Thursday, May 16, 2013

Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy

I've just finished a day and half of a big meeting at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok.  As we were pulling into the driveway on Day 1, I panicked when I realised I hadn't brought my UN pass from New York with me.  Then just as quickly, I remembered I was actually here as a visitor, not as a staff member - and relief washed over me.  The Conference Centre was pretty quiet too; a distinct change from the bustling UN Headquarters building I've come to know well.  Sure there is plenty of traffic around the building outside, but then again there's plenty of traffic everywhere here.

My meeting was hosted by the Royal Thai Government and UN Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), with some support from our Government and from the World Bank.   I met some really lovely people over these last couple of days, and I got to work with a girl from our office who is based in Cambodia and who is so much fun.  She has been to a lot of UNESCAP meetings before and they run slightly differently to the ones I've attended in New York, so I relied on her expertise and pretty much rode her coat tails for two days.  I don't think she minded though, particularly not when I volunteered to draft the official report of our visit.  I figured that was only fair.

I am quite enjoying the hospitality of our hotel too - we're at The Royal Princess which is a terribly apt name, given the standard of accommodation I like.  The other meeting delegates are also staying here because we managed to get a group booking, and it's only about 10 minutes drive from the UN building so it is very convenient.  The buffet breakfast has been really nice too.  I didn't think I'd get organised enough to have time for breakfast every day (since I can never seem to manage it in New York), but I've been quite good at that too.  In fact, I have been awake at around 5am each morning, well before my alarm. It was just anxiety I guess.  Now that the meeting is over I'm sure I'll sleep like a baby, but I can't get too comfy because I'm doing tourist things all day Friday, and early Saturday morning, before my flight back to NYC on Saturday evening. No rest for the wicked.

Mind you, I almost didn't make it that far this afternoon.  I thought it would be good to find a Diet Coke salesman somewhere close to the hotel.  I can get Diet Coke in the hotel bar, but I just thought it might be good to get some fresh air or society, and go for a bit of a walk.  That said, there isn't much around here to see, and all the street signs are in Thai, which hardly helps.  But late the other day, I did spot a 711 around the corner from the hotel, and I knew they'd be able to hook me up with some fizzy goodness.

I made my way to the pedestrian crossing and waited.  And I waited.  I could see the 711 from where i stood.  It was so close, so tantalizingly close.  And yet, the traffic refused to stop for me.    There were short lulls in traffic where I could have made it at least halfway across the road, but I didn't have a hope in Hades of getting the full way over.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a Thai man appeared and reached into a bucket hanging off the street light pole next to me.  He pulled out a piece of wood with a coloured flag on the end.  He held the flag aloft with one hand and gingerly stepped out into traffic, daring the tuk-tuks and motorbikes to run him down.  With his back to the traffic, he reached out his other arm to me and began beckoning me across the street.  Nothing got lost in translation as I shuffled across the road spluttering praises at my hero.  When we were safely across, my traffic monitor neatly deposited the traffic flag in an empty bucket attached to the street light pole.  He put his hands together in a prayer position and bowed deeply to me.  I was too busy thanking effusively and clumsily that I neglected to return the gesture.  And before I could remedy it, he was gone.

Four cans of Diet Coke successfully purchased, I made my way back to the pedestrian crossing to return to the hotel.  Fortunately I could see a lady across the street, getting ready to march across the road.  She was clutching a coloured flag on a stick, waving it badly (and somewhat threateningly) at the cars as they sped by, so I knew she was well-versed in how to navigate busy Bangkok streets.  I waited until she had begun to forge a way across and I shuffled over with her.  Admittedly I did nearly get cleaned up by a rogue tuk-tuk, and then again by an ambulance coming the other direcction, but those near-misses were just that.

Safe in the air-conditioned comfort of my room, Diet Coke cans chilling in the minibar, I am a happy girl.  An early night ahead, and looking forward to my private half-day tour of Bangkok tomorrow.

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