My Compass Works, But My Feet Are Soft

I had originally thought I’d write about the few things I’ve seen here in Bangkok so far as well as the few people I’ve met, including the steely-eyed Rhodesian (self-identified) who intimated to me over beers a few nights ago (in a thick Afrikaans accent no less) that “there is nothing more exciting than watching a man die”, but instead I’ve decided to write about my ongoing transition from workaday American to world traveler. Yes, I know that’s a big matzah ball hanging out there, but there will be plenty of time, and fodder, for sensationalistic stories down the road.

As for my transition, I’ve been here for 48 hours and have realized two things for certain; Thankfully, I’ve still got a great sense of direction and I’ve gotten quite soft in the past few years.

I woke up early this morning feeling jetlag free and eager to wander. Wandering is how I like to get a feel for a city. Aimlessly roaming is a great way to get to know a city; how people live, how a city runs, and to get my bearings. Bangkok is an especially fine city for this with countless nooks and crannies yearning to be discovered.

I started off and decided to head in the general direction of Siam Square since I’d already managed to lose my headphones on the flight over. I know, right? I figured if I didn’t find any along the way, I’d certainly find some there, but I didn’t know exactly how to get there, just that it was roughly south and east. I was curious at how I’d do as I’ve noted a few times over the past couple of years at how bad my sense of direction has gotten due to GPS. While working, I visited over 20 states as well as countless cities and towns across the United States and on almost every trip I’ve relied almost solely on my GPS to get me from place to place. It’s simply the most pragmatic solution when faced with dozens of meetings spanning hundreds of miles.

I didn’t bring a map, just relied on a few scant memories of my previous visit and rough idea of how the city is laid out. I didn’t follow any specific path, just tried to keep my internal compass pointing southeast. I headed down streets randomly, often dictated by when I could cross a street, and ducked in and out of dozens of alleyways and markets that looked interesting. After a number of zigzags I ran into the Chao Praya River and hopped a ferry across at the Rachawongse pier. Having never been on the east side of the river, I was a bit nervous, but once on the other side, I headed due east until I hit a north-south thruway that ended up taking me back to the river at the Sathorn Pier. I crossed again and stumbled upon the Sky Train, which I rode a few stops to Siam Square. I figure I walked about 5 miles today and while I didn’t find any headphones ‘til I got to Siam Square, I did find my sense of direction and got to hop on 3 different forms of transportation we don’t have back home. The third you ask: a tuk-tuk home as I was bushed.

I was surprisingly tired since one of the things I’ve taken a good deal of pride in over the past 6 months, after years of bitching, is I finally hit the gym and have lost over 50lbs. And while I’ve spent countless hours in the gym exercising, it took all of about 10 blocks to swiftly kick that pride to the curb.

Apparently, the past few years working at home and peering into a computer screen for 8+ hours a day has made me soft.  I say this knowing full well that Bangkok has been pretty mild since I’ve been here. The temperature has been in the mid 80s and the sun largely obscured by clouds and haze.  Mere minutes in to my walk, I noticed the heat and the humidity and started feeling the sweat run down my back. The soles of my feet ached and a blister or two popped up. The tops of my feet also weren’t immune as they’re not used to flip-flops and chafed a bit. Most disconcerting is that my daypack made my back and shoulders ache; and I had less than 10lbs on me today!

I vaguely remember feeling this way a few years back and suffering through it for a week or two before my feet and back solidified. Acclimatization though, is a different story. I’m from Minnesota and was built purely for cold weather. I’m better equipped, and experienced, to handle -30° than 90°. I’ve always had extra padding to protect me against the cold winters, padding that has been a hindrance in this climate in the past. Last time I was here, I remember just beginning to feel comfortable right as I was preparing to head home. It’s going to take me some time to get back into form, for my body to harden to being on foot most of the time, but with less weight this time around, hopefully my adaptation will be quicker.

Despite the aches and pains today, it really was an interesting and wonderful day exploring Bangkok and look forward to exploring more when I’m back after the holidays. I’ll be heading head south tomorrow to relax, soak up the sun, and get underwater again.