So we finally arrived in Laem Chabang, the only deep water port in Thailand. Unfortunately, it’s 2 hours to Bangkok without traffic. And there is a lot of traffic. The students started their field programs immediately after the ship cleared customs—mad dashing on Elizabeth’s part to get the updated itineraries to the groups before they left the ship. One nice thing, tho: a money exchange and post office store was set up in the main reception area so people didn’t have to worry about that when they left the ship. I’ll let David tell you about his AFP (field program)—from my point of view it was all “the bus is late” , “the group is stuck in traffic”, “can we hold dinner for another half hour until they return” all day long and late into the night.
We also had 32 people (23 of them staff) without Indian visas, which take 5 days to process. Fortunately, they didn’t all have to go to the Indian Consulate’s designated processing center. TJ (the chief purser on the ship and a multi-talented person) carried the passports and applications for them. But when she got there with such a stack, the company that does the pre-processing wanted payment first before they would start. That started a saga on the ship. Driss, who is Executive Officer of the TSS, obtained the funds—100,000 baht which he put in a Maquerie University shopping bag with some paperwork. After a few more problems solved, Driss with Margaret (the ship’s nurse who needed a visa) and I got into a taxi to go to Bangkok. We were told the Embassy closed at 3 p.m., but luckily the processing center had longer hours. We raced into Bangkok and slammed into downtown traffic.
It soon became clear that our taxi driver didn’t know exactly where this office was. Driss, however, had the phone number of the driver who had taken TJ in, so once the two drivers had a telephone connection, we were talked in. Margaret (the nurse) and I needed to make a pit stop, so we said we’d meet Driss in the lobby when he was finished upstairs. Instead, as we came out, a Thai we’d never seen before hurried us into an elevator and up we shot. Well, I figured, you can’t get too lost in a building. But he was the first driver and was getting Margaret up to the office with her passport so it could be slipped into the group. Now you have to understand that the office stopped taking passports at 3. TJ had assured them that the money was stuck in traffic and would arrive for sure before they closed. So they started processing the paperwork then. We arrived at 3 minutes to 4 and Driss paid the money at 4 on the dot. TJ asked them to add Margaret’s visa to the processing pile, and so all was accomplished. It all had to be done while we were there because they don’t keep the passports—the copies go to the Consulate for consideration and then you have to bring the passports back so they can insert the visas. And we have only 6 full days in port. Well, it appears to be done successfully as we are now on day 5 and there have been no notifications of problems. So that was daylight of the first day. After we got back to find that all of the AFPs were coming back late (although many of the participants had decided to stay in town) after the late dinner hour. Tony, the ship’s Hotel Manager, agreed that the for-pay pizzas on the Lido deck would be free for people coming back from the AFPs. So we had a little pizza party and all we had to buy was the beer.
Then revised itineraries appeared on my office computer and I was up half the night printing, copying, and delivering them. Most exciting was that one group that was supposed to leave at 8 a.m. was changed to 7 a.m. What a thing to find out as you get up. And there they all were at 7:15 waiting for the buses which hadn’t showed up because there was an accident on the road from Bangkok. That would have been a good excuse for lateness except that the bus due to go out at 8:00 was there at 7:05. It was wild. Have I mentioned that I’m losing weight? Well now you know why. Anyway, everyone got off for the day. I had agreed to see off a Shore Excursions tour so that the in-charge could go somewhere else. Then someone didn’t show up, so I went on the tour and managed to see the Royal Palace and a Wat (temple) with an emerald Buddha.
David and I on our various buses arrived back at the ship around the same time. And got a good night’s sleep too.
The third AFP day was pretty uneventful. Then David and I had a free day, so we hopped the 10 a.m. shuttle, took a taxi to the Sky Train (like the Chicago El) and went to the Weekend Market. It’s huge—15,000 stalls—and sells anything clothing (from Thai designer dresses to used U.S. T-shirts), antiques, souvenirs, silk pillow covers and scarves, food, shoes, glittery purses, anything you can put an elephant on, T-shirts, electric socket changers, dishes, silverware—I could go on and on. All in rows of shops with narrow alleys between them and continuous crowds. People said there were pickpockets, but we didn’t feel threatened. I wish I’d taken some pictures inside the market, but there was no room to get far enough away to frame anything. You’ll just have to imagine and I to remember.
The wildest thing that happened was that we were walking through all this madness, looking from one side to another so as not to miss anything, and who do we see but Pat, the Academic Dean on TSS. What a surprise!
But the one thing they didn’t sell was antennas to pick up Wi-Fi signals, so we had to get back on the Sky Train and go to a shopping center. After a wrong turn or two, we arrived at Pantip Plaza. Imagine a 4 story electronics store composed of hundreds of individual stalls on each floor. Some were as big as Best Buy and some as small as a tabletop. CDs, DVDs, cords, plugs, circuit boards, Acer computers, Samsung and Sony TVs, and that’s just the first floor. We were directed to the second, where David found his antenna easily. But the HP printer store didn’t sell anything desktop—mostly those huge printers architects use. Oh and all the time there was someone with a shrill voice shouting in Thai from below, and when she stopped, there was VERY loud jangly music. My head aches just to think of it. And after this totally full day we actually caught the 7 p.m. shuttle and were back at the Ship by 9. And fell into bed.
I’m going to stop here because the last full day in port is a story all its own and will have to wait for another day.