Archive for the 'bangkok' Category

View from the top

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

I extended my stay in Bangkok because Andrew came out for the weekend, but had to find a new place because the one I was in was booked solid for November. I got a room in the hotel three doors down called Top Inn. The reason it was available is because it’s literally on top of Nana Entertainment Center. This is the view from my window:

Even seven stories up you can hear (and feel) the bass from the clubs. They shut down at 2:00a, though, so you can get some sleep, and the hotel offers “old skool” services like laundering your safari suit (or just the jacket).

Pat(Ping)Pong

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Andrew and I went to Somboon Seafood for dinner and had prawns almost as big as your hand:

We went to Patpong afterward. Beer is cheaper than at Nana, and it’s pretty tame compared to its reputation, but we didn’t see any of the “shows” on offer, so I can’t say for sure it doesn’t get worse. We walked down the nearby street that caters to Japanese tourists, and I marveled anew at the inflated prices Japanese people are willing to pay abroad to establishments that adapt to their culture. Everyone avoided us until we spoke Japanese, but we found that there is an hourly charge of 600 baht, plus 100 baht per beer, plus 200 for a “lady drink.” That’s 900 baht for an hour compared to 240 baht for the same thing (minus karaoke machine, but with no hourly charge) literally two streets down.

We ended up in the quieter side street sharpening up our pool game. There we saw the small but stout female bartender roust out a drunken German using a truncheon. Apparently he comes there regularly and she throws him out regularly, and sometimes beats him up too. It wasn’t entertaining — he may have been obnoxious, but I don’t think he should be beaten with a club. (Though maybe he keeps coming back because that’s what he’s looking for.) She smacked him twice and I had just decided to say something when he retreated.

Halloween in Bangkok

Friday, October 31st, 2008

On the morning of Halloween, we went to the huge Paragon Mall to get a camera for Andrew. It was a super deal compared to China or the UK — the same camera I bought but about $250 cheaper, with the chance to get your face painted Halloween-style for free.

We are still at the tail end of the rainy season, which resembles Florida’s more than Tokyo’s: 20 minutes of rain every afternoon rather than days at a time. The problem in Bangkok is drainage. I once went three stops on the sky train and alighted to see that it had started to rain while I was underway. Before I got back down to street level, the sudden shower had stopped, and I was congratulating myself on my perfect timing when a car drove through a standing puddle and soaked me.

We had a solid hour’s worth of rain during dinner at Ruen Mallika (in a fantastic, leaky, teak house), and when we took the taxi to Soi Cowboy for a beer afterward, the taxi was throwing a bow wave. (The pictures are on Andrew’s new camera.) When we got to Soi Cowboy, the entire street was flooded, and all the patrons who were already there when the rain started were essentially stranded.

We didn’t feel like wading (literally) through the water, so we went to Nana instead.

Sausages and chicken wings

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

There’s way more chance of a street vendor trying to speak Thai with you than any waiter in a sit-down restaurant, so I’ve been eating at the carts a lot. Andrew is here for a long weekend.

Sausages and chicken wings

Begging: Rio vs Bangkok

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

The last time I gave money to a beggar, he and two of his friends followed me secretly until I was passing through a park and then the three of them mugged me.

I only had $40 in reais in my pocket, but they took my pen, compass, and watch, and I had to fight over the key to my hotel safe, which they eventually threw on the sidewalk. This was in Rio.

The funny part was that in my next Portuguese class, we got to Chapter 5, “How to Report an Assault to the Police.” I had fresh details to practice with, and learned that all of my instructors had been mugged multiple times, sometimes at gunpoint, which I guess explains why it’s a chapter in the textbook.

There are a lot of beggars on Sukhumvit Road, but they are generally not just poor. Most are amputees or have otherwise deformed or diseased limbs (and sometimes faces). Giving these people money is easier than deciding what to label it in the expense diary I am keeping for this trip. “Charity” seems too grand.

Monastic life on Sukhumvit

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

On my flight home to Tokyo from my last trip to Bangkok, Thai Airways invited monks to board first before making the usual announcement about “guests traveling with small children and people needing extra time.”

When I got to the counter I asked why and they told me that monks are not allowed to touch women, and letting them board first helps keep them from getting accidentally jostled. Apparently it works the same on the metro:

While walking down Sukhumvit Road, I’ve been approached on two occasions by a man wearing saffron monk robes. He was very aggressive in asking for money, and singled me out of a host of Thai people walking down the same street. I didn’t give him any money for several small reasons: He was wearing street shoes, not sandals; he singled me (the foreigner) out, which I didn’t want to encourage; he was out begging in the early evening and I had read that monks were meant to live on alms they collected each day before noon.

I understand that all Thai men are monks at some stage in their lives, even if it’s only for one day. It seems to me that the point of living from alms is to learn humility and self-denial, and to understand your interdependence with other members of your community. You can’t learn these things by begging from tourists (presumably because they have more money) rather than your co-religionists.

On the other hand, I read this excerpt from the Diamond Sutra quoted in Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train To The Eastern Star yesterday:

Buddha teaches that the mind of a Bodhisattva should not accept the appearances of things as a basis when exercising charity.

Branded on the tongue

Monday, October 27th, 2008

What is this an ad for?

It looks like it could be an ad for British cuisine, which reminded me of that Goodness Gracious Me skit where they go for “an English” and daringly order “the blandest thing on the menu.”

It’s an ad for English lessons.

Everything not forbidden is compulsory

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

I think you can learn a lot about what people actually do in a country by looking at what is prohibited in its public spaces. Here’s the list of prohibitions from Bangkok’s relatively new metro:

I broke one of the rules by taking this photo (second from right on the bottom). The prohibition next to that (on the left) is specific to Thailand. The next along on the left was hard to interpret, but I found another prohibition list with English glosses — it means “No sitting on the floor while holding oversized balloons.”

The ones from China show that spitting and explosives on the train are problems, and the ones from India discourage public urination. In the US you see a lot of No shirt, no shoes, no service; We reserve the right to refuse service; and No firearms. This last is probably because they are afraid of what you’ll do if they don’t serve you.

Soi Cowboy

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Buddha bling

Friday, October 24th, 2008

My taxi driver yesterday was wearing an amulet that looked like a Matrix-style jack at the base of his neck, and his dashboard held a miniature shrine. Buddhism in Thailand extends to T-shirt philosophy like “Don’t fight your destiny” (which I actually saw on a T-shirt.)

The pre-Socratic philosophers used a cart metaphor to describe our relationship to fate or destiny: We are a puppy tied to a cart — wherever the cart goes, we will go too, but we have enough freedom to decide whether to be dragged by our chain or to trot happily beside the wheels.

It’s not all genial fatalism here, though. There are Lamborghinis for sale at the mall:

Is this your destiny?