After living in China, nothing is weird. The ante has been
upped for my tolerance for the outlandish. Take for instance,
Bangkok. To most Americans–especially those
with Midwestern Baptist backgrounds–this city would be on the fringe of hell’s gates. Golden shrines, orange clad monks, and transvestite
prostitutes everywhere you looked. And of course, lily white westerners taking it all in with their minolta lens.
But after living in Kunming, Bangkok was a walk on the mild side. It was a taste of America, of consumerism, complete with two informercial channels on Cable. For starters, everyone
spoke English, even the tut-tut drivers, who also happen to know the difference between a sidewalk and the street.
In Bangkok, you can get your American tastes on, grabbing a Krispy Kreme for breakfast, fries from Ronald-Pom McDonald for lunch… to corn ice
cream from the Colonel for dessert.
Another thing about Bangkok, no one stared at us. Westerners
are as common as golden nipples. The prostitute scene gave the streets the
vibe of New Orleans with a different soundtrack. No jazz clubs, just the loud sound of the streets.
Bangkok has more in common with London than Kunming, China. While one street would be a page out of Nat
Geo, the next would be a page out of Vogue.
Take for instance, Bangkok’s premiere shopping center, the Siam.
Imagine if Watertower
Place and The Mall of America had a baby. This would be it. They had every store imaginable including English language schools for toddlers. Plus, an international foodie store with cheese that
actually tasted like cheese! Just smelling the food court would make you fat. Delectables from around the world, including Cinnabons, Starbucks, KFC and Outback.
I would play tourist one day, snapping pictures of sacred shrines then play the ultra consumer the next, fascinated by their transit system and public toilets with remote controls.
One tourist attraction I had to see in Bangkok was the Fertility shrine. This is not in the guide books, but an urban legend talked about in Chicago’s Boystown. This phallic pit stop was located
behind the loading zone of the Swiss Hotel. The big question is this: do you pay homage to the Fertility Shrine by
offering a flower necklace, or by leaving a box of Calais bought for a nickel
on the street?
The smells were more tolerable in Bangkok. I prefer fish
alley to the stinky dofu street in China.
If you have an appetite for adventure, go to Bangkok. And be
sure to bring your credit cards. They are actually accepted here, even at the
monk’s barber shop.
You know you’re getting old when you book a holiday vacation
package to Thailand but your reservations aren’t at a beach resport but at a hospital.
For Christmas, Jeff and I are getting body tune ups. Bangkok is a medical tourism destination and
Bangkok’s Bumrungrad is the Four Seasons of hospitals. http://www.bumrungrad.com/thailandhospital
What does Medical Tourism Mean?
It means big money for Bangkok and little money out of your
pocket: medical procedures are about the
tenth of the cost in Asia as they are in the states. Plus, you can get “extra value deals” on
medical procedures, from colon cleansing to liposuction. The colonscopy package makes a great stocking stuffer! http://www.bumrungrad.com/en/digestive-diseases/colonoscopy-package-5
The medical odyssey begins a Bangkok airport. Bumrungrad had
its own check-in/information center. We stopped there and completed our first round of paperwork. The hospital representatives
booked us a private limo to the hospital. And, if your medical bill is higher than 5000 baht, Bumrungrad will pick up the tab for the ride.
People from all over the world come to Bumungrad for
bodywork. They include Mideast women wearing long black Abayas (keep in mind it’s 85 degrees
here…in DECEMBER); Americans in shorts and flip flops, Germans in their pressed
jeans, skin tight Ts and designer
eyewear, and an assortment of mid-life crisisers from assorted countries.
Would we rather be on a beach than on a bed pan? Absolutely.
But this hospital has a Starbucks, Au Bon Pain and McDonald’s on premise. You can share a hospital room with Ronald!
They also have a waiting room for monks and a prayer room for Muslims.
I am really impressed by the nurses. They actually wear nursing
hats and silk skirts and fitted jackets similar to flight
attendants. They look healthy not hefty. They aren’t cracking gum or eating
Popeye’s chicken while doing your paperwork, either. And not one of them had fingernails sporting
the acrylic equivalent of a velvet painting.
Unlike other vacation spots, “I don’t wish you were here”. But if you do have to get something poked, prodded,
nipped or tucked, check out Bumrungrad.
because he’s been visiting Kunming. The mercury has dipped below 32 degrees in
the City of Eternal Spring. Since there is no central heating in Yunnan Province,
it’s not only cold outside: baby, it’s cold inside as well!
Everyone is bundled up. Babies in their
batman capes (which transform into Chinese papooses that moms tie on their
Sponge Bob and other comedic faces cover the
mouths of the contagious.
and mittens are made to keep one warm as well as to make smiles.
I like Kunfu panda.
An escapee soldier from the Wizard of
Oz got a new job as a street seamtress.
The ingenious Chinese make money off of the cool
weather. This ethnic street vendor sells
homemade shoe liners. I bought a pair
for about 35 cents so I could snap a few photos. Don’t ask me what kind of animal
fur she uses.
“garages”, create small fires on mini weber grills. They huddle around them on
their mini stools to keep warm.
Jeff and I have a few radiator style heaters
that double as clothers dryers/humidifiers. Along with making a room toasty warm, they
can dry jeans in about an hour.
I also invested in a bed warmer. It looks
like an anorexic electric blanket. Instead of putting it on top of your sheets, it goes
between your bottom sheet and mattress. While you can get a bed warmer for about $15 at the
Chinese Wal-mart, I spent a bit more. I didn’t want it to catch on fire and
blow up like my bed warming bunny did last year. This bed warmer came with
directions in 10 languages, a five year warranty and an automatic “turn off”
As for paying your “Baby, I don’t want to be cold” electric bill? In
China, you are required to have a bank account at the Industrial and Commercial
Bank of China (ICBC). Bi-monthly, your electric bill is automatically deducted
from that account. If you don’t have enough RMB in the account, your
electricity will be turned off. That is one lesson you don’t want to learn the
hard way in December.
Yeah right. Trying to find a shoe in China that fits an American
size foot is like trying to squeeze Shrek’s foot into Cinderella’s glass slipper.
It’s modern day Chinese foot binding.
I decided it’s time to retire my shoes from back home. Actually,
my shoes aren’t from America, but are Danskos from Scandinavia. They look like they’ve been to the moon and back when actually
they’ve been through much worse: Chinese life.
My Danskos are more like Tankos. They’ve survived urine glazed floors of squatty style
latrines, sidewalks made slilppery
by hacked up throat goobers of old Chinese men; they’ve dodged animal entrails at wet markets, multiple x-ray machines at
international airports, and daily trotting up and down five floors to my classroom at KIA.
So, I thought I’d give it a go yesterday in Kunming’s
shopping district, a renovated part of the city that actually looks like
Chicago (if you squint). There were shoe sales everywhere, featuring spiked stiletto work boots, fur lined pumps, and Hong Kong knock offs of Clarks called Cooks.
I knew just enough Chinese to get myself in trouble. Woah Yow Jega! Woah Yow Sir-Sure-E-R!.
Translated? Do you have any shoes big enough for these dogs?
I had a small crowd
gathered, not to look at my fair skin, but my mammoth feet. While my 8 ½ size boats are hardly considered battleships in Chicago,
they are off-the-chart aircraft carriers in China. The biggest standard size in China is around seven.
That would mean I’d have to snip off my toe tips to fit into
anything cute. The shoe salesman tried squeezing my foot into a variety of boots, slip-ons, flats and pumps with no luck, which is
why I’m pursuing Plan B: a visit the shoe guy.
For about 3 RMB or 39 cents, the shoe guy will shine up your
shoes like new. For 50 RMB, he will make
them born again, giving them new souls. They wash old sneakers and make them whiter than before you wore ‘em.
Or, you can always get your black shoes polished on the street.
Most street polishers use charcoal, meaning, your shoes will look real good but
your khaki pants will resemble a chimney sweeper from Mary Poppins.
Bottom line? I’m still looking for shoes and salivating over styles I will never be able to squeeze into. I’ll be going to Bangkok
around Christmas and maybe I will have better luck there.