Sunday, November 30, 2014

Malum consilium quod mutari non potest - “It’s a bad plan that can’t be changed.”

Sorry No photos yet

Sunday November 30 2014

I am tired seven thirty and it feels like it is midnight to me.

I got my full seven last night and by the sounds of the traffic outside I doubt I'll get that much for the next night or two. The only problem was that the seven ended at four thirty am.

The morning was as mornings go. Checking email and drinking coffee. Eating breakfast and .. well you know the routine, probably the same as mornings everywhere.

I had purchased the airline ticket yesterday. I found a flight from Bangkok to Dhaka for less than half of the prices the travel agent asked. It was the price I had expected, an internet price.

When I reached the check in counter at BKK the wheels on the bus didn't fall off the bus, but they did start wobbling. The lines t0o the counters were long and choked. The signs said “Hand carry only” but no one was heading the restriction, so neither did I. It still took 20 minutes to get to the counter and there were only four -people before me in line.

I handed the woman my passport and e-Ticket. She did the computer thing while the (I assume) supervisor looked through my passport. “You don't have a visa for Bangladesh” No I'll get a VOA (Visa of arrival) there. “But you only have a one way ticket” Yes I don't know how long I will stay. “But with no return ticket they will not issue a VOA” Don't worry I have plenty of cash and nearly enough credit cards to play poker with.”Show me the credit card you paid with” To wit she wrote down the numbers on a piece of paper before handing me my boarding pass and passport back.

The e-ticket's vernacular has changed over the years. Before it was an airline ticket, it was a coupon in the booklet you got when you went to Disneyland. The E ticket got you on the absolutely best rides in the park and there were only two or three of them in the book. You always went home with a book still holding a few A's a couple B's and maybe a C, but never ever have I seen a E ticket outside of the park.

As you waited in line for the particular E ticket ride of your choice there were sign saying “You have an hour wait from this point” and the signs times decreased the closer you got to the ride. I wish they had that implements for the e-Ticket at BKK's outbound Immigration section. I think an honest hour was spent my me and my neighbors in that line today. They were so backed up that the escalators had to be stopped so they didn't end up piling like cord wood at the bottom of the stairs. THEN four Germans (they had to be Germans) jumped the line. If he could have gotten through the crowd one particular Dutchman would have pounded them into Weinerschnitzle.

I guess the bright side was that once I got to the boarding gate I didn't have to wait very long before the flight was called. The seat was a great revenue builder for the airline. Thin and very close to the seat in front. Don't even think of crossing your legs unless you want to stand up on your seat to do it, before re-seating yourself.

I knew that Bangladesh had a Muslim majority but was surprised to here the announcement “In the name of Allah the merciful we wish to welcome you to flight …..” Whoops ! Did I get on Saudi Airlines by mistake? Then came “ … Inshallah we will arrive at ...”. Inshallah used to be one of my favorite and most used Arabic words. It means “If God wills”. It was great for blowing off pushy salesmen in Morocco and Egypt. “I'll be back tomorrow, Inshallah” God very infrequently 'shallah'ed It is not what you want to hear from your flight attendant. “We will be landing in 10 minutes ----- IF God wills” now there is a sentence guaranteed to not instill confidence in your flight crew.

It seems that God did will we arrive and then the pushing and shoving began. You would have thought that there was a fire at the rear of the plane for all the climbing over of seats and shoving involved. Really if this is the way it is under normal circumstances, don't let me be on a plane under emergency situation in Bangladesh. I'll kill the first guy who did what he did to me today until I cross checked him and said “Are you in a hurry?”. He backed off. Where was he pushing to go ? A bus on the tarmac where he would have to wait for the other half of the plane to arrive ?

The VOA was a snap. The Immigration officer did some scratching in a book. Asked me how long I would be (3 weeks) and said I'll give you a month. Now go pay that guy over there. Click, crunch, thunk ! And I was now legally in the country. I really hope my credit card number back in BKK doesn’t get stolen, Inshallah.

The hotel's car picked me up and got me to the hotel rather quickly. Dhaka's traffic is supposed to be among the worst in the world but it didn't seem any worst that most other big cities where the lines on the road are just suggestions of how many vehicles can fit that same area at the same time. The hotel was in a very quiet residential area. The room was on the small side, but adequate. I had just pulled out my camera to take photos for TripAdvisor when the phone rang. “Uh, Ma'am you are at the wrong hotel. You are at the other Best Western. Our driver made a mistake” Seriously ?

That was when we experienced the real traffic in Dhaka. When it was moving it was crowded and noisy. When it wasn't moving it wasn't moving. We sat for 45 minutes and didn't move. Long enough that I got out of the car and stood on the road side as I smoked. It took from a 3 pm arrival to seven thirty to get to the right hotel., eight miles from the airport.

The hotel did a lot of ass kissing. Giving me a suite and waiving the fee from the airport. But for now, I'm tired and will forgo the description of the room. Suffice it to say it isn't Best Western standards or over a hundred a night standards.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware

After I closed yesterday afternoon I mostly just hung out. Took a power nap. Walked to the restaurant that Bruno the taxi driver recommended and had Pad Thai. Made it back to the hotel about the time it was to be going out, if you are young and hip or old and horny in Bangkok. Instead I read a bit and at nine turned out the lights and hoped for the best.

The best wasn't too bad. Except for a 3 am. break I slept until 5. Not too bad. I consider a reasonably solid seven hours while adjusting to a time zone half the way around the world. I did wake up with a horrid headache. Whether it was from dehydration or caffeine withdrawal two cups of Starbucks instant coffee made it Jake again.

I met Bruno (the taxi driver) at the crack of eight thirty and we sped off to go to the floating market for a morning of visiting with the locals. One of the things I didn't do was my research on what all was entailed. The darned market is 40 miles from the edge of town and town is big. An hour and a half is a long time in a taxi. Enough time to solve most of the world's, well maybe not all the First World's problems, but certainly the majority of the ones in the third world.

The world is run by the rich with no regard for the poor. Like “Duh!”. The king is old, and we aren't talking Elvis here. He has four sons who are trying to usurp the others place as heir apparent to the throne. But the army now is running the country, not like the police in the old days and exports are down to zero and the water rights are all being funneled to the big cities leaving the rural areas dry and arid. The best customers are the Indians. It used to be the Chinese but now it's the Indians. They bring the entire family and shop til they drop and then get pushed around in wheelchairs to shop some more. I might be exaggerating a little there.

We drove past mango farms, coconut farms, salt farms and every sort of manufacturing plant known to man. We passed a large store named “D Plus” which is still in business here in Thailand, so I assume it is not a bra store. We also passed “Big C”, which I hope is more a play on Kmart's “Big K”.

Eventually we made it to the floating market area and pulled off the main road into a car park that was surrounded by covered seating areas. I'm starting to get a feeling here, now. Smiles and nods and dusted off seats welcomed me along with a numbered plastic tag. This is not looking like a market and boats. This is looking more like a vacation condo sales pitch. I tell myself to relax and see where it goes.

Soon I am escorted to where the sales pitch comes. There is the monkey show to see. There is also the crocodiles show, not to mention the snake show. I'm kind of wondering where the bearded lady and the Siamese twins are. This is sounding very sideshow'ish to me. There are also the elephant ride.

Just give me the floating market, please. OK, that will be 3000 Baht. Lets see with 30 Baht to the dollar (roughly) that's ten dollars, fine lets do it. I handed him a US Benjamin and he gave me back 200 Baht. Gong ! Danger Will Robinson, Danger Will Robinson! Whoops ! I forgot a decimal point. He wants to take all of Benjamin home with him. A hundred dollars for two hours in a skinny boat on fetid water is not what I signed up for. Then I got the “Well lady” look if that is too much for your moth filled purse how about an hour for $70 ? I found Bruno and said let's go back to Bangkok.

 Wait, wait, how much you willing to pay? The only reason he couldn't see the steam coming out of my ears is because of the ambient heat and humidity. I just looked at him and said “no thank you” with a nod and a smile. I didn't get either in return.

Back in the taxi, Bruno made a phone call and we pulled into yet another car park cum long tailed boat company. This time the price was down to $50 and even though I didn't want to really do it now, I caved in and plopped my but in a boat.

Yesterday I asked Bruno is it was a real place where real Thais shopped and he assured me that was so. On the drive out today I asked again and got the same answer. I didn't realize that Thailand was filled with overweight people with cameras around their necks and iPads in their hand filming their day's shopping. I know it is a Saturday, but I expected the Thais to be shopping for food and not t-shirts, hats that made into fans, carved elephants and brightly colored scarves.

It was a mess. Boats gunwale to gunwale down a narrow canal, four abreast. The boats on the outside continuously solicited trinkets to buy. The sales people weren't as aggressive as in Luxor, Egypt or Tijuana but they were persistent in a nice way. Of course with the boats filling all available space in the canal I was in for a traffic jam that makes Bangkok's traffic nightmare a bullet train in comparison.

It was Disneyland without Mickey. The only concession to it being an actual working market were the occasional and I mean occasional vendor selling fresh fruit or other dishes from their boat. Otherwise it was just a cheek to jowl tourist trap, and an expensive one at that.

I know that most of the taxi / Tuk-tuk drivers are snakes in big cities and especially here in Bangkok. I thought I had found, maybe not a Garter snake, but at least a small boa. Instead I had found a Rattlesnake with the rattles temporarily silenced. Not quite Cobra material, but still dangerous. I guess you can call me Eve for the rest of the day.

The ride back to the hotel was very, very quiet.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Carpe Crapum - Bangkok November 28 2014

Well that didn't work out so well. What didn't work out so well you ask ? I had planned on returning to Myanmar and visiting an area that I missed last visit. Mrauk U is a smaller version of the same style of temples that are located at Bagan. It is on the eastern edge of the country near Bangladesh. It is kind of out of the way as far as the regular tourist track, but not an area that other Trip Advisor users have not experienced. For some reason the witch at the embassy says it is unsafe because of political unrest in the area. I am aware of the unrest in the general area, but not Mrauk U itself. So I am now begging AirAsia for a refund on the flight and at a bit of a loose end as how/where to proceed from here. For right now I'm going to hunker down in Bangkok for an extra day and see if there is anything to see that I haven't already seen.

The flights from Sea to Tokyo and then Bangkok were as expected long and uncomfortable. No particular reason other than a total of 17 hours in an area smaller than my bird's cage is too much for any sane normal sized human being.

Before departing I ran a Google search on “How to make your flight attendant like you”. Besides the normal, smile, pay attention to the safety briefing and put you luggage's wheels in first. They said that flight attendants always need extra pens to pass out to the passengers for Customs declarations and such. Also they LOVE Starbucks cards.

I picked up a $25 Starbucks card and $2 worth of cheap pens and put them in an envelope with a note that read something like “I assume you will be spending Thanksgiving in Tokyo away from friends and family. Thank you. The enclose Starbucks card should be able to buy 5 Pumpkin Spice Latte' for the cabin crew once you are back in the USA.”

Wow ! That paid off well for me. Not quite an upgrade to First Class but a thank you from each member of the cabin crew as they passed. A few hours into the trip one of them brought my a bag with Delta slippers in it, a small kit that held enough bathroom supplies for a couple days, big bags of almonds, some popcorn and chocolate. Later another dropped off a second RON (Remain overnight) kit that mt seat mate inherited along with a bag or two of the almonds and popcorn.

The chocolate bar at check in, did absolutely nothing in case you were wondering.

Airport to hotel via taxi and check in at the hotel was smooth sailing. The plane landed around 11 pm and an hour and a half later I was turning down my covers on the bed. At five am it was time to get up, at least my internal clock thought so. I fought with it for about an hour before surrendering.

Dis all those bathroom things like shower and was down for breakfast and out the door to catch the skytrain to the Myanmar embassy by eight thirty. As I was leaving the hotel one of the staff members said “You are police, aren't you?” I asked him why and he said “You have that confidence in your walk.” Interesting observation.

I was moping outside the hotel when I got back from my wasted morning and started talking to a taxi driver. As things go, he seduced me as many a local transit privateer has in the past. Small talk about weather and travel plans. A touch of politics and a healthy dose of who and what to avoid to not be taken advantage of. All the while feeling me out for “The pitch”. This one was not one I was expecting. “I'll take you to a local travel agent and see about getting you a good price on a plane ticket to Bangladesh for $3 round trip”. The travel agent was a bust. He wanted travel agent prices and I wanted internet prices, but no hard feelings on either side of that non transaction.

Then on the ride back to the hotel came the real pitch. 9 am tomorrow, $25 half day to the floating market. I took him up on it, it certainly sounds better than sitting around the hotel or riding the Sky Train down to see the couch potato Buddha that I saw last time.

It is now mid afternoon and the lag of the jet is starting to show it's teeth so now is a good time to stop.