I arrived in Bangkok and took a taxi to the A One. When they asked for my passport to register me, I couldn’t find it. One of the things you have to accept as part of life as a rolling stone, if you travel to less known places, is your own idiocy, misjudgments, and moments of delusion. I thought maybe I’d left it at the Zzziesta and called Mike. While waiting to hear from him I called the US Embassy and found that I could get a new passport in 3 days. This was comforting until I recalled my Indian visa, which I knew I could not get again in the time I had. Mike returned my call to say that my passport was not at the hotel.
I went upstairs with my bags to unpack and get things into the laundry before going to the Embassy. I found my passport in my day- pack. I had transferred it from my purse, thinking it would be safer in the pack. I called Mike. Big sighs all around.
I met my friend C for lunch, feeling a bit fragile from the night on the train which, while less sleepless than on the trip up country, had not given me a full night’s rest. I really didn’t want to take even a short Sky Train ride to lunch. The result of this was that I got to eat at a place that has piqued my curiosity for years.
If you stand on the platform of the Sky Train at the Rachadamri stop, you look out over the green expanse of a golf course, with trees whose isolated shapes are unusual and a bit African, a little pond, and on the far side, the stadium of a racetrack. This is smack in the center of Bangkok. Next to the stadium is a very rarified institution, The Bangkok Royal Jockey Club. To my delight, C took me to lunch there, a very excellent Thai lunch, although one can order Western food as well, but why would you do that?
The membership tends to be elderly, as is true in my New York City club. Some of the women wore death masks of make up. I suppose you get into the habit of putting on your base, your powder, your rouge, your mascara, your eye shadow and it never occurs to you to stop. They were extravagantly jeweled and dressed in a way one would not see in New York. But Thai women go to the office in jewelry that American women would hesitate to go to a ball in. However, at one table there was a woman in quite, nondescript clothes having lunch with her eight year old and my friend C broke the pattern with her handsome salt and pepper hair and understated clothes.
The men were in elegant suits. Most, male and female, had jet-black hair. As the landlady of my old guesthouse once said, “No one in Thailand has grey hair.” This is less true than it used to be.
The room is spacious, paneled with teak, and looks out on the racecourse. It feels very civilized and far from Bangkok’s frenzy. To me the essence of a private club, anywhere, is that feeling of quite, assured civilization.
Before we left the club a woman came up to C and asked her something. I have no Thai. C applied pressure to her right arm in various places for about five minutes, which obviously gave relief.
C had some errands. We drove and chatted through the byways, which she is expert at, toward Sukhumvit. It is thirty years that we have known each other and we have the same birthday, although she is at least twenty years my junior. We stopped at the house of a friend of hers who is going to Barcelona but the dates weren’t right. Too bad. As we came to the Nana Sky Train station, C’s son, who is studying in London, called and I had a chance to talk to him for the first time in many years.
Bangkok, for me, is a succession of malls—there is no point in concealing the fact that I become a mall rat in Bangkok—and lunches. This blog, I fear, reflects that.
The next day I had lunch with my friends T and W going to a Som Tam restaurant on Rama IV, a branch of a place I had been to years ago, I think in the Silom area. Som Tam is the Thai salad made from unripe papaya to which base a huge variety of other ingredients, rice- noodles to raw crab, may be added. We had it with both fresh water and ocean crab. I always let my friends do the ordering with invariably wondrous results. In this case we had fried chicken, cabbage cooked in pork fat and, after W asked if I ate escargot, an amazing snail curry. One of the best things I’ve eaten on this trip.
W eats like an 18 year old so after we had cleaned up all of that we went into an adjacent mall and ordered durian with sticky rice in coconut milk, yellow soy bits in same, and black beans in same. My favorite was the durian, which has a strong flavor and the texture of Crème Brule. I was astonished that a fruit could have such a dairy texture the first time I ate it. Yes, it has a strong odor, but I love Camembert which smells much like a week-old-unwashed human. I once traveled in an elevator in Fortnum and Masons with a ripe Camembert and was amused as my fellow travelers looked about to identify the unwashed.
Part of the delight of eating with T and W is not just their enjoyment of Thai food but the obvious tenderness and care they have for each other as a couple. Rarely have I seen two people take such pains to ensure the quality of their relationship. It is wonderful and something of an honor to be around their marriage.
I went to see Moon and try on the patterns of a shirt and jacket and then home to address 50 postcards.
The next day, Sunday was another lunch. This time with my Chinese- Thai friend P whose partner has worked until recently for the royal family. P has been for many years a source of political insight for me but on my last few visits to Thailand I found him unwilling to discuss the political situation. This time, however, over a Chinese meal of many dishes, he was less guarded, telling me that his partner had been told by a friend in the palace “to order his blacks.” In other words the King was expected to die soon. The general belief is that he is probably on life support. Now, over a month later, as I write this, Bangkok is black.
Leaving P, I went into my mall rat mode and wandered the Paragon Mall. Do not think of an American mall. Thai malls have high ceilings, wide corridors, of course escalators, and contain everything from Hermes to popcorn, to Lamborghinis. On the fourth floor I saw in the window of a shop, which resembles an old Thai house, three masks, one of which was a really good Ganesh, an elephant mask, with a broken tusk. It was love at first sight.
But let me explain about Ganesh, the Indian elephant-headed god, how he received his head and how his tusk was broken.
While the god Shiva was away, and he was away a very long time, his wife, Paravati, gave birth to a son. When Shiva returned home he found a handsome young man in Paravati’s apartments; in a jealous fury he pulled his sword and struck off the young man’s head. Paravati, entering the room at this point, told her husband that it was his son he had beheaded and that he should go immediately into the street and find him a new head, which Shiva did, beheading the first creature he saw, an elephant and placing the head on his son’s body. Therefore, we have Ganesh, the elephant headed god who removes obstacles from the path of his devotees. But be wary, for he also puts obstacles in people’s paths.
HOW GANESH’S TUSK WAS BROKEN
A warrior named Parashurama having won a battle through Shiva’s help—the gift of a battle axe—started on his way to Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain where Shiva and Paravati relax, wanting to express gratitude for his victory. On his way he met Ganesh who had come out to meet him because he didn’t want any one to waken his parents or to come upon them when they were engaged in amorous dalliance. He stopped Parashurama who attacked him with the axe that Shiva had given him. Out of respect for his father, Ganesh took the blow on his right tusk, which was shattered from the impact.
Inside the shop I asked an elderly, big-bellied man about the mask. Recognizing my lack of Thai, he waved me toward a younger, big-bellied man. At first he said they would only sell the three as a set. When I started to walk away, since that was a deal killer, he changed his mind. They both seemed rather edgy and unfriendly, perhaps because I do not speak Thai. When the younger said that the mask was an antique, 60 years old, I unfortunately said, “Usually things are not considered to be antique until they are 100 years old.” This made him decidedly irritable, even confrontational. The price was high but not outrageous. If it is still there when I return from Nepal and Tibet I may do it.
After the gym on Monday I went to see an old friend of mine Kai, the grand daddy, the maestro, of Thai dress designers. I have been trying to get him to retire and come visit me in Barcelona with his partner, Noi for years. I worry about him. He is under constant tension, although he has reduced the number of his shops, and he takes far to many prescriptions.
We had lunch at the restaurant in the old Peninsula Plaza where, since Kai is a celebrity, people kept stopping by the table. Some of them I knew, others I was introduced to. In between visits Kai told me a very odd story.
Many years ago Kai had taken into his employment and apartment a woman who had married a Thai playboy, by whom she had a daughter, with the usual results. The divorce left her with little to live on or raise a child with. She had worked hard for Kai, creating an outlet for his unsold clothes, helping him furnish apartments he bought to rent, managing his household staff when they were new and recently escaped from Burma. The relationship had always seemed to me very smooth. He had often helped her when she had financial difficulties.
Over fish patties and green curry for me, he told me that the woman had a sister with a husband and daughter who lived in a compound which had in the back a little cottage and servants’ quarters. The husband died; the daughter married. The woman, saying nothing to Kai, renovated and enlarged the cottage. Then, again, saying nothing, she moved her things out bit by bit.
Noi, Kai’s partner, suspecting something went into her room in Kai’s apartment and showed Kai that it was half empty. Kai asked her about it and she said she was just clearing old things out. Nothing more was said and one day they found the room empty. She didn’t say good-bye. She has not spoken to Kai since she left.
There was no reason why she shouldn’t live with her sister but why the silence? Kai and I talked about having to forgive because to do anything else will only cause you trouble and do nothing to the other person.
Finally, I think Kai may be going to retire in the next few years.
The next day I had lunch at MK’s shabushabu restaurant in the Paragon’s basement with a friend from Israel who was in town. It turned out that the people she was staying with are friends with the children of my landlady at the A One. The web of the world is amazing.
Then I went down to see Moon, to pick up a white dress they had lined for me and drop off some material for a jumpsuit. I collected laundry, pack up, put things in storage and went to bed early because I needed to be up at 5 am to make it to the airport for my flight to Delhi where I was going to meet my grandson Ethan.