Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It was really nothing....

Chad Taylor, over at his Marginalia, has a series of end of year thanks and is kind enough to mention me. I'm not sure whether to laugh or hide, but he's clearly nailed it rather well: I'm a grumpy bugger at the best of times and my wife, bless her, says I'm getting worse as I age. I hope so, I quite enjoy a good grump and grizzle.
Sign in Soi 38

But this all of course, lays something of a burden on me at the moment. I'm in Bangkok now and I was going to have a few, two month in, reflections on the place. The problem is I quite like it, so that targeted box in Dresden might have to wait, Chad.

Of course there are downs. The air quality in BKK is pretty shitty, but, figures say, improving at some rate, and over the years you can feel it. And I find that that is compensated for by the fact that, for an Asian city of some 10 million, it's pretty clean at ground level, certainly much more so than poor Bali is these days, where the roadways, valleys and waterways are increasingly clogged by garbage and plastic.

And, yes, the sex tourism makes me cringe. The dirty old men with young true-love Thai girls are just horrible and much more in your face than Bali, where of course it exists but tends to be rather more hidden, or found in those grimy old retired expat bars in Sanur and Ubud. The one thing I've not seen here is the old man (whose family don't know he's in Bali I'd guess) with young local boy thing that you see a lot of in Bali. I'm guessing that may be out of town, or, hopefully somewhat cleaned up.

But if you keep away from a couple of areas in BKK you avoid all that, so we do and we do. And I'm throughly over people in the home country making jokes about it...

But I'm here to prove Chad wrong, so a quick bullet pointed list of things I like about Bangkok:

  • The markets. There are dozens, big and small selling everything you might and most likely don't want. You have tourist hell markets (the late night ones near Patpong and the ones by Lumphini Park), you have markets in Chinatown with whole streets that sell just about every kind of button you may ever see, next to alleys filled with ribbons, and ten minutes from there you can be in a mega mall which hocks $3000 shoes and $500,000 sports cars, if you were so inclined. You can then wander on, after they close, to 24hr flower markets that stock every bloom you could imagine. You literally can buy almost anything, and I've gone from a land where it's hard to buy anything, to a veritable land of consumer plenty, where not only do they have it, whatever it may be, they have an enormous range to choose from. Then we have the weekend markets...10-15,000 stalls that cover everything from snakes to designer footwear to high end furniture to second hand jeans to hand crafted glassware with everything imaginable in-between. All in a clean, hassle and completely smoke free environment, which I love. Or you could simply sit in the coffee shops there, listen to the DJ and watch the Thai punks, fashion victims, & rockabilly boys, or the Germans in too tight shorts and Birkenstocks, go by.
  • Yeah, the malls. I'm a sucker for big malls, and no-one, not Singapore, not HK, not the US, not Jakarta (which has more but they tend to repeat the same bits in every mall, lacks the range of most things, and the foodhalls & gourmet supermarkets but it's the closest to BKK), does malls like this town. Three Kinokuniya bookstores, any one of which has more range than every bookstore in NZ combined. And all joined by the spotlessly clean, uber-fast and cheap skytrains or skywalks.
  • The way that shop staff not only take your purchases down to the taxi rank, but hail a taxi, tell them the address, then put your purchases in the cab and wave you smilingly on your way. It's called service. And the cab only costs about $3 to get home. Oh, and you never have to count your change..or get offered a candy as change (when the store till has a draw full of coins).
Paragon Xmas
  • Christmas...why does Asia, the non-Christian parts, which is all of it really, do this so well? No baggage of pretending to celebrate faux religious dogma perhaps? Whatever, Bangkok does Xmas so much better than any western nation, way better than London (although it's been few years since I've seen it in the weeks building up to December 25} and waaaaayyyyy better than New Zealand with it's Santa and depressing Farmer's Parade. Here, simply, they celebrate the fun, and don't try to hide behind religious symbolism. Half the buildings festooned in walls of lights and OTT decorations have nothing to gain commercially from the season..they just do it. The guy installing the washing machine here (free, part of the service..and the machine was a third the cost of the same thing in Auckland) kept on smiling widely at me and saying Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.. And Merry Christmas to you too.
French drummers
  • Just about everything here is cheaper than Bali. And transport, electricity, and internet (the net is about ten times the speed for one tenth the price, it's like the world has opened up) are not only a fraction of the price, largely they
Roti guys
  • The smiles..I was warned repeatedly by silly old expats in Bali that the Thai people don't smile. Rubbish, and mostly they're genuine with the grins and humour that comes with much interaction here. But like all national stereotypes, that's all they are, silly generalisations, and I've found smiles, I've found cold silence and I've found every emotion in between. Like anywhere else.
  • I love the food. I love Thai food. I love the food on the side of the street. I love the foodhalls. I love the late-night outdoor food stalls at Soi 38 (with the girl who grins so joyfully as she welcomes us back and she prepares our Mango and sticky rice..which tastes there like it does nowhere else). I love the cheap hole-in-the-wall places that serve you so much food it's hard to walk and then hand you a bill for about 500B ($15) for three people. I love the spices and herbs, and the mind-bending chili, in almost everything. I love the Indian food. I love the market snacks..the banana roti and rice sweets. I love the food.
kids in Klong
  • I love the drinks..not just the juices and blended drinks, but the the wonderful wine everywhere, at a passable price, and the wonderful beers..the local beers and the Belgian bars and so much more. It's like arriving after years in the desert.
  • Oh, and the rivers and klongs..water transport is efficient, very fast, very, very cheap and the klongs are way cleaner than the naysayers had me believe.
Klong Taxi
  • And it's all, as I said earlier, all smoke-bloody-free.....

Is that ok, Chad?



Chad Taylor said...

OK? It's delightful, as JB Priestley would say...

Unknown said...

Great post about a great city - 3 years in & I still can't think of a better city in Asia to live (Tokyo maybe). And try to get to Le Pla Daak for awesome eats & a crazy "only in Thailand" atmosphere.