Dateline: Bangkok and Ratchaburi, Thailand-
This evening’s update (which the US gets in the morning) is a bit earlier than usual. For whatever reason, I feel like a balloon with a hole in it. All the energy has leaked out and I’m feeling like a limp dishrag so I’m going to bed early. The plan had been to go down to Pat Pong on a Saturday night to observe some of the infamous night life but I just don’t feel like doing that alone tonight. It strikes me as one of those activities that requires a wing man for both safety and with whom to people watch. One thing about feeling like a popped balloon, I can now be put in the pot and taken out of the pot (and five points to all who get that literary reference).
I think, at least in part, it’s the approach of Christmas. I came here deliberately to get away from it as much as I can, but there are subtle and not so subtle reminders even in Buddhist Thailand. The front desk staff at the hotel are wearing reindeer antlers and there have been a profusion of santa hats, usually the worse for wear, on little old lady street vendors. The Thai seem inordinately fond of Christmas muzak. Most of it is old American recordings of crooners singing the usual but every once in a while is something truly spectacularly odd like the version of Jingle Bells in some Asiatic language over a K-Pop synth beat. The Thai seem to like decorating and a good party so yuletide symbols pop up in some of the oddest places. I’m not sure they understand what they mean, but they like the colors.
I was up very early this morning (likely another cause) to meet Pete and soon we were speeding off to the west of the city. The early departure was to beat both heat and traffic. Thai suburbia is not that different than American suburbia – big box stores along the highway interspersed with gas stations, and what appeared to be both local and international franchises. Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be quite popular as it reappeared fairly routinely every five to ten miles. Eventually, however, we hit Ratchaburi province, a more rural area about forty miles west of the capital and we turned off the highway onto country roads, winding between coconut and banana plantations, rice paddies, and fish farms. Our destination was one of the famous Thai floating markets at Damnoen Saduak. It’s far enough out of the city to retain some of the character of the traditional that the ones in Bangkok have lost. It’s a mix of farmer’s market and sellers of cheap souvenirs and mass produced handcrafts, very similar in feel to Pike Place in Seattle, only with more durian and fewer flying salmon.
The fruit and food vendors motor up and down canals in longboats while many of the stalls can only be reached by water. Soon Pete and I are were seated in our own longboat and cruising along. I bought us some Thai fried chicken (not KFC) and some fruit called rose apples. We stopped at a few stalls where I proved, yet again, that I am not a great haggler and likely overspent on my coconut shell salad bowls and Thai demon mask. I decided not to have my picture taken with the giant boa constrictor, but did have one taken with an adorable little lemur. This was in honor of Leah Luker, my Mrs. Anna when I did The King and I. She has a thing for lemurs. The crowds started to increase (mainly locals as it is a Saturday), the temperature started to go up so back to the van and the trip back to town.
In the afternoon, I decided to hit a couple of museums and marched off to the National Museum (full of traditional Thai art stretching back over centuries) and the National Gallery (mainly modernist works by Thai painters merging Western and Thai traditions). The big exhibit there was a retrospective of one of the royal princesses of my parents’ generation, Princess Masri, who had retired to France to paint. Her canvases had a very Hieronymus Bosch quality to them and I enjoyed them very much. There were also paintings by various other royal family members over the years including some very traditional pen and ink drawings done by Chulalongkorn.
From there, a late lunch/early dinner of curried beef and Singha beer and some conversation with the Thai schoolteacher at the next table. His French was better than his English so by going back and forth between those two languages, we were able to have a fairly intelligent discussion of cultural differences between the US and Thailand. Then back to the hotel for a shower and to take stock – and the decision that early to bed is the best plan. At least part of the blah may be my reaction to the level of smog in Bangkok. I haven’t seen anything like this since Los Angeles of the mid 1970s. My breathing is fine but my eyes are itching and tearing like crazy.
I leave for the south tomorrow, spending several nights in Krabi to begin with. I’ve deliberately not overscheduled this next week with too much touring as it is Christmas week and I know I will need some decompression time. Maybe it’s just hitting a day early. Maybe I’m getting old. I found an interesting website that allows you to take countries and drag and drop them as overlays so you can get a true sense of relative size and distance. (The Mercator projection we grew up with lies so much…) When you take Thailand and put it over the United States with Bangkok at Atlanta, Chiang Mai is roughly Louisville Kentucky and Krabi is somewhere just off the coast of Naples, Florida. Not a huge jump tomorrow, but enough of one to make flying preferable to driving. The last jump, Krabi to Phuket which happens on Wednesday is by car as they are relatively close together.
No particular stories come to mind tonight. Going to see what bad movies subtitled in Thai they have on the TV.