P, someone I am just getting to know here, Belgian, worked for the IMF and various UN organizations, and I went along Convent Avenue, although surely it is Thanon Convent, looking until we found the little hole in the wall place I had noticed when N and I had coffee on this street. It was full but we found a table in the back, the only Caucasians, and ordered their dish, a soup with noodles, you chose your noodles, and fish balls, little meat balls, a meat patty, a piece of pork strewn with some veggies. Very good and cheap.
We hadn’t seen each other in a year and there was a lot to catch up on. She had been painfully separating from her husband last time I had been here. She had cancer and her husband a benign brain tumor. The stress must have been horrific, killing the marriage. The process of recovering is not over but she is obviously on her way. She knew Norah, whom I also knew, more as an acquaintance than friend, and knew about Norah’s death, which I also wanted to hear about. No, I was agog to hear about it is more accurate.
In her younger years Norah had cut a broad swath through the male population. She picked up stray husbands the way a black sweater picks up white lint. However, she decided to give up that activity and became a regular Sunday attendee at the big Catholic Church, Holy Redeemer, on Ruam Rudee and was instructed by Father Jack an Irish American priest there.
Norah, born in England married to a Frenchman, well one of them was French, much traveled in Asia in the good old days, and I were acquaintances for 35 years essentially I think because Norah was a man’s woman, didn’t trust other women and had been brought up to believe that her fellow women were competitors not friend material. But being French speaking, although her English was fluent, she may not have felt able to be close to an American. That may be nonsense because she did have an American friend for many years until she used her up. This was part of Norah’s problem. She was a user, vacuumed people up until they would not come near her.
And that, my Dearly Beloveds, is why Norah died alone and was found four days after she died. Since she was discovered dead, the police had to be called. They came and took the body away, putting it in their hospital morgue while they ascertained that she had died naturally. It took them a while to do this. In the meantime her community of acquaintances were trying to figure out how to claim the body. The police had to release the body in three weeks but they would only release it to a relative.
The acquaintances contacted the British Embassy, which wanted NOTHING to do with this. Then they contacted the French Embassy, which more humane got busy trying to find a relative. However, Norah had been an only child. There was no relative and it was getting closer to the time when the police would have to release the body. If there were no one to claim the body, the police would cremate it along with all the other bodies in their lost and found. Ashes would be dumped wherever. It’s a bit like what happens in NYC when your cat dies if you can’t afford an individual cat cremation. You get ashes but everyone’s tabby is in there.
The acquaintances were not happy about this but what to do? Into this drama walks a most unexpected Deus ex machina, the Catholic Church in the guise of the Holy Redeemer Church on Soi Ruam Rudee.
The Church claimed the body, arranged the funeral including, P. says, very nice flowers, giving Norah a send off mass and rather than a mass cremation. I think they also disposed of the ashes.
After this fascinating conversation, I went on to Kai’s shop and atelier on Ratchadamri. He is closing up in four months, after being the most famous women’s dress designer in Thailand for 35 years. He told me to look about for what I wanted and I walked out with about $2,000 worth of Kai originals.
He knows about the restaurant on Kansemsan 3 and says the family is Thai Chinese. The grandfather came over on one of those boats where they were crammed below decks. Another Chinese success story.
There are things I have never bought from Kai because he was always there. I found on my way home that I was thinking about various uniquely Kai things such as his tops and dresses made from strips of Thai silk sewn together and the very dainty Thai lace blouses and drapey silk pants that go with them. This is definitely the end of an era. Humm.
I discovered Kai many years ago when he had a tiny shop in the Oriental Plaza. I was entranced by the clothes but could neither fit into them nor afford them. I did buy one blouse when it was on sale. I still have it. After that I tracked Kai down as he moved from location to location but could never buy anything. Then maybe 7 years ago I stumbled across his big shop and atelier on Ratchadamri. I went in and looked at what was on sale. As I was trying on something that didn’t fit because it was a Thai size, I said to the young sales woman, “I have been following Kai around for years, ever since he had his shop in the Oriental Plaza.”
“Would you like to meet him,” she asked.
“I’d love to.”
So Kai and I met and the harmony of feeling and interest was immediately apparent. Enough so that he asked me if I would like to run the NYC end of his business, seeing if Bergdorf Goodman’s and such would carry his line. Terrified I said I would but it never worked, too many technical glitches.
So I sat on the Sky Train going, “Huumm.”
My time in Bangkok is self-indulgent time. Another day I went to Pansy’s a salon, which has been in existence since 1979, before I came here, run by a Singapore woman who married a Thai. She studied in Paris and has a very good salon with her name, Pansy. If that’s too cute for you I understand. Her operators do a really good facial. Pansy had just come from Singapore where she says some of the people are complaining that the times should be better. We both disapproved of this attitude.
After, I had lunch with Kai at Nara, River Shrimp broiled and scrumptious, and a beautiful white fish in a sauce so hot I couldn’t do more than two spoonfuls. This meal showed me up as a genuine farang, foreigner. Kai ordered a soup with a pig’s backbone standing up in it. It was FAR too hot for me, could not do it. He took it home. It is a dish from his southern province. For dessert we had durian with sticky rice in a coconut sauce that had absorbed the flavor of the durian. Absolute heaven and highly caloric. Durian is the fruit famous for it’s supposedly bad smell out here. If you like Camembert cheese, durian will not cause you distress. What is interesting about durian is its texture. It has the texture of rich custard. Quite amazing.
Kai and I talked about his coming to Barcelona and possibly living there. So this was a discussion of taxes, health insurance, metros, buses, apartments to buy or rent and all those things one needs to know.
The next day, working out at the gym, sweating plentifully and red in the face, I was spoken to by a handsome young Thai. First, I was amazed that I had enough breath to respond; second I could not figure out why he was talking to me. Later I realized he was a trainer and anyone sweaty and red in the face must look like a good prospect.
C, whom I have known for 35 years, even before she had children, picked me up at the Anantara for lunch. What we have in common is our birthday, ten years apart, and that she went to a college in southern California that I taught at, although not at the time she was there. One of my elder colleagues was her advisor in the Philosophy Department. Each year we exchange a small present; I catch up on her life and her children’s lives. The girl, who is beautiful and very tall for a Thai, has started a perfume business in Paris and married. The boy is working on his PhD. in England on the history of ancient warfare. He’s very like his mother intellectually and I expect will come home to teach at Thammasat, the Harvard of Thailand.
We had planned on lunching at a particular place but because we both had afternoon appointments this had to be cancelled. We went to Chan Pen (Full Moon Night) an old restaurant, which as we both decided afterwards, was not up to its old standards. C thinks there was lots of MSG. It just wasn’t very good, although if we had this restaurant in BCN we would be delighted. The best dish was the dessert of coconut and gingko fruit. I have never had that anywhere else in the world including China.
After lunch, C put me in a taxi driven by a fresh-faced young Thai who was very impressed with her authoritarian, professorial manner, taking her instructions about how to get to K Village, on Soi 26 Sukumvit, with great earnestness. We came into Soi 26 the back way through Soi Ari and found K Village. The driver was ecstatic with joy at having successfully delivered me, pointing out the sign with an emphatic finger and grinning delightedly. I tipped him the equivalent of a whole dollar.
Now that I was in K Village the next hurdle was where the hell was Rudi in this sprawling shopping mall with courtyards full of trees and fountains. I had presumed that she had opened a store here so I looked at store names. Then I called her. No she was part of the fair that was a meander of stalls through the courtyards and trees. I started looking at stalls. Rudi’s jewelry is pretty identifiable being eccentric and unusual.
Just as I was moving into the second court a man with a delightful grin came up to me. I knew Rudi had sent him and twenty feet behind him there she was with her hair now totally white, she’s in her mid eighties, cut in a sort of shingled effect, in a long blue and white dress, wearing a necklace of blue and white Chinese porcelain fragments and looking terrific. She had my jade butterfly earrings from last year. She has given the butterflies tiny ruby eyes. I showed her the opals to be made into earrings that Kathy had brought from Australia for me. We agreed that they were not the best opals but that they were pretty. Unfortunately at that point I noticed a small white jade Buddha nested in a gold ring. So I added that to the bill. Rudi is tempting because her prices are low.
I walked from K Village to the Sky Train on Soi 26 which is a very pretty soi lined with trees but even the trees cannot scour the air of the amount of carbon dioxide the cars are producing. I was exhausted by the pollution by the time I had walked the 3 kilometers to the Sky Train station.
The following day I met Kai for lunch after the gym at the Peninsula Plaza, once a very elegant little mall next to the Anantara Hotel but becoming less and less populated, however, we changed out minds. Kai loves Japanese food so we walked over to the Nippon-Tei that I have always meant to try in the Nantawan Building on Ratchadamri. It is very good. I tried to restrain Kai’s ordering to no avail so we had: sun dried squid which is a bit like chewing squid flavored rubber bands, a hand roll of crab and shrimp, something rectangular, small jelly like with fish eggs all over it, crunchy and nice, sting ray and a tray of sushi, oh yes, and soup. We finished with melon. Too much.
We talked more about his plans for coming to Europe. He complained as he has before about the lack of fashion imagination in the young saying, “The next fashion statement will be a bikini under a cloak to go to the opera.”
I told him about my plans for next year, doing my bucket list. We went back to his shop and I went a bit wild. Kai invented a method of lacing strips of Thai silk together to form a fabric. Yesterday I thought a woman had bought the last of these blouses in strips of rose and pink. But she hadn’t. I pounced. Pants to match. One of Kai’s perennial items has been lacy, very feminine, blouses in some kind of organdy with matching, floaty silk trousers. If I don’t buy these now I will never see them again.
Just as he was kindly bringing the price down a bit for me his nephew, wife and two children turned up. Nice people. The nephew has a beard. This is unusual in a Thai. They all went up stairs to his apartment. I went to be measured, a very involved, rather baroque process in Asia that includes everything: wrist, ankle, between nipples, nipple to shoulder, waist to waist through crotch, thigh, and neck.
Between Rudi and Kai an expensive day.