Daily Meander: Silom, Bangkok

I’m not a good blogger. I procrastinate. I figure I can always update later, which defeats the whole purpose of the chronological order of a blog. Lately though, I’ve been worrying about forgetting things that pictures can’t record. For example, how long was our bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Had Yai? (9 hours, from 10am to 6pm, plus a one hour time difference we didn’t figure out until the next day.) how long was our bus ride from Had Yai to Krabi Town? (5 hours, from 1pm to 6pm, about.) i can definitely tell you though, that from Ao Nang to Surat Thani, with its waiting and transferring of busses and 2am snack breaks was 14 and a half hours long (from 4pm to 6:30am). I don’t think we slept more than 3 of those hours between the 2 of us. We unloaded onto a triangle of traffic and fought our way through perched taxi drivers.

I spend a month in the vicinity of Bangkok a couple of years ago as a student, but I can’t claim to know much of it. I was busy being a student. I did make daytrips to Jim Thompson’s House and Chinatown and Chatuchak, to Hua Hin and the Middle Eastern District and went on a night bike ride, but I never did get a sense of the city as a whole. And if I had ever known what a taxi cost, I didn’t know anymore.

In hindsight, saddled with baggage and not staying in the vicinity of Khao San Road, where we were dropped off, We should have just grabbed the first taxi and paid the tourist farang price. Instead, we fought our way out of the ring of taxi drivers, asked several taxi drivers on Khao San Road how much it would be to get to the. Myamnar Embassy, and were quoted 200-400 baht.

After walking south for awhile in righteous, touristy indignation, we found a taxi cab driver who was willing to take us on the meter (the green ones seem to be better). The end price? 100 baht. It’s probably best to always be on the meter, but if you do choose to negotiate with non-metered taxis in Bangkok, the following may help you out.

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Unfortunately, trekking to the Myanmar Visa Entrance with all our earthly possessions for the next few months (like real backpackers!), we found the following notice:

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I guess we should have checked Myanmar’s national holidays. At least we knew where the visa entrance was, and after breakfast and wifi at the fashionable, but pricy, hostel Saphai Pai and checking into and using more wifi at our own hostel, New Road Guest House, we went in search of some one to provide us with visa application forms, passport copies, and passport photos. Approaching from the north, we passed by at least three. The one we used though, was the one closest to the Myanmar Visa Entrance going north on Than Pon, on the right.

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It was the most low-key place, and didn’t seem to have a name, but it provided everything we needed, including printing our air itinerary just to be safe, had a handy sample visa application, took about 10 mintues, and cost 336 baht for 2 people. We were advised to go early to the Embassy tomorrow, as there would be a lot of people. This handy visa station doesn’t seem to have a name, but it’s near this laundry:

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Now, having been up for about 33 hours, we decided to try and stay awake until a reasonable time. We purposely wasted time taking pictures of flower markets and Hindu temples, and walked down a street to see a mosque, where we discovered a wet market that sold the same tasty, salt-encrusted grilled fish we had in Krabi Town one rainy night before.

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We also comparison shopped beer and yogurt between 7-11 and a grocery store.

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The grocery store didn’t seem to differ too much from my experience with US grocery stores, although I didn’t look at the produce. It might have been a higher end one. There was no price differentiation between the yogurt there and at 7-11, though the beer was cheaper by 3 baht. Unfortunately, while purchasing it, we ran into this problem:

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Mike was pretty upset at the inanity of the rule, but I wanted a pretzel and lemonade in a stand outside the grocery store, a stand which reminded me of the pretzel booth I used to work in during college, except there were 12 people behind the counter instead of 3. Also, the cashier had better English than the people running the exclusively farang bus we had taken to get to Bangkok. Anyway, by the time I was done with my buttered piece of carbohydrate, it was 5pm and he could go and buy his beer.

Now we’ve been up for 35 hours, and we agreed early on that we would not be held accountable for any incoherence during this time. Overall, I like what I’ve seen of the part of Bangkok we’re staying in. Silom is full of embassies. We came here for the Myanmar Embassy, and we navigated our way to our hostel by following signs to the French Embassy. Our neck of Silom is home to the Pakistani-Thai Friendship Association, and boasts quite a few Pakistani/Indian restaurants (in addition to the tourist staples of Italian/Thai). There are also a lot of jewelry stores, and wholesale semi-precious stone and silver stores.

I’ve read at least one derogatory comment about flying to Thailand to stay in a commercial area like Silom. Yes, it is a bit far from the city center, and the Thai National Museum, and the backpacker vibe of Khao San Road. But it’s 10 minutes to Chinatown, and 5 minutes to a Skytrain station, and it has its share of temples Hindu, Muslim, and Chinese.

As far as its reputation as being a commercial center, that’s definitely true. But just as I got over being stationed near Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur due to its malls and shopping centers being great places to eat cheaply and watch locals and tourists shop, I hope others can get over Silom being a commercial center when they do thesame. You can also observe office workers on their way to work and from work, and schoolchildren with their matching uniforms and hairstyles buying snacks, hanging out, and generally being kids. Life seems more quotidian here.

But what do I know? I haven’t even been here 12 hours. There are plenty of hotels, hostels, bank ATMs, and a currency exchange or two, as well as at least one Starbucks. I’m not sure how to yet review the hostel I’m staying at, but it is cheap and has free working wifi. Hopefully I will update more later.

Five Reasons to Avoid Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Do not go to Chinatown in KL. Okay, you probably will (and should) anyway, but don’t try to get anything out of it. Reasons?

1. You want to go to Chinatown for the food

This is one of the main reasons I would go to Chinatown, especially since I’m not planning loading myself down with souvenirs or copy bags, which is mostly what they had. I went there once, looking for a snack, and was only able to find a wood ear drink. The second time I went, Mike and I found a restaurant that was a step up from street food. They charged us for the moist towelettes and the saucer of peanuts they served us. The third time, we got beer at a food court. The food court had nice Chinese-Malaysian dishes, but it was 11pm, and they were already closing.

Go to Jalan Alor instead. It’s just as touristy, but has more food and more variety.

2. You want to go to Chinatown for the copy bags

Okay, so shopping for faux designer things is one of the major points of tourism (otherwise there wouldn’t be so many vendors to cater to this phenomenon). I’m not sure about the bags, but Brian found that the copy Ray Bans in Chinatown cost more than the copy Ray Bans in Berjaya Times Square, which is less crowded and air-conditioned.

Go to Berjaya Times Square instead. You don’t have to bargain (although you can still do that if you want), and are protected from the elements. Plus they have the largest gumball machine in the world, as well as a piano staircase.

3. You want to go to Chinatown for the traditional crafts.

Don’t even bother. Only copy bags there. Go to Central Market instead. Again, part of it is enclosed in a building with air conditioning. And they cater to the traditional cultural crafts.

4. You want to go for the cheap hostels.

There are a lot of hostels in Chinatown. From reviews, they seem to suffer from the noise of the night market. There are also some on the outskirts of Chinatown, such as near Pudu bus station. Plus there are a lot on Jalan Alor and Bukit Bintang and all the alleys that wind around those streets. Prices are 100 MYR up, but the quality is probably better, a well as the location.

We’re staying in a monthly rental, so are getting a different rate. I’d still recommend it for short-term though. I know 80 MYR may be a bit much for two people, but at least you get a window in your room. And substantial towels. And toilet paper. And a hot water heater.

5. You want to go to Chinatown for the cheap household items.

Like plastic dishes or cheap flip flops. Mike was able to find cheap flip flops there. But we didn’t find any plastic dishes. After breaking down and buying them from Daiso, in Bukit Bintang’s newest mall for 5 MYR (microwave safe), we found plastic dishes in the mini mart across the street from us. No, we are not in Chinatown. We live in Hang Tuah, which is equidistant from Chinatown and Bukit Bintang.

6. You want to go to Chinatown for the atmosphere.

Okay, you’ve got me there. They do have a nice, glass-covered walkway and a lot of red lanterns and umbrellas. But Central Market has the glass-covered walkway. And Jalan Alor has red lanterns. Hell, even the 6th floor of Pavilion mall has lanterns, as well as giant paper cranes.

The point is, go, but don’t expect much.

Reading World War Z made me realize my husband is my Zombie Survival Guide

Disclaimer: I have not read the Zombie Survival Guide. Neither has Mike. He read World War Z awhile back, sparking (or renewing) a zombie obsession which means he now watches The Walking Dead. I recently read World War Z, which made me realize I totally would not survive if I didn’t stick with Mike.

I mean, I appreciated the novel’s artistry and everything. Mike was impressed with the military detail. I was impressed by the author’s knowledge of international politics. Even though the book is episodic (composed of individual interviews), I couldn’t stop reading. This novel is the reason I started staying up until 2am again. There are also flaws. Many of the characters interviewed are unapologetically villainous. I don’t see too many people being that candid about royally screwing people over to a UN investigator they just met. Also, it did tend to fall into stereotypes a bit (Spoilers! The wannabe terrorist Muslim, the blind Japanese nature-lover who becomes proficient at killing zombies, the Japanese otaku who becomes his disciple.)

The novel is less about zombies than about what happens when a zombie epidemic is unleashed upon humanity. I came away from the novel with the conviction that zombies (at least the type in the novel) are not really dangerous. People are dangerous. So if zombies ever swarmed the area I was in, this would be my plan:

Step 1: Barricade myself and my loved ones securely and shut up until the zombies and people moved on (with a lot of food and some weapons–preferably a relatively silent baseball bat, but also a gun just in case. Mike knows how to shoot guns.)

Step 2: Start a garden. After emerging into a desolate wasteland, of course, where all the food has already been looted. I think an aquaponics system would be best since it saves water and provides you with edible fish. Mike would very useful here because he took a commercial gardening class in high school and researched aquariums with his usual intensity when he actually had an aquarium. Of course, this is all assuming that we could get our hands on the equipment and Monsanto hasn’t totally destroyed all viable food-producing seeds. If not, Mike’s skills makes us great candidates for citizens in a post-Apocalyptic government that’s focused things such as food distribution and sanitation.

Step 3: Learn a skill. Because I didn’t go to medical school, I don’t really have any “hard skills” (Damn! Should have listened to my parents!) I guess therapists would also be in demand, but I don’t have any actual training in that. I would seriously be useless in a zombie apocalypse with my lack of gun-shooting and food producing skills. Also, I’m not that good at cleaning (again, that’s Mike’s specialty). I guess I could cook. I also have some skills at gauging distances for close-range attacks due to karate, so I might be pretty good at hitting zombies in the head with something heavy. But that would still take some training.

The novel does show that it’s a matter of luck more than anything, though the above plan would increase our odds. Well, at least there’s no zombie apocalypse yet. I can continue living my privileged, first-world life.

A Short Guide to Future Posts, or What Have We Been Doing for the Past Two Months?

I wrote before that we’re just living in KL, but it’s an unrealistic lifestyle even by expat standards. We don’t have jobs, for one things. We’re also on a backpacker budget, which means we go to a restaurant and try to spend under 100 MYR, and when we see the credit card charge in USD, it’s about $20. I would say we’ve really been on vacation. Mike would disagree and say that life has been very stressful for him, but that’s just the way he is. Actually, we’ve been procrastinating, but procrastinating by reading and watching a lot of movies and not writing for public consumption. Next thing we know, we only have a couple of weeks left before our Malaysian visa expires. What have we done besides that? I will attempt to actually finish the following posts over the next 10 days or so. Things we’ve done (in no particular order):

1. Attempted to take advantage of our apartment’s exercise facilities

2. Experienced a triplicate of health problems and experienced Malaysian health care (for foreigners)

3. Ventured into Pudu Wet Market

4. Eaten at highly regarded Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Lebanese restaurants

5. Eaten at Koptiams and mamak cafes

6. Eaten at Japanese and Mexican restaurants

7. Explored Plaza Low Yatt and Plaza Imbi for electronics and electronic repair stores

8. Explored Sungei Wang for watch repair stores

9. Taken pictures of kolams set out for Deepavali

10. Discovered that Jalan Alor is better than Jalan Petaling

Living in Kuala Lumpur

When Mike and I were on the bus coming into Kuala Lumpur, we passed the Islamic museum and all it’s signage. Mike looked at me and said, “I know what you’re thinking. Do you know what I’m thinking?”

“You’re thinking, ‘Lucy’s going to make me go to that thing.'”

“Yup!”

But I haven’t. Not yet.

Instead, after hosting some visitors, we hunkered down in out apartment, completed or IB training, and . . . lived. We weren’t tourists anymore. We ate out a lot (almost a necessity, considering the limitations of our kitchenette), but besides that, most of the time we didn’t leave the apartment except for grocery shopping. So basically, we only left for food.

It’s been a month, but it’s difficult to climb out of that hibernation. We like it inside, where there’s AC and Internet. Mike reads his Kindle and Facebook. I play games on my iPad. Sometimes we would watch a movie. We also had conversations about life, and Mike listened to my rant about how the color indigo does not belong in the rainbow (Isaac Asimov also thinks so).

Well today, we went to a wet market (Mike was very unhappy) and yet another mall (to look for a new backpack for me). I’ll save those for another post.

Sri Weld Food Court: An Afternoon Eatery

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Mike and I came across Sri Weld Food Court coming back from the post office, and it became our go to lunch place. Of course, it is not immune to tourists, us included, and all of the benefits that brings (English menus and English speakers), but seemed to serve a lot of office workers on lunch break as well. We didn’t run into any rats or cockroaches at this place, just cats and kittens that will beg from you or paw at leftovers in the dirty dish bins.

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The court is only active from 11 to 5 pm, so its nicely shaded. The largest stall is for drinks, and you can get anything from pricy Western food to Taiwanese food to traditional Chinese-Malay food such as Hainnanese chicken, “pao” (baozhi) from a very clean hawker stall, and wonton mee.

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The place is famous for its nasi lemak and its soup beef koay teow, if you’re into that.

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Broadway Budget Motel: New and Shiny

After we had had enough of the Oriental Hostel’s exposed bathrooms and our noisy neighbors there, we moved across Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling to the Broadway Budget Hotel. We had encountered its sparkling environs our first day walking about Georgetown, but it was 70 MYR a night, and 80 MYR Friday through Sunday, so we waited until Monday to move in.

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Unfortunately, we hadn’t booked ahead, so we had to pay 80 MYR for one night in a room with a TV, where we watched too many Harry Potter movies and part of Life of Pi. We would have paid the extra 10 MYR for the weekend, but again, failing to book ahead, they ran out of non-TV rooms. Unwilling to pay 90 MYR a night when when we had to move our stuff anyway. Plus, our original budget per night for housing had been for 60 MYR, so we decided to move on.

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Pros: very clean and professional, provides toilet paper, soap, and thick towels, air conditioning, includes window, bathroom, wardrobe with drawer and pole (no hangers), a tiny desk (more of a vanity), plenty of hooks behind the door, each floor has own wifi router, three outlets, one of which is universal. Your room is mopped every day. Rooms also include a Keblat, pointing towards Mecca.

Cons: The hotel has Indian concierges, but bargaining is not allowed. The lobby has benches, a TV, and drinks for sale from a refrigerator, but no tables. The outlets are far from the desk, but near a tiny shelf. There is no elevator, and people smoke in the stairwell. You trade away personality and history for the new, shiny rooms.

Also, depending on the room and the weather, your can see great views.

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