It takes approximately 22 hours to fly from New York to Thailand. Added to the flight time is an eight hour layover in Dubai. This meant that the two days I would be spending in Thailand would give photographer Brian Depinto and I less time on the ground than it did in the air.
Our Mission: Meet up with Hugh Evans, the cofounder of the Global Poverty Project, and document behind the scenes as he speaks to the Rotary International about the GPP’s efforts to help eradicate polio off the face of the planet.
First, I need to tell you about Hugh. The young philanthropist is just one year older than me and has helped to raise over 4 billion (with a B) dollars to help end poverty in his lifetime, which makes me rethink the amount of time I have spent playing Xbox in my life. Hugh happens to be one of the coolest and nicest people I have ever met. He makes you feel like you are one of his really close friends from the moment you meet him. We followed him as he paced back and forth going over his speech again and again in his green room moments before he presented it to 35,000 Rotary Club members. After the speech and about a hundred congratulatory handshakes and hugs from all the people waiting to meet Hugh, Brian and I left the convention center and were off to spend our few remaining hours in Thailand site seeing.
Due to a language barrier, and the fact that our taxi driver just didn’t really seem to care, Brian and I were driven straight out of Bangkok and into the middle of nowhere to the wrong hotel, a mistake that would have made me extremely upset if it weren’t for the fact that our hotel doubled as a boxing/Muay Thai arena. We pulled up and saw six young, shirtless kids with chiseled abs fighting one another as barking dogs circled around them. The hotel offered free breakfast with the purchase of a training session, but even at a beginners level, the promise of bacon and eggs wasn’t enough of a payoff for the pain I would surely endure at the hands of these trained fighting machines.
Now that we had gotten lost and we were miles away from civilization, time was of the essence if we planned on seeing anything at all. After an hour of waiting, we were able to flag down the only cab in town. The car was bright yellow and orange and had pink flames charging up either side. The windshield read “Long Live The King” in Old English and a golden Batman symbol hung from the rearview mirror. The driver had a toothpick in his mouth and he wore sunglasses as dark as the rotting cavities in his teeth. This was definitely the cab we needed. With darkness beginning to take over the sky and with no real destination in mind, we asked to be driven to The Iron Fairy, a bar we had seen on the way to the middle of nowhere. Without any hesitation and just a quick glimpse at the blue dot hovering above the map on my phone, we were off in a cloud of dust.
The rest of the night is mostly a blur, but we did meet up with two lovely girls that had moved to Thailand to live in model housing. The girls had been living in Bangkok for about a month and knew the area fairly well. The girls informed us that if we only had a little bit of time to see things, we should see them from the inside of a Tuk-Tuk. Sounded like a good time to us. After our tenth round of Absinth we were seeing stars and ready to sleep, so we made plans to meet up with the girls the next morning and then said goodnight.
We woke up hungover and hating life, packed our suitcases, charged our batteries, showered in the dimly lit bathroom, ate sausage and eggs for breakfast (note: sausage in Thailand = hot dogs) and left the hotel in a rush. Our taxi driver from before found us in the same spot as yesterday, toothpick still hanging out of his mouth, car still smelling like cigarettes and orange peels. With vague details of where to go, he picked up the girls and drove us all to a spot where all the Tuk-Tuk drivers go to take their breaks.
A Tuk-Tuk is a three wheeled motorcycle with a tin roof. The front seats the driver and there is a bench in the back for passengers to sit in as they’re zipped through the mean streets of Thailand. No seat belts. No helmets. No handle bars. We bargained with two Tuk-Tuk drivers to separate the four of us into two of these rickity machines. We told the two drivers that whoever could make it to the river on the other side of Bangkok first, would be handsomely rewarded. There was at least three times I can see in my head that I was scared of losing a limb as we were flung through traffic, narrowly missing… well… everything!
My Tuk-Tuk driver lost, but only because he took the time to show us that we could take a ride on a long tailed boat for next to nothing. He kept saying “Thailand, Venice of the East… Venice of the East, Thailand!” So once we met up with Brian and his companion, we all piled into a boat. The water is toxic and the homes built along the river are falling a part, but it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
Unfortunately the boat ride took much longer than expected and before we were even out of the boat, we were already running late to arrive to the airport in time to not miss our flight (which is something I do quiet regularly). So we said goodbye to the girls for the last time and booked it to the airport. Trouble with Emirates (See also: the most aggravating airline in the world) slowed us down, and after a lot of shouting and fist shaking, we had 10 minutes to arrive to our airplane, which was boarding at the other end of the airport, past customs and security. With the universe on our side and a personal escort courtesy of the unsympathetic robots working the bookings counter at Emirates, we were able to make it to the plane right as they were getting ready to shut the doors. We sat collapsed in our seats and tried not to think about the next day and a half that we would spend returning to New York to begin our work week.
Can’t wait to go back.
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