Mentally prepared for anything between the third world and Blade Runner, I found Bangkok to be a bit of both.
By David G. Allan
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in November 2001 on the website TheDharmaBums.com. David’s CNN.com column, The Wisdom Project, can be subscribed to here: https://tinyletter.com/wisdomproject
BANGKOK — I arrived in Bangkok after a lovely flight on Eva Airlines — complete with hot towels, slippers and an army of smiling Stepford flight attendants. The women, clad in day-glo skirts and kerchiefs attended to every small care and need, including your need to be woken up at 2am for your dinner of awful gelatinous food. I slept most of the way to Taipei — a trip that takes you 15 hours into the future from West Cost time thanks to the International Dateline — which means I am fifteen hours younger than I appear to you folks back in San Francisco.
I arrived on Saturday morning and, barely able to keep my eyes off Kate, I got my first glimpses of big, bold and brash Bangkok. Mentally prepared for anything between the third world and Blade Runner, I found the city to be a bit of both. It’s loud (though quiet from our apartment overlooking the fray), a bit polluted, and quite toasty and humid.
The city of 9 million lacks any central downtown high-rise area (think LA on steroids), but does have a river running through it (as all good capital cities do), many ornate wats (whats? they’re Buddhist temples), and just the sort of small sois (alleys) full of food stalls and wares. I’m learning a bit of Thai (the language sounds to me like Jabba the Hut talking quickly) but I wonder if I’ll ever be literate to the smoothly loopy Thai writing. I enjoy re-writing Thai words in my journal like a schoolgirl fascinated by the appearance of her future married name written in the back of her algebra notebook.
My first night in Bangkok we ate dinner at a local restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. Kate had dined with the owner, Senator Mechai, famous for his family planning campaign and his prophylactic-themed restaurant. The senator’s name is actually synonymous with the word condom. My friend Andy said you can buy t-shirts with his name on them. I don’t doubt it.
With a bit of adjusting to do, I fell asleep early and woke before dawn. Kate suggested we watch the sunrise from the roof, where you can see the sprawl and even the nearby wat across the klong (canal) by our apartment. Later we would take a river taxi down our klong to kick off a day of sightseeing on a tuk-tuk: Buddha statues, monks in a wat, and the city’s most famous wat — Wat Phra Keow — home of the Emerald Buddha and the Royal Palace.
The next day we took a boat up the Chao Phraya River to a little restaurant on the water called Silver Spoon. The basement was flooded and the food was great and next door was a bar on the water’s edge, a fun night of Thai pop music, local beer and generous outpourings of sweat.
Then we had our first houseguest, the imminent literary celeb Jonathon Keats, looking very Indiana Jones in his fedora and khakis. Jonathon left at 4:30 am the next night, and we fell back asleep after seeing him off (Me: “See ya ‘round, Indiana Jones.”) and two hours later Kate woke me by saying, “We’re leaving in an hour to catch a plane.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“It’s a surprise,” she answered.