After going to the gym, I gathered up my big bag with all the clothes in it for the dressmaker, feeling put upon for having to carry something so heavy in this heat. I called Moon before getting on the Sky Train to say I was on my way.
It is important never to plan much in a Bangkok day if you don’t want to burst into tears or go apoplectic with rage. Moon and her sister had to do an errand to a tailor near their old location so we went in the opposite direction from their factory. Moon’s sister is a dreadful driver and drives a monster vehicle of the truck/car combination variety. She drives like Hemingway’s prose—start, stop, start, stop, start, stop. At one point she did a U turn on one of the busiest streets in BKK but everyone took it calmly.
Moon and I went through everything. I think I bought some Indian fabric I shouldn’t have. It is pretty but fragile. What Kai would call, “ethnic fabric.”
The factory is amazing. I have only seen two floors but it is full of women cutting, sewing, and embroidering. There must be at least 20 of them. There is the occasional man but he is usually delivering something. They employ people others would not, for instance there is a hunch back among the cutters, and if they go under all these people will be unemployed.
We finished around 5, that is, of course, the worst time to drive in BKK. So they drove me away from my Sky Train stop to the Taksin stop, which is closer to them and has less traffic. It had enough. I had not eaten since breakfast and was beginning to fade. I went, much more lightly burdened, to the Paragon where I ate at my 3rd Thai restaurant in a row, the Nara– pork strips with a hot dipping sauce and duck curry with the tiny eggplants in it.
The next day, a Saturday, T and W picked me up in their maroon Mercedes. We went to one of my favorite restaurants in BKK, the Kalapaprack. N met us there; she is T’s sister. I am amused at the way we have general conversation until the food arrives—we picked 7 dishes for 4 people. Then there is relative silence as we become serious about the food. Conversation is usually limited to comments on the dishes. We had: curried fish cakes, rice with Chinese olive oil, rice with Northern sausage (hot) and ginger, little crisp bundles of deep fried dough containing minced pork, shrimp with smoky eggplant salad, another salad whose ingredients I didn’t recognize and a thing that looked like a quail egg stuffed with minced pork. When we 4 were finished there were 7 totally empty serving plates. For dessert we had one piece of coffee meringue cake, which is absolutely deadly, among the 4 of us. About half way through the meal I noticed that some of the staff were standing to one side and grinning cheerfully. Thais get a kick out of watching foreigners enjoy their food.
I asked W about the crepes I eat in the street. He says they are an ancient Thai sweet. When I told him I thought the white sticky stuff was some kind of chemical compound and the yellow too, he told me the yellow is egg yoke cooked in syrup. Then he talked to his phone and it came up with the receipe for the white stuff, not chemicals but icing sugar, lime and egg whites beaten for 10 minutes.
W has done a real estate venture of nineteen houses five miles outside of BKK. He’s sold most of the lower priced ones but the higher priced, high because they are on bigger pieces of land, aren’t selling. His son, an architect, is trying to figure out a way to cheaply, make the houses look fancier.
Came back to the A One before a monsoon with thunder and lightning, rain bucketing down. A bicycle went by with two people on it, clothes clinging to them, drops shivering off the edge of the peddler’s helmet, both bent over so as not to get rain in their eyes.
Sunday after the gym I crossed over to the number one exit for the Sky Train at the Ratchadamri stop where M had told me to wait and along she came. We met J, coming with his golf bag, and opened the undistinguished corrugated metal gate into the great, astonishing green space with trees, ponds, birds, golf course and racecourse with bleachers, all surrounded by a high fence of buildings, that compose the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. When you are at the Ratchadamri Sky Train Station you look down on this wondrous patch of green with its palisade of tall buildings. We crossed the edge of the golf course to the club but rather than eating in the old section we went to one of the modern buildings. Upstairs one has a nice view across the greenness to the fence of buildings that includes the Paragon Mall and its predecessor, the Siam Centre, the place to go for teenaged Bangkok when I first came here 35 years ago. That was when girls held hands with girls and boys with boys. Those days are long gone.
We had a dim sum lunch, good but not exceptional, although the shu mai and the chicken feet were particularly good. I am so glad that I was not raised by a Western mother who taught me to think, “Chicken feet? How disgusting.” J and I really got into the chicken feet. J is Japanese but is an omnivore. We talked and talked not having seen each other for a year.
They are happy at the Royal Sports Club, as I have to say, who would not be. The fees are hefty, $6,000 a year but I think that covers the two of them. They live on one side of the club’s park and she works at the college on the other side. They have reinvented themselves with a new business importing fish from Japan to Thailand. They seem very content. People at the Ananatara, formerly the Four Seasons, did not treat them well. She, because she is a tiny and dark Thai, got the brunt of the Thai prejudice about dark skin. She is so tiny she has to buy her clothes in the children’s department. He, because he is Japanese, got a lot of edge from people.
I told M the story of my dressmaker, how one of the men in the family, who had a factory, was offered a loan by a bank, took it, gambled and womanized for six months, if that, until the money was gone. In the meantime the factory died because he was paying no attention to it. So it is the women who are paying off the loan with their dressmaking business. M said with unrepressed indignation, “Since I was a little, little girl I have heard this story over and over.” I am sure she has.
I told them about my plans for my bucket trip next year with two months in Japan. J says I will be all right in Tokyo, Kyoto and the south but not in the north where they do not speak English, are closed and not used to foreigners. It is his part of the country and he wants to take me there. I am thrilled.
We also talked about clubs, how the Japanese have none and don’t understand the idea and the different kinds of clubs in America, England and Spain.
Got caught, although not too badly, in a monsoon coming home. But the shoes I had on will not take another soaking. They will die. The landlady arrived as the monsoon ended with family in the Mercedes. They had been shopping. As they unpacked themselves they revealed bags and bags of groceries from the Paragon Gourmet Market where I also shop and a mid-sized gilded Buddha. The car was very full with grandma, my landlady, her son the tech wiz, his pretty wife, their two year old and his Nanny, a patient young man.
I had a day to myself, which, of course, I spent mostly writing. I slept in until 7. I treated myself to a long, delicious and expensive lunch consisting of one large steamed crab in a sauce of some kind with egg in it and a drink of ginger, lime and something else I cannot identify. I was lured into the restaurant by a tout who came up to me and asked, as I was looking at the menu, “Do you like Thai food?” I had seen the crab and made up my mind so I followed him in. He wears his hair in two spit curls on either side of his forehead, like Betty Boop.
The crab was very messy to eat, they had no wet wipes, so they took me into the kitchen to wash my hands at the sink. I thought that was darling of them.
It has just occurred to me that this is turning into a food blog.
I then prowled the Paragon locating shops that are old favorites, poking into new ones, mostly not that good, and ending up at Jim Thompsons which is always fatal but I did find a purple blouse to go with my purple pants.
The next day, after the gym, I thought I was early to meet W so I sat in the Anantara lobby, a fine high ceilinged space with ceiling to floor windows onto the two lily ponds outside. There are delicate designs in pastel colors on the ceiling and in the central aisle leading from the front doors, opened by smiling young women in Thai dress, to the grand staircase is a sort of open Lucite bookcase full of vases of flowers of all kinds and a few objects of ambivalent meaning.
W had to come in and fetch me. We were going to a new restaurant on Soi Kansemsan 3. I am in the A One on Soi Kansemsan 1, Jim Thompson’s house and museum is on Soi Kansemsan 2. All of these sois back on the klong that runs through Bangkok. I think it is only one of two klong’s left in the city. Express boats traverse its entire length stopping at various piers.
We drove up to a grand, white 19th century house over looking the klong, with many windows, walls of windows, in big, high ceilinged rooms, very airy and bright. Interesting geometric tile floors lend color. Unfortunately someone thinks the way to decorate is to put up streamers of plastic flowers everywhere. Also the wait staff is in Thai dress. I find this too kitsch. But the food is good, although to my chili limit and the glass noodle yum was beyond my limit. There was an unusual soup of pork, I think, that was citrusy and flavored with an herb I am not familiar with. There were pink noodles, nice if not hugely exciting and shrimp with basil, at my heat limit. I am missing a dish. For dessert we had a sour fruit in syrup.
Downstairs there is a tiny museum composed primarily of the family’s old furniture, a large round dinning room table, the center of which is a circular piece of grey marble you turn by a pedal under the table or by hand, a lazy Susan.
The family wants to keep the house but can’t afford it. They have started the restaurant in hopes that it will support the house.