Damion's Southeast Asia Adventure
Thailand Part I
15Feb 2013
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Thailand Tales Part 1

If there’s a wild west in Asia, surely Thailand must be a front runner…

After a few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Peter Scott IV and I bounced (with an 8 hour layover at Starbucks) through Kuala Lumpur and went on to Phuket (Southern Thailand) to explore the waters and beaches of James Bond Fame.  What we found was something far more intense and Miami Beach-like with a whole heck of a lot more debauchery.  (is that even possible?)

Even walking a few blocks down the road to get a cold drink or a freshly fallen coconut to sip on to survive a hot muggy South Seas day is an adventure in being accosted by street vendors in every direction, every 3 feet.  “Tuk-tuk man, tuk-tuk?  You want a tuk-tuk?  Taxi?  Massage?  You want t-shirt?  I sell you suit, make nice suit for you, come look!” Constant opening hooks of “hey brother, hey friend – where you from” at first feeling like connection and care (ie genuine interest) quickly dissipating into the truth that these are marketing and influence techniques that are easily understood from reading Cialdini’s “Influence.”  The difference, however, is having these techniques and tactics thrown at you in every direction , as opposed to reading about the theory of “liking” or “reciprocity” or “social proof.”

Back to the hopes of re-enacting “The Man With the Golden Gun.”

My vision of powder sand on long open beaches of Patong was shattered as we slipped down a side alley to the water our first morning in southern Thailand.  We walked into what appeared a traffic jam of umbrellas and lounge chairs packed one up against another with rambunctious Russian tourists soaking up as much sun as they could get with minimal coverage vis-a-vis very very small speedo suits on very very large men.  The accosting continued as we were asked over and over if we wanted to rent a jet ski, a beach chair or get a tattoo. Yes, a tattoo, apparently there’s a thriving tattoo business on the beach in Thailand, who knew?

Even with the crushing volume of bodies we had to navigate around, diving into the water among the gentle waves and  soft sand was worth the traversing of sun worshippers and dodging of vendors.  A quick, fresh coconut and chicken curry on the beach rounded out the first day.

That night was a lesson in patience, as we were awakened at 1:30am by a thumping akin to a NATO bombing outside.  Unbeknownst to us we’d picked a hotel next to the clubs and  they go ALL night with some crazy 10,000,000 dB woofers to keep people gyrating til dawn.  It’s funny to think by the end of Phuket I was actually excited for the quiet of Bangkok and Bangkok is anything but quiet!!!

The next couple of days could easily be considered debauchery, sinister or maybe even criminal, depending on the perspective and origin of the viewer.  When I said Thailand is the wild west, Phuket was an appetizer and Bangkok the main course.

Less then a mile from the hotel was one of the main “zones” in Phuket.  This was THE experience that, absolutely without a doubt, blew away any semblance of innocence I might have had.  As we approached the area, the vendors got thicker, selling t-shirts, taxis and ta-ta’s (i.e.,massages), and then we hit the main area, the epicenter of “holy sh*t did you see that??!?!?!!”

My senses were overwhelmed, my eyes couldn’t take everything in fast enough and my brain couldn’t possibly process all of it.  We had guys throwing menus in our faces for Ping Pong shows, cross dressing prostitutes inviting us to play pool and endless go-go bars in every direction.  This place made Vegas look like a nunnery, but the craziest was yet to come.

I don’t know how anyone could last more then a couple hours.  I was ready to collapse after all the stimulation overload that night.  Naturally this called for pizza and a beer before we made our way back.

That brings us to BANGKOK…zoiks!

I was so far off on what I envisioned of Bangkok, thinking it would a series of cool canals with long boats floating around, some amazing clothes shopping and a few wild clubs.  Little did I know… nor could I have ever comprehended before stepping foot out onto the broken pavement that Bangkok is Phuket on steroids.

I’d been told to check out the Patpong night markets, long boat canals and the Sky tower.  The first picture with the dome is the same spot where the movie “Hangover 2” was filmed.  Epic view of the city and the canal!  Great place to have a drink or dinner btw!  So after the Sky Tower and some delicious Indian cuisine we bumped into while strolling down a random Thai street, we went to the Patpong area to scope out the markets and hubbub we’d heard about.

Is hub-bub the right descriptor?  Because what I learned about negotiations self-confidence was not only unexpected but breath taking.  First off, so long as you have a doe-eyed look of “fresh meat” you get pummeled by every vendor in every direction.  It lasts as long as you allow yourself to be branded as a target.  Part of being a target is caring about what people think.  So for a tourist this meant engaging with everyone who called out to us.  If someone offered us something we said no thanks.  If someone asked where we were from we’d say America.  This was engagement and it continued to suck us in so long as we cared what they thought and reacted.

When we finally decided we didn’t “need” to engage and were confident enough to simply ignore them our wanderings were smooth and generally free-flowing.  Two seconds after we passed each person (who in the past we’d spent energy being nice to with conversation) they forgot all about us.  Engaging us was their job, but we’d taken the conversation personally, wanting to be nice, as if that was a requirement?

How often have I done that in my life I asked myself?  Accommodating someone else who’s interrupting my life so I can make them feel better instead of standing my own ground with what’s important to me?…Valuing my time and not letting anyone take it or squander it?  Hmmm, excellent lesson in awareness.

They didn’t stop asking until I turned to one of the hawkers and yelled, “No! Fu*k off!”  he apologized and turned around.  For the next hour I didn’t have a single person pitch me on anything.  Word got out.    Or more likely I had this “Don’t F’k with me” energy that created a powerful force field and a kind of warning, this guy is not stable, leave him alone!

Out of pure morbid curiosity we decided to check out a local club for a ping pong show and made the huge mistake of not getting clear on the full price with the actual manager before we sat down.  The “marketing” which was the guy who pitched the show outside, led us in with “it’s only $3 each for a drink and the show.”  Bangkok bait and switch my friends!  We go in, sit down, order a drink and start to get all sorts of attention from the girls.  They’re very nice, a little dirty and they immediately start their “pitch” sitting next to us.

Meanwhile the ping pong shows proceeded in front of us. INSANE btw!  It took all of about 10 minutes for both of us to be totally done and ready to scat.  We went to the manager, the mama-san and took out our 100 Baht each ($3) to close our tab.  She said, “here is bill, 2800 Baht!”

I thought, ‘oh crap, here we go.’  Yelling, arguing, stomping and negotiating commenced.  At one point we had about 8 people surrounding us as we fumed and repeated, “hell no, the deal was 100 Baht!!!”  I thought, “we’re either getting out of here using our newly developed negotiating skills or we’re gonna see how well my Aikido skills work in a Bangkok debauchery club as the bouncers “charge us with fists.”  Fortunately we escaped with a 200 Baht bill and left without need of any martial arts demonstrations.  (The idea of a Thai jail didn’t sit very well either)

In all the courses I’ve attended and all the books and tapes I’ve been through on self confidence and negotiating, I’ve NEVER learned as much in any program, about either field, as I learned in those 2 hours actually engaged and immersed.  Kind of like learning a new language, the best way is to fully immerse yourself.  Same with learning how to negotiate and to learn how to confidently just “not give a sh*t” as my friend the Honey Badger says.

The most profound lesson of this epic 2-month voyage from my comfort zone in Austin to a deeper truth 10,000 miles away, is that knowledge is far different than wisdom.  What we read, listen to and “know” is far less important than what we REALLY know from our experiences.  The adventures we embark on, the people we connect to face to face, the dilemmas we encounter (and they are vast in Southeast Asia), define our human experience far more then pictures and words alone, certainly far more than any classroom can teach.

Not even the most profound Hemingway Haiku or the brightest technicolor Canon sunrise shot comes close to the experience of feeling the dirt against your skin and the crisp morning air entering your nostrils while sitting in a field watching the sun crest over one of the ancient wonders of the world.

No guru on earth with the best negotiation seminar, the best audio program or an Ivy League business school could ever teach one what is learned standing in the middle of live markets being pummeled in every direction by reality, the emotions and psychology of human interaction.

To “get it,” to develop the muscle of the thing, there’s only one way to fully grow.  You have to lift the weight and step into the gym of life.  Reading about it or listening to it alone will never grow the muscle.  The heavy weight of being in a foreign environment and having to adapt is the way to grow, it’s the key to becoming whole.

1 comment “Thailand Part I”

  • jane
    March 15, 2013
    12:10 pm

    I loved your comments about knowledge and experiencing life up close vs. Merely reading about it. You sound like a person of integrity or at least striving toward that. most noble of goals. I am however not
    impressed with your occasional literary integrity slippage of cursing instead of using the vast and creative vocabulary you have acquired from all your trainingother than that critique this is a really neat visual and thought provokinpg blog. Thanks for sharing your trip.

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