I had a short day on the 10th but I did get to a favorite store in the Chinese-Thai Commerce building-
regulation modern ugly- on its ground floor, a shop whose name I do not know. There is a sign, but I cannot read it and I have never heard anyone say the name. Despite the sterility of the building this little place sells herbal teas, soaps and creams. I bought mangosteen soap and cucumber face cream.
At the Anantara, where I go to the gym, I lunched at Moca and Muffins on, everything at the Anantara, once the Four Seasons, is in a decline, Pomelo Salad which had the right sauce and good pomelo but no dried shrimp at all and the meagerest amount of crabmeat. I watched the staff load hotel luggage carts with imitation alligator boxes, which looked like top hat boxes, full of moon cakes in flavors that never used to exist—Red Velvet, chocolate, tiramisu.
Across the little tree embedded pond, swirling with huge orange and white koi in the court of the Anantara, I looked in at the largely unaffordable riches of the Lotus Artes de Vivre—wonderful mother of pearl fan shaped earrings studded with gems, teak burl trays in which sterling frogs and chameleons lurk.
In the gym I got to hang out a bit with my Thai lesbian friends. I wonder how much longer they will be loyal to the Anantara. I saw the smiley, Thai man, who is in charge of the gym. He has a huge chest, amazing arms, a dainty waist and a pair of ball bearing buns. He gave me a good rate. Over the two months, I will be in and out of BKK I have thirty days and then will have to pay for single days.
The monsoon was on when I walked to the Sky Train but I managed without damaging my shoes. It’s the shoes that die in monsoon. Having lost my Met Museum umbrella, I now have a Thai purple umbrella with two insufferably cute bears on it. I wonder if Walt Disney had Thai genes.
The next day, after the gym, I took the Sky Train to Taksin and then the Express Boat up to Banglampoo to see Mr. Thai of the shark mutilated hand and buy all my plane tickets. I love this trip up river and always have a day dream about what my life would have been like if I had moved to Bangkok to the apartment on the Chaophaya River that I would have bought with three terraces, a maid’s room, and about 2,000 square feet of teak flooring. On a high floor, it had stunning views up and down the river. The road not taken.
Mr. Thai was there but so was his daughter whom I had never met before. She’s a bit chubby but sweetly pretty with, of course, great waterfalls of black hair. She was conceived when he was 15. Mr. Thai was an early starter. He says in front of her, “She’s smarter than me.” What a wonderful father. I am always amazed at how deftly he manages the computer, tickets, papers, and envelopes with his fingerless hand. For $630 I got plane tickets to and from Chiangmai, HK and Phenomphen. It took two hours but that’s okay because I get to listen to him or enjoy his interactions with other customers, in this case two girls from Holland going to Kho Samet. He charged my phone too. No visa necessary for Cambodia.
The trip back on the Express boat was perhaps a little special because the light was softening toward evening. There are many kinds of boats on the river but they essentially fall into three groups: the cross river ferries with snubbed noses, which are painted one color; the up and down boats—express boats and tiger boats both wildly painted with thin stripes of white, yellow, pink, turquoise, orange and green—with long, pointy noses, and the brown, matronly rice barges high in the water going up, low in the water coming down, pulled by tough little tugs, looking like scruffy enameled pieces by Faberge.
Going up river to Wat Artit, the Banglampoo stop, you pass the 19th century East Asiatic Company, now offices, the elegant Oriental Hotel, the ugly CAT Tower followed by a 19th century derelict building which did not seem to have squatters this time, then the Sheraton, River City Mall, River View Guest House which I always intended to stay in but never have, Chinatown with its distinctive gates and towers, Wat Arun with its crockery decoration much despised by the 19th century English and on the other bank the spires of temples soaring behind the red tile roofs of houses. Then, shining in the late sun, the roofs and spires of Wat Phra Keow, the Emerald Buddha complex. These are suitably more complex than other temples. The steep roofs rise in a series of diminishing gold terraces to end in sparkling gold needle spires. Then there is the lighthouse of the University after we pass under Memorial Bridge. There are still a very few old mansions along the river and also a very few shanties of wood scraps and corrugated metal up on stilts above the greeny-brown water on which small islands of water hyacinth float.
When the striped tiger boats go zooming by, the streamers of plastic flowers attached to their bows spread like the hair of a girl running in the wind.
For a wonder my boat stopped at the Oriental landing. I hopped off and went to eat at the Oriental’s Verandah restaurant, my favorite Thai curry—superbly smooth with coconut milk, the two small varieties of eggplant, one no bigger than a big pea, little bunches of pepper pods and chicken. Cozy in my curry I watched the boats on the river and a northern European couple, hotel guests, he well maintained in his 50’s, she imperially slim and pale, money written all over them in the quietest way.
Someone commented on smells in Bangkok. There’s a lot of fried chicken and occasionally drains make a pungent appearance. But the smell I miss, that used to be on every street corner is jasmine from the beautiful loops of jasmine buds that people hung on their banyan tree or before their spirit house. There is the smell of frying, always and sometimes of durian, even though it is tightly wrapped in Saran. Chili wafts off of the food carts into your path.
I saw Kiko and we actually had a conversation. I used to have a friend named Noi who was housekeeper to my designer friend Kai for many years as well as running his little discount annex. She had lived with Kai and his partner for years when she suddenly disappeared about two years ago, taking everything she owned with her. No explanations. She now lives in her sister’s compound. Noi’s mother-in-law is Kiko who is Japanese. Kiko’s husband was a notorious Thai playboy but she married him at the end of his career inheriting everything when he died. His son, also a Thai playboy, was Noi’s husband for a few years. She married him at the wrong time of his life, too young. She didn’t get enough to live on and take care of their daughter from the courts, which is why Kai and his partner took her in many years ago.
Anyway, Kiko and I have been chary of each other since Noi left because she knows I know but she doesn’t know how I feel about it. I feel Noi was an idiot not to talk to Kai. I decided to dare the Devil and asked her if she had seen Noi. She said, “Not in a year, maybe more. But I think she is very happy. She is traveling.” Interpreted that means she is visiting her daughter in the US who has become very adept at getting money out of her playboy Dad.
When I woke this morning the soi was slick with rain shining like dull silver. I was down to breakfast early enough to see a heavy monk—how do you put on weight when you only eat once a day?—with a big, black umbrella over his orange robes go by on bare feet. He carried his begging bowl before him covered with an orange cloth.
I had some time to waste before meeting my friend N so I gave in to temptation and bought a bag of my favorite Thai sweet, little crepes the size of a small saucer, thin as beaten gold that curl up around their center piece composed of two unidentified ingredients—something white and sticky topped by something yellow and sweet. I suspect these two are chemical creations. I ate the whole 10 Baht bag.
N and I had coffee and tea together while talking about my pneumonia and her thyroid. It had gone totally wonky on her and she had to have it radiated, making her radioactive. She stayed alone in her little apartment that the family uses for overnights and then cleaned everything in it herself because everything was radioactive from her. But her thyroid is now behaving like a proper thyroid; it’s stabilized.
When we parted, she to go back to work, she got me a taxi to go to the Palladium Mall which otherwise would have involved a longish walk in the heat and a ride on the Sky Train. I have not taken a taxi in Bangkok in about 7 years. The last one I took sat in traffic for twenty minutes without moving. I then got out, paid the driver and walked. This trip took an hour and a half for a twenty-minute trip but I was cool. A jeweler I have known for years moved a year ago to the basement of the Palladium from her ritzy quarters in the Peninsula Plaza. I searched all over, looked at the map, asked people who spoke English, there aren’t many, to no avail. I could not find Rudi´s shop.
I did, however, go to the Peninsula and find an old neighbor of hers who had her number. I called. She and her daughter were about to get on a plane to go to the HK gem fair. Rudi is 86 and can’t hear on the phone any more so I told her daughter about the earrings Rudi made for me, which I hadn’t been able to pick up last year. All is well. I will have the earrings when they return from the fair.
I have had another outrageously wonderful Thai meal, this time at Ping Ling in the basement of the Paragon—Thai crab and shrimp dumplings, followed by river shrimp in a cashew and garlic sauce with caramelized shallots.