He did. But first we went to a party. CW’s partner was for many years the official florist of Her Majesty the Queen. A show of his art, paintings and sculpture, was opening at a gallery. At the entrance were two out sized bowls over- flowing with orchids, one white, one purple. Inside were S’s paintings, sometimes the shape of a jasmine bud painted flatly in a golden or other vivid shade over which he had traced in oil paint a tracery pattern like a net. One sculpture was a jasmine bud in wood, another a rectangle composed of hanging silver needles about 8 inches long. I kept wondering what sound they would make in a gentle breeze.
I circulated until my feet hurt and then found a chair near a desk with two other chairs to collapse in. A Thai woman in a bouffant dress of lavender with dark purple figures on it also needed to collapse. She came and sat next to me, and we chatted inconsequential things. We were joined a bit later by a woman, also of a certain age, as delicately constructed as a moth wing. Her hair was somewhere on a pale spectrum between grey and blond, cut in small seraph wings around her dainty face. She wore a cheongsam of hand painted silk in a spring selection of greens, a parrot on her left shoulder firmly present at its head and shoulders became more spectral as your glance moved to his tail. This is the sort of Thai woman who causes despairing envy in me. They make me feel as though I am constructed of angular lumps of pig iron.
The fourth woman at the party, there were only four of us at that point, was a tall handsome woman, well made up with her hair dyed black, who CW told me later had been Miss Thailand some years back. We seated three, however, kept ourselves busy chatting as more people came in and the population changed as did the atmosphere with the arrival of couples with small children.
CW drove me back to my neighborhood where I transferred to the Holiday Inn’s 23rd floor with a sumptuous view of Bangkok’s skyscrapers. However, the shock of being told to leave resonated for a few days making me unhappy. There was also the fact that even at the age of 86 it is a bit of a come down for a former rather intrepid traveler—after all I once spent a night in the storeroom of a Tibetan monastery sharing my accommodation with the rats who were exclusively interested in the grain sacks—to find herself in a stolidly American, middleclass hotel like the Holiday Inn. Not good for my snobbery. But after my rejection, it was nice to be in such a vigorously respectable, unimaginative place that for breakfast serves croissants made of baked library paste but good coffee and good scrambled eggs as well as chicken fried rice, pad Thai and a variety of Chinese dishes.
I look out to the skyscrapers of Bangkok of which there are a plenty—one curved like a wave, another with a gold dome, one that looks as though someone punched it leaving it not with broken teeth but broken apartment floors. Far to the right rises the shimmer of the Golden Mount. Straight down are the playing fields of Bangkok—the stadium with its red track and green central rectangle, a grassy soccer field, a green oval with rectangles and circles on it, and a many laned outdoor pool far to the left. Directly down is the terminus of the Skytrain.
I have been checking out my old mall haunts, the Paragon and Central World, to see what has changed. Not much. Central World, which one reaches by walking on a street above the street, does not have as good an ambience as the Paragon. It’s more mall-like with shops in open spaces next to each other rather than contained within walls. I looked as I always do for the good Chinese restaurant C and W took me to, but no luck. I ended up at a mediocre Japanese place for chicken laid out on rice in a bucket with vegetables.
The sea of wall-less shops disorients me, so I find my way by walking until I hit a wall or see a sign that says BTS meaning the Skytrain is out there. I continued down the walkway to the big crossing of Rama I and Ratchadamri until I looked down on the Indra Shrine.
There is always something on at the Indra Shrine, which this day had four Lion Dancers—two red, two yellow—leaping about in a jubilant cavort. They were being fed money by the man who had hired them.
The next day I went to the gym before meeting my friend Kai, for years the most famous dress designer in SE Asia, for a much better Japanese lunch of scallops simmered on a tiny stove before us and a whole fish baked in soy with mushrooms and vegetables.
On my second trip to Thailand, I saw in a shop window at the Oriental Plaza an exquisite white mist of blouse. The designer was someone named Kai. On my next trip I stumbled across his shop on Ratchadamri and hesitantly walked in, knowing I was out of my price range.
As I wandered among drifts of iridescent Thai silk, and beaded, bangled satin elegantly draped, I told the young shop assistant that I thought these were works of art. She smiled and asked, “Would you like to meet the designer?” I said I would. Kai and I immediately became friends. That was 35 years ago.
Kai is now in semi-retirement and has his factory—a four-person factory—shop and apartment out in Sukumvit. We took the Skytrain and when we got off were met by motorcycles which whisked us to his shop. My driver thought carrying me was the most hilarious incident of at least his day if not his week since I refused to ride side saddle. Getting a leg over a motorcycle at 86 is an accomplishment equal to an Olympic high hurdle.
The factory-store is comfortable with a cozy, noncommercial ambience. There is a nice room in the back where you can sit, have tea, or try on a dress. I had brought fabric, so Kai sketched as we discussed.
But what was best was a baby in the middle of the factory in its lounge chair. The mother is a young woman whom I remember Kai taking in when Burma exploded in, I am not sure of my dates, maybe 2012. She escaped from Burma with her mother. When they crossed the river into Thailand Burmese soldiers on one bank and Thai soldiers on the other pulled them across on ropes.
When he took her in in her teens, she was skinny and small. She is both taller and plumper. She started as domestic help and then when she saw what was going on in the factory asked to be trained. She is now a skilled needle woman.
She has a smile that spreads a glow around her.
She is about to take the baby and go back to Burma because her other child, a son, is now 10 and, therefore, ready to spend the next few years as a monk being educated.
On the Skytrain going home there was a tall, at least 6 feet, young man in wonderful black and white cartoon printed trousers and a black and white stripped top. I told him in front of his girlfriend that his outfit was superb. He acknowledged the compliment as completely deserved.
And so back to the 23rd floor and my view across Bangkok and down to little figures kicking a soccer ball. No, I don’t miss the Reno Hotel.
3 thoughts on “BANGKOK BLOG 2023: BLOG II”
I’m happy to know that you reached Thailand safely, just a bit more tired than doing the usual flight with Finnair. It has outraged me to read that the Reno Hotel made you out because of their bad overbooking management. I will certainly remember to speak badly of that hotel to everybody I may know is planning to travel to Bangkok. And for the rest, I’m enjoying the vegetarian part of your exquisite meals, the walks, the views, the silks…
Have a pleasant stay, Raffaella
I love the photos. This hotel is quite a change for you. Enjoy the views. J
It’s great to hear that you were able to make it back to Bangkok. Enjoyed hearing about revisiting the dress maker’s shop again. At some point it would be great to see pictures of the dresses there. Also, does Kai have a website? Please stay safe–especially on those motorcycles!