I just needed to get the shoulder strap on my backpack sewed back on.
This is a task I thought would take awhile. But just around the block from our hotel near Khao San Road (the famous hedonistic and now commercialized backpacker street in Bangkok), there’s a little elderly Thai lady with a sewing machine set up on the sidewalk. She’s got a combover that really suits her and eyes that tell me she’s been awake for awhile. She means business.
I show her the shoulder strap that’s come undone from my backpack. She barely examines the tear and tells me she can fix it.
“Fifty baht,” she says. Done – that’s less than $2 USD.
“Come back at 5pm.”
What I budgeted an afternoon for just took less than twenty minutes. What I have left is something that spells trouble… time on my hands.
I spend thirty minutes walking down Khao San Road and let life happen to me and let me happen to life and this is what happened.
“Miss, please come here. I know your future,” says an older Indian man, with a purple silk turban around his head, faced engulfed in a full, black-and-grey striped beard. A real Cruella Deville-style, Indian fortune-teller in Bangkok kind of full, striped beard.
“Do you?!” I respond. This is exactly what I want to hear right now. “But I can’t pay you. I don’t really have any money on me,” I continue. “Tell me a bit, but know I’ll only give you the little that I have, and only if you’re moderately correct.”
He’s not listening. Instead, he brushes my words away and leads me to his fortune-telling shop. His fortune-telling shop is a couple of plastic neon stools set up in a deteriorating alleyway where a brick wall was once painted a lovely turquoise hue. This wall is an inviting color, and the alleyway has a bit of shifty ambience to it, so I sit down.
“Show me your left hand.” I show him my left hand.
“You have good karma,” Indian Fortune Teller says.
“Thanks. I’d agree. It’s great!”
“You are very lucky.”
“I know, right?!”
“But you miss somebody.”
“I miss everyone.”
“You have two men, but you miss one man.”
“No. I miss men. All the men. I’m an American girl working in Southeast Asia. Tough gig.”
“Yes…but you really, really miss one.”
“No. I miss men. Men in general.”
“You seem like you have a happy heart.”
“But inside, you are not happy.”
“Eh. I dunno, I’d say I’m pretty happy inside,” and then I briefly let myself think. I’ve got issues and emotions, because I’m human, but nah, I’m pretty happy inside.
“Yeah, I’m pretty happy,” I confirm.
“There is one lady out there, she is trying to get you. Hurt you. She does not want you to succeed.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but like I told you: I would not pay you and this is very false because I know there isn’t a woman out there that’s after me. This is all very interesting nonetheless. It was really great chatting with you. But uh, this is against my religion. Or something. Cheers!”
Indian Fortune Teller looks at me with sharp and strange, glazed-over blue eyes and smiles.
“God bless!” I return, make my way out of his lovely turquoise dilapidating alley, and set off in search of more misadventure to kill time.
“How much if I was like, to get the whole bottom half of my head braided?” I ask an overweight, tired yet relaxed, dreadlocked Thai guy sitting behind a row of braided plastic heads. “Could I see a book of people with braided hair, and make some kind of decision about the braid I want? Like, I’m thinking Rapunzel. One time, I saw this girl with the best curly-haired, braided, Rapunzel-like combo. A real hippie princess. I’m thinking something similar, but trying to keep it professional, you know? What do you think? Do you have a picture book?”
“No,” says Tired Yet Relaxed Dreadlocked Man. He is tired of talking to people like me about braids. Actually he’s probably tired of people like me asking him questions about braids.
“Alright, let’s just throw a braid and a very neutral-colored brown feather in there or something,” I say after he has done barely anything to persuade me into getting something done to my hair today and I am pitching this sale to myself and I am SOLD.
As I’m inspecting the row of plastic braided, mannequin heads, I see Scott. Scott is another tour leader I work with. Scott always gives good advice.
“Scott, would it be unprofessional if I got a braid with a feather put into my hair? Would that discredit me as a tour leader?”
I’m pretty sure Scott says yes in his head.
“Umm, no,” Scott says. “Well, you know, it’s part of the lifestyle. It’s not weird here. I mean, I wear these backpacker bracelets. Yeah, you’d be fine.”
I’m pretty sure Scott said yes in his head. I give Tired Yet Relaxed Dreadlocked Man and Cohort/Sister the OK.
“Hey how long will this take?” I ask Tired Yet Relaxed Dreadlocked Man and Cohort/Sister.
“Oh, not too long.”
Before she begins, she’s finished. That was quick. So I get to thinking, if you have one feathered hair braid, why not another? He said he’d give me a deal on it, I reason. Go big or go home, I rationalize. And you know, the Browns play tomorrow, and that brown and orange feather looks kind of cool. And the Gamecocks suffered a horrid loss a couple days ago. How can I wear my home team’s colors and not my alma mater’s, and that feather there is nearly the same shade as USC’s garnet.
I leave his stand with multiple feathered braids supporting NFL hometeams and university alma maters and I’m feeling pretty good and I’ve still got time to spare.
I pass another Indian man in a turban who asks to see my right hand, and I take him up on it because fortune-telling is now trending.
“I just had my fortune read!” I respond. “By this guy!” I show him the picture of Indian Fortune Teller.
“That’s my uncle!” he says. Of course it’s his uncle.
Indian Fortune Teller #2 shows me his business card, which he wears around his neck. It says: “Mr. Singh Yogi, Fortune Teller and Practitioner of the Future and Reliable Service or Something,” or sort of. He’s wearing a super tight black turban, which he will later tell me hides luxurious hair that is down to his waist. He’s also got on a very nice white linen shirt and some snazzy silk garnet-colored trousers. Indian Fortune Teller #2/Mr. Singh Yogi has soft but piercing eyes which I try to pierce him right back with because that’s what you’re supposed to do with fortune-tellers and psychics.
“Come with me,” he says. Indian Fortune Teller #2/Mr. Singh Yogi seems harmless, and because I have a high creep threshold, I take him up on it. We take a short walk to sit outside on the floor of a nearby temple.
“Sit across from me, cross-legged.”
“Well, I’m wearing these beige linen pants and they’re going to get real dirty if I sit there, so can I just sit here on this ledge?”
“No, please sit across from me.”
“I’m just going to kind of squat over here because I have to meet people later and I don’t want to look like a complete travel rat, you know?
“Sit across from me.” I sit across from him.
Then he does this numbers game with me. It’s some kind of run-of-the-mill magician trick where on a piece of paper, you write your favorite number and then your second favorite number, and then your third favorite number, and they all have to be under 5. So on this paper, there are three out of five of numbers, and this doesn’t leave a lot of numbers left under 5.
“Now roll the paper up.”
“Now put it in your bra.” What?
“Put it in your bra.”
“Ok pal, I’ll do this, but no funny business.” I put the crinkled paper with almost every number under 5 on it in my bra.
Then he starts writing some kind of code on a pad, writes the number 3, circles it, and displays it proudly to me.
“Number 3 is your number. It’s the number of your future. Is it on your paper?
“Yeah, but three out of the five numbers you told me to pick are on this paper. Look, no more fortune telling. What’s your story? Where are you from?”
“India. Now tell me your favorite color.”
“No white. No white or black. White is not a color.”
“Yes it is, it’s every color in the spectrum.”
“Choose another color.”
“No, you cannot choose silver. You say, like, pink or blue or green or yellow.”
I decide we’re done fortune-telling.
“How old are you?” I ask.
“21.” He looks 35.
“Do you like living in Bangkok?”
“I go to India in one week.”
“Oh nice. Family there? Do you have a wife there? How long have you been here for? Where do you think feels more like home – here or there?”
I’ve lost him. Or rather, he realizes he’s lost me, and I’m not getting my fortune told today. So he relaxes. From sitting upright and cross legged, he slouches, stretches out one foot. I reckon we’ve become pals now.
“Can I tell you something?” Mr. Singh Yogi says. “Something you must not tell anyone, and you cannot speak of.”
I’m so ready for this. This is what this whole afternoon has built up to. He might actually really be a fortune teller, and realized I am indeed a lucky person with potentially good karma, and he’s about to unload my future on me.
His American-flagged iPhone rings. He answers the phone call. Damnit. I’m about to learn the purpose of my life, and Mr. Singh Yogi is now taking a call on his wonderfully American-flagged iPhone 5. Fortunately, I think he tells the caller that he’s in a very serious fortune telling meeting and he’ll have to call them back.
“Ok, tell me the secret,” I say.
“I really like sex.” Yikes. Where is this going? Should I care to find out?
“Oh? Like with Thai women?”
“I like sex with all women.” At this point, most people would just stand up and walk away if they hadn’t already. But like I said, I have a pretty high creep threshold and it takes a lot to weird me out. Additionally, sometimes I think I’m a psychologist or counselor who can help people better understand their emotions or issues when they themselves can’t, so I’m always giving folks the benefit of the doubt.
I apologize and explain to him that his interest isn’t an interest of mine and I can’t help him out here.
“Can I touch your boobs?” Ok, maybe it’s time to leave.
Indian Fortune Teller #2/Mr. Singh Yogi is sincerely asking me if he can touch my boobs. Now, he hasn’t made any physical advances and is rather very polite in this request, so I have to laugh a little before thanking him for the brief fortune-telling of no fortune or telling-ness at all. I tell him it was great meeting him, decline his offer, and tell him temples really aren’t the place for this kind of thing and walk away.
“Keep smiling all the time!” he calls out at me.
“OK thanks you too, and you got it. Great to meet you, good luck with that secret.”
It’s after 5pm now, and I go back to the little Thai lady with her sewing machine sidewalk business.
My backpack is all set, not only repaired but looking better than when I had first bought it.
Repaired backpack in hand, braids and feathers in my hair, fortunes untold and secrets heard,I walk back to the hotel. I try to think of the lessons learned from today, besides “Don’t trust Indian Fortune Tellers #1-2 on Khao San Road.”
I find I’m pretty lost for lessons learned besides that one, because mostly I’m left thinking, “what the hell just happened?”
Disclaimer: I also did some completely normal things during that time which I’ve neglected to include: