December 20, 2018

13th century temple in Chiang Mai

Dateline: Chiang Mai and Bangkok Thailand-

I still haven’t completely adjusted to the time differential. I lose all steam around 9 PM and am wide awake just after 5:30 AM. As my current time is either 11 hours earlier or 13 hours later than my usual, I can’t explain it and we’ll see if it continues. It makes enjoying nightlife a bit of a drag, but it’s good for quiet time and a walk with no one on the streets before breakfast and excess traffic.

The wax monks are a little creepy

It was my last morning in Chiang Mai. As I didn’t have to be ready for my airport shuttle until 10 am, I had some hours to spare, so I went for a last walk through the old city and stopped again at a couple of temples. It was early so there weren’t many people around other than me and a few itinerant monks keen on whatever business they have at that hour. One of the temples was next to what appeared to be a boys high school and they were having some sort of tattoo assembly in the courtyard complete with brass band and a lot of marching in color coded shirts and headbands. I could not figure out quite what the occasion was but I think it had something to do with New Years as there was a large 2019 being paraded around with the band. I amuse myself sometimes listening to public address announcements in languages I do not understand and then try to make the sounds into English words. The gentleman on the bullhorn to the kids (principal? drill instructor?) kept repeating something to them that sounded a lot like roll the cinnamon bun down purple snowman but as they all took it very seriously, I might have gotten it wrong. I have started to puzzle out some of the Thai alphabet and have picked up a couple of words, but any real success would require intensive study.

Bangkok street scene

Quick trip to the airport and then hanging around the departure lounge for a bit where I finished up an MNM column before boarding the 350 mile flight to Bangkok. It was only just over an hour of air time but the process with delays, security, baggage check etc. took a while. I was met by my Bangkok tour guide, a nice young Thai man with very good English who introduced himself as Pete. I assume that’s an Anglicization of a much longer Thai name. The drive in from the airport to town was a bit of an adventure. On first impression, Bangkok is a city with the population of greater New York, the geography and zoning laws of Houston, the traffic of Atlanta, and the climate of Charleston in July. There were a couple of near misses as the crazed freeway traffic wove in and out of multiple lanes and the shoulders, and then everything shut down so a motorcade carrying a member of the royal family could pass. I fastened my seat belt and hung on.

A room with a view (but not of the Arno)

Things got a bit better after checking into the hotel. It’s a small hotel right on the river (and my balcony has a lovely view of the water and the water taxis) near the center of the old city, about a mile from the royal palace (tour tomorrow). I’m two doors down from the palace King Mongut built for his 17th child in the late 19th century. It’s Italianate so it’s after his westernization program was well in force. If there are another 16 palaces further up river, I haven’t found them yet. I had a nice walk around the neighborhood before dark. I’m close to the Khoasan Road which seems to be market central for dazed and confused millennials from around the world to gather together to buy street food, inexpensive clothing, and made in China tchotchkes. I assume they’ve ended up in Bangkok in search of ancient Asian wisdom and higher truths but I think they’re going to find viral illness and a bad hangover.

I decided to stay in this evening and watch bad television as I want some energy to go out in the evening the next two nights which coincide with the weekend. I’m going to see if I can find a theatrical entertainment of some sort one night.

The King and I – 2006

To me, Bangkok will always be tied up with musical theater. Its most famous appearance is, of course, in the supporting cast of The King and I (a show which the Thai people hate as they feel it disrespects King Mongut and the film is banned and the theater piece may not be performed). As I’ve started to learn a bit more about Thai culture and the way in which national identity, the royal family, and the religious aspects of Buddhism are all intertwined, I sort of see their point. I was in a production of The King and I in Birmingham a dozen or so years ago. One performance led to one of my more famous stage moments. I was playing Sir Edward Ramsay, Mrs. Anna’s old boyfriend and leader of the British diplomatic delegation. The dinner to entertain Edward and the visiting British more or less drives the second act. Anyway, Leah Luker, who was playing Mrs. Anna, and I completed our scene and did our little waltz. We were supposed to be interrupted by the king (Brent Jones) so the play could go on but when we got to the cue, no king… Waltz around the stage again…no king… another circuit of the stage looking daggers into the wings and ad libbing lines about the weather in London and isn’t it hot in Bangkok. King finally appears (I’ll let him explain why he was late) and much to our relief Leah and I are able to continue on. We were running out of 19th century colonial gossip. Fun fact – the Chulalongkorn from that production, Jordan Fisher, has gone on to a major career. He’ll be playing Mark in Rent Live! later this year.

The other appearance is in the musical, Chess, with the song Once Night in Bangkok which became a huge hit in the 1980s. The concept album came out in the summer of 1985. I had just finished my first year of medical school at WSU in Pullman as part of the WAMI program and had gotten back to Seattle, found an apartment, and had the summer off from school. I was working for a company called Envirosphere which did environmental engineering consulting and was beginning to put my toes into the Seattle musical theater world. The first show I became involved with was a production of Brigadoon put on by Evergreen Theater Conservatory up on Capitol Hill. I was the ASM props person. All of us theater kids were enraptured by the score to Chess and we were all singing it backstage. I have great memories of a bunch of guys in kilts and highland regalia singing One Night in Bangkok at the top of their lungs. That production was important as it was my first step into the Seattle theater world after college and it led ultimately to a lot of enduring friendships.

Chess, as a show, may have a great score, but it’s not a great piece of theater. I’ve only seen it staged once, a production in the round at Sacramento Music Circus in the early 90s. They did as good a job as they could do with the material but for all of the interesting ideas of using chess as a metaphor for the cold war and the never ending battle of the sexes, it just doesn’t quite work. It’s a property that I would like to try directing, having some familiarity with the world of the early 80s but I don’t know that it would be easy to sell to current audiences.

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