Don’t lose your train token in Bangkok, and that includes AFTER the ride!
Betting with David can have its humiliating consequences. I asked him as we were de-boarding the Sky Train, why we had to return our tokens in order to exit the platform. He said that if you didn’t return it you had to buy the trip again thereby paying double for the ride. That sounded crazy (right? everyone with me here? that’s nuts). So I pondered aloud, what if someone dropped it in the gap while getting off the train? They couldn’t have boarded the train without it; they had obviously paid the fare. Won’t they certainly be allowed to leave and reminded to be more careful next time?
“Nope.” Came David’s assured reply. I turned the token over a few times in my hand. It was about the size of a quarter, maybe twice the thickness and half the weight. It was black plastic with no writing or other noteworthy indicators on it. Not much of a souvenir item, worthless by all indication. Why the harsh rules?
“Wanna bet?” I challenged. It was too tempting—we were talking cheese here folks. I hadn’t had cheese for 6 weeks, I was in full on withdrawal. How can a whole country not have cheese? I wasn’t sure how he’d get some if I did win, but that was his problem.
As we exited the platform David returned his token and the gate opened for him to pass. I held back and pretended to have lost mine. I went all out. I made a big show of it. Dug through my purse twice, anguished look on my face, I gave myself the thorough pat down. The helpful attendant pointed to my pockets and made clicking noises with her tongue. I shrugged, shook my head. Our lack of a shared language compensated by gestures and sound effects.
She raised her eyebrows in an expression of frozen shock upon realizing that I was not going to produce a token. Within a few minutes panic overcame her. Wringing her hands she looked frantically toward the sky (nope, no token fairy). She mumbled something to herself curious enough for me to wonder if she was now speaking in tongues, would begin to foam at the mouth, or possibly I had induced the onset of seizure.
What ever shall we do? A very valuable and coveted piece of plastic has gone missing! Call the guards, sound the horns, flash the lights. I was on display with everyone looking. Make an example, all take notice: here stands a scoundrel a disgrace. She mislaid a national emblem, a precious gem, a train token! Okay, I am exaggerating, but not by much. I’m telling you, train tokens are outrageously important to these people.
Quickly I was ushered to the side. Others were called to assist who directed me to look again, and again. I played along checking each part of my being, shaking my head, more shrugging. David, the responsible foreigner, enjoyed the circus from the good side of the barrier. Hands in his pockets, casual smug look on his face, a confident tap of his foot. He waited out my escapade certain of his eventual victory (he bet for beer).
Enough was enough, I eventually stopped and just returned the gaze. They would have to make a decision and I wanted to know what it would be. I was certain of cheese, this was all just too silly. They’d certainly let me go.
It was only 2 words, but they sealed my immediate destiny. ”You pay!” “You pay!” These sweet calm “land-of-smiles” people went gestapo in an instant. "You must pay!” they shouted, neck veins popping.
My turn to be shocked. It took a minute to remember that breathing is actually a required action. I gasped and croaked out a series of indecipherable sounds. In my head I clearly communicated “You have got to be kidding!” What came out sounded more like a deaf toothless old woman attempting a tongue twister, “Puter Puper pucked ah puck of puckles.” I think there was spittle.
Regaining my composure quickly (while ignoring David’s roar of delight), I put on an Oscar-award winning performance of frantically searching once more and miraculously “finding” the token. My inside zipper pocket! Ta da! Great relief and joy!
An applause was clearly in order but my only proper audience was too busy reveling in his glory of winning beer to notice my obvious talent. The dumbstruck crowd of Sky Train police and abiding Thai citizens watching, I gathered my pride and swiftly strode to the turn stile, dropped in my recovered token and departed. Crisis over everyone, nothing to see here.
A word of warning to future travelers arriving in this land of strange priorities: these people care deeply about their tokens and seriously undervalue the worth of a soft Gouda.