Before leaving the hostel on the morning of Saturday #85, I checked the weather forecast on my phone. I’m not sure why I bothered because for 10 consecutive days The Weather Network app has predicted a high of 35C, and for 10 consecutive days the temperature in Bangkok has peaked at 35C at 3:08 p.m., give or take about three minutes. Now that’s accuracy! What The Weather Network doesn’t predict is humidity (at least not on the app) but seconds after walking out the front door of the hostel I received an alert from an old fashioned humidity detecting device that I occasionally use – a pair of cotton jockey shorts. I decided to return to the room and change into boxers and cargo shorts. (Way too much information. – Ed.)
Now that we’ve established that I go both ways in the boxers vs briefs department, let’s move on. I left the hostel at 9:30 a.m. and started walking toward the Sutthisan subway station. Along the way I passed a half-bald dog who was lounging on the sidewalk in front of a 7-11. The poor thing looked hot but friendly enough, and being somewhat sympathetic to the plight of half bald dogs, I stopped to have a word with him. He simply begged to be petted.
I wasn’t about to touch the belly of a half bald street dog but when he rolled over he revealed a bright red envelope that he had been laying on. I asked him if someone had given it to him for Chinese New Year. He pretended not to understand my English so I spoke louder and slower (because that always helps with humans, right?) and asked him if I could have a look inside the envelope. He didn’t exactly say “yes” but again I think he was just being coy.
My hunch was correct! The lucky red envelope contained a folded 100 Baht note! Not $100 mind you – more like CAD $3.80 – so I went into the 7-11 and bought a bottle of water and two hotdogs. I didn’t bother to heat the hotdogs in the microwave but the puppy didn’t seem to mind. He inhaled them in about 3 seconds. Just paying it forward, old boy; just paying it forward, I said as I continued on my way.
Thanks to Bangkok’s extensive and efficient public transit I arrived at the Chatuchak week-end market well before 10:30 a.m. I stepped off the air-conditioned train and rode the escalator to the street. And then it hit me. Bam! It felt like someone had slapped me with one of those steaming hot towels they used to give you after tying into a rack of ribs at Tony Roma’s. Even if the temperature and humidity was the same on this side of town, it sure felt worse after a half hour in the walk-in freezer they call a subway in Bangkok.
I asked myself if there was one good reason why I should spend another day walking around a sweltering market when I’ve been to dozens of markets and bazaars, including the largest in the word in Istanbul. This market was a mix of outdoor areas with little protection from the sun and covered areas where the humidity builds up under low slung tarps. I didn’t have a good answer to my own question so I turned around and took the escalator back into the subway.
Fifteen minutes later I was at the giant Siam Centre mall in the heart of Bangkok’s business district. Compared to the flea market, there would be less temptation to buy something here, I reasoned. There are millions of items on sale at the market, most for less than $10, but stores at Siam Center carry names like Fendi, Ermenegildo Zena, Brioni, DSquared2, Armani, Patek Philippe, and Rolex. There’s less chance of making an impulse purchase when the salesperson takes the time to fix you a Nespresso before ringing up the sale. Besides, the mall is cool and the people watching is A-1. Did I mention there’s an Aussie Bum store opposite the Starbucks?
It took about 10 minutes before I broke down and reneged on my vow to buy nothing larger or more expensive than a single bead or an embroidered flag patch from every country visited. A very small, sleek and lightweight daypack was on display in the window of a high-end “outdoor lifestyle” store. (I’m pretty sure they don’t mean homeless.) Sitting beside the bag was a small sign indicating that it was 40% off. I’d be saving money and lightening my load if I bought it and got rid of my current bag, I told myself.
When I asked a sales clerk if I could try it on, she explained that it was part of a two-piece set. Not only was it 40% off but I could get two bags for a price that I thought was reasonable for one bag.
The benefits were almost overwhelming – save money, shed about 1 kg from my load, have a backpack that might actually pass as carry-on luggage, and the kicker – the daypack can be lashed to the backpack on travel days or used separately when I’m able to leave the big bag at a hostel. And if I needed one more reason to make the purchase, it was that I had always intended to buy a smaller daypack before embarking on the Camino de Santiago. What are the chances that I’ll find a better deal in the next four major cities that I’ll visit – Zurich, Milan, Paris and Barcelona? Honestly, how could anyone say no?
As the clerk was ringing up the sale another shopper asked what I planned to do with the old bag. “It’s just what I’m looking for,” she said. She introduced herself as Calea. We chatted for a few minutes. We added each other on Facebook. We became best friends. Not really, of course, but we did exchange a lot of information in less than five minutes. Calea explained that she’s attending a university in Bangkok on an exchange program and she needs a backpack for a weekend trip within Thailand.
“I’m leaving for Laos in a few days and it’s not going with me,” I told her. “It’s yours if you want it.” She was pretty happy to save $100 or more. I was happy to help out a student. The salesperson wasn’t too happy when she realized that she was about to lose a potential sale to Calea, but she’ll get over it, I’m sure.
Calea slipped the bag over her shoulders and tightened the straps. “Perfect,” she said. “The price is right and I luuuuuuv that it already has a Canadian flag sewn on! That’ll save me doing that in November,” she said.
“You said you were on exchange from Marquette,” I said, “so I just assumed you were American. What part of Canada are you from?”
“Oh, I’m not from Canada; I’m from New Jersey,” she said. “But if Trump wins, I’ll be up there the next day!”
Something tells me this won’t be the last time we hear that line.
PS: If you’re reading this Calea, I found a link for you: http://www.wmtc.ca/2016/02/us-election-circus-puts-wmtc-in-news.html?m=1