Lesson one in How Not to Get the Giggles: do not make eye contact with anyone who could set you off.
After a far-too-expensive-for-what-it-was boat ride down the river in Bangkok, gazing at the amazingly diverse architecture along its banks, on the first day of hanging out with our friends Alex and Renee, we found ourselves curiously walking down a concrete alleyway off the side of a main road.
We strolled past doorway after mysterious doorway, soon realizing we were walking in a sea of orange. A monastery. A sign on a door invited all to join for a meditation class and without hesitation the girls were inside. Meekly Alex and I followed them inside, and before we knew what was happening the four of us and six others were being led through a hallway that smelled for all the world like cats had been peeing in it for decades, down some steps, and into a long rectangular room below ground level.
An orange-robed monk had us sitting cross-legged for what felt like an excruciating eternity, as he explained how to focus on breathing, allowing thoughts to enter the mind but then returning to the breathing, focusing on the movements of the chest over all else. So far, no problem.
But then he took to explaining how to do a walking meditation, and at this point we all knew we were in deep trouble. As he told us to form an internal incantation describing each movement (“staaaanding, staaaanding, staaaanding…. tuuuuuuurning, tuuuuuuurning, tuuuuuuuurning…. left foot–touch, right foot-touch, left foot-touch…. staaaaanding, staaaaaanding….”) we all knew that all it was going to take was one look across the room and it would be over. Off we went, pacing across the room, up and down, all of us in absolute silence, biting our lips, eyes straight ahead, not daring to make eye contact with each other.
Back and forth we paced, quietly, stone-faced, until Renee looked across the room at Megan and Alex, breaking our unspoken yet sacred code of no-eye-contact conduct, and then it all went to pieces. She lost it, walked across the room to where Alex was; he tried too hard to hold in his laughter and exploded, doubled over; Megan snorted; I turned red from trying so hard to hold it together. Rookie error. Lesson one failed. It was to our immense fortune that the monk happened to have left the room briefly when the pandemonium broke out. What had started as a solemn introduction to walking meditation had quickly disintegrated into a farce; the four friends were together again.
A visit to the Palace, Wat Pho, and a look at the reclining Buddha later, we were in the confines of a street market, hemmed in on all sides by the furore of informal commerce, when we sat down to one of the finest meals the planet has ever produced — street-food servings of pad thai and fried rice.
Later that evening and for the next couple of days, we walked around the streets of Bangkok with Alex and Renee, chatting excitedly about our upcoming beach time with them; variously eating street food, meandering through markets, riding in tuk-tuks, drinking weak cocktails from pop-top Volkswagen minibus-to-makeshift-bar transformers bedecked in gaudy neon, and laughing about laughing when we shouldn’t have been laughing, never once setting foot in the infamous quarters of Khao San Road — and were the better for it, it would seem.
As it was, thousands and then millions of protesters thronged the streets of several quarters of Thailand’s capital; our movements were as a result slightly limited in scope, and though we saw the city only minimally and quickly, we were reminded again that it really is a wonderful place, Bangkok.