BANGKOK BLOG 2023: BLOG III

And then it happened again. I went to the desk at the Holiday Inn to extend my check out date and they said they had no room. I called C. She, within minutes, arranged for me to move to the Ibis down the street. It is not the Holiday Inn as far as room size and luxury go—the closet is smaller, there’s no rug, the bathroom is smaller, the window is smaller– but it is just fine and oddly the breakfast is much better. But here is an interesting thing. If I put my hand on the outside wall of the room at the Ibis at mid-day the wall is hot. This was not true of the wall at the Holiday Inn; therefore, the air-conditioning is more efficient and colder. The Holiday Inn must be insulated against heat in its construction.

But I am feeling guilty. The receptionist at the Holiday Inn told their porter to wheel my bag down the street to the Ibis for me. I apparently didn’t tip him enough and he was cross.

I buy, and have for years, my postcards from an Indian tailor’s shop on Rama I near the Ibis. Postcards are not readily available in Bangkok.  When I buy, they always offer me stamps which I don’t buy since I go to the post office. This time when one of the men offered me stamps, he told me I would save money if I bought stamps from him because I could put 18 baht stamps on the cards whereas in the post office, they would make me buy 45 baht stamps. He’s a slithery sort of man who gives me the creepy crawlies, so I made note of the price. It is 40 baht for a postcard stamp at the post office. But after dealing with the creepy, the other man, a Sikh appeared. He is so warm and delightful that I forgot about the slug trail of slime who’s sold me cards.

I have learned that an old, but distant acquaintance here has terminal lung cancer. I wished him a painless exit when he told me, and he agreed. But he seems to be taking it well. He doesn’t want treatment. I admire his attitude and fortitude.

I made the usual commiserating noises and he said, “It’s all right. I’m 84. I never wanted to be 90.”

He has a point. 90 has a reputation for being a difficult, physically and mentally deconstructing decade.

Since I know few people in my age group, I asked him if he found, as I do, that there is a lot of negative attitude at this age, particularly in the morning. To my great interest he replied, “I find as long as I am upright, I am fine but lying down causes instant schizophrenia.”

Yesterday I ran into an old friend I had yet to contact, U, who did not look good. She told me she had been meditating. In her practice she holds her breath at a point in her meditation; she held it too long, passed out, fell and broke her arm. She has osteoporosis. She had never had a bone density test or taken calcium supplements.

She is a retired professor of Chulalongkorn University with two different but equally interesting children. The girl, now a woman, lives outside of Paris, has started a successful business manufacturing her own line of perfumes, married a Frenchman and has six Yorkshire terriers. Her son, the younger of the two, is teaching at Chulalongkorn while working on a Ph.D. in history. He applied for the job without telling her what he was doing and was employed without any reference to her. I am convinced that he will one day be the chairman of the History Department.

This morning I got on the Skytrain, sat in one of the seats reserved for monks, the aged, the pregnant, and the physically impaired. Since I am 86 I feel entitled. But on this mornin, I suddenly heard a male voice speaking English telling me to get up because I was in his seat. It was an orange wrapped monk and I rose immediately, giving him the seat, although I had as much right to it as he.

I have been eating experimentally, but not with good results—a not very good pork and greens dish with one, huge, outsized noodle, a Chinese meal of much too much soup and noodles which I couldn’t finish—so I have stopped experimenting. But one day I had a superb chicken cashew fried rice with a roasted river prawn, cucumbers on the side and on another a sator bean, shrimp and minced pork stir fry which left me with scorched lips. Either you like having scorched lips or you stop eating. I ate down to the last crumbs of pork. Sator beans look much like our lima beans but have a different flavor and texture, less mealy, more crisp.

My new room at the Ibis, although on a lower floor, has the same view over Bangkok with, in the foreground, the National Stadium’s playing fields.

When I asked for a room on the front the young, woman receptionist objected saying that it would be noisy. I pointed out to her that I was deaf and that I preferred the view in the front. So here I am on the 16th rather than the 23rd floor. Oddly, why this should be I don’t know, but the breakfast is much better here, more diverse, and the croissants are almost croissants. The Holiday Inn’s croissants were rolled bits of dough on which one gnaws.

While all the paragraphs above were going on I had to first go online and make an appointment for a Visa Extension and then gird my loins to go out to the Government Complex to get it. Proffer me no sympathy. This was entirely my own fault. I got off the plane at Suvarnabhumi Airport walked, perhaps dragged is a better verb, my exhausted, jet lagging body by the office that said, “Visa Extension”, partly out of cranky, weary belligerence, partly out of faith that the old rules still held and that I would be able, for 100US, to get a lawyer to acquire the extension for me. The rules have changed.

Just getting out to the Government Complex was daunting to say nothing of the unknown “complex” of bureaucracy awaiting me there. Asking among friends I was advised to find, through the reception desk at the hotel, now the Ibis, a taxi driver who knew the territory.

I did and at 8:30 am she and I set out through interminable highways with Easy-pass gates to what was indeed a complex clutch of buildings. Each, no more than two stories high, sat above its own water filled moat.

We parked before Building B in the accepted Thai manner. This means that we saw a vacant space which was blocked by a couple of cars. My driver stopped. We got out and began pushing cars about so that we would be able to get into the slot. Thais never put on their hand brakes so that people can do this. We moved a car and a Toyota van, parked and then moved the van and car back to their places. I haven’t engaged in this activity in years and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

We went into Building B, went up one flight on an escalator in a building vast as an airplane hangar where I filled out one set of forms under instructions from my driver since the forms were in Thai. I then sat and waited for a very short time, barely time enough to note that those of us waiting were of all nationalities, before I was called into the office and given my visa extension for 1,900 baht.

We went out into the heat and pushed the car and the Toyota van out of the way, moved the cab out of its slot, and then pushed them back into positions. My driver delivered me back to the Ibis.

After the gym the other day I had a lunch of pomelo salad with tiny, dried shrimp and on the side soft spring rolls. Heavenly. At the next table was a Western man who was disabled in some way and in a wheelchair. A middle-aged, Thai women, probably his wife, was lunching with him. I was impressed with how little she helped him but let him struggle with his difficulties. It was obviously what he wanted.

The next day after the gym on my way down to the Mandarin Oriental I came across an American woman with two small, calm boys. She had become turned around and had traveled several stops in the wrong direction. I helped her redirect herself.  I was impressed that the two boys took being lost in a foreign country with such equanimity.

It is a not very long, but it was a very hot, 35C, walk from the Taksin Skytrain stop to the Mandarin Oriental but it is a walk on a narrow sidewalk with people going in both directions made narrower by lines of vendors of everything from locks to grilled squid on either side. Your eyes, ears and nose are busy all the time.

At the Terrace Restaurant at the Mandarin, I was offered a seat outside but having just made that walk I wanted air conditioning inside. On the terrace there were two Western women lunching alone. I found it interesting that I could tell they had partners who were probably off doing business and they were both just a little uncomfortable at being on their own. The absence next to them had a solidity.

The green chicken curry at the Mandarin is good, although not quite as good as it used to be, but the other excuse for spending all that money on a dish one can have anywhere at least as well cooked is the view of the river traffic. There is the hustle and bustle of cross river ferries dodging each other, the long trains of rice barges loaded within a foot of their narrow decks breasting the river like deep bosomed matrons, as they are hauled down river by tough little orange and white tugs, who if they were to talk would do it out of the side of their mouths.

Coming back, I had the luck to catch the river bus from the Oriental stop to Taksin, a short but lovely ride on the Chaophraya.

I was on the walkway today above the Indra Shrine and stopped to watch the lion dancers at the shrine. There were two yellow lions but when they were finished a dragon unfurled his gold coils and swaggered about the back of the shrine to the music of drums and symbols.

4 thoughts on “BANGKOK BLOG 2023: BLOG III

  1. Thanks, again, for taking us along on your travels Karen. I always appreciate what you select and observe, both in yourself and the world around you. We are lucky ones, indeed, to have the gift of travel and change to renew our vision and emotional states. Love, Rebecca

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  2. So good to finally read about you now that I’m semi-retired and actually have the time to read something other than stuff I have to write about. I will confess to snoozing in meditation occasionally but have never fallen, much less broken my arm. I love the moving cars story. I want to do this at an American mall.

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  3. Dear Karen,
    I am so thrilled to read your Bangkok adventures and happy to know you’ve been traveling again. I have to confess I feel a little envious, although being away for three weeks, visiting my son and his wife who moved from Cambridge, MA, to southern CA last June, was a delightful respite.
    Be well and enjoy the rest of your travels! ox *Marjolijn *
    *”A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” * Gloria Steinem

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