Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Full Moon Over Khaosan Road

Full Moon Over Khaosan Road

As the full moon shined down upon the steaming streets of Bangkok, I wondered, "Is the moon full over there where you are, too?"

Probably not.

The internationally famous Khaosan Road is like Times Square in New York, or the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado - frequented mainly by tourists, and avoided like the plague by the locals.

Nonetheless, with little else to do in the evenings, I made the obligatory stroll up and down the street, hoping maybe to see someone I knew, or just sip a Singha and take in Bangkok's nightly circus freak show.

Thousands of international tourists slogged down the avenue lined with brightly lit restaurants, guest houses, bars, souvenir and tailor shops, passport and visa services, ATMs, currency exchanges, portable food vendors, bookstores, CD shops, tattoo artists, hair stylists, and a plethora of t-shirt and clothing salespeople.

At curbside you can have your hair done up in dreadlocks, corn rows, or shaved bald, like some of the European girls, making their statement. Or you could get that new tattoo.

Obese middle-aged Europeans, still pastey white from a scandinavian winter, roamed the boulevard, while 60 year-old German bastards, their guts hanging heavily over their belts, strolled along with their 20 year-old Thai girlfriends-for-a-night.

Everyone who had been in Southeast Asia for any length of time sported new t-shirts proclaiming where they'd been - Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand's islands.
I thought a good t-shirt marketing idea would be, 'I've been to the International Space Station,' with a picture of the ISS, and underneath it - 'And You Haven't.'

Everyone has a one-upmanship story to tell to a willing listener, their story not of their historical past or their country of origin, but where they've recently been. It's always the same: "We did Vietnam, and then we did Laos for two weeks, and then we did Cambodia."

"Yeah, I did Vietnam, too. Back in the sixties. But when I got home, I discovered Vietnam did me."

Everyone but me has a cell phone now, so to fake it, I just hold my hand to my ear and press an index finger onto that little piece of cartilage and start Jesus or whomever else might be listening in, like the CIA or the Dept. of Homeland Security, from what they're saying these days on the TV set.

The parade continues all night long and into the early morning hours, with old couples in retirement with the time and money to be there; young couples carrying enormous long-haul backpacks and weeks of road dirt; insecure, wide-eyed girls travelling alone; pretty, mini-skirted secure girls with their boyfriends; lonely old farts of both sexes, looking tired and forelorn; and entire families with babies in strollers and kids tagging behind, most all of them Europeans...and small groups of giggling Japanese. No Americans, no Mexicans, and just a smattering of skillet-black Africans.

Like the Khaosan Road t-shirt with the evolutionary graphic of the ape to upright bi-pedal modern man, proceding to a hunchbacked ape-man at a computer, with the comment, 'Somewhere, something went terribly wrong,' I kept thinking, 'something is terribly wrong with this picture.'

Wealth. People with money. That's why there aren't any Mexicans. And fear. That's why there aren't any Americans. Fear has kept us within our borders.

But there's no need for fear on Khaosan Road, or in Thailand as a whole, or anyplace else on the planet for that matter. Just like the t-shirt says, 'No Fear.'

- end