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Bangkok Blues

My Travelin' Mojo Ain't Workin"

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In an attempt to fill in some of the holes in my blog, here are a few facebook postings I made in August 2014 about my time in Bangkok. While Nepal hadn't met my expectations, I had a very peaceful time in Bhutan and felt pretty good on my short flight to Bangkok. As usual, I didn't have a hotel reservation, but I was arriving early and I would have most of the day to check out some guesthouses, settle in and then do some exploring before the day ended. I'd already done a bit of recognisance online and found there was a convenient train from the airport into the city. I was feeling on top of things and I was ready with a short list of things to take care of at the airport before heading out to find a room: get local Thai baht from an ATM, buy a Thai SIM with some data, get a map of the city... O' how the mighty can fall!

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The Evil ATM Machine- Eater of Cards

7 August 2014
Ahhh....the adventure of travel. Right now, Bangkok sucks! The ATM at the airport took my card just 15 minutes after arrival. I used all the minutes on my new SIM to call the responsible bank. Five people later, I am told they cannot return my card for security reasons. Huh? By the time I left the airport, it was getting dark and pouring rain. I ended up paying 50% more for a taxi due to these conditions (they originally wanted double the amount). The first hotel I located had one tiny room left; five flights up with no elevator. Not great, but I took it! I wonder what's next? I sure miss the tranquility of Bhutan.

13 August 2014
MAKING A CHOICE
Okay, so Bangkok is just fine..and sometime soon maybe I'll see some of it! But something is seriously wrong with my travelin' mojo -- 'cuz it ain't workin'! Leaving Tanzania seems to have been bad juju.

First it was bed bugs (see my blog from Kathmandu), followed by an ATM eating machine, a ridiculous bank policy (BTW- I did get my card back after investing a few days, much patience, extreme emotional suppression and $10 for transport, phew!)...then a delayed Myanmar visa process (stuck in Bangkok another week?!) and possibly missing out on a rare opportunity (still working on a solution for that one)... not to mention being hurt by a close friend. Sigh.

Did staying so long in Tanzania throw me off balance or make me soft? For the first time ever in 18 months, I've thought about giving up and going 'home' (which doesn't exist!) or going back to Tanzania (is that my home?). Hmmm. A favorite quote comes to mind-- Barriers are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

So tomorrow, I plan to put aside 'my problems' and visit some Buddhist temples, take a boat ride on the river and maybe even seek out Hindu god Ganesha the remover of obstacles. Oh, and maybe get one of those famous Thai massages. It WILL get better-- because THAT is what I choose.

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15 August 2014
BEING OPEN TO CHANGE
Amazing! Things really have turned around. I've been discovering the charms of Bangkok via water taxi and tuk tuk. I spent an hour on FB with my friend and our friendship is repaired. I used my reclaimed ATM card (story below) at a different bank and it was efficiently returned along with the requested money. Hurrah!

I have my visa for Myanmar and will be there by Sunday. As for my missed opportunity- there was magically a cancelation, so I'll be volunteering at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand after my loop in Myanmar and before heading to Laos. Yep, scooping elephant poop and getting sweaty, but I get to bathe and feed them too...and imagine falling asleep to the rumble of elephants.

So...eyes on the goal. What goal? To enjoy the rest of my RTW as much as possible, of course. Just say "no!" to bad juju!

Barriers are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

-- (quote by unknown author)

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(Above) Head and Feet of the Reclining Buddha

It's About Not Losing Face
Getting my card back was a traumatizing, but interesting experience. So here's the story and a few words of wisdom to others who may experience problems while traveling in Thailand (and other countries, too). It is very important that you do not have emotional outbursts whether it is raising your voice in anger or bursting into tears. That is why the people in Thailand seem so happy and are always smiling (hmm...but below the surface?)

When I was unsuccessful in obtaining information about getting my ATM card back-- other than "it is the bank's policy not to return cards"-- I knew I could not accomplish anything more until I had something to eat, a hotel room, a shower and some sleep. Action and decisions are best made when you are rested, fed and alert. The next morning, without my pack and the dark and pouring rain to encumber me, I found a charming guesthouse just a few doors away from the large, soulless hotel where I had spent my night. Armed with a map and directions from the helpful hotel clerk, I made my way to the nearest TMB bank branch. I figured it would be much easier to discuss it in person especially with the language gap (I speak no Thai). Also, it was Friday, so I was very intent on accomplishing my business that day so I could get some cash!

I was surprised to find that no one at the bank spoke English (I generally didn't expect the Thai people to speak English, but it is the 'language of business', so in a big city bank...). The most likely candidate was chosen to help me, but when it was clear she did not have enough to understand my slow, clear diction supplemented by hand language-- she made a phone call. Eventually, she handed me her mobile phone. Later, I would be very grateful for this action for two reasons: the hours I spent on the phone that day would have cost a fortune and would not have been available on my local SIM card and the various employees I talked to that day would not see my face/emotions.

For almost five hours, I campaigned to get my card back. Each person politely made the same response word for word, "I'm very sorry, but it is the bank policy to not return cards." I am so lucky I had done my research on Thai customs, it helped me with the process. I maintained the same polite response, "Thank you so much. I appreciate that you are sorry and that you cannot help me. Can you please direct me to someone who CAN help me?"

In this manner, I talked to at least a dozen people. Then, I hit a wall. The faceless person who was talking to me this time, literally just kept repeating the same phrase over and over like a robot. I tried to ask a question and would be cut off with the same robotic phrase. I could not get out a complete response or question without being interrupted. I was losing my patience and about to give up when I took a deep breath and regrouped. It was then that I realized this was not normal. This person was repeating the same phrase, but by interrupting me and not allowing me to talk-- he was being rude! I insisted that he let me finish my sentence. This is the only time that I had to raise my voice just a notch and be a touch aggressive instead of assertive. This change in tone actually caught the attention of the bank staff around me who had actually forgotten I was still there in the corner talking on their cell phone and it finally caught the attention of the person on the phone. He knew he had gone too far. Again, I firmly and politely thanked him for listening to me and for being sorry, but told him I needed to talk to someone else who could help me.

After being put on hold awhile, I was turned over to a different person. It turns out, this guy was the manager of customer service. He listened and I felt some hope that he would be the one that would help me. I asked what I thought were logical questions. I pointed out that my own bank assured me that nothing was wrong on their end with my ATM card, it was the Thai ATM that was the source of the problem. I explained that I was traveling long term and depended on my ATM card for finances and that it would be very expensive and difficult to stay the time period necessary in Bangkok to have a new one sent to me due to his bank's malfunctioning ATM. How could it be the policy of the bank not to correct their error? I also pointed out that this had happened before in less developed countries and the banks were always prompt (5 minutes to one hour) in returning my card. Surely, a sophisticated, modern bank would take responsibility for an error and would not claim the card could not be returned when countries much less developed were able to resolve the problem very efficiently. (Okay...I was laying it on a bit thick!)

He insisted that they had no way to open the ATM and retrieve my card. I asked how this could be. They had to open it to restock the paper roll for receipts, remove deposits and add money. The ATM machine could definitely be opened, I just needed to know who that person was that could assist me. There was a pause before he responded, so I knew he heard the logic. But, he was an employee of the bank and their policy was not to return cards. Sigh...

He was very nice and pleasant and for the first time, I felt someone was actually listening to me. But I had been at this hours and I was still hearing no. I asked him if he could imagine visiting a large city in another country where he didn't know anyone and didn't speak the language. Imagine being out of money and having no way to get any money due to a bank's error and it was nothing that he, himself had done other than trust the bank's services. And imagine being a woman in that position and receiving no help from the bank that had made the error. He could understand, couldn't he, why it was so important that the bank correct this error?

At this point, I was actually starting to break down a bit-- I was having trouble holding back tears and keeping my voice even. The people around me who could see my face and emotions were actually showing signs of discomfort. But I tried hard to keep my voice soft and reasonable over the phone and so glad my face wasn't visible over a phone. We spent about 1.5 hours with me asking questions and he unable to answer them. At one point, he put me on hold to consult with another manager, but of course, they told him 'no'. So when the bank started to close and the bank staff whose phone I was using was looking nervous (obviously wondering if she were going to be able to get her phone back and go home)-- I finally, effusively thanked him for taking so long with me, for listening to me and trying to answer my questions. I explained that while it was very disappointing that he couldn't help me-- I very much appreciated his time and patience. Then I had a flash...an idea! Just as he thought he was free,
I politely asked where the central administrative office was and could he give me the name of a contact there so that after the weekend -on Monday- I could get assistance with my problem.

Silence ensued. I was sure he wasn't looking up a name or address. I was pretty sure he was wondering how to keep me from going over his head. After all, he was responsible for customer service and resolving issues. I let the silence lengthen and then apologized for putting him on the spot. I told him that I could figure it out. I could probably find the information on the bank's website. I explained that it was not reflection on him, he had been very nice, but this was extremely important to me and I needed to know where to go on Monday morning to discuss my concerns in person as I was sure someone, somewhere would be able to correct their bank's error. I could picture the look of horror on his face and after being on the verge of tears, exhausted and frustrated, it made me smile because he knew I would be showing up in someone's office on Monday and wouldn't give up. I assured him that I was confident that I would eventually find the person that could correct the bank's error. He asked for my phone number and we said goodbye. I handed the phone to the poor clerk that had come over to stand by me since the bank was closed and her colleagues were all grabbing their purses to go home

An hour later, when I was back at the hotel, my phone rang. There was only one person who had my new Thai number. On Saturday, I was to go back to the airport. Someone would meet me at the ATM and they would open the machine to retrieve my card. I should arrive 30 minutes before the designated time and bring my passport for identification. He stressed that I should arrive early as if I had this one tiny window of opportunity. I have no doubt if I had been an ugly tourist and shouted over the phone-- he never would have gone through the extra effort of convincing someone that they should help this women (and avoid her coming into the central office in person!).

I resented spending the money for transport and the time (for some reason, it took them almost two hours to do the retrieval (purposely making it take a long time?), but I let it go. Instead, I rejoiced that I had fought and had won the battle using their choice of weapons! See, barriers really are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

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Posted by jaytravels 16:04 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok rtw

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