Number 19–Parallel U
Every time I finish and walk away after sending off one of these letters I remember lots that should have or could have been included. This last time there was a glaring omission – there is another way to get to Battambang; the train! Moreover that line actually has passenger coaches with seats. Unfortunately, it takes 12 to 16 hours compared to 6 or 7 by road but it also leaves at an ungodly 6:30 am – how I dread and resist those early departures; so uncouth. In fact, I took the short train ride from Kampot to Phnom Penh to get the experience out of the way so I wouldn't be tempted to do it to Battambang.
I'm now in my sixth destination since I entered Thailand on the 26th. World of ATM's, crap fast food, convenience stores, nattering disgusting ‘nines’ (Why nines? you say. Just the need for every price to end in nines for the purpose of the not-so-subtle deceit that something looks like it costs less than it actually does) and that old three letter "F" word again – obesity; all marks of a country's movement up the development spectrum. Cambodia waited till mid-2005 to get its first ATM but still no multinational junk food joints – big whoop!
Admittedly Thailand’s excellent highways do compensate somewhat but then you come across absurdities like a little town of about 20,000 people with a brand new ten lane concrete street running through its heart. If everyone within 20 miles who owns a car headed downtown at the same time it would still look empty. No question; Thailand might have only one-tenth the percapita income of Oregon but it's roads are at least equal – excepting only the lack of freeways. Sprawl here is as bad as anywhere in the states. Too bad – just like the US of sprawl, they'll be doing a lot of walking in a few years.
I arrived in a little burg on the Thai-Burmese border about 3.30pm. It looked really small, and since the only overland public transportation to it was a minibus, I started right off thinking it was minor league. Digression: One nice thing about traveling the third world is that there are almost always public conveyances. The combination of high density – Thailand, a little smaller than Texas has 64 million people – and low income means nearly every place is accessible by public transportation. The only drawback is not being able to stop and get off the main road whenever you want. Still, imagine trying to get around rural Oregon without a car.
I could detect no place to stay right off so I started wandering. I walked around in circles for about half an hour until I found a restaurant with an English sign – Hill Tribe Coffee – bound to get some info there. I had also found downtown, the burg's a bit bigger than I had thought. They even have a photocopy map – I'm in business. Stop for a cuppa, the owner points me in the direction of a guest house and I take off with a map in hand. Fifteen minutes later I've done another circle of downtown and I’m right back at the same restaurant, and still no guest house.
Ok, I'll try to find another one on the map so I start off walking. This is a border town; there has to be guest houses; it’s even big enough to have at least a few hotels. Besides this is Thailand with ten million tourists a year, there must be something.
When you're in a place where 98% of the signage is in Thai script those occasional English words stand out like flashing neon on the Vegas strip. Ok, I finally see a hotel sign but it looks too uppity for my taste so I make note of its location and keep trying for that elusive guest house.
I must have walked 30 to 40 minutes before I turned back, still no GH. I did get offers from a couple of motorcycle taxi drivers, but that would be cheating. The only exercise I get is from walking (and dancing and sex). Some people climb rocks, swim channels, trek to the south pole; I walk. Still the absence of places to stay was getting quite mysterious, and I was beginning to frazzle so I hopped on a pickup truck minibus back to the center of town. The driver had to turn off the main street because of it turning into a one-way, which added a little consternation but it actually helped me find the hotel pretty quickly. By then I'd been walking nearly two hours.
Marble tile steps freaked me a little – I would have felt really dejected it had turned out too pricey – but six bucks for a big room – what a relief. It had gone way downhill from its prime, so was just right for my taste. Next morning it rained like hell so I didn't move around much and wound up paying for another night. I also bought a cute little fold up umbrella just as the rain was tapering off. So far it’s been three days and I haven't used it. I Hope I get to use it before I lose it, which is why I hate buying umbrellas.
No sooner had I payed for the second night and started walking around than guest houses and hotels started popping up everywhere – I must've temporarily been in a parallel universe. I met a young English gal that night who came to Thailand without reading anything or hardly having any idea what she was doing – like the Fool in the Tarot deck who is carrying all of his possessions in a little sack, walking along with his eyes on the heavens as he's about to walk off a cliff. It's all a matter of faith. The first day she was ready to take the next jet back but after just two days of cosmic connections she was totally in the groove.
As for me, I'm killing time. I keep feeling I should be either here or there, stumptown or PP, doing something. Meanwhile I'm just hanging out enjoying life. Is that or is that not the way to live?