Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seoul Relief

I left Hell--and I mean that in the best possible way--early Wednesday morning. Six hours later I was back on Planet Earth, getting some Seoul, and I was freezing. Hell may be Hell, but at least it's warm. Seoul was relieving in every possible way--it was a first world country, it was calm, and it was so cold it was like plunging into an ice water bath--which, after Hell, was necessary in many respects.

C was filling out her her health card in Seoul this morning and she turned to me. "Is it the 25th?" she asked.

"All day," I replied, and sure enough, 24 hours later it was STILL the 25th.

And now I'm back in God's country. The Cascades rise up like a knife of judgment. "I lift my eyes up to the hills; from where does my help come?"

I don't believe in heaven and hell as externalities to our own reality, but Bangkok turned out to be exactly what I think of as Hell, and again I mean that in the best possible way. There is serious beauty in Thailand, and even right in Bangkok, and there are also more soul-twisting opportunities than I've ever seen. Filthy street dogs laid out, begging, as farangs negotiated with prostitutes. Taxi drivers never turn their meters on, instead attempting to get you to pay three times the price a ride is worth--or take you on a "tour" of restaurant, jewelery shops, and whore-houses. The farang streets are lined with pirated electronics, and the streets themselves are teeming with voracious bugs and bacteria. Every transaction is a negotiation, you can't drink the water, and you have to bargain just for the air you breathe. The culture clash hovers over the city like a black cloud. Almost everything you hear is a lie, even from guides who seem to be on your side--they'll just tell you whatever they think you want to hear. The Western idea of Truth is non-existent. You're struggling between constant frustration and constant amazement, which leads to constant Singha. The native Thais hate you and desperately need you simultaneously, and they know it.

It's a weird town.

And now you're saying, "Sounds like you hated it." Well, it's not that simple. Bangkok is a 24-hour party. (And I dearly love to party.) You can walk around a grocery store with an open beer in your hand at 9 am, and many people do--and not just farangs. Everything is made easy for you, provided you do exactly what the Thais want you to do--there's no cover for any of the hottest clubs and you can feed yourself on street food for three dollars a day. A pedicure and manicure costs ten dollars together. You can outfit yourself in the latest fashions for four dollars, buying yourself a new outfit, WITH SHOES, daily. Hotel rooms right on the river, with decks, are 10 bucks a night. Some of the most beautiful and famous Buddhist temples in the world are within a 10-cent, five-minute boat ride. The food is fantastic and there's a lot of really pretty people. You CAN party all the time because you can pay someone barely a dollar a day to do all your chores and clean your house. The temperature never drops below 80. And the Thais themselves don't hate you as a person, and in fact, are super-friendly. Although that can be problematic--see above--it's a real pleasure to smile at someone with whom you share nothing in common and getting a big smile in return.

So: it's too simple to just assign qualities of good or bad. It's another world, on another planet, and they do things very differently. Fascinating.

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