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Day 4 – Look at My Yellow Shirt (A Day as A Royal Loyalist)

March 7, 2010

Dateline: Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, March 7, 2010

Today’s 6 a.m. wake up means I’m conquering jet lag one hour at a time.

Uncle Jesse loaned me a shirt. It was yellow, which made it high profile for at least two reasons. First, it is the color of the sun. Second, in the last year, in Thailand yellow has come to mean opposition to former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra.  In the past, yellow signaled support for the king, a beloved Thai figure. In fact, on Mondays Thais would often wear yellow shirts to show their love of the king. (Yellow because of the year the king was born.) During the recent political unrest, however, people took to wearing yellow shirts if they opposed Thaksin and red if they supported him. Yellow Shirts tended to be more well-off and Red Shirts trended towards the lower class. The tension got to the point where Thais who were fans of certain English Premier League soccer teams had to seriously consider not wearing their team’s red colors in public.

If you’re a foreign tourist, this isn’t a big deal. The locals just figure you like to wear yellow shirts. Unfortunately for me, “foreign tourist” is basically code for “White.” I look Thai. I look Thai real good.

It’s still Sunday, so I haven’t experienced Monday in Thailand. Perhaps yellow’s back in favor. Maybe my shirt will only attract attention for its brilliance. For all I know, though, I’m making a bold political statement on a Sunday afternoon. This should be fun.

Breakfast with Uncle Jesse, Auntie Lee, and their daughter and son-in-law consisted of chicken rice, chicken-filled pastry, fried egg, and bread. I even got some fried sesame bananas. I washed it all down with warm soy milk with tapioca, grass, and rice jelly. We finished off with fresh papaya, cantaloupe, and honey dew. Good stuff.

There were two things on the day’s agenda: buy a cell phone and get a massage. Uncle Jesse’s become a bit of an exercise fiend and insisted that we also “go to fitness” beforehand. He loaned me some shorts and a t-shirt so I could join him at the gym. I actually kind of liked the idea. It’d been a week since my last run. It’d be nice to exert myself.

After some discussion with the family, though, the consensus was that I should get a cell phone with Chrisy and her husband first. They could help me find the best phone, especially since I was looking for something that could work in Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. I slipped my yellow shirt and my pants over the workout clothes and headed off to look at phones.

I’ll spare you the details, but note that I found out I needed a tri-band or quad-band phone. The phone, a Nokia, ended up being $75 dollars for a phone and a sim card with about an hour of minutes. I can re-up minutes by buying code cards at 7-11. Afterwards, Chrisy and her husband left to go to a Chinese temple and I went with Auntie to “go to fitness.”

Turns out I’m an idiot. The place is called “Fitness First.” “Going to fitness” is not some artifact of Thais speaking English, it’s a reference to a proper noun. Thai people 1, Mervyn 0.

I went for a run (more effortful than I’d like to admit) and hung out while Uncle finished his routine. After working out, we headed off to get massages.

Walking the through the mall to the massage place, I reflected on the Thai obsession with feet. In Thailand, feet are considered one of the dirtiest places on the body. Pointing your foot at someone seems to be the rough equivalent of whipping out your penis and waving at them. For example, while in the Coronation Room at Wat Po yesterday, a local guide noticed some Europeans sitting with their legs straight out in front of them, feet pointed at Buddha. “That’s not very respectful,” he said, and explained that it was okay since they didn’t know, but now that they did, they’d better quit it.

That distaste for feet doesn’t stop some Thais from having a good bit of contact with them. Every Thai massage, whether foot or body, begins with a foot wash where the barehanded masseuse gets between your toes. When we got to the massage place in the mall, foot massages, not body massages, were the crowd favorite even though they cost about the same. Uncle Jesse doesn’t like people touching him too much, so he doesn’t do body massages. That doesn’t stop him from enjoying a good foot massage.

Uncle, Auntie, and I all got Thai foot massages. I’d never had one, but, from the Amazing Race, I knew that they could be quite painful. I figured after years of jujitsu pressure point torture and shiatsu massage, I could handle it.

I did, but barely. The massage place gave me a tiny lady to work me over. She started off easy and I gained a bit of bravado. Then, she got serious. She took the knuckle of her thumb and started rubbing it on my foot bones. I tried taking the pain out of my face and relaxing into the pressure. Every once in a while, though, my body would flinch ever so slightly. The lady would notice and look up at me as if to say, “Really? Really you weak little farang?” It became a game. She’d drag her knuckle over a part of my foot that I didn’t know I had and I’d try to play off my twitch by not making eye contact or staring off into space. I tried closing my eyes, but that plunged me into a world filled only with darkness and pain. At certain points, she ripped across places that in jujitsu we’d use to get our opponents to submit. Too bad there’s no tapping out here. Spanish inquisitors had to use ropes and spikes and fire to do what this little lady was doing with one digit.

I thought I was doing pretty well until I realized that both Uncle and Auntie’s masseuses were men. From the flex marks in their forearms, I could tell they weren’t holding back. It only got worse when I heard Auntie start to snore softly a few chairs away.

My masseuse had a good chuckle when she switched out my foot rest for a stool and I tried to put my feet on it. She looked to my Uncle helplessly and he told me, “That’s for you to sit for your back.” Of course.

By that point, I was so sensitive and my back so screwed up that she when she touched me my body would wince. I could feel her shaking her head as she rubbed me down.

Reflexology says that a foot massage helps your insides. It’s supposed to be good for your liver, heart, lungs, etc. I don’t know about all that, but I do know that after the massage was over, my feet and legs felt fantastic. After some rest, I’d be willing to go for Round 2.

We had lunch at a noodle shop in the mall. I got seafood noodles with the Asian staple of compressed meats. For some reason the broth was an unholy pink. Spicy, but good.

We then went to Swensons for mango ice cream sundaes. Yes, that’s the same Swensons as in San Francisco. The water glasses even had “Coit Tower” and San Francisco landmarks strewn on the side. They had the old standards, but you could also order some different stuff. I got an “Island Breeze” which consists of mango ice cream, shredded coconut, and green sticky rice. The green sticky rice put it over the top. Swensons, get your act together and release this combination in the U.S. You could make sticky rice the new boba.

On the way back to the house, Auntie asked if I wanted to join her for a face massage. I’d never had one, so I said yes. I didn’t know Thais even had a face massage. Uncle doesn’t like to be touched too much, so we dropped him off to take a nap.

When we got to the massage place, I felt a tremor in the force. The staff and nearly every patron was female. The only guy was an older dude in the back getting his hair dyed. Everyone else looked at me funny as I walked in. I can’t be sure because I ended up on my back, but I think I got a facial. There was a lot of massage, but some cucumber-like strips got laid over my face. She rubbed in a lot of lotions and ointments. At one point I thought the lady was shaving me, until I realized it was some tool that sent little bits of electric current into my skin. I got massaged with hot things, then cold things. I got picked at with tweezers.

All in all, I actually had a good time. It was very relaxing and, with my mp3 player plugged into my ear, I banged out a few podcasts. We’ll just keep calling it a pleasant face massage.

Auntie and I drove back to the house. The day had passed without a yellow shirt incident. I did notice, however, that none of the hordes of people at the mall were wearing yellow or red. I was definitely special.

We had fresh green mango with chili sauce for a snack, followed immediately by a dinner of string beans with mango hot sauce, brown rice, fried sweet and sour fish, and steamed lemon grass and onion fish. I felt like I was going to explode. It was like the mini-food tours my law school friends and I would have in Oakland.

Auntie overheard me say that I was going to work this week to get visas for China and Vietnam. She kindly hooked me up with a friend of hers who runs a travel agency. Auntie acted as translator. Her friend is helping me out with visas to China and Vietnam. A courier is going to pick up my passport and other essentials tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. at the hostel. First visa (China) will take four days. I’ll get the Vietnam visa when I return to Bangkok from the south. Things are starting to come together for the post-Thailand part of this trip.


Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: To prepare for a Thai foot massage, walk over shards of glass scattered over hot coals, then have your feet run over by an Asian elephant carrying a Volkswagen bus.

Not So Stupid Tip: Use a travel agency or other service provider if Vietnam or China require citizens of your country to get a visa prior to traveling there. I was going to do this on my own if Auntie hadn’t helped out. Note that you can’t apply for a Vietnam visa online unless you’re flying into Vietnam. If you enter Vietnam over land, you’ll need to apply beforehand. I’m told that, in Bangkok, the Vietnam visa typically takes 5 days and the China visa takes about 4. Rush service is available if necessary. This roughly matches turnaround in the U.S., though here in Bangkok it’s considerably cheaper.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Fran permalink
    March 9, 2010 4:28 am

    Massages in Thailand are like taking shits here. It happens about once, and if you are lucky, twice a day.

  2. becca permalink
    March 9, 2010 5:18 am

    FYI the color yello is HM’s color because of the day of the week he was born. Thais some time ago adopted colors for days of the week. Monday is yellow, Sunday red, Wednesday green etc…’tis auspicious to wear the right color on the right day.

  3. Shining permalink
    March 9, 2010 7:56 pm

    Merv, keep writing. I’m reading your posts from my gubmint job, living extra vicariously.

    • March 13, 2010 12:15 am

      I will keep writing. I may have to post twice in the same day, because my schedule’s been messed up by my preparations to head down south to the islands.

      Fear not, though, there will be a post for every day, even if the posts don’t come every day.

  4. Susan permalink
    March 11, 2010 3:18 am

    Oh Mervyn, reading this while waiting for Kat to cook me dinner was a huge mistake. I was already starving, but looking at those pictures, now my stomach is having seizures!

    Glad to see that you’re having a good time!

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