Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bangkok - I saved the Best for Last


I'm back home and that means that at least I have a good idea what I'm eating and I'm free to drink tap water again. Without knowing I saved the best for last. I had been looking forward to going to China all year long but in the end two weeks in China became something of a chore. Because of language and cultural barriers getting the simplest things accomplished in my daily solo tourist routine such as getting a taxi or shopping or even something as basic as getting a meal just wore me down.

This dawned on me when I came down with a cold and went to the supermarket to buy, among other things, a small pocket pack of tissues. I caught it before I got to the cash register, what I had actually put into my basket a small, purse sized pack of sanitary napkins. Because I couldn't read the goddamn label and for whatever cultural reasons a package of sanitary napkins in China while colorful contains no visual cues, pictograms, frilly pink flowers, much of anything to give away to someone who can’t read Chinese characters what lies within.  Chinese road manners made me fear daily for my life as a pedestrian, Chinese food in the supermarket was a daily mystery, or worse. Chinese restaurant menus were either unintelligible in Chinese or brutally repulsive in Engrish. I love Chinese food but what I found in the home office of Chinese food was usually unrecognizable to me as something I’d want to put in my mouth and made me fear, it turned out for good reason, for my digestive health. Chinglish was whip out my camera cute when I arrived but as my time in China went on dealing with and deciphering it became just another chore in my daily solo tourist life.

But Bangkok and I connected. Is there any place in Bangkok where you can't buy copied software and music? Pantip Plaza is 5 or 6 floors of IT crap and other than the counterfeits (and Pantip’s got plenty of phony everything) the prices are OK, but only if you've never done business with Newegg or any other Internet retailer in the US. In other words, for a US based shopper Pantip prices are lousy, at least for someone like me who can’t do a deal in Thai. There's a 7% VAT in Thailand on most everything but even so the prices are still high. I’ve had my ear’s eye on a pair of Sony ear buds. I bought a pair for about $50 in Tokyo, a city not known for hard shopping bargains. At Pantip Plaza they were either marked at $80 with a small golden genuine Sony sticker on the box or $11 without. In my experience the folks selling copied software at Pantip Plaza deliver service after the sale. The label on my “copy” of Office 2007 promised English but it refused to install because my laptop’s version of Windows XP isn't in Thai. I took it back and got it swapped for English but it meant going back to the Pantip pressure cooker. There's an ongoing constant amplified floor show on the 1st floor that reverberates through the bones of everybody in the place. I packed my MP3 player to successfully dampen the din.

Going shopping seems to pass for sport in Bangkok and there’s lots of it. I went to a fancy mall, MBK Center. Most of it is upscale goods but one whole wing is devoted exclusively to cell phones and copied software and music. They even sell the software and music in the food court. Oh, did I mention that prescription drugs are available over the counter at any pharmacy simply for the asking? Want that certain drug for men that's responsible for the bulk of your bulk email? No problemo, just walk right in and ask for it but don't ask for it by name otherwise you'll overpay. It turns out that there really are generic versions of the stuff, produced in India. You can't get it legally in the US without having Pfizer's lawyers nipping at your nuts but Bangkok ain't the US.Bangkok - Please Offer This Seat to Monks Bangkok and I connected on other levels. Depending on where you’re going getting around can be easy and civilized, just go up and take the new BTS Skytrain or down for the new MRT subway.

Without those two the only other choices are taxi or a kind of a cross between a motorcycle/rickshaw called a tuk-tuk. Citizens of Seattle will often tell folks from elsewhere that Puget Sound traffic is among the worst anywhere. Bad yes, but it ain’t Bangkok. Bangkok traffic is a filthy, hellish Blade Runner nightmare of backed up streets and clotted intersections overseen by traffic cops wearing some kind of gray hybrid of a respirator/surgical mask. Street vendors and locals make due with disposable surgical masks. Tuk-tuks and taxis seem to run on compressed natural gas but older city buses and trucks belch blue clouds of life shortening smoke all day long. Oh, here's something from the Skytrain that you don't usually see on mass transit in the US. Some of the women in Bangkok are absolutely drop dead, heart palpitatingly pretty, like God took another crack at His failed recipe for Filipinas and got it right this time. So it’s not surprising to see a certain element in Bangkok of white men of a certain age, like mid 50’s and up with much younger local women. Some even have small hapa kids. Gray haired white guys, some balding, some with pot bellies with Thai women old enough to be their daughters or grand daughters (Less prevalent but still noticeable are older white men with young Thai guys). Perhaps she sees him as a walking wallet and with the help of a certain prescription drug for men maybe he sees himself once again as a stickman and her as a walking vagina. I've overheard some of these guys talk, some are American but many are European and Australian. They're living their dream, I guess. They’ve left their same old used to be on another continent and now they're in tropical Asia where they can spend their days drinking good Thai beer and screwing young Thai stuff. So Bangkok and I connected. It was easy, I don’t know why but not only is the defacto second language English, it nearly always makes sense. No Engrish. Bilingual signs make sense to English speaking eyes and ears. So cars are right hand drive and there’s a functional use of good English, curious since the British never colonized or ran Thailand. Then there’s the King of Thailand. It's good to be the King. I had no idea that the King was such a big deal. His picture is everywhere, he looks like a Chinese waiter and Woody Allen somehow had a son. Yes, he was born in Massachusetts and like Woody Allen he plays the saxophone. I bought 3 yellow shirts with His royal crest on the breast pocket. When they say "Long Live the King!" in Thailand (and it's everywhere, even in English) they ain't talkin' 'bout some guy named Elvis from Mississippi. Thailand’s King is like some kind of benevolent Kim Jong Il, his picture is everywhere both public and private. The King had the cover of the local equivalent of the TV Guide that I found in my hotel room. Bangkok is a great city. I barely scratched the surface, this time.

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