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Saturday, August 16, 2014

[OFF] One Night in Bangkok

It was the last day of my travel when I was alone in Bangkok, my friends having left the city the night before my flight was scheduled to take me back to my city, Mumbai.

My friends just left for Kolkata, I was sitting in my hotel room next to a Bangladeshi restaurant. I was searching for a cheap hotel to stay in as I was almost broke by now. The first hotel I was referred to by a member of the Bangladeshi hotel offered me a dorm room for 400 baht with a common bath. I decided to look elsewhere.

The next hotel I went to, a Thai woman referred me to "Mike's" hotel nearby as I told them I was searching for a cheap hotel to stay in. Being unaware, I went to "Mike's" hotel that looked pretty expensive and I was expecting a rub-down as I asked the reception if they have any cheap rooms in store. The manager, probably an American, told me that this is an expensive hotel and I should try another hotel nearby (The same hotel the Bangladeshis had referred to me). No rub-down from him. I could see the smirks on the Thai hotel attendants nearby.

As I came back to the hotel I was told that the dorm room was booked already. All this in a span of around 20-30 minutes. He seemed disinterested to entertain me at all. I decided to book the 'expensive' room (600 baht) with double bed room and an attached bath. I was pretty exhausted and decided to look no further and book this room instead. Being expected to the kind of hospitality we had in the past few days, I was, to say the least, surprised. However the attitude of the Thai-people did cause a bit of a deja-vu.

On our first night in Bangkok we visited "Soi-Cowboy", the almost too well known and infamous street in Bangkok. On our way back, we decided to try some local cuisine from what we call a Box-Shop (Baksho Dokan in bangla). They had some sort of noodle soup with chicken legs and pieces. We decided to try one bowl first. The three of us decided to share this Thai road-side delicacy. I found it pretty good! The three of us decided having various opinions about the food we were having. All of a sudden, a middle aged local approached us and suggested in some broken English that he could buy us a meal and flashed some cash at us. I was surprised but then realised his tone of sarcasm and contempt. I could see the others smirking close by. This guy told us, he could buy us some more food and was taunting us. I was a bit out of place when I suggested, "Yeah, sure, why not!"

Then I realised, this was not funny, and he was taunting us (for what, it eludes me totally, maybe because he felt we are too poor to afford ourselves a meal, I kind of agree with the poor part though). Some other locals stepped in with big grins on their faces and moved him away. We went on with our meal and we ordered one more. The stares however haunted us, as perhaps the sight of seeing three Indians sharing a meal reminded them of how impoverished and malnourished our country is. I kind of enjoyed the stares, made me feel famous for some time. *wink*

The next experience that I will remember was in Koh Lanta, an island in south Krabi. We had rented a scooter and a bicycle from this restaurant "Sugar and Spice" which was run by a local woman. We returned the scooter and were waiting for one of my friends who was riding the bicycle. As he returned, we wanted to take a tuk-tuk (a localised auto-rickshaw) back to our hotel. The woman offered to drop us back for a subsidised rate in her scooters. She had been hesitant earlier when we had asked if we could ride three of us on a bike but now she said, she could do it. We started talking. She said about how bad the season is in Krabi and it becomes hard for them to make a living. The economy there was based on tourism and in the seasons when the rush is low, they are forced to do odd jobs, just like this one. As we almost agreed on her proposal, a tuk-tuk appeared and she suggested we take that instead as that would be good for us. It cost us just the same. We said our goodbyes and went back.

There is so much more I wish I could talk about the next experience we had in Pattaya. Hear me out. We were returning to our hotel room from the very glamorous and glitzy, Walking Street. Our hotel room was next to Patong Beach and I had taken note of the street name where our hotel was located. The three of us, we booked a taxi-van for 100 baht to leave us at  our hotel at Soi 4, Patong Beach. From what the hotel guys told us, this is already a rip-off.

A taxi-van is van with two long seats at the back with the back open from entry and exit of passengers. The driver and her assistant, who were both women, sat in front. They stopped near the Sleeping Market of Patong Beach indicating we had reached the place. I then realised there were probably 2 instances of that name "Soi 4" and then an argument ensued. A policeman intervened and we agreed on paying extra (150 baht in total now) for reaching our hotel room, now that she was clarified about the location.

She stopped about a kilo-meter from the hotel room claiming she cannot go further as there was a roadblock. Normally, taxi-vans take an U-Turn from a bend about half a kilo-metre on that road which we suggested to her. Now she started arguing that she will not be going any further. We decided to persist and stay in the van. She got agitated and came out. She started saying things in Thai with broken English in parts. What I could make out from that was, "This is Thailand". We did not budge. Then she went back in front and came back with what looked like a clever machete inside a cover, standing right out side the exit of the taxi-van. Aggressively gesturing at us to get down and pay up. She was almost screaming at the same time. "This is Thailand", she repeated. Then she went on speaking up some more Thai and then "Pay" is what we understood. One of my friends tried calling up the police right at that instant. She got inside and waved the machete right at him. We were pretty scared now. I told her, we will pay but once we get down from the vehicle. She understood. I could see the other woman hiding in just behind us, enjoying the action probably. She got down blurting out in Thai, things we did not understand. We got down, paid the money and quietly everyone noted the taxi number in their heads.

As the Taxi-sped off, we decided to call the authorities. To our surprise, my friend was told to speak in Thai else they cannot register a complaint. I tried now. The operator told me we would have to call back between 8 am and 10 pm. I wonder why they called the police, an emergency service.

The next day, the day we were to leave Pattaya was another experience altogether. We were going for Para-Sailing and had to keep our bags somewhere on the beach. We kept them at an umbrella spot which had some reclining beach seats. As we were about to leave, we bargained a bit for the beers and beach seat charges. The vendor, a woman, was friendly and we had a chat brewing up. I told her, Thailand is a beautiful place with beautiful women. She replied that "they" find foreigners more beautiful and handsome because of the shape of their noses! She heard a lot about India and gestured about something they put in their eyes. Kajal, I told her. She nodded, even though she knew nothing about it. I told her about "Mehendi" as she was saying something about tattoos and hands. She said she would like to have them. I said, the next time, I would bring them for her.

I am not sure if there would be a "next-time" but for sure if there is I would like to come back to meet the people I had met.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

[OFF] The Campus experience from the other side

"The grass is always greener on the other side"

A lot of thoughts cropped up on my mind, the day I was knowing for sure I was to visit NIT, Durgapur, the college from where I completed my post-graduation studies and got recruited to Directi, for recruiting students as part of Directi's panel. The roles had reversed.

Initially I was very enthusiastic but later on it faded away as thoughts of meeting a certain placement officer made me pretty uncomfortable. He was however, not present and that made this visit quite enjoyable! 

Going back to Kolkata after almost 4 months was an amazing experience. After landing at the airport, the first thing we did was head off to Park Circus and of course, Arsalan! This was one place that was on my Zomato wishlist for a long time. Biryani in stomach, now was the time for some "Mishti Doi". We headed off to NIT Durgapur stopping at Shaktigarh for some snacks. One of my Mumbai colleagues fell in love again when he had a sample of "Jhal Muri". How he blushed! We headed off again and it was pretty fun in the car, as always with fun folks like me. (That was sarcasm in case you missed it)

We reached our hotel, the Peerless Inn just next to City Residency and we were given personal rooms for each. I had another Bong for company and we calmly headed off for some local produce. The old box-store ("Baksho Dokan") from where we always bought our greens proved to be handy. Yes, I had missed the shop initially but we were pointed out to the right direction.

It was good. This was the same stuff we had in our 2 years of stay in this fine college. With it came back so many memories. Some so distant that cannot be reached by any means. Came back the years of friendship, struggle, shame, laughter, adventure and verbs that need to be reinvented, to correctly and completely define what had transpired.

We came back to the hotel and gorged on the parcel Biryani and ordered some more food. Hunger had played its part. The next day was campus placement and so we called it a night.

As I entered the main gate of the college I found nobody there. I went to the wing where the placement cell was located earlier. It looked empty, but as I entered the cabin of Mr. Laik I was greeted with a familiar face and a happy voice. He was surprised to see me and happy at the same time. It was good to see him as well. 

I called my colleagues in and we were in the cabin. The placement officer now had come. He had been replaced with someone else this time. I sighed in relief! We made our way up to the auditorium where the HR started his presentation. I was invited to give a talk. Being short of words, I tried appearing professional and saying how good the company is. After the presentations were over we started the MCQ Test. Chaos ensued, question papers were short. After a brief delay we selected 39 for the coding round. We were given lunch from Bapida's canteen and the familiar tastelessness was revisited again. After this we started the interview round.

It felt different and strange on the other side of the table. However, I realize nothing has changed. I wanted to do well in the interviews! I still have my share of good and bad. The students too have that. The guy we ended up hiring was in fact an M.Tech. student.

We had a good nights sleep. The next morning we were off to Kolkata Airport. We had overslept a bit as one of my colleagues wanted to visit Dakkhineshwar temple and it was not possible that day. Instead, we had Lyangcha at Shaktigarh and headed to the airport. While returning, Rohit raided a sweet shop. Then we were off.

While coming back, I had a strong urge, not to. It is a beautiful city, my hometown. Of all its dirt, filth, potholes, it still remains the most beautiful city on Earth. It is my hometown. Amar Sohor.