I took Qatar Air rather than my usual Finn Air out of curiosity, I’d heard such good things about them, also just to do something different. I had a six-hour layover in Dubai but was sure I would be able to get one of those clean, claustrophobic rooms where you can crash. I had always been able to do this in Helsinki.
There had been a yowling baby on the flight attended by frantic parents, particularly the tall, slender mother who felt that having a wailing child was a social solecism proving her an inadequate person and mother. When not at full bore yowl, the baby was a perfectly cheerful soul.
In Dubai I was met, to my surprise by a uniformed young woman holding a card with my name on it. I have a friend who works on occasion in the Dubai airport, and I thought he might have arranged this but he has not claimed responsibility so the airline must have arranged it on their own reconnaissance, because of my age I would guess. I asked for a room for my six hours, but the young uniform just smiled the mysterious smile of the person who doesn’t really understand English.
The airport is so clean you are consciously aware you are walking through a CLEAN airport. It is equipped with all the appropriate shops that I cannot imagine shopping in any more, although when younger I used to want to buy in those shops. Should I be ashamed of that?
She led me to the lounge, and I realized this was it, no little claustrophobic room but a huge lounge divided according to various uses, sitting, eating, computering, and lounges for sleeping if you can. It had an uncontained ambience with a ceiling that was out of sight with brilliant lighting pouring down. I was given a plastic wrapped purple blanket, Qatar’s color, and a black leather, or some-such, lounge. Over the next five hours in a state that should have a name in the contemporary world but doesn’t—perhaps dozen’tstress–I had various companions on the lounge across from me—a young Chinese man with a wide, gold wedding band, a succession of indistinguishable Western businessmen, an African woman with many braids.
At seven am, my flight was at eight, no uniformed young woman picked me up. I stopped on my walk out of the lounge to tell the young man on duty that I had not been picked up. He dashed off and returned with the young woman, the same smile perhaps surgically attached to her face, who had brought me to the lounge, and she led me to my gate. This was good because I was in that state
where the brain has pulled the plug out of the socket of comprehension.
The flight to Bangkok had its own baby who, probably because she was Thai, cried less and communicated with waves using both hands.
I was so tired, cranky, idiotically belligerent and unfit for communication when I arrived that I decided, sheer perversity, to skip the visa application, although I knew full well that I would then have to get it through C’s lawyer, and it would cost me $100.
I felt exhilarated to be in Bangkok, to be on Thai concrete. I wound my way through the airport down the moving path, not an escalator, on which you have to hold on firmly to your luggage or it will become a juggernaut and knock down all the people in front of you. My taxi driver was everything I could have wanted. He took the old route without my asking. We talked a little. He asked how many years I had been coming to Thailand. I said, “Twenty,” instead of the truthful “Forty” out of shame that in all that time all the Thai I have acquired is “Sawadeeka” and “Kapkhunka.”
He delivered me to the Reno where I remembered the young man behind the desk, and he remembered me. My room was on the back with an unattractive view of the now defunct White Lodge Hostel. I was too exhausted to ask to change.
I went back down and had my first Thai food—spicy pork—excellent—and greasy deep fried rice balls—not so good. There is no good Thai food in Barcelona, I miss it, and gorge when in Bangkok.
I slept well and after breakfast got unpacked in my fashion before heading to the Paragon’s Gourmet Market more to look at the Thai fruits that are not available in Europe—great mishappen jack fruit, durian like swollen maces in their spikes, golden heaps of mangoes–than to buy, although I did get a salad at the extraordinary salad bar where gem red and green sliced peppers lie next to softly brown cooked or white raw mushrooms , broccoli, lima beans, Japanese crab, chicken chunks in their bowls below an array of lettuces, bibb, butter head, arugula to frisée.
Coming back, I walked down the soi. It’s not a particularly special soi but it is my soi. Wendy´s Hostel is still shut as is its laundry and the other laundry doesn’t seem to be operating where it was last year. A black male cat, with battle scars on his ears, accompanied me talking in a quiet conversational way.
W and C picked me up and gave me a choice of restaurants, either the one near St. Louis Hospital or the one run by W’s high school friend by the canal. I chose the one by the canal because I could never find it on my own. We had beef with the little bitter peas I love, crab in a creamy sauce, chicken and a spicy pork followed by excellent durian ice cream. The restaurant is in a sort of open shed beside the canal. There is air conditioning in the closed off part, but the open part was cool enough at this time of year with an occasional breeze.
The combination of jet lag and old age gives me sudden spirals of excessive exhaustion and defective memory. The next day, I did get to the gym at the Anantara where the same old acquaintances were having coffee, cake and not exercising much. It’s their club.
C and W picked me up to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Then C and I went to the Jim Thompson outlet on Sukumvit. It’s always a bit of a thrill to go to the Outlet, as though one were doing something special and local. This is not particularly true. There was gorgeous six ply orange silk but that was not the color I wanted, also a green of exactly the shade already covering the sofa. I found a warm, turquoise linen, six ply, so I bought half a dozen kilos of that, actually seven meters, which certainly feels like six kilos.
Then C and I were at leisure. We drove back to their house in the center of town which I haven’t seen in years. It is a little thing tucked into the busiest part of Bangkok but you would never know it looking at the short rows of neat, white houses that chummily cuddle together under the unseen skyscrapers. Warapot’s palm tree, it is still alive, if leaning a bit, is directly in front, tethered to the wall in case it feels the need of support. It seems to be fine. Because Chinese New Year is this weekend the house was in turmoil. C was using the holiday as an opportunity to sort and discard. That holiday was about to upset my life.
The next morning, Saturday, the young man on the front desk told me I would have to move out. Because of the holiday they had over booked, and I had no room. I was open mouthed with astonishment and a number of decidedly hostile emotions. Luckily my extraordinary friend CW was picking me up for lunch and later a party. I told him my just delivered news and he said firmly, “Don’t worry. I will have a room for you tomorrow.” He instantly transformed into a shining knight on a white horse. I knew he would find one.