Flying into Tokyo was nothing like I expected, although come to think of it, I think I was imagining flying into Hong Kong. I recall reading somewhere that plans have to make a sharp turn when flying into that city, to avoid all of the skyscrapers. I must have inserted Tokyo in place of Hong Kong.
In any event, I was surprised as we flew in to see all of the farms stretching from the sea to the airport. Although, from the air, it looked like many other towns surrounding an airport — think Cleveland or Chicago — I could discern the various Japanese pagodas and expertly-tended fields. Seeing a few baseball diamonds made me smile, as well.
I was both pleased and a little disappointed to see all of the English signs at Tokyo’s airport. I mean, it was helpful to be sure. At the same time, I really wanted to feel like I was someplace else. Tokyo’s airport is definitely different — it’s very clean, bright, and, well, Japanese — but still.
The short layover eliminated much possibility of exploration. So, on to Bangkok. The flight was uneventful. A Japanese man sat two seats over and looked askance at me when I took pictures of my food. So it goes.
Upon landing in Bangkok, I made my way through customs without any trouble. It was near midnight local time — noon the day before my time, but I’d been traveling for more than 24 hours already — and so I was ready to get to the hotel. Taxi drivers barked at me from a balcony, but I followed fellow passengers to the official taxi line.
My driver, Ali, didn’t speak much English. So he turned on the radio and I just looked out the window. At first, the radio played what I can only presume to be local Thai music. But soon, he changed it to a classic rock station. I don’t think it was just for my benefit. He quickly started singing along with Jackson Browne (Oh won’t you staaayyyy, just a little bit longerrrrr????) and James Taylor.
As I looked out the window, I could see what a mishmash of new and old/rich and poor this city was. Shacks — they appeared to be Thai strip malls, really — lined the highway so close to the shoulder that I wondered if cars ever crashed into them.
Then a silver station wagon with neon ground lights zoomed past. “Ambulance,” it said. It looked more like something out of The Fast and the Furious than a medical vehicle. Meanwhile, I was taken with the sheer number of advertising signs in English hawking products of multinational companies. There’s something sad about the unending encroachment of the West. Sort of like how all of the videos on the flights were American or British. Perhaps that’s a function of it being an American airline. Still, the flight was from Tokyo to Bangkok. Why no local programming?
Nonetheless, as my driver wended his way down the highway and I noted the complete lack of seat belts inside the car (and the prolific number of dogs outside), I found myself looking forward to exploring this city. So much to see. So much to learn. So much to eat. And then, as we coursed through a narrow street lined with food carts and people — like a Bangkokian version of Bourbon street — I did a double take. Was that an elephant walking down the street?
Yes, it was. Maybe elephants here are like handsome cabs in New York City, except without the Irish brogue driver. (Well, I guess the driver could have been Irish, I admit, I didn’t stop and ask him.) A few minutes later, a second elephant.
Ok, I’m in Thailand now.