Thursday, 28 November 2013

Coming home, so very very slowly...

Wednesday 27th November

Bangkok, Thailand

The train journey from Surat Thani was a combination of strangely restful and quietly boring. With the lack of light outside the view from the window was of nothing and with people inside complaining because we were talking at nine PM, we were in for a peaceful night! So when I fell asleep, it was the dark sleep of the drugged, Thai meds are a little stronger than our own it seems. I woke up at half five in a comfortable position on a soft mattress, but dying for a wee. The thought of climbing from my pit to use the poo shoot was not appealing, but needs must and the sudden jolt of cold water flushing out my privates made sure that I was not going back to sleep!

Breakfast was served and once again the Thai chef failed to understand the concept of toast, the eggs were gooey and the sausage looked like one of those split willies that freaks like to show on the internet. It tasted lovely though and for the rest of the day I had massive farts because of it! Carol awoke a little after seven and found me smiling in my grim goth way as I spent some time playing on the laptop as she slept. Our little bunks had been nests of peace, but also of loneliness because although we were only feet apart, the curtains made it feel like miles. 

Bangkok was hot, not just warm or sunny, but damn hot. It was heat that had made the glass of the train windows feel hot even as we moved along at speed. The air blasting through the open window in the toilet was like a hair dryer. The poverty outside of the train though was sobering, with people living in shantys along the side of the railway, raw sewage laying in stagnant pools between the shacks and yet there were still satellite dishes for TV, even the most poor need "sixteen channels of shit to choose from" to quote one of our favourite bands. 

One of our worries for the day was the political unrest in Bangkok, our families had left facebook messages for us wishing us well and BBC News has been repeatedly showing images of riots and marchers looking aggressive. The tuk-tuk driver we hired to take us from the station to the hotel though was as cheerful as ever and cut through the traffic like he was riding a bike, I have never seen filtering like it and the guy did really well. The Bangkok locals seemed just as peaceful as always and every person we met and spoke to was just as polite, cheerful and lovely as always. We were still a little worried though and we knew that we had to go out and face the city centre one more time. 

The hotel was once again lovely and the bed was unusually comfortable, the Thais it seems enjoy sleeping on the mattress equivalent of a paving slab, which plays havoc with my failing body. Also at the hotel was our friend Teenorn, the desk clerk and all round good guy. Not only does he work at the hotel, but he is also a keen protester and excellent translator, but more of that later. There are more posh and plush hotels in Bangkok, there are more expensive ones, but as far as we are concerned, the roof view place suits us with its simple style, reasonably well equipped rooms and lovely staff. We could not ask for better especially as the air con unit in room 309 gently caresses the beds with cool air, so going to sleep in there is an absolute delight. 

So after check in, showering and sorting our gear we went for a wander around Bangkok for something to do and pick up a few last gifts for those back home. As we wandered, taking in the sun and enjoying the freedoms that Bangkok brings we could hear the distant sound of the anti government protests, but remembering advice from the Government and friends, we gave it a wide berth. Instead we checked out the Backpackers ghetto again and haggled for prices over little trinkets and enjoyed the evening light as the sun went down. A quick food stop in Bangkok Burger King (given my tummy problems recently I did not want to be spraying the bowl on the plane!) for a burger and fries and then we thought about what we wanted to do. The BBC news coverage had shown riots and people looking like they wanted a fight at the political protests, Thai news had shown debate and discussion. The BBC showed a bias that pretty much accused the protesters of being hooligans, the Thai news showed the Police standing to attention and looking prepared. 

The noise of the protests  was of lots of whistling and applauding with a good measure of cheering too, the people were sat on little mats, in comfortable camping chairs or wandering about at the stalls selling t-shirts. The band playing on the Democracy monument were a Thai folk band playing political folk songs, at the end of each song, they were given a loud roar of good cheer and applause. Running about through the crowd were children selling woven cord bracelets in the national colours and scattered about the sides were the market stalls selling food. No where could we see the signs of aggression that we had heard about on the BBC news. At one of the stalls we stopped and bought a whistle with a national flag ribbon and then at another we bought the Yellow bear with the national flag ribbon that has become the emblem of the Yellow Shirts. Again, as we wandered about the rally this time with our ribbons, we got no abuse, trouble or anything other than a few raised eyebrows as they realised that even the people from the West were there to give support. 

Just wandering about there we felt the pulse of the people, the integrity of what they are doing and gentle way that they are doing it. When we stopped at a t-shirt stall, the woman there was very chatty and in her broken English and our very poor Thai, we tried to talk about what the protests stood for and she asked us to spread the word so that the people know the truth, that is all that these protests are about, the truth and justice. When the government is corrupt and money is made through political power, something is very wrong and the people of Thailand are making a stand for the truth. A few stalls later we found another stall this time the shirts show the crowd and underneath is the simple word Democracy. So with our t-shirts and our flyers, we went to watch some more of the proceedings and it was at this point that the protest leaders rose to the stage, the gentleman who is pretty much responsible for the protests came to the forefront and started to speak, his voice imploring the people to spread the word of truth and democracy (this we were told later when we spoke to our translator) and then from his pocket he took a simple harmonica and started to play Edelweiss. It was so moving that both Carol and I stood in awe as the crowd went reverentially quiet. He stopped half way through and spoke again about truth and freedom and then started to play again. Carol's eyes showed the emotion of the crowd, it was such a beautiful moment. 

Back at the Hotel, we chatted to Teenorn about the protests and his smile was wickedly humorous. He translated what we had heard and the leaflets for us and talked freely and with a conviction about Thai politics in a way that many people in England would struggle to manage. We could see the passion in him as he spoke and he was very happy that we understood the issues and even some of the history of what was going on. We also talked about world issues and campaigns that we have followed with a passion. For this alone it was worth booking in to the Roof view and as we talked the conversation turned to music and it turned out that we had similar music tastes too. It was after all, a happy evening and finally we had to go to our room to pack and to sleep, having wished Teenorn a good night.

Thursday 28th November

Bangkok, Thailand

I awoke this morning with a hangover, which is a bit off considering that I do not drink, but a late night packing and repacking to get weight down on our packs has taken its toll, we know how to live us does! So this morning we had a lovely breakfast of cornflakes, boiled eggs and toast (properly made toast too!) and saw our friend Teenorn to give him the music SD Card that we had mixed together the night before. I think that he was genuinely touched by this and along with the facebook add, we shall be keeping in touch because I think that both of us would like to return to Thailand again and see the friends that we have made here. 

With everything packed and not much else to do, we decided to take a walk into the city again and have a mooch about, maybe pick up a few cheap small things as souvenirs and just enjoy the last hours of freedom in Bangkok itself. The time seemed to rush by and before we knew it, time was running out which was annoying because we had just found some things that we had missed on our initial trips out of the hotel. However we still had enough time to take a slow walk back and take in some sights along the way, such as the occupation of the ministry of Education! Again the BBC news would have you think that the building was over run by violent thugs and the truth is somewhat different. The street outside was lined with protesters, sat peacefully on mats, chairs or just the pavement. There were again the mix of ages and types of people from young students to older business people and the elderly retired. A large truck with a PA mounted in the rear was remonstrating the government once again and encouraging the people in the ministry to join the protest. Inside the grounds of the ministry were several lines of riot Police, stood in black uniforms in the baking heat of the day, their plastic shields rested upon the floor as a screen behind which they stood, silently oppressive. 

Another horrifying sight at the ministry was the roughly hundred metres of Razor Wire, laid by the Police between a set of concrete barricades. In the distance we could see more Police in riot gear being drilled and marching in formation with full gear, training to deploy against the yellow flag waving protesters. What made it seem all the more sinister was the number of Police officers that wore red neckerchief, the symbol of the opposing red shirts, who back the current government. Out of all of the people we met, it would seem that the ones in power are the ones least open to discussion and most likely to resort to violence. The sight of them running in formation against the sun hat wearing whistle blowing protesters was an image I am glad that I have not seen.

Once again as we walked among the protesters and they saw the Shirt that Carol was wearing, she got the usual double take and wide grins. An old woman leaned over to us from her melon stall and in broken English said well done and spread the word. Carol beamed back at her and I think that both of them were equally happy. Through out the gathered crowd, everywhere we went we were greeted with warmth, welcome smiles and gratitude for sharing the message. At no time did I feel in any danger until the Police started moving. Carol took a lot of photos and then we knew that we had to head back, get some lunch and then get ready for the start of our journey back to the UK. In the hotel Teenorn was still working and he welcomed us back with more smiles before he then offered us a gift of something remarkable. At a protest the week before, stickers had been given out to those who took part and each one was numbered as the numbers climbed to a million protesters. He gave us two of these stickers, as special and as rare as they are, they touched our hearts and I nearly welled up with tears.

The taxi to the air port arrived somewhat early and the driver who is clearly a friend or family to the hotel people unfolded a comfortable seat behind the counter and got some rest as he waited for us to be ready. At three thirty, we made our goodbyes with some reluctance and climbed into the taxi to be waved off by our friends at the Roof view Place hotel. The air conditioned cool of the car made us both sleepy which was probably a good thing because it prevented tears from us both given how sad we were to be leaving Thailand behind.

So, with only a few hours left in Thailand, with our pockets still containing some Thai Baht so that we could buy food at the airport, what could go wrong? It is not like we could get into trouble at the airport is it...

The moment a woman from Moldova approached us with two bottles of very expensive boxed whiskey, something was bound to go wrong. After all, we do not have luck like that do we? The whiskey fitted into our bags and when we finally found the bag weighing scales we discovered that Carol's bag was 700g over the allotted twenty kilo limit. I weighed my bag and discovered not unsurprisingly really that my bag was three point four kilos over the weight limit, time to shed some weight and that did not include the whiskey. So being typical back packers what did we throw away? The wash kit, we binned almost the lot, keeping only our toothbrushes (and our towels, because you should always know where your towel is).

With the weight down we wandered over to check in and stood alone in a queue of no one. Check in took moments and they even gave us large bags to put our bags in to protect them during the flight. Mine even got a fragile sticker on it because of the mugs from TARA and Khao Sok held with in (wrapped in my towel, see I did know where it was!) safely from damage. So with that little issue dealt with we wandered about the airport for a little while before heading into Passport Control. Here things got a bit serious when our Passports were examined at great depth, scanned, rescanned and then passed to a black shirted official with a good line in making people feel small. The sudden fear of prison and with Carol wearing a Protest T-Shirt, I started to grin like a loon and Carol looked ready to spit blood if it was needed. 

We were both told to wait and then to follow the forbidding official into his office, which was a desk in a corridor and once there he perused his desk, giving us the silent scary official treatment. I am pretty sure that he enjoys the feeling of being able to intimidate people, but it was not really working on us as we stood there like naughty schoolgirls trying not to snigger while looking at each other. Our crime it seems was to over stay our visa in Thailand by twelve hours, for such a terrible crime we were told that we had to pay a fine of one thousand Baht, so I dropped my last note from my purse into his hands and he immediately put it in his pocket and stamped our passports as free to leave Thailand.  He did try to give Carol a telling off, but in truth we were too busy trying not to giggle for it to really sink in. Anyway, if you are going to Thailand you can only stay for thirty days!

So we finally passed through Passport control and headed into the check in lounge and prepared to go and sit down to wait for boarding. Carol passed through ticket inspection with ease, I got stopped and had my passport examined as if it were a fake, they then examined my ticket and re-examined my passport. I was refused entry to the boarding lounge due to my name not being correct on my passport or ticket. Was I really a Reverend they asked forcefully? So it was out with the Vicaring card and as she struggled to read the contents she looked exasperated, her friend nudged her and so she asked me again, madam are you a reverend? To which I answer truthfully Yes.

Carol gave me a look of concern when I finally sat down next to her and then she started to smile, just the pair of us had got into a fair bit of trouble just walking through Bangkok airport, what could possibly happen next? Well, we got on the plane and found our seats and got comfortable, all of the things that you do when you sit on a plane and then endured the boring "Life jackets under your seat, oxygen masks on your face..." chat and every time I hear it, all I can think of is that scene in Fight Club where he says why they have that false sense of safety to keep people calm and then the oxygen pacifies them. You have to love it. Once we had taken off it became apparent that we had buggered our entertainment consoles. So it was a case of calling the stewardess, who fiddled with it, reset it and then fiddled with it some more before finally saying sorry for it being buggered. After all that we landed in Singapore and that is where I am now, stealing their internet and their power to charge up the Crapbook. 

So folks, it looks like we will be seeing you all in roughly a bit! Have fun, stay safe and get your sunglasses out, I refused to get a suntan and am still as white as a scared ghost!