Wow! Bangkok by Colin Cotterill

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Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers and everything. (With apologies to Stevie Wonder) I tell you there ain’t nothing you can’t get in that city.

“Hey, mister. You wanna girl?”

“No, thank you.”

“Girl with testicles?”

“Maybe later.”

“Ganja?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Porn?”

“I don’t…No… Thanks a lot for asking.”

Pizza Hut and Starbucks and KFC and MacD. and more Seven Elevens than you could sound the door chimes of in one lifetime. Outside elevators like Sprite bubbles and sky trains that make you feel like you’re riding along in a mechanized advertisement for Pedigree Chum. Oh, wait. You are riding along in a mechanized advertisement for Pedigree Chum. Avatar animated 3D violence on the big screen with four-year-olds screaming their lungs out all around you. Little globules of sushi that cost more than the weekly salary of a Burmese builder. Sprawling shopping malls with sexy pre-teen talent shows and bomb searches and January discounts on Gucci, and I mean, the real Gucci. Not the just-as-good fake Gucci they sell out on the street.

No, sir. There ain’t nothing you can’t get in Bangkok except maybe Thai culture. Oh, there’s a lot of the instant stuff for tourists but you’ll probably find those Mo Lum dancers have MBA’s from Sacramento. Those quaint embroidery-festooned hill tribe ladies at the night bazaar have polyester pant suits back home in the wardrobes. And I’m not talking about the modern culture of tuktuks or dancing policemen or Yakult delivery ladies. I’m talking about Thai smiles that aren’t listed on the job description, and wearing a sarong because it keeps your willy cool in the hot season, and flip flops that are for walking along roads, not just from the bathroom door to the sink. I’m talking about where we come from. The Thailand outside.

Not many people know this but there’s a full-body culture-erasing scanner at Suvarnabhumi airport. It automatically deletes your cultural sensitivity. Just by entering the city you lose all sense of decency and decorum. I’ll give you a few examples. On my first night in the big city I went to have dinner with a huge literary celebrity, a crime-fiction icon, the whatever-the-male-version-of-a-diva-is of detective noir. He lives in a fancy condominium with a view of smog in four directions. I shook his hand, gave the two bottles of wine I’d bought to his wife and engaged her in a brief conversation about the efficacy of traveling on the new subway system. My icon walked into the kitchen with another wife and introduced her. I had been chatting merrily away to the maid. They have a maid. How was I to know where all our sisters and daughters disappear to? And how was I to know that I should have taken my shoes off at the door? They had a Christmas tree in reception for goodness sake. And don’t forget they’d erased my cultural sensitivity at the airport. Everything was designed to throw me out of kilter. I was Jethro Clampett on his first night in Beverly Hills and, believe me, things didn’t get any better.

Fortunately, my host that night was CG Moore and he has to pretend none of this happened if he wants to keep me blobbing for him every week. I’m back home now with my shoes off and my lunch pack swinging freely and a good old spicy squid salad (that was not made by a maid) dripping on to the keyboard. I’d like to forget my week in Bangkok but, unfortunately, I can’t because every day we get metropolitan garbage spewed up on our beach. (All hail to the light-heavyweight world champion of segue.) It’s a daily reminder of how the decadent other 2% live. CG suggested I post a few pictures of our urban flotsam on the off chance it makes someone feel guilty. Yeah, really.

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