Lemurs, Elephants and Prostitutes

Me and my new friend Callie in the ocean

So we arrived in Chon Buri province a few days ago, in the city of Pattaya (also known as the sex capital of the world, but more on that later). Our first stop: the beach! It was sooo beautiful, I could hardly believe it. We walked out on a rocky outcropping that went wayyyy out into the ocean and just stood watching the boats and the clouds. The beach is really interesting here in that the actual beach portion is about 3 feet long before it turns into ocean, just enough room to put down a beach towel if you were so inclined. Quite different from our American beaches, which requires what feels like half a mile of traipsing over the sand to get near the ocean. I dipped my feet into the water and was instantly in heaven; it was so warm that it was like standing in a heated pool. Lovely.

Anyways, after spending some time on the beach we headed into to a seafood restaurant which was about five feet away from the beach. The food was delicious, and I had a fun night eating, drinking large quantities of beer, and hanging out with my fellow program participants.

The view from my room in Chonburi

The next day was largely spent in our hotel, attending classes and listening to people drone on about work permits and visas while quietly dying inside to get out and swim in the gorgeous hotel pool (but don’t worry, I took copious notes and now know everything there is to know about Thai work permits). FINALLY, we were allowed out and swam in the pool, drank margaritas at the swim-up bar, and played around in the ocean for a bit. We had a great view of the city of Pattaya, as well the cloud of pollution that hangs around it.

Later on, we decided to head over to Walking Street, the place to go in Pattaya. We’re still not nearly competent enough in our Thai to use the public transportation with any confidence at all, so it was decided that a taxi cab would be our best option.

You have to be careful about the taxis here—frequently they will pick up unsuspecting farangs with the meter off, then price gouge them once they arrive at their destination. Another popular option is cars that say ‘TAXI’ on them, but clearly don’t have any meter and perform more or less the same function (one such car was waiting outside our hotel but we passed it). Once we made it out to the street, a van almost immediately pulled up—a sketchy looking dark grey van. We passed it up too.

Anyways, after much waiting and attempting to use the Thai method of hailing a taxi (rather than wave their arm up in the air, they sort of stick their arm out and flap their hands downwards), a taxi cab finally pulled over and we all started to pile in.

‘Walking Street?’, I said, confident that this would be met with a smile and a nod. Instead I just got a blank look.

‘Walking Street? Downtown?’, I repeated. The word downtown he seemed to understand, but instead of smiling he was shaking his head. ‘No’, he replied. ‘I only go to Bangkok’.

Now, I realize that not everyone (or indeed, most people outside of Thailand) would know this, but Pattaya is a good 2 – 3 hours away from Bangkok. I was certain this was a mistake. ‘You go where?’ I asked. ‘Bangkok, Bangkok’ he said again.

Now I was really thrown for a loop. How could he be going to Bangkok? What on earth was he doing here if that was the case? All I could tell for sure was that he was not going to take us to Walking Street, so we all exited the cab and started attempting to hail another, although with somewhat more half-hearted hand wiggles. This time we got one much quicker. But we were met with the same blank look and another shake of the head, although we were informed that we were hailing taxis from the wrong direction. So we crossed the street (which has always been an adventure here thus far) and started the process again.

Our luck was even worse on this side. We were competing for taxis with a group of Europeans; they were ‘first’ in line and I really didn’t want to get into a big thing for stealing someone else’s taxi so we stood an appropriate distance behind them. Imagine my surprise when they hail not a taxi, but what appears to be a pick-up truck with the back specially designed to carry passengers.

The Europeans appeared to be the going out types (every one of them had a beer in his or her hand) so I ran up to them, prayed they spoke English and asked if they were heading to Walking Street. At first they looked a bit confused too, but then seemed to understand.

‘Walking Street?’ they said in halting English, then mimed walking with their fingers and tapped their legs, just in case I completely didn’t get it.

‘YES! Yes!’ I said, thrilled someone understood me. As it happened, they weren’t heading there but it was on the way and the truck driver agreed to take us as well. It transpired that our new friends were Russians, and we spent the rest of the trip attempting to chat about Thailand and Walking Street, and teaching each other new words in our respective languages. One of the men spoke decent English, so he did most of the translating. I have to say, probably the weirdest thing about speaking English is finding out how many other people speak it to some degree. I’m not actually sure how much I like it, to be honest; it creates this weird effect where everyone understands you but understanding them is quite difficult. It makes me feel like a child, like everyone has to talk down to me so that I can understand what the grown-ups are saying. But I have to admit, in this situation it is incredibly helpful. And  I now know the Russian word for ‘good’; I think it’s ‘zee bizz’ or something like that. Although it’s difficult to say; it’s possible that means ‘thumbs up!’

So we did eventually make it to Walking Street. It reminded me a great deal of Khaosan Road, lots of older white men, lots of people in general, and tons of men selling ‘ping-pong’ shows and making obnoxious sounds, but this bigger, crazier and more crowded. We had a delicious dinner at an Indian Restaurant (nice to know that Thai food isn’t the only thing that’s good around here!) and had a nice walk down the street, where we saw probably about a dozen clubs advertising their services by having a bunch of pretty, bored looking girls stand outside in skimpy outfits. I honestly couldn’t tell one from another, but apparently quite a few of them are ladyboys, which I thought was quite interesting. I was glad I had read some of the Bangkok 8 series because I found that not much of this surprised me. It was a little sad to see them that way.

Isn't he just so cute??

When we arrived at the end, some women approached me, and before I had anything to say about it, had shoved something fuzzy into my hands. All of a sudden, I was holding a lemur. A LEMUR. It was probably one of the cutest things I had ever seen or felt. It was so incredibly soft and had these big adorable eyes and little grippy fingers. We agreed to pay 100 baht to take a few pictures with the fuzzball (isn’t he just so CUTE?)

Sadly, what happened next was not so cute. I think they must be illegal to have or something, because the women took the lemur back, shoved it into a bag and stashed it in some bushes. My guess is that lemur does not have anything approximating the life he was meant to have in the wild, or even much of a nice life at all. Of course, I could be wrong but somehow I doubt it. It was very sad.

After that, we decided to go dancing for a bit. Well, ‘a bit’ somehow turned into 3 in the morning before we finally made it back. It was so fun! I think I prefer Thai dance clubs to American ones by quite a lot actually. At American clubs, you would almost never get approached by another person who just wanted to meet you, say hi, welcome you to the country; in America, they would either be hitting on you or trying to figure out if sold drugs. But these women were friendly and fun, and not afraid to laugh at themselves (and me, I might add). And the music was fantastic! I had a wonderful time.

Note the bruise to the right of his eye

The next day, I had to wake up at 8:30 AM to go to the Floating Market—not exactly enough sleep, in my book. But it turned out to be completely worth every nanosecond of lost slumber. The first thing we saw when we got there was an elephant standing in one of the stalls. For a while, there was some debate amongst the group about whether or not it was real, but it when started to move and blink, those doubts were pretty much eradicated. A man standing to the side, whom I presumed was the owner, was charging 20 baht (about 66 cents) to feed a bunch of bananas to the elephant, which I was more than willing to do. It was very gentle, although quite insistent about taking the bananas. But he let everyone pet him gently and didn’t seem to mind; on the contrary, I would guess he was enjoying the affection. His condition was a little concerning. He had a large bruise on one side of his face (you can see it in the pictures) and on the other side of his face he seemed to have an open wound of some sort. He was also chained to the stall, an understandable safety precaution, but an unhappy one to say the least.

After the elephant, we wandered around the stalls for an hour. We saw tanks of fish that would eat the dead skin off your feet, pieces of fried dough that could be dipped in chocolate and cinnamon powders, plenty of grilled meats on a stick, lots of jewelry and even more clothes. Emily and I each purchased a long dress with sleeves. They were both gorgeous (mine went down to my ankles and was a happy sky blue color with a red and white design) and teaching appropriate, so we were quite satisfied with these purchases. I also got some fresh pineapple on a stick, which was delicious; the pineapple here is really good, usually quite a bit more tropical tasting than in the States. It’s as if the pineapple back home has had something surgically removed from its flavor. We also got some dried fruit, in case we needed some food reserves when the flooding hit (but more on that next time).

On our way out, we stopped by to see the elephant again. It really didn’t look happy. Emily mentioned that she thought it probably didn’t get enough to eat, which I’m sure she is right about. It must be expensive to feed an elephant, and the bunches of bananas it gets from tourists are nothing to it. Can you imagine being hungry and being fed one Cheerio at a time from a bunch of tourists, while you are chained in a stall right next to the whole box? It was depressing.

I couldn’t help thinking about the lemurs I had seen on Walking Street the night before, and even the prostitutes as well, along with the elephant. It all seems so sad, but there’s nothing I can do about it, not really. Indeed, I can’t help but feel weird about the sense of pity of feel. If I was in real dire straits, I wouldn’t want someone to feel sorry for me—what use is that? I would want them to help me, not just walk past looking at me sadly, then keep going and start gushing over the price of jewelry, something I find myself doing quite often. So I try to look, keep my pity to myself and move on. After all, what good is my pity and sadness to them, or indeed to anyone else?

Next time: meeting my school coordinator, going back to Bangkok and the flooding, and my ridiculously oversized bedroom!

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elliot
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 17:53:32

    I tried those dead-foot-skin-eating fish in Singapore!


  2. Lydia
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 14:10:38

    That cute little animal is most likely illegal. I went to a documentary screening a few weeks ago all about the animal trade through Thailand (a lot of the animals come from Indonesia): http://www.freeland.org/eng/news/press-release/197-exotic-animal-smuggling-ring-broken


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: