Technically, we were in Bangkok for three nights, but that’s just being pedantic. The infamous song about the chess tournament in Bangkok many years ago is always playing in the back of my brain when I think about trips to Bangkok. Well, that and the visuals of what life looks like here in Bangkok.
[Hathai will add pictures to this post later.]
The Asian disregard for individual human life is something that I always find jarring. While some places, like China, are officially not supporters of Western concepts for human rights or the Geneva Convention, other places like Thailand are supporters of those views and equality. So my thoughts are not referring to any governments per se, it’s more about the localized, individualized choices people make in their day-to-day lives.
A common technique of moving things (supplies, trash, livestock, people) in Thailand is the ubiquitous pickup truck. They modify the bed to have a large metal frame that sticks up quite high relative to the cab, and then lash everything to that frame. Some trucks keep their contents well within the frame borders, others look like elephants pregnant with sextuplets and about to explode at the seams from their bulging in all directions. Then you find Thai people sitting or laying on top of these contraptions, either sleeping or texting others, as the truck weaves in and out of traffic at 100 kmh, or through torturous windy mountain roads. There is no safety harness, they are not strapped in by any means; it’s simply a risk-taking with their individual lives that leaves me breathless and amazed.
Our arrival in Thailand – once we woke up later that morning, at any rate – was keenly anticipated by at least three members of our family for one major reason: peak tropical fruit season. Mangosteen, rambutan, long gong (duku), mango, you name it . . . plentiful, cheap, and uber-easy to obtain. Is it even possible for manna from heaven to be better than that? Many people would argue “of course not” in this family. I find these trips highly amusing as Hathai tries to eat her bodyweight in mangosteen fruit daily – I think she only succeeded once, several years back, and learned not to actually achieve such again without accepting deeply personal side effects involving porcelain objects.
This aside, we spent a few days and nights with extended family in Bangkok – which we saw in-between attempts to eat ourselves to death on fruit or adjust to a timezone of +15 hours from whence we left the USA, +14 from our home in Oregon. We also got to enjoy some changes since our last stay here, namely the addition of three (plus or minus) dogs. It’s not like in America, where you have dogs in a big yard and space to run around – this is more of dogs that are beloved by the family, but don’t have a lot of open space. If you let them run around outside the house/small yard region, then they intermingle with the packs of street dogs, and you really don’t want to risk those side effects coming back home. On the other hand, it makes for a somewhat concentrated presence, and it’s hard to go anywhere without a dog underfoot. Pa’Aoun loves them, though, so it simply remains yet another interesting change from our cat-ruled domicile in Oregon to the Thai family.
Of course, we also arrived during the rainy season. It didn’t rain very much on us during our brief stint this time, but it did rain a bit – mostly just enough to be annoying and keep the humidity level up. Hathai’s cousin, Pa’Aoun, took us to a new riverside mall/shopping area that seems to cater to farang (foreigner) clientele, called Asiatique. It’s on the Chao Phraya river, has a large permanent ferris wheel, and more shops than you want to visit unless you really enjoy shopping. It rained that night, so we forewent the boat ride of the night view tour, and instead rode the ferris wheel.
The girls are brave travelers, but have found at times that their braveness wavers in the face of some things. Ferris wheels – or really, heights of that magnitude in general – seem to be one of those line items. They don’t want the ferris wheel or cable car or ski lift rocked at all, and they want everyone to remain calm – until you’re much closer to the ground, at which point they go back to being silly and dramatic. Regardless, after a fairly routine ride – with some interesting views of the night sky around Bangkok – we grabbed some dinner in the big food court area, and the girls did a bit of shopping.
Shopping . . . I don’t know where the girls developed their desires to shop, but it certainly didn’t come from my personality. I hate shopping and try to spend the minimal amount of time doing anything that resembles shopping. But if you dangle the prospect of earrings in front of Brieana, or little ceramic figurines of fish/cats/mushrooms/tuktuks in front of either girl, it’s a bunch of whining and “can we go shopping now” and endless claims of imminent death if shopping trips are not carried out immediately. Really – imminent death from a lack of shopping for dust collectors. Ooookay, then, I believe my children will die from lack of shopping before we make it home.
We did also make a detour through MBK plaza . . . this is like a little street market, but in 6-storey mall form. Dense packed, crazy, you can find almost anything. We ran through another couple of shopping centers as well – partly due to avoiding rain, partly due to just getting lost and turned around a few times. We saw lots of cool and interesting things – some I’d even love to bring back, like the power cubes, but they wouldn’t work in America on standard wall voltage. Note to self: build a house with both 110 and 220 outlets. If nothing else, electronics on 220 charge much faster – laptops, tablets, phones, . . .
Part of the street view or street walking experience in Thailand cities is the way stores are presented. Much like in parts of New York City or other American places, there is a narrow but deep shop with a rolling metal grate that covers the entire front. When the grate is down, the shop is closed; when it’s up, the shop is open, typically spilling out into the sidewalk or even part of the street. Above these shops – most of which are only one floor – are residential accommodations of some sort, though I’ve never seen the inside of one. Of course there are bigger shops – malls, plazas, large expo stores, that sort of thing – but the common street business is this type of arrangement.
What I have never been able to find out, though, is how to tell when a business will be open. It seems to be almost random. Some are open very clearly defined hours – pharmacies, 7-Eleven, optical places, VCD shops, that kind. But the market that sells toys, or does Internet café, or has brooms and Tupperware – some days they are open, some they are not; in one day, at some times they are open, and some times they are not. I keep meaning to ask someone to explain it to me, but it slips my mind in the litany of questions I want to have answered about the culture and life here . . .
Hathai claims she speaks “pidgin Thai” rather than proper Thai, but I still let her handle most of the communications. I can be polite, order food, and count a bit – that’s what I’m comfortable with, at any rate, though I tend to catch a bit more than that when I focus hard. That said, she has seen me from time to time do quite well with my “pointer” – the index finger is a powerful communication tool, when you just need to say, “I want that!” A few universal hand gestures (check, please; sorry, no idea; etc.) go a long way with the index finger to being the universal communication vehicle. For me, at least.
We learned a bit about taxis as well while we were here during this short time. We ran down to the big temple, royal residence, and all that. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but since we’re finally doing silly tourist things – even though we lived here for a year, we never bothered – we felt like we should give it a go. While that experience and the photos are something to be described later, we were completely screwed by a pink cabbie when we left – which is how we wound up at MBK. He refused to use the meter, and charged us a stupidly high rate to go just a few kilometers. I was pretty unhappy with it, and we debated about just getting out a few moments after getting in, but it was a very hot and humid day, the girls were exhausted from all the walking, and we decided to just pay the stupid rate. It still makes me mad, but my motto since then has been to avoid the pink taxis entirely. I’ll give my business to another company, since of all the taxi’s we’ve taken, that’s the only one that’s truly screwed us.
In our preparation to leave for Australia, we needed “snacky” foods we could get through multiple airports and immigration/quarantine rules. So naturally we went where everyone goes here: the nearby 7-Eleven. But wait, the 7’s here are actually an integral part of the glue for this society, where you pay your utility bills, put money on your phone, change phone plans, or do casual shopping. So within just a couple of blocks of where Pa’Aoun lives, we hit five different 7’s – each with slightly different inventory of fringe items, yet common mainstays. Anchovy peanuts, anyone?