Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chiang Mai notes and on to Bangkok!

All the restaurants I frequent feature taped music, some of it good, a lot of it drink-splatteringly funny. The sushi place I eat at on Wednesdays and Saturdays (when they get the fresh fish in) plays a song in some Asian language I can’t identify. The song has a “Grazing in the Grass” sort of sound and feel, but the words, (and I swear I am not making this up) sounds like “pussy-pussy-pussy-marijuana…pussy-pussy!”

But I really do go there for the fish, not to giggle into my teacup and make a spectacle of myself twice weekly.

* *
Same with Thais’ use of the English language. I don’t mean the occasional grammatical error, I mean stuff like the menu item “Finger Salad.” I don’t know what that is and I don’t want to ask. Squid tentacles, maybe?

The white guy sitting next to me at the internet café is researching Thai prostitutes. Not photos. He’s reading text. How ridic is that? I can’t rid myself of the idea that if you have to pay for it, you’re pathetic.

3 March 2007: On to Bangkok

It’s not 7 p.m. and I’m exhausted and achy. Checked out of the Baan Thai, then Anong drove me to the airport. Got onto the plane for BK w/o incident. For the first time this trip, no excess weight charges but my main bag is so heavy that I toss stuff at the hotel and resolve to toss more when I leave.

The hotel is lovely, right on the Chao Phraya river and a short walk to a public boat pier, one where public transport boats stop regularly. I’m on the 9th floor with a partial river view. The a/c went out, requiring two visits to fix, but service was prompt and with Thai smiles. Now I am sitting on the hotel terrace next to the river, watching the full moon rise romantically over BKs giant TV antennae. (See the photo on the left, above)

The city is a trafficky steambath by day and delightful as night. I plan to do most of my sightseeing in the morning followed by hotel, shower and relaxation, then out again at night. But tonight I’m tired, so drinks, bath, bed and maybe a movie or a good book…who knows, maybe I’ll write! Stranger things have happened.

6 March—Tuesday.

It’s Bruce’s birthday today. I sent him an e-card several days ago and wonder if I’ll hear from him.

My prediction of how my BK days will go was way off the mark. I did realize quickly that the worst way to travel in BK is on the streets. There’s always a nice breeze over the river, so Sunday I took the boat down the central pier and then used the Skytrain to tour the city. It initially seems overly air conditioned but after a sweaty session at the Jatujak outdoor market it’s delightful.

This is a remarkable and interesting city. I went to the home of Jim Thompson, a farang who was OSS during WW2 and then settled here. He was instrumental in promoting the Thai silk trade. Had a lovely, traditional Thai home along one of the klongs which is full of beautiful antiques. (The house, not the klong, which is a canal). Was quite tired during the tour, so found my way back to the hotel and had a foot massage.

Yesterday—Monday—I put on my yellow “I love the King” shirt and took a boat to the #9 pier to tour the Grand Palace. Most of it is closed to the public except for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the holiest shrine of Thai Buddhism. The buildings are amazing, with every surface decorated with, tile or glass mosaics. Giant statues of guardian demons and gilded apsaras everywhere. (see the right hand photo, above) No apparent order to the place which made it hard to stay oriented, and the map they give you isn’t accurate.

By 11 o’clock I’m exhausted. I eat lunch is the little café, have an ice cream, tour the Museum of the Emerald Buddha which has some nice stuff in it and then head over to the area some people call Baglamphu which has a street called the Khao San, the primary backpacker haven of SE Asia. I have a feeling I can get a good cheap massage there.

I’m right—an hour and a half later I head out, totally rejuvenated. I toddle around the area, find an Internet café, do some work and then look around some more. I like this part of the city. I notice that the sky is bluer than in Chiang Mai and think that I could happily live in BK, if I could get used to the heat and humidity, which gives me the sensation of always wearing a thin sticky film over my skin.

The hotel is a riot. It’s more than a bit retro…it has one of those built in radios with a control panel next to the bed. I switched it on just before I got into the shower, and when I got out and wrapped my west hair in a towel, I heard old protest songs, Peter Paul and Mary, playing. First “If I had a Hammer” followed by “Blowin in the Wind”…it made me a little weepy, and I realized that maybe it’s time to bring back those old songs.

The impact was spoiled by “How Much is that Doggie in the Window.”


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