Posts Tagged ‘Bangkok’

39. Lost in Translation

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

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For some time, I’d intended to write a post about signs, menus and other printed materials that featured funny, ridiculous or nonsensical translations to English.

But upon finding a NY Times slideshow (accompanied by an article by Andrew Jacobs and a readers’ gallery of submitted photos), I’ve resigned to the fact that I simply couldn’t do a better job than hundreds of people at once. Check them out.

There are some real gems among the submitted photos, such as:

#9: “Decent Public School” in Varanasi, India (taken by Justin Hefter).
#20: “Careful Drowning” in Putuo Shan, China (taken by Jonas Crimm).
#43: “Genuine Fake Watches” in Instanbul, Turkey (taken by Jules Villamor).
#44: “Each hour takes about 1 hour” in Seoul, Korea (taken by bmarconi).
#59: “Stay away from the deer with ANTLERS!!” in Miyajima, Japan (taken by cesse123).
#82: “No Wasting GARBAGE!” in Indonesia (taken by Anthony Zak).
#88: “Sorry we’re open” in Instanbul, Turkey (taken by Skidel).
#151: “Wikipedia fried with eggs” on a menu in Beijing, China (taken by cohenhead21).

Some highlights that come to mind, from my travels, include:

  • “Beatiful ladies” outside a strip club in Tijuana, Mexico [Beatify: to declare (a deceased person) to be among the blessed and thus entitled to specific religious honor].
  • “Sea products” and “Shepherd’s bag” on a menu in Bratislava, Slovakia.
  • “Meet balls” on a menu in Bangkok, Thailand (see above photo).

If you have any you’d like to add to this list, feel free to post them (with a link to the photo) as comments.

Taken in Spain by Rhett Larsen

Taken in Spain by Rhett Larsen

37. Passport/Visa Stress

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I had a Run Lola Run day a couple weeks ago. It was horrifying.

Cold sweat runs down your back. Your heart rate increases. It feels like the second hand is advancing in a smooth and rapid motion, rather than its usual ticking. There aren’t enough minutes in an hour; not enough hours in the day.

cinemapage-run-lola

Just like Manni, in Run Lola Run, I called my girlfriend in a fit of panic. Short of breath, my world was caving in. I had to fly out of the country in a week and even though I’d sent my passport renewal application away a month ago, it still wasn’t processed (I found out later it takes 20 business days to process, not 20 days). The passport office didn’t even know where my application was. And since I’d sent it by snail mail — rather than by registered mail — it couldn’t be tracked. Like Manni, I was freaking out ‘cuz I fucked up.

I hopped on my bike and pedalled violently, until I couldn’t feel my legs. The passport office requested I provide proof of travel (i.e. a printed flight itinerary) within the next couple hours, so they could put a rush on my application (if they could even find it among the stacks of passports awaiting renewal) and issue me a new one in time for my flight. If it was lost, I’d have to re-apply from scratch (with new photos, a guarantor and all that other bullshit), also on a rush.

I got to my office, printed the itinerary, told my boss I was taking the rest of the day off, hurried home, dropped off my bike, and drove my g.f.’s car back to the passport office and delivered the proof of travel. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat. “What’s next?” I asked the passport officer. “We’ll see if it pops up on the system tomorrow morning. If not, it’s Plan B: re-apply for a new one.”

Luckily, they found it and I didn’t have to go through the added stress of re-applying. It was over. But I didn’t exhale until my new passport was in my hands, three days later. Hats off to Passport Canada: Their staff was patient and helpful, and putting a rush on it only cost me $30.

Czech Visa in Bratislava: It wasn’t the first time I’d had a day like that. Back in ‘02, my buddy and I arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia on July 31. We understood that we needed to get a tourist visa to enter the Czech Republic*, but we didn’t know it would take five to 10 days to get it. Since, we were scheduled to fly from Prague to Amsterdam on Aug. 5, we frantically ran around Bratislava trying to get passport photos and reschedule our flight. When the dust finally cleared, we changed our flight to Aug. 11. So, instead of heading to Brussels and Paris from Amsterdam, we spent the rest of our trip in Slovakia and Prague. Turned out to be more fun (and more affordable) than we’d expected.

*Apparently, as a couple of Québécois guys informed us, the CR imposed a visa requirement for Canadians in 2001, as a reaction to a 1997 Canadian policy that required Czechs to obtain visas to enter Canada. They told us a Czech film (it was actually a TV report on Czech Roma in Ostrava) had showed a family of Czech immigrants flourishing in Canada, which caused an influx of Czechs immigrants and led to Canada’s imposing a visa requirement for Czechs. The Québécois guys were right.

Vietnamese Visa in Bangkok: In ‘07, I had another stressful, fun-filled visa day in Bangkok. It was my second-last day in the city and I knew I wanted to go to Vietnam (via Laos). What I didn’t know was that I had to get the visa while in Thailand. It takes at least a day to be processed. Fuck. So I sprinted from my Khao San-area hostel to take pictures of the Reclining Buddha and knock it off my checklist, then I jumped in a metered cab to rush to the Viet Embassy. The traffic was unbelievable; my stress level was climbing. I asked the cabbie how far. He said 20 minutes. I offered him a 50 baht tip if he could arrive in under 20 minutes. He hit the gas and suddenly we were flying, taking all kinds of short cuts on backroads. We got there in 17 minutes.

Once there, I had to fill out the the visa form (among other backpackers who were also tearing their hair out), run to an adjacent business to get my photo taken, submit the form and think on my toes. The visa officer showed me a price list. In order of increasing cost, I had to choose between: single-entry visa ready in three days (no), single entry visa ready tomorrow (?), multiple entry visa ready in three days (no), multiple entry visa ready tomorrow (?). Option 2 cost 2,500 baht (or $77 USD), which was half as much as Option 4. The officer grew impatient. She started tapping her pen on the desk. I picked Option 2 and decided I’d just see as much of Vietnam as possible in one fell swoop.

I picked up my visa the next day, in time for me to catch the night train from Bangkok to the Lao border. Another bullet dodged. When I boarded the train, my back was still drenched with sweat. But maybe it was just the humidity. Yeah right.

6. Getting Pickpocketed

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

If you’ve never been pickpocketed before, you just wait. Perhaps you’ve heard stories, but it’s like they say on MTV: You think you know, but you have no idea. This is the story of getting pickpocketed.

Moneybelts suck, but more on that later. Your wallet is in the back pocket of your jeans. Your cellphone is secure in that trusty backpack strap pocket. You are now a target. It’s that simple. Pickpockets are watching you. You’ve been marked before you realize it; you likely won’t realize it until it’s too late.

They wait in train stations and crowded tourist areas, near signs reading “Beware of pickpockets.” As an innate response, people immediately touch their wallet locale upon reading such signs or hearing such announcements over the intercom. Pickpockets watch for this and therefore know where you’re hiding the goods.

But you’re a seasoned vet. You’ve traveled everywhere and heard all the horror stories. In Europe, you watch out for gypsies. In poor countries, you watch out for everybody. Consider the following scenario: A common pickpocket’s ploy is to approach somebody left watching a number of bags. As a backpacker, you’re often stuck with more than one bag to protect: either you’ve got two (Note: Double packers - huge one in the back, small one out front like a pregnant lady - are retarded.), or you’re watching somebody else’s while they take a shit, wait for train tickets, book a hostel room, etc.

Since pickpockets rarely work alone, a decoy will come up and ask you a benign question (e.g. Excuse me, what time is it? Do you know where the nearest ATM is? Where did you get that t-shirt?). In the millisecond it takes you to look at your watch/the ATM/your shirt, an associate has already snuck in from behind and snatched a bag. The decoy attempts to make small talk and holds your attention until the job is done, then graciously thanks you and continues on his way. You’ve been had.

No matter how prepared you think you are, you will not be ready: These people are professionals.

Nevertheless, I’ve attempted to break down the elements of a pickpocket heist, from personal experience (beenou), as a sort of cautionary tale:

  1. Crowds - The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Khao San Road in Bangkok and Las Ramblas in Barcelona are typical pickpocket havens. Naturally, if people are bumping into each other, it makes the job easier. And unless you grew up in downtown NYC or Tokyo, you’re pretty uncomfortable in a sea of bodies ebbing and flowing through the street. Pickpockets are like hyenas - they quickly single out the weaker prey. For example, if you’re wearing baggy pants, you could be in trouble (I was).
  2. Diversion - The main purpose of the diversion is to get into your field of view. Often, they catch you off guard with old women selling bouquets, children selling maps, or blind beggars stumbling into you. It may be as insignificant as a light shove in a packed subway car when the train sways unexpectedly. In my case, it was a gypsy/beggar dropping a handful of change in a mosh-pit-like crowd.
  3. Teamwork - As mentioned before, pickpockets rarely work alone. As the change - we’re talking pennies here - hit the ground, I was both baffled and surprised. I thought, “Why pennies?” Then, “This dude is dirty and scary looking, with piercing yellow-green gypsy eyes like the Afghan broad on the cover of National Geographic. I should get out of his way.” As I tried to step aside, he grabbed the base of my pant leg, insisting my foot was on some of his change. He started yelling in a foreign tongue. I shook my head and struggled to free my foot, but he twisted the material tighter and yelled louder. He refused to let go, so I reacted violently, punching him in the shoulder a few times.
  4. Forcing You to Make a Choice - I braced myself for a counter attack, expecting him to hit back. Instead, he let go of my leg and sprinted off. Again, I was confused. Then it hit me. I reached back to feel my vacant back pocket. They got me. I wasn’t forced to make a choice, but in cases where only one of your many bags is stolen, you may be. Chase after the thief, and you risk leaving your bags unguarded. Stay with your bags, and the stolen one is gone.
  5. The Aftermath - I went to the police station to file a report on my stolen wallet. A few days later, it turned up. Most pickpockets just take the cash out and ditch the ID, bank cards and credit cards with the wallet. Just another example of criminal ethics, like how rapists and child molesters get their asses kicked in prison. At the police station, there were so many similar pickpocketing cases, it felt like a support group. People were crying, consoling each other, and comparing elaborate pickpocketing scenarios. Cops shrugged and told us there was nothing they could do. I spoke with people who not only lost wallets, but bags containing cameras, laptops, passports - everything. Those people were going home. Their trip was over. So remember: Even when you think you’re in dire straits, there’s always somebody worse off than you.