Learning Curve – Part One

I had my day all worked out. I wanted to get a tuk tuk to the Moh Chit train station, buy a ticket to Chiang Mai, explore the giant market below the station, take the Skytrain to Siam Square, and get a Khlong (river taxi) back to Banglamphu. The tuk tuk driver, however, had a different plan.

Instead of the government train station, I was taken to a travel agency. I figured I might as well shop around, anyway, he did at least tell me in advance where we were going, and promised it would be included in the same price he’d originally quoted me for Moh Chit. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to just walk away once you get caught in the bargaining. The lady I was talking with cried. She grabbed my arm as I tried to stand up. She stood in front of the door. And I ended up with a $28 ticket for an air-conditioned sleeper bus with food. I’m trying to tell myself that I’m still allowed some extra frills this early in the trip and that the public bus would have been an unnecessary hardship. At least I got out of the office without signing up for an elephant safari and three days at a five star hotel – the original package she’d offered had been nearly $200.

I stomped my way out, having changed my mind as soon as I’d handed over the cash but not having the courage to make a scene. “Nevermind Moh Chit,” I told the driver – I hadn’t paid him yet, so he’d waited – “let’s just go to the Chatuchak Market.” Having uttered the word “market” and therefore expressed my desire to shop, he begged to take me to silk “factory”. “They pay for my gas,” he explained, and I was touched enough by the honesty to agree. My goal for the day was just to explore Bangkok, after all. And I hadn’t agreed to buy anything.

The silk factory turned out to be a high-end clothes shop. It was four stories and staffed by polite, friendly Nepalese men who, within three minutes of my having entered the shop, decided that I was shopping for a suit and wool overcoat. The fabrics they showed me were beautiful. The patterns were gorgeous. I made the fatal mistake of bargaining for the fun of it, and the price to which they eventually lowered themselves – less than a fifth of where we’d started – was no doubt a bargain. None of this altered the fact that I wasn’t shopping for a suit or overcoat. I tried to explain. I said I needed to think, that I’d come back later. They told me that this was the right time, the right place. I said I had no money. They said they’d take credit card. I apologized for having wasted their time. I was followed to the door with yet another offer.

I found my tuk tuk driver bantering with friends in the lot. They all expressed their surprise at my lack of purchase – I explained, again, with slightly more success and considerably less politeness, my lack of money. They all apologized. They begged me not to be angry. And then begged me to go into just one more store – promised that if I just looked, the whole ride would be free. I didn’t have the energy to argue and I steeled my shoulders as I walked to the building next door. I’d made it out of the first store, after all, I could do it again. If nothing else, it would be practice at saying no – practice that, having gotten into the situation, I obviously deserved.

It was a gem store, this time, and if I’d been the sort who wore precious stones, I would have left with some. (There were these amazing black pearl earrings for $60…) The elderly Chinese sales man who attached himself to me was far less pushy than the others – but no less disappointed when I didn’t buy.

Having done my duty – and my penance – I found my tuk tuk and, no longer bothering to be friendly, demanded the Chatuchak market. We set off. Less than five minutes later he stopped in the middle of a busy street. It was a wide street, with rushing traffic that – in true Bangkok fashion – drove not only in the lanes but on the lines between them. Before I had time to wonder if we’d run out of gas, the driver hustled me off and onto another tuk tuk that I hadn’t seen him hail.

“Same price, same price,” he assured me. “He take you weekend market, still 100 baht.” The last time I’d checked, the ride was free. By this point, I was pissed, but I didn’t have time to argue; we were in the middle of a busy street and, after all, 100 baht was only $3.



Wat Arun

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