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Saturday, March 11, 2006

As it turned out, I was right when I thought I might be getting sick on Friday night.  I felt really lousy when I woke up on Saturday morning – and the tequila shots probably hadn’t helped.  My head was throbbing, my nose was running, my throat was scratchy, and I thought that I might have a bit of a fever.  I stayed in bed as long as possible, and missed breakfast.  I really didn’t feel like eating. 

We were supposed to be going to Ayuttya, the former capital of Thailand to look at some temples and ruins.  Then we were going to take a boat ride back to Bangkok.  I thought I would be able to tough it out, so I didn’t tell Phil and Erica that I wasn’t feeling well.

The bus ride to Ayuttya took over an hour.  I have always gotten airsick, but I had rarely gotten carsick before this trip.  I have felt sick every time we’ve taken a long trip in the bus on this trip.  It seems so bouncy.  The roads don’t physically look like there is anything wrong, so I wonder if they do suspensions differently in Asia.  Anyway, I was feeling really bad by the time we got to Ayuttya.

We piled off the bus and went inside a little museum.  Our tour guide, Terry, led the group around, explaining exhibits on the history of the former capital.  I was tired and having trouble paying attention.  I wandered away from the group and sat down on a bench.  Phil came over to see what was wrong, and I told him that I was getting a cold.  He told me that if I wanted to take a cab back to the hotel, I could, but I needed to decide soon.  Further on in the trip, it would be harder to find a cab.  I told him that I thought I could make it.  He gave me some Airborne.  It’s a super-concentrate of vitamin C and some other vitamins that is supposed to boost your immune system if you take it when you first feel a cold coming on.  It’s a tablet that dissolves in water, kind of like Alka-Seltzer.  It is orange-flavored, and it made me even more nauseous than I was before.

We got back on the bus for a 20 minute ride down the road to look at some ruins.  Terry told us that we had 2 hours to look around on our own.  I guess he must have been telling the group about the ruins back at the museum.  Since I hadn’t stayed with the group, I wasn’t too sure what I was looking at.

We walked along the edge of a wide lawn.  Near the sidewalks around the edges were vendors selling souvenirs.  After we had gotten past the vendors, we came to a large, crumbling wall with a gate in it.  This was the entrance to the ruins.  Inside were buildings in various states of decay.  The ones near the gate were in the best shape.  They were round, beehive-like buildings with tall spires on top.  They were made of gray stone.  Each had a single door, which was about one story above the ground.  Steep stairs led up to the door.  We were allowed to climb up the stairs, but the doors were sealed shut.

As I walked further into the ruins, I came upon similar buildings that were in worse and worse shape.  Finally I came to a point where the buildings were little more than piles of rubble.  It was extremely hot, and there was no shade.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to walk around in the sun with a fever before.  It’s not pleasant.  I had a bottle of water, but my stomach was upset, so I wasn’t really drinking it.  Everyone was wandering around on their own, and I kind of got away from the group.  I walked and walked, occasionally snapping a picture.  Finally, I had had enough and left the ruins area.

I walked back through the gate to the lawn with the vendors.  I looked at some of the stuff they were selling, but wasn’t really in the mood to haggle.  At one end of the lawn was the Buddha temple.  There seemed to be a lot of people going in and out of it.  I decided to go there, hoping that it would be air-conditioned.

Wide marble steps led up to the temple.  You had to take off your shoes before ascending the stairs.  I placed my shoes on a rack at the bottom of the steps with the countless other pairs that had been left there.  I wondered for a moment about the chances of my shoes being there when I got back, but no one else seemed to be concerned about this.

I slowly climbed the stairs.  The marble was very warm under my bare feet.  I stepped through the huge, dark door and into the temple, and was totally floored by what I saw there.  In front of me was the biggest Buddha statue I’ve ever seen.  It wasn’t the fat-bellied Buddha from China.  It was the Thai-style Buddha – thin, sitting in the lotus position, wearing a pointed helmet.  It was seated on a pedestal.  The pedestal was taller than the top of my head – which is about 5 feet, 10 inches above the ground when I’m barefoot.  The very top of the Buddha’s helmet was at least 5 stories above the ground.  The shear size of the thing was breath-taking.  I simply hadn’t expected to find anything so huge.

Many people were kneeling and bowing on the floor in front of the Buddha.  When Buddhists pray, they kneel on the floor with their butts resting on their heels.  They stretch their arms straight above their heads, and then bend forward so that their foreheads touch the floor and their arms are stretched out in front.  This is what the people were doing in front of the Buddha statue.  Some of them were holding cardboard canisters full of incense sticks.  They would shake the canisters and bang them against the ground until a stick fell out.  Then they would light the stick.

I stood and watched this scene for a few minutes, then tried to explore the area around the statue.  There wasn’t much else to see.  In one corner was a woman seated at a table, selling some sort of literature written in Thai.  In another corner was a kind of tree with money paper-clipped all over it.  Donations, I guess.  That was it.  There weren’t any people on the sides of the statue or behind it.  Apparently you only worship Buddha from the front.

The temple was not air-conditioned, and it was stifling hot.  The heavy scent of incense was not helping, either.  I left the temple and retrieved my shoes.  I stood on the lawn, trying to figure out what to do next.  I had almost an hour before we left.  On the opposite side of the temple from which I had come I saw a little covered gazebo with benches in it.  I decided to sit there, out of the sun.  As I approached it, I saw a little path leading down to an area full of little tents.  I decided to investigate.

The tent area was another little market, but it seemed to be exclusively food.  Each tent was selling something different.  Some of it looked good; some was unidentifiable.  I walked through for awhile, but some of the smells started to turn my stomach.  I left the way I had come, and sat down in the gazebo.

There were a few other people there, staying out of the sun.  I drank some of my water, ate a granola bar that I’d brought with me, and ate some Tums.  My stomach was still upset, my nose was running non-stop, and my fever was raging.  I felt completely crappy.

Finally, it was time to meet up and move on to our next destination:  the boat ride.  I found Phil and told him that I didn’t think that I was going to make it.  I just felt too lousy.  He told me that it was no problem, and he’d ask Terry to find a cab for me.  It would be expensive to take a cab all the way back to Bangkok, but I didn’t care at that point.

Terry thought that it would be easier to find a cab when we got to the boat dock, so I rode the bus there with the others.  When we arrived, the others left for the boat, and Phil stayed behind with me while Terry looked for a cab.  I asked if there were a bathroom I could use before I left.  Terry asked the bus driver (who didn’t speak English) to take me to a restroom.  Phil walked with me.  I was taken to what looked like a kind of outdoor restaurant, and led to the back.  There were several free-standing toilet stalls – or were they outhouses?  What had I gotten myself into?  A Thai woman came over to me and smiled and said something like, “Women’s bathroom,” and gestured towards one of the outhouses.  I reluctantly went inside.  The entire structure, including the floor, was made of wood, and held a single squatty potty.  Most squatty potties have an overhead tank with a chain to pull for the flush, like an old-fashioned toilet.  This one didn’t have a tank.  Instead, next to it was a kind of cistern with a spigot over it.  The cistern was already full of water, and there was a plastic bowl floating in it.  Apparently to flush, you used to bowl to pour some water into the toilet.

Although the facilities were somewhat rudimentary, they were immaculately clean, so I didn’t mind using them.  When I left the stall, the woman came running over and led me to a sink and gave me some hand soap.  Then she held a towel for me and dried my hands.  Five-star treatment.  You’ve gotta love the Thais.  I gave her 10 baht for a tip.

Phil put me in a cab, and Terry made sure that the driver understood which hotel I needed.  I slept the entire drive back to Bangkok.  I felt considerably better when we arrived.  I went to the mall across the street from the hotel and got some noodles from the food court.  After eating, I went to bed and slept for a few more hours, until the others returned.

That evening, most of us had to go to the tailor shop for a fitting.  My jacket and pants were coming along nicely.  I had a few things I wanted changed, but I was really happy with the progress.  Everyone else seemed happy with theirs as well.  Except Kris.  She wasn’t happy with anything.  In fact, she claimed that some of her clothes were completely different from what she had ordered.  The tailor showed her the order slip which explained exactly what she had told him, but she still insisted that it wasn’t correct.  Although the tailor was doing everything he could to try to fix the situation, she threw a little temper-tantrum.  It was actually kind of embarrassing.  I really couldn’t believe that she thought that that was an acceptable way to act.

Finally, they thought that they had it all worked out.  Kris was going to have to come back again the next day for another fitting.  She ended up ordering an additional pair of pants and a few blouses.  I couldn’t figure out why she wanted to order more when she was so unhappy with what she had seen so far.

The rest of the evening was uneventful.  I spent it in the lobby using the internet, and in my room reading.  I went to bed early and slept for almost 12 hours.

Go to March 12