Returned to Bangkok on a long flight via Finn Air in which the only thing of interest was the round and rubicund, white haired woman next to me, 60’s to 70’s, who, when spoken to in Finnish replied that she was capable of English or Swedish. After that it was all Swedish. However, I was awed by the size of her breakfast, which included everything available out of which she only ate what was sweet.
I have to confess my delight when my cab driver from the airport, having judged me as, “Oh, ho hum yet another Western tourist,” delivers me to the A One sees me greeted as a Conquering Heroine, my bags in their multiplicity removed by the local cab drivers from the trunk and the A One staff shinning in the door with smiles and greetings. My vanity puffs up like a deep fried puri and my mental voice says to the astonished driver, “See. Not just another Western tourist.”
My first task after wheedling enough hangers out of the management and getting myself arranged, was to go to see Mr. Thai on Rambutri Road to arrange all my various flights, to Chiangmai to see my friend there, to Kathmandu and back, and to Hong Kong and back. Yes, he is cheaper than the internet. He is also a lot more fun.
I took the Sky Train which since it’s path is at the height of second to third story BKK gives one a chance to access just how boring modern architecture is in this city. At the last stop, Taksin, the name of an important Thai King before it was the name of a dubious Thai Prime Minister, where there is usually at least one woman with a child begging, I transferred to the express river bus, my favorite form of transport in Bangkok.
The journey is always fascinating because of the river traffic and because of the houses, warehouses, temples and unidentifiable by a Westerner structures.
There are tiger boats, long banana shaped vehicles painted with narrow stripes and powered by V8 engines. These originally were left overs from the Vietnam war, the little, humble cross river boats who are tossed like brides’ bouquets on the wakes of the arrogant tigers, the chugging express boats, the get out anywhere tourist boats, and the muscular little tugs, four in a row, in jellybean colors, pulling with cheerful determination a long string of rice barges up country to be filled. The barges are often gay with laundry. Their crews sit on the roof watching the shore pass.
As I arrived at Mr. Thai’s office, a slot in the wall before you get to the Rambutri Village Inn, I realized I had forgotten my calendar, which had the exact dates in it. This meant going back and returning, not a terrible fate considering it meant two river trips, but definitely exhausting.
Last time I saw Mr. Thai he was planning to open a guesthouse. He is the organizing genius of his family none of whom do anything on their own initiative. He now has his guesthouse, he would like to see me as a guest, which his sister runs while she looks after his brother’s son. I am not sure what the brother does but it is undoubtedly something Mr. Thai has instigated, even if it is merely errand running.
If you don’t remember, Mr. Thai is the man who is missing all his fingers on his left hand, the work of a shark. He just has his thumb. I explained my dereliction and headed right back down river after giving him what I could remember of the dates. Each trip is about an hour and a half.
On the trip back down there was a Thai-Caucasian couple in front of me– the Caucasian middle-aged, muscular, bearded, probably American, and horribly dressed, the Thai, tall, cute, with no muscles and a hole in the back of his black tee shirt. The Caucasian was very eager to show off his knowledge of various things but only mildly interested in listening to his, much younger, Thai companion’s soft voiced explanations of buildings and sites. Perhaps he was too busy caressing his palm as he embraced his shoulder with his other arm.
Thai Buddhism is a non-touch culture. The Thai received this attention passively and a bit diffidently but with warm smiles. I do hope he gets a new tee shirt out of this at the least.
At one landing a woman came out of a restaurant to dump something, I couldn’t see what, from a basin into the river, which is the color of chicken gravy, causing it to erupt in a boiling of water and fish with silver flashes of fins and flanks.
Back at the A One I called Mr. Thai and gave him all the dates knowing he would have the tickets set up by the time I arrived back at his office. There I found him rebooting repeatedly and swearing in Thai and English—a lot of f-ings and sh-ings but no damns—and getting nowhere. I sat around for a while gazing at his familiar frustration—at one point he said mournfully, “I want to kick it.”—but after an hour or so I left, knowing the express boat ceases sometime past 6 pm. He would get the information to me somehow. He did.
I returned to Taksin as the sun was going down. I was mystified by a woman on the boat carrying a large, clear plastic bag full of artificial white roses. I found a seat, no one gives up their seat to the elderly in Bangkok any more, on the Sky Train to the Paragon Mall. It is almost impossible not to become a mall rat upon coming to BKK.
In the Gourmet Market, as I took a little cart, I skidded across their shiny white tile floor. In the seconds of this incident I saw a man’s arm within reach and thought, “I don’t care what he thinks. I´m grabbing him. I can’t go to Kailash with a broken leg or hip.” I grabbed, which while it didn’t completely save me, broke my fall. He didn’t reach out to help, just went rigid. I was not surprised. Someone had spilled water and ice on the floor.
I was helped up by a number of people, including the Thai man I’d grabbed, and asked how I was. The management sent three people to enquire after me.
I did my shopping, then realized I was starved. I had had breakfast on the plane, not too bad croissant, scrambled eggs, baked beans, turkey sausage and yoghurt. I avoided the baked beans and turkey sausage after a bite of each. While waiting for Mr. Thai’s uncooperative computer I had a whole bag of preserved banana chips and some kind of fruit drink on Khao San Road, followed by a cappuccino and a Belgian waffle thing at Starbucks.
There are interesting but not cheap food counters in the Gourmet Market. I picked the one offering food with truffles and had salmon on spinach with shitake mushrooms, little scallops and no truffles accompanied by a salad of rocket, tomatoes, parmesan in slices, balsamic dressing and truffles. The salmon was excellent but, as often happens, the truffles in the salad were not particularly flavorful. It may be because they were dry. Anyway it was all delicious and wonderful after no real food all day.
Of the next few days, all I can remember, exhaustion having closed in on me, follows. I had lunch with my Thai woman friend T at one of the superb Thai restaurants hidden away in green sois, going to Jim Thompson and to the gym where, because of my erratic schedule, I am paying by the day.
The lunch was heaven and totally repaired the damage caused by an supremely foul Thai lunch, the worst Thai meal I have ever eaten, in Karlskrona, Sweden some months before. We had eggplant salad with shrimp, green chicken curry with tiny, tiny eggplant, something I thought was egg and meat but was some kind of white starch and, I think, turnip, and a mix of apple, cashew and shrimp that was superb.
T and her husband, W will be taking his mother, who is Chinese, to Hong Kong at about the same time that I will be there. We are now planning a gastronomic reunion in HK at a restaurant that serves goose as its specialty.
Sadly, things have changed at the gym, which is in the Anantara Hotel on Ratchadamri Rd. This used to be the Four Seasons Hotel and before that a long list of distinguished hotels in succession. I couldn’t find the razors, or the cream they usually provide for shaving. I thought the new management had cut back on amenities. I asked one of my Thai friends, who was eating rambutans at the coffee counter. She told me that the hotel can no longer put things out because the clientel has changed to customers who steal them, the shoe horn, the clothes brush, the wash clothes and other things that used to be provided. She told me not to leave my sneakers out when I take a shower. Hers had been stolen. So now I lock everything up. This is very sad.
After the gym I wandered through my favorite unaffordable store at the Anantara, The Lotus: Arts de Vivre. There was a super shell sporting a superb dragon and a long tray with a fog on it, which, should I have money at the end of the trip, I would like to buy. The trouble is I never do have the money at the end of the trip. But the best was a pair of earrings, in the thousands beyond my abilities—wings cut out of either abalone shell or nacre of some sort with the animal head in gold and stones on the inside point near the ear. They were magnificent, small works of art. There was also a wonkily shaped little bracelet of Japanese lacquer with a tiny, diamond-paved frog on it.
Going home, I stopped to take out money from the ATM putting in my credit card rather than my ATM card. The machine proceeded to eat my credit card. I have been trying to get a new one ever since. I will not bore you with the multitude of phone calls or the misdirected replacement cards. It has been a total horror show and I am still casting imprecations upon HSBC, which doesn’t seem to be able to get me a card to Kathmandu, Nepal.
One day I walked from the Anantara down to Kai’s atelier. He had just come in from walking around Lumphini Park, which he seems to be doing frequently. He told me that in Lumphini, “there are very pretty girls standing around” who get into cars that stop for them. The car is followed by a motorcycle, in case the girl screams. This is the quintessence of Bangkok life.
One day I had a blood test at N’s hospital to see if my white blood cells were increasing. They aren’t but they are different than from the last test. This is confusing and unnerving.
I had lunch with T, W and T’s sister, my old dentist, at Bua—not the best but near the hospital where N works. W was disappointed because there was a Chinese restaurant he wanted to introduce me to. N went back to the hospital. W went back to work and T and I managed to get me a Thai sim so that I can now call people.
The next adventure was to get to my dressmaker. They have changed location again and are operating out of their factory, which may also be their home. I tried Googleing the address they sent me, thinking I would be able to find my way there. Goggle couldn’t find it.
They, Moon and her sister, picked me up at the Sarasak Sky Train station by the escalator. Both Moon and her sister are tiny Thais. The sister has various pillows under her so that she can see over the steering wheel. We ended up in a neighborhood totally new to me, residential and green. I think I can find it again.
The house is full of women, half draped mannequins and bolts of fabric. There is lots of bustle, concentration, little noise or conversation and no men. They were disappointed that I did not bring them more things to make, but it is an undeniable truth that I have enough clothes.
They are having a difficult time because, I think, they are paying off the debt incurred by one of the men in the family when he borrowed a large sum from the bank using his business as collateral and then blew the money on women, gambling and general high living just as his business failed. Moon said to me half jokingly, “Look for material when you travel and bring things back so we can make you clothes.”
I felt sad for them but also proud of the way they just get on with it. They took me back to the Sky Train and I went home to pack for the flight to Chiangmai.