Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bangkok Rocks and Rolls

night river action

First off, Grizzlies, I love you! You are the best champions of all! Thanks to all who keep me posted each game. I’m praying on this end whatever time of day it is.

A shady spot at the Villa
I sit on the teak deck of my villa -  not for long, its 90 at 7 in the morning - overlooking the Chaophraya River, watching and smiling at the great traffic of fascinating boats and barges, lit up like Disney World at night - each packed tourist launch, barge, long-tail, bus, ferry, river taxi - flickering with lights and having some sort of loud motor or live entertainment - ballad singer, rock and roll singer, Adele, Beonce interpretations and those I-don-t-understand-the-dissonant-tone Asian singers - and I dream that one day our Mississippi River could be as full of life and activity as this. After about 10 at night until 7 in the morning it is quiet enough to hear the roll of the tiny waves beating up against the wooden/concrete shorelines of the river. But daytime, it comes a live like the lotus blossom. 

train decor
arriving at the tram dock
Bangkok is probably my favorite big city. I mean BIG. It’s hard to get around in because traffic - mostly shocking pink, lemon yellow, emerald green “soi” , always decorated with talismans, and motorcycle tuk-tuk taxis are in the billions. Nothing rushes. Best way to get across town to the shoppers dream place, Siam and Paragon mall area is take a water taxi to a landing where one can catch the colorful tram that is a subway above ground and, thank you Jesus, is air-conditioned. 

crispy mini pancakes
Hello Panda 
But what I like best are the markets, food, flowers, cheap clothing (I bough a 5 dollar pair of white pants I’ve worn almost every day of the trip with 2 dollar shirts), shoes thrown out in a heap, pocketbooks, health mediums with traditional Asian remedies, Thai massage equipment, waving gold cats, and, my favorite, the sweets. Fascinating that nothing includes chocolate. Sweets are mostly made with agar-agar, coconut, egg yellows, noodles, sticky rice, palm sugar, green pandana leaf, and they are the best in the world, even though street food.  My die-for drink-meal is “lod chong Singapore” which is a coconut milk and green jelly noodles served with crushed ice. You drink it through a fat straw. But disappointingly, it’s hard to get a recipe so one can duplicate the goodies at home. If you have the recipe, getting the ingredients, making the special rice noodles, the crunchy little pancakes filled with whipped marshmallow, the bean paste to be covered in colored jell then shaped to form fruits and vegetables, it is impossible to find a chef willing to teach. Cooking schools abound but mostly the more doable Thai spicy foods. We are looking though. As I look back on this trip, regional sweets, dessert have been almost limited to rice cakes and fresh fruit. Tourist menus favor cheese cake (where do they get cream cheese??) and tiramisu and fried banana with syrup.  Not a big thing in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, here, sweets are part of the daily ritual of nourishment. Love it. And it shows.
the smelly fruit (I liked)

Bangkok, with its gardens of exotic plants and flowers (tree flowers, orchids, lotus blossoms), its teak homes and modern skyscrapers,  is big time business, high end (both fashion and decoration) malls that carry all the ‘in” brands and designers , whose wares are copied and sold on the streets, if you dare. Jewelry - diamond, jade, Burmese ruby, whatever - is not only over the top in prices but also in design. There also exists the usual problems associated with big city issues: drugs, sex trade, crime. There is, however, maximum respect for the elderly Queen and King, both of whom are featured in giant building size photographs (official portraits) in gilded monuments throughout the city. Actually it’s been years since someone offered to carry my suitcase downstairs from the airplane arrival area to the bus, or even gotten up to offer me his seat on the tram. In Bangkok, it happened. Couture gentleman. A dying breed.

Only Western tourist look sloppy, dressed in spaghetti straps, too short shorts, or hippy attire, and showing too much skin. It’s embarrassing to see. They don’t realize covering your skin keeps you cooler in this fire-like heat. Bangkok youth are beautiful, high fashion, electronically hip (always on the cell phone here too) and educated. They can put together a style or look that is unique. And there is tradition, like mothers and daughters still go to the market or shopping together, hand in hand. Display of affection should be limited between boy and girl, I’ve read, but boys can hold hands and girls can hold hands as signs of friendship, same in many countries of Africa.

Entrance to Paragon
some sweets
Religion and respect are all around as the various Wats (temples) and royal palaces are the most elaborate and interesting anywhere. Monks in yellow and orange heavy robes are revered as are nuns in all white or gray. The holy set also ride motorcycles and carry tote bags and talk on cell phones and work Ipads, after their morning walk with their begging pots when people feed them.  Monks also get favored seating on airplanes. That’s good. They don’t have to pay. 

Another favorite, spirit houses, appear in almost every front yard, business or home, usually piled high with daily offerings from jasmine leis, to intricately designed palm leaf cones, figurines, marigolds, rice and sweets and all the treasures of this city, which also have to be replenished each day, due to the heat. This is to ward off evil by entertaining the bad spirits outside, i.e. keep them busy so they won’t mess with the people and pleasure inside. I love that idea. Also houses have “thresholds” over which one has to step indoors room to room. This also diverts the spirits from acting up in your house.
Mall restaurant
Namaste, Mac

In Bangkok, foreigners are called Farang; Japanese of which there are many tourist,  are  gaijin; redheads are angnor. It is the city which in 1782 was bestowed the longest name in the world: bear with me:
Krungthepmaarakhou Amonrattanorkosin Mahintharaphop Noppharet Amonphmana watansathit Sakkathattiya Witsamukamprasit - that’s 169 letters of Sanskrit and they mean, bear with me again: the great city of gods, the supreme unconquerable land of the great immortal divinity (Incha), the royal capital of nine noble gems, the pleasant city, with plenty of grand royal palaces and divine paradises for the reincarnated diety (Vishnu) given by Indra and created by the god of crafting Vishukarma. Got it? My spell-checker just died. (just in case you are curious, New Zealand and Wales have the second and third longest names.) About the time the King of Franks  built the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne was Crusading Bangkok was beginning. The Chakri Dynasty has been in charge since 1782. Current King is Bhumibol Adulyade the Great. 
Long life Bangkok!


Anonymous said...

You are such a good writer, painting images in my mind from reading your words. It makes me feel as though I have walked on your journey by your side. Thanks for sharing. - Scottie

Anonymous said...

We share the love you have for Bangkok. In 1985, we stayed in the Oriental Hotel on the river and enjoyed four unbelievable days in this fabulous city and the surrounding areas. When we walked out of the hotel there were many vendors selling brand names (fakes) for practically nothing--Rolex watches for $25.00. Many temptations!
We were amazed when we visited the Royal Palace with its ornate, gold statutory and Buddhas. The ride on the long boat propelled by a large fan in the rear of the boat through the back waters/canals to the market and visiting the Rose Garden were fantastic experiences. Visiting with Lord Jim's confidant in her home and hearing her stories about his mysterious disappearance were happenings we will never forget.
Regretfully, we never had "lod chong Singapore" or panda cookies and crispy mini pancakes.
You wrote that it is impossible to find a chef who will teach. This is a perfect opportunity for you. You should open a cooking school and introduce the citizens of Bangkok to some of your delicious dishes like crab dip, etc.
If you have room in you luggage, please bring Spirit Houses, so we can ward off bad spirits that seem to float around Juvenile Courtl.
We know you will really enjoy your visit to Thailand. Just wish we could be there with you.
Lots and lots of love,
Geraldean and Judge

Anonymous said...

Love the pictures of the shops and pastries. I hope that you are having a wonderful time. We are holding down the fort for you until you return. Safe journey.

Joponica S. Truitt