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Day 32 – After 10,000 Years, It’s Still Us Against Them

April 4, 2010

Dateline: Bangkok, Thailand – Sunday, April 4, 2010

Today my plan was to go to Siam Paragon and browse a bookstore for my next travel book. I’ve been on a tear for the last few weeks, reading various memoirists and essayist, trying to pick up what makes for good writing. Also, I just like to read. To my chagrin, but not to my surprise, a third of the weight I’m carrying in my luggage is books.

It was not to be. Siam Paragon, and the largest English bookstore in Bangkok contained therein, had been shut down because of the protests. When I got off at the Siam BTS station, instead of being greeted by the grinding wheels of commerce, I was accosted by a man on the back of a pickup truck, ranting into a microphone.

Businesses inside the most high end mall in Bangkok had all shut down for fear of the Red Shirts, who are primarily made up of the sorts of people who can’t afford one button on a Versace dress. Even though I just wanted a book, I couldn’t help but feel like an imperialist. The people were rising up and I was peeved that I wouldn’t get to shop.

The Red Shirts had blockaded the main street in front of the mall. People were parked in their cars, sleeping on the asphalt, waving banners, and riding around on motorbikes honking their horns. This scene was being played throughout the city at various protest sites. The protesters were savvy in choosing the most trafficked intersections and the heart of the business district. They also were smart enough to protest in the shade provided by the skytrain tracks above. They’d march and they’d yell and they’d lie in the street, but they didn’t do it in the sun. Smart, considering the noonday heat.

My plans waylaid, I checked my e-mail. I’d booked a bed at Bed Supper Club, one of the more interesting restaurants in Bangkok. You eat lounging on beds instead of seated at tables. It’s the indoor version of Spring. Me (a Thai looking guy) and Christoffer (Swede) going to Bed Supper Club to have dinner on a bed puts the “Swedish Man Buys Himself a Thai Male Prostitute” factor through the roof. In an effort to mitigate this I’d asked Fon, one of Becca’s friends, to join Christoffer and I for dinner. She didn’t want to go to Bed Supper though. Apparently it has a rep for being the place for Thai women (or hookers) to pick up farang men. If she went, she’d have been in the same boat as I was.

Out of the kindness of her heart, though, she’d finally agreed. My hope was that with two Thai looking people it’d confuse any onlookers. Was the Swedish guy friends with a Thai couple? Was the Swedish man buying the girl? The guy? Was the Swedish guy just a greedy bisexual sex tourist? I didn’t care. I least I could have someone who understood my pain.

Like my plans to buy a book, it was not to be. Christoffer had e-mailed me to say he was leaving later that night, not the next day. He wouldn’t be able to make the 7:30 reservation.

He also said he was going to go shopping at MBK. Since we hadn’t met up since we parted ways in Ko Lanta, I decided to try and meet him at the MBK shopping center.

MBK is the size of a large village. Its seven floors crammed with a maze of haberdashers, shirt sellers, trinket salesmen, underwear shops, art dealers, and the like. It’s like the outdoor markets are indoors.

I wandered, checked my e-mail, wandered some more. Finally, Chrisoffer called me on my cellphone from a pay phone. Even then, it took longer than I’d have expected because I told Christoffer I was on a floor that I wasn’t.

We ended up shopping a bit. I got to try out my bargaining skills, which is like watching me try to tie my shoelaces with my fingers duct taped together. There comes a point where I don’t care about the money enough to get the “best price.” I ended up paying 50 baht more for an item that Chrisoffer had bought the day before. I think it’s because I’m brown and he’s not.

After talking with Christoffer, I cancelled the reservation at Bed Supper and booked an early seating at Indus, Becca’s favorite Indian restaurant. In the end, Fon got her wish. No being mistaken for prostitutes tonight for the both of us.

On the skytrain ride to a pre-dinner massage, we rocketed over the protesters. Their numbers had swelled to thousands and they’d emerged from the shadow of the skytrain to occupy one of the largest roads in Bangkok. Once again showing savvy, they had held their main forces until it had cooled in the afternoon.

Dinner was good and excessive. We ordered like it was our last meal, which for Christoffer, I guess it kinda was. Lamb curry, vegetable samosas, paneer wrap, tandoori chicken, and something that resembled the Indian version of taco salad. Throughout the meal I sipped at a cinnamon laksi. Becca was right, this place hit it out of the park. Eating with Christoffer is a lot of fun. He has a much more refined palate than me and can identify exactly what’s in each dish. It’s like having a human tricorder. “This has saffron and red. . .no green pepper. Hold on Spock, something’s wrong. Set phasers to sear.”

The setting was great, too. We were the first people in the restaurant and had the whole garden to ourselves. It’s as if I rented the place just for us. If Christoffer hadn’t been in such a rush, perhaps we’d have lingered a bit longer for a hookah.

After dessert and coffee at a shop nearby, Christoffer headed to the airport and Fon and I headed in opposite directions on the BTS. Perhaps I will plan on having all my plans fall through again tomorrow.

____________________

Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: Do not go book shopping during an attempted revolution.

Not So Stupid Tip: If you decide to use the MRT, Bangkok’s subway system, know that it’s a bit different than the Skytrain. You have to buy tokens either at the machines or at a ticket window. To get into the subway, swipe the token at the entrance gate. The gate will open and you can go through. When you get to your destination, drop the black plastic token into the gate to get out.

Or, you can do what I did, which is get your black token from the ticket booth, walk to the ticket machines to try to deposit the token there, then realize that the two White people in front of you just tried this and failed, follow them to the gate and ape them after they bumble their way through the proper procedure. Covert tourist operations; just one of the many benefits of being brown in a brown land.

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