I thought I was going to be able to get away with skipping a post about my last three days in Bangkok, but of course a lot of nice things happened in that time and maybe it’s best I write to inspire others.
Lucy and Mark, a couple that had gone to karaoke with us a few days before, had left Bangkok and come back nand were willing to indulge my need to watch movies all day at the mall in Bangkok. I had been looking forward to Wednesday (half price movie day at some of the malls in Bangkok), and we had the whole thing planned out after messing around with the giant touch screens from which you buy your tickets.
“Okay, so first we’ll see Terminator, because it doesn’t have any show times later. Then we can watch Magic Mike, and we’ll have some time to eat after that until South Paw comes on.”
“Want to get something to eat now?”
Out of all the food choices we could have gone for, McDonalds was the obvious (and honestly, the fastest) choice. I tried to be a little less American and went for the chicken and rice but regretted not getting a giant burger. Sometimes you just gotta break down and get western food, yeah?
After the second movie we were all stuffed with popcorn and soda (and the soda things here are probably the size of 52oz. QuikTrip cups back home, but half the price), and it was two hours until the next movie, so instead of waiting all that time just to sit some more, we went bowling!
And I made it through all of this without going over. Budget for the day. Gotta love Bangkok. “I’ll say it like this,” Joy had been telling all the visitors at the hostel whenever they asked what to do in Bangkok, “you should live the city life because the city life is cheap in Bangkok. We have the same things as other city, only half the price.” The longer I was in Bangkok, the more I realized she was exactly right. Bangkok wasn’t just a city with incredible food and chaos and all sorts of people from completely opposing walks of life; it was a city, THE city, for people to come and live the lifestyle they want much more easily than they might in other places (if you’ve already got the money, that is, but that’s another post).
The following night was a religious holiday, when everyone would be visiting the temples and paying their respects to the Buddha. Exactly the same sort of things happened that night as my second night in Bangkok on Vesakh (the celebration of the day of the Buddha’s birth, death, and enlightenment). Joy suggested I go to the Golden Mountain, a large temple built on a hill in Bangkok, to see the celebration, but first I went to Khao San Road to meet up with Katie, the Irish woman that had ended up staying at the school I was going to volunteer at in Cambodia. She had a lot of interesting things to say as we ordered pizza and fried cheese (we really missed cheese).
“So there were these Spanish guys that came and they were just really angry about that whole thing,” she said. “It turns out the school is run by this guy that has like a nice car and a nice house, and he’s making a lot of money off of it. One of his relatives came to visit and they opened the door to let him in that leads to a room that’s always otherwise locked, and there’s like, air conditioning and a television and stuff. It wasn’t fair at all for the kids.”
I was under the impression the school was a place for kids that didn’t have anywhere else to really go, and needed an opportunity to learn English and life skills. “They complained that the food at the school was worse than the food they got at home, and after the Spanish guys complained a lot, they put in a wok and stuff so they could cook food,” she said.
“That’s so crazy.”
“I realized in the last week that all the kids could talk about was that they wanted to improve their English and what their goals for self improvement were. They didn’t know colors or anything useful, so I spent the last week just answering all their questions and I totally threw the lessons plans out.”
Oh, and then there was this.
“It turns out, it’s not so non-religious as they said it was? The whole organization is Baha’i, which is like, it has legitimate cult status.”
After doing some research on Baha’i, it turns out they are also virulently anti-gay and teach that non-heteronormative people can be cured through prayer and strict adherence to its religious principles, which incorporate beliefs from several other religions.
“So now,” she continued, “I get to tell my family I escaped a cult. So that’s cool.”
“I’m glad I got out when I did, then,” I said.
“I just feel bad for the kids, it’s not like they really know any better or that there are better options out there for them,” she said. I thought about how sweet all the kids were, but also how weird it was that they could only say, “Hello teacher, where you going?” And suddenly the cult thing all made sense.
“I had the same feeling there as I did in my church as a kid, but I didn’t put it together until you just mentioned it,” I said. “Everyone always greets you the same way and the adults are unusually nice, but something is weird.”
“Brainwashing is a strong word, but…”
“It’s exactly what it is,” I finished.
“They get stuck in this organization for like, years and then they just never leave, without really knowing there’s anything wrong with it. Like Naoko,” (the Japanese woman who had initially recruited me for the position), “she has been in it forever and she doesn’t see anything wrong with it. That’s just how ingrained it is in them.”
Sounds like (Southern Baptist) churches to me, all right…
We also talked a little about Japan since she’d been teaching there for a while, and then finished up as the wet season rain was finally starting to come out. Katie was going home that night to Ireland, so I wished her well on her trip and headed back to the hostel (because no one could figure out what I meant by “Golden Mountain” including the taxi drivers, and I had given up on finding it). There, I met up with Kiran and his girlfriend Emma from the UK, and they were just about to go there! What luck!
We caught a taxi to the Golden Mountain and I’m really glad I went. Kiran and Emma are hilarious and good fun, and the view from the mountain over Bangkok was incredible. As bells rang and gongs were sounded, with crowds of people walking around the pagoda with incense sticks and flowers, I was exactly back to where I had begun in this city, awestruck by its vastness and the ritual nature of its chaotic noise and movement, now with an appreciation for the culture and food and people.
The next morning, I said goodbye to the woman in the cafeteria-like area in the food market near our hostel. Ever since Joy took us there to get coconut pancake biscuit things, I’d been going every single morning with someone else from the hostel and buying a bag or two for breakfast.
“Today is my last day! I go to Japan now,” I said. “Can I have five bags?”
“Oh! Good… Travel!” she said. “I… Love… You!”
“Awwww, I love you too!” I said, not sure how else to respond.
“Sorry, my English,” she worked out.
“Better than my Thai,” I laughed.
“Six, I give you,” she said, handing me a bag with 30 total coconut biscuit things, otherwise known as sweet deliciousness incarnate.
I thanked her over and over again, got a photo, and was on my way, wondering why I hadn’t spent more time trying to befriend half the people I bought food from on a daily basis. Some day, I will make it back.