Today, the stomach’s acting up and I just got back from the gym. Ahead of me are grading, a shower, and Crazy Heart on Star Movies (our HBO, which mostly accommodates lovers of Nicolas Cage and Over the Top).Until those things, however, it’s time to get back on the blog horse.
Last Saturday was more new-teacher-orientation rigmarole in Bangkok. I’m currently going into my sixth week of teaching, so a fifth lesson on what I should do on my first day is appreciated—but totally goddamn annoying. To top off the whole experience, the new teachers were taught classroom management skills by a woman who couldn’t even manage the new teachers. By then end, my frustration so palpable I had to go to the bathroom just to take a breather from the overwhelming stupidity. During the whole process, I played a lot of Would You Rather, comparing various situations to my current predicament. I think I landed somewhere just past sandpaper to the forehead but before boxing a kangaroo.
Part of the reason the orientation was such hell was because of what was next: a trip to Amphawa Floating Market with some great friends. Located in Samut Songkhram—which is about sixty minutes southwest of Bangkok, depending on traffic—the market traces the banks of the Amphawa Canal on a dock of varying widths, along with boats moving up and down the canal with wares, food, and passengers. But more on those later.
From Bangkok, seven of us jammed ourselves into a station wagon equipped with an iPod and hauled our asses to Samut Songkram. Four of us occupied the back seat and I ended up sharing indistinguishable sweat with the friend next to me. By the time we got to our bungalow, our arms that had been touching looked like twin Slip ‘n Slides.
Yes, I said bungalow. There was an added bonus on this trip: a pair of Thai guys, Tor and Tak, who were (and still are) dating two of the girls in our group, making our excursion much easier and more delicious. Thanks to them, we ended up driving to Amphawa rather than paying for a bus, haggling 500 baht off of the price for the bungalow, buying 3kg of remarkably fresh seafood, and plenty of alcohol—although this last part I imagine us farangs could have managed on our own. A resourceful bunch, we are.
We dropped our stuff off at the bungalow and went directly into town, riding in the back of Tak’s red pickup. Needless to say, a bunch of white people in the back of a pickup was thoroughly enjoyed by the other Thais driving around. Our group was smart enough to recognize the novelty of a farang truck.
In town, we had one mission in mind: seafood. Mission completed. We came back with a wonderful mix of squid, little shellfish things that tasted like a tangy BBQ sauce, and big-ass prawns. It was beginning to get dark, so we returned to the bungalow to refrigerate our food and beers and reserved a long-tail boat—a typical southeast Asian boat with 8 – 9 rows and a lengthy outboard motor that looks like a weed-whacker—to take us to and from the market, with an added bonus on the return trip.
Amphawa Market itself was pretty cool, if not startlingly touristy. There were a good deal of white faces and it seemed like almost ten percent of the people there had dSLRs. Normally, such a scene would make me a little snarky, but Amphawa struck me as one of those places that should to be touristy—if that makes sense—and would probably have been less charming if it wasn’t. The things vendors were selling either sucked or were too cumbersome to carry around on a dock, so the trip proved to be more of a sensory experience than commercial one, which was totally fine with me. I did have a nice banana-leaf bowlful of grilled corn while watching food vendors in boats sell bowls of noodles to people sitting and eating on steps over-looking the canal—a pretty cool scene (that I’m pretty sure is in an episode of No Reservations). More than once, there were odd moments of picturesque serenity amidst the absolute mayhem of shoppers.
In fact, I wish I had my dSLR at the market, but the lighting mostly really sucked and trying to take a good photo in a sea of bodies moving along like cattle in a chute is not my idea of fun.
Our long-tail took the scenic route back to the bungalow after promising, vaguely, fireflies. Most of the East-Coast Americans in the group were skeptical, as fireflies are a regular occurrence for our American summer nights. After speeding away from the stores and to the residential part of the canal—a mix of plush houses, tiny shanties, and other bungalows—and getting worrisome water splashed in my mouth, we hit the fireflies, which proved a pleasant surprise. They were like tiny Christmas lights, hidden deep in the over-hanging brush and blinking slightly out of sync. The sight wasn’t spectacular in itself, but provided a scenic backdrop for in-boat conversation.
Once back at the bungalow, around 10 or 11 p.m., the grilling began. All of us sat around the picnic table telling jokes, playing Catch Phrase, drinking beer, drinking whiskey, eating grilled seafood (of which I definitely had more than my share), having guitar sing-alongs, enjoying sparklers like a group of six-year-olds, and probably being rowdier than we should have been after sundown.
Beginning at 2 a.m. people began to slither back to the bungalow in waves. It was humid as Thailand outside, so I got in line to take a shower. As like many showers here, there is no division between it and the toilet and toilet: the bathroom is an open room with a drain in the middle of the floor. I jumped in the shower, quickly rinse off, and turn the valve to shut off the water. Suddenly, things became very confusing. I looked at the valve in my hand, then at the piping, then at the valve, then at the piping.
I had broken the handle the off of the piping, causing a steady geyser of water to shoot out of the shower and onto/into the sink.
I tried to reattach the handle, but with no luck; the valve had completely corroded, allowing for me to rip it off with my unforgiving man-strength. Moreover, because I broke the valve, I couldn’t shut off the water from inside the bathroom, either. Tak ran and found the owner of the complex, who quickly came over, took one look in the rapidly flooding bathroom, and went outside and shut off the valve. The Fire Hydrant of Shame, as one of my friends called it, was put to rest.
I fell asleep by 4 a.m. but woke up around 8 a.m., sunlight coming in through the window and kicking me right in the eyeballs. I went outside and hanged out on our porch while listening to Iron & Wine before being joined by a friend. We then went out to the dock, where Dak was relaxing and playing the guitar. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t have asked for a better morning to a better night.
On our way back, we ordered a feast at a nearby fish restaurant, which was located directly on the water and guarded by monkeys. The meal felt like a splashdown after a grand weekend, and therefore filled its role perfectly.
Back in my apartment after a quick jaunt to Jatujak for gifts for the family, I saw this on my Facebook wall from the weekend’s prime organizer: “We knocked the socks off this weekend.”