Monday, June 12, 2006

Saving Lives and Riding Bulls

A couple weekends ago, after a HIV/AIDS meeting in the capital, a few volunteers and I made our way to the beautiful beach city of Hua Hin. Our plans were to enjoy the annual jazz festival on the beach, and make it back to Bangkok in time to ride a mechanical bull. My friend Dan, who liked the Peace Corps so much he stayed here for three years, was finally leaving, and we thought it’d be a good idea to throw him on the back of a bull as a farewell. Who knew he’d save someone’s life in the interim.

Hua Hin is best known as the home of the King of Thailand. His majesty is celebrating his 60th year on the throne this month, and took his doctors’ suggestions to move away from the smog of Bangkok for nicer climates. Who can blame him? Hua Hin is a fun town, far enough away from the capital and not overrun with tourists.

The beaches of Hua Hin are guarded by Royal Navy ships covered in Xmas lights, outlining them against the black night sky. Only the Thai Navy would throw aside any considerations of stealth for optimal tackiness. I could make a killing here if only I can get a bulk shipment of pink flamingos sent over.

That night, we brought mats and a cooler of jungle juice to the beach for the jazz festival. Passing around the cooler, we enjoyed a night of Cuban jam sessions as the ocean breeze provided a brief respite to the balmy hot season. Thais danced on the beach, occasionally looking awkwardly at each other when the singer would request, in Spanish, for them to clap their hands.

The next day, after lunch, we decided to walk on the beach on the way back to our guesthouse. The Hua Hin beach is peppered with colorful, old fishing ships, tilted on their sides waiting someone to rescue them from the sewage flowing from the streets into the ocean. Apparently this isn’t where people swim. A friend of ours was walking closer to ocean, and yelled our way that she found something on the edge of the tide. “It’s a human!” she yelled.

Lying face down in the sand, with the tide already meeting his face, was a Thai man, either passed out or dead. We decided we should probably wake this guy up before he drowned. When we grabbed his legs, he woke up, grunted, and passed out again. Dan asked him politely, “Do you mind if I lift your legs so you don’t die?”
“Okay, I’m going to pick them up.”
The man shifted, sat up, and passed out again sitting down. But out of harm’s way, at least. We looked back when we were about a hundred yards down the beach, and he was washing himself off in the surf, getting ready to tackle another day.

Peace Corps Thailand – Saving the World One Drunk Thai Guy At a Time

When you think of Bangkok, you probably think of prostitutes and strip clubs. Despite what anyone tells you, you are correct. The bright, modern metropolis that is Bangkok in the day is overpowered by the neon electricity of its nightlife. Under no circumstances should anyone be allowed to study abroad here.

For Dan’s farewell fiasco, there could be no better place than the epicenter of the sex trade- Pat Pong Road. There is really no good excuse to be near Pat Pong. Whoever discovered that there is a mechanical bull to ride right in the middle of this circus won’t identify himself. With good reason. Pat Pong should have its own question on blood donation screening tests. Have you ever been to prison? How about Pat Pong? Thanks for coming, but…

If you stay on the bull for more than one minute, you get a free beer. The bull technician, or “stripper”, laughs maniacally as she throws you off onto the mats that surround the mechanical beast. Few PCVs have ever reached the magical 60 second mark, but many more have woken up with bruises, thinking, “What the hell did I do last night? Oh yeah, the bull…”

Dan’s goal was to reach that mark, while wearing American flag spandex underwear.

Unfortunately, no one stayed on that horrible steed for a full minute. Despite his enthusiasm, dedication, and intense patriotism, Dan fell early. But despite that failure, we all managed to accomplish the third goal of Peace Corps, which is to give Thais a better impression, or understanding, of Americans.

God help America.

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