock to enjoy an excellent cheeseburger topped with fried egg. You can tell they are serious about burgers by the availability of A-1 Steak Sauce. The meat was super tasty. A damned fine experience! Then they turned their big-screen TV to a movie on HBO while I spent some time on the journal. An ex-pat told me to watch out for my backpack, though we both agreed it was pretty safe sitting next to me in the Woodstock. I’d read that some tourists lost their backpacks to criminals who slashed the straps with a razor blade and ran off with the goods. I explained how I carried my backpack more securely, and recounted my experience with the pick-pocket the night before. He said that sometimes you have to ditch being polite and cool and make it absolutely clear that someone’s attention is not welcome. Aye.

Afterwards, I went “hotel shopping” in the Siam Central area, as the Atlanta was booked up for the weekend. Walking through a shopping mall on my way over, I noted several backpacks ripe for the plucking, the worst hanging off the back of a Japanese, the straps coming together and connecting at the top of the bag, and worn so loose that there was an inch of slack between the top of the bag and the man’s back. No, I would be pretty safe from this problem.

I ended up reserving a room at the White Lodge – 400B/night with private bath and A/C – cheapest room on the block, though cheaper could be found over in the backpacker haven of Kao San Road, where I would lose the convenience of the Sky Train. I returned to the Atlanta for a pretty good vegetarian dinner.

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Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Bangkok’s Chinatown

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/28/bangkoks-chinatown/

In the morning I packed up and bid adieu to the Atlanta. The new hotel wasn’t too far, though with a large pack on my back, I would be safer in a cab, if I saw one. I spied a metered taxi just a little way down the street, and got in, handing the cabbie a business card for the White Lodge.

“100 baht.”

“Meter,” I pointed at the meter. I’d been in town long enough to understand that 100 baht was an insane fare to charge for the distance involved.

“100 baht.”

I wrapped my arms back through the straps of my bags and got out of the cab with ease. I continued over to the SkyTrain station and made it to the hotel without incident.

I decided on a walking tour through Chinatown, which was only a kilometer or two away, so I walked from the hotel down Bumrungmuang. The sidewalk split off from the road for an overpass, so I followed the sidewalk into a warren of tightly-packed houses and shops. This is where the poor folk lived, the “developing” side of a developing nation, and in my eyes, the more interesting side.

It was enough just to see — ancient houses on top of different shops — stray cats and dogs everywhere — endless textile markets, where the clothing is cheap, so close to where it is made. There were shops full of recycled auto parts, headlight and tail lights hanging from their wires like fish on hooks. Some shops had piles of a particular kind of generator or motor. One shop’s floor was entirely covered in lengths of rusty metal chain layed back and forth like newborn pasta. Unfortunately, my camera was full at this point, so I missed out on a great picture. It had also managed, at long last, to eat the day’s pictures. This irritated me immensely, but what can I do but come back and take some more? I have that kind of time.

Old-school housing
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An example of Bangkok’s old-fashioned, wooden housing.

Security grates
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Thailand’s population tends to be lithe and limber, and Thailand’s thieves tend to be stealthy and nimble. This must be why this building’s security grating goes all the way up.

Crazy telephone wires
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Thailand is chugging away into the information age. The gritty infrastructure for Bangkok’s dense population comes together in beautifully complicated telephone poles like this one atop a railside shanty.

Calico cats
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A colorful family of Calico cats nap in a woman’s sewing shop, which open to the street.

Railroad shanties
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There’s not enough proper housing to go around, but there’s some room for shanties along the narrow-gauge right-of-way. I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge, but you can see that many locals don’t bother to get the view.

Riverfront housing
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This looks like a step-up: random slabs of colorful contrete blocks along the river.

Great Chain of Building
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Two-story river-front housing is overshadowed by ugly concrete construction, which itself aspires to the glistening wealth of the sky-scraper behind it.

Auto Parts
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Need auto parts? Shop here.

At one point, I developed a thirst for a Coke. It wasn’t long before I spied this American logo in one of the narrow alleyways. An old Chinese lady had two refrigerated beverage cases. I pointed out a bottle of Coke, rubbing my finger together and asking “How much?” She grabbed the bottle and opened it, reached for a straw, which I declined, and she bade me to have a seat at one of the little plastic tables sitting in the alleyway next to her refrigerator cases.

Still wondering her price, I handed her a 100B note. She handed me 90B worth of notes in change, then she went for her coins. I asked her to stop, feeling guilty of the slight apprehension that she might have tried to overcharge me. 10B: 25 cents is an unheard of price for a bottle of Coke back home.

I got up to wander around with my bottle but she again encouraged me to have a seat, and then I understood: she keeps the bottles! I was participating in the human economy at a scale where a bottle of coke is best served restaurant style, which explained why she was in no hurry to charge me. Chagrined, I realised that as a strange foreigner I was more likely a threat to naively steal her bottle, than an opportunity to be charged a premium price.

On my way back I stumbled upon a few shops packed full of schoolboys, playing computer games for 20B an hour. They had no terminals available for me to check e-mail. Instead I approached a lady with a cart who was grilling slices of thick white bread with butter and sugar on one side. I asked her how much, and I heard her say 25B, which seemed steep, but worth it for me. She grilled me up a fresh slice, cut it in eight, bite-size pieces, placed them in a baggie and handed it to me with a wooden spear to use as a utensil. I gave her two 20B notes, took my change, and wandered off with my treat. A moment later she chased after me and handed me my second 20B note – the price had in fact been five baht – this delicious treat could be only as sweet as the lady who sold it to me for twelve cents. Her main clientele must have been the schoolboys, and I figured that growing up in Bangkok’s Chinatown couldn’t be that bad if you get to play computer games and eat sugar bread after school.

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Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Improvised Thanksgiving

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2002/11/28/improvised-thanksgiving/

Not knowing any other Americans in Bangkok, I’d done a Google search for “Thanksgiving Bangkok” and found a website devoted to Asian Nightlife with four public Thanksgiving events. I picked the 500B buffet with “Irish Food and Irish folk band ‘No Fixed Abode'” which sounded to me like the doings of an Irish pub. I rode the SkyTrain out to a gigantic world-class hotel, where I was welcomed by a guy ready to seat me at a table by myself. Perish the thought! I saw an older lady sitting alone at another table, asked if she would like some company, and sat with her instead.

She was Canadian, from Ontario. They celebrate Thanksgiving in September, and she was spending the last of her baht on a Thai meal, instead of the pricey buffet, since she was flying out early in the morning and wanted to eat something light.

She told me that she had a small farm up North, and was a member of an organization called WWOOF: Willing Workers on Organic Farms, where she’d hosted many a Japanese or Korean traveller, exchanging food and shelter for some help on the farm. What a wonderful dinner companion!

I put away three plates of food and a dessert plate — I wanted my 500B worth! After the Canadian lady left, I spent some time talking to a retired couple — he a Texan and she a Thai.

They didn’t have pumpkin pie — Thai pumpkins are different and they don’t make pie out of them. What the hotel did was adapt their monthly Irish Buffet into a Thanksgiving dinner, which is why they had an Irish band playing homage to America. I enjoyed the folk music, and the band tried to favor American composers. I stuck around until they wrapped up at 10.

Back at the SkyTrain station, I noticed that one tall girl was dressed in an unusually fancy black dress. I looked out over the streets and the skyline as I waited for the train. When it arrived, I found myself seated opposite of her, across the SkyTrain’s wide central aisle.

She was quite tall, with long fingers, light skin, and a long face. I overheard her talking with her friend, and her voice sounded unusually deep. She looked too young and pretty to have smoked enough cigarettes to explain this. I followed this hunch and studied her more. Her breasts and hips were modest, but then a lot of Thai women are unreasonably thin. Then I caught her Adam’s Apple. Having captured her secret, I loved her all the more.

Traffic on Sukhumvit Road.
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Traffic rushes down Sukhumvit Road, beneath the SkyTrain station.

I could tell she liked me too. And I wanted to make friends, but how do I go about doing this, especially if I don’t know that she speaks English? And what would she think of my potentially ignoble intentions, for though my admiration was based on the fact that I think very highly of anyone who can struggle so long and hard to to successfully capture their own self-identity, Adam’s Apple or not, she was still a damned fine lady to boot.

When I stepped off the train I looked back through the window, and saw that her head had turned to follow me. For a moment, I was tempted to return, but decided that I would leave it to fate that tonight she and I were bound our seperate ways.

On the way back to the hotel, I worked it out that Bangkok was 13 hours ahead of Chicago. I got back to the hotel at 2300 and Jessica answered the phone. It certainly was 10AM. At 50B/minute, with a 50B connection fee, the nine-minute call ran 500B, but it was worth it to hear mom’s voice on a holiday.

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