It’s been a quiet day. I slept in a bit, had breakfast, and then did a quick face time call to the family in Seattle because, while it was boxing day morning here in Thailand, it was time for Christmas dinner there and the clan was gathered for greetings and remembrances. I got my belongs stuffed back into the luggage and a very nice driver picked me up for the drive from Tup Kaek and Krabi to Phuket and Patong. While the two destinations are only about 30 miles apart, they’re on opposite sides of a bay which required a drive of pushing four hours with traffic and well over 100 miles. I didn’t have any place else to be so I just watched the world pass by outside the van windows.
Limestone and granite cliffs and pillars jutting suddenly out of agricultural land spelled by rural towns dedicated to agriculture or fishing or tourism. The area seems to be a vacation destination for the world so signs in many languages advertising home cooking for French, Germans, Italians, Russians, Iranians, Indians, and the list goes on. We stopped half way for snacks at a 7-11 (ubiquitous in this part of the world) where the aisles were full of snack foods I did not recognize. Lots of them seemed to contain seafood or algae of various sorts. I did find some M & Ms hiding in a corner and bought and ate those.
Eventually we crossed the bridge across the narrow strait that separates the island of Phuket from the mainland and headed down the coast to the town of the same name. From there, up and over the spine of the island on a windy little road to the beach town of Patong. My hotel turned out to be a rather chi chi resort up on the hill to the south of the beach, out of the hustle and bustle of the town proper. I got myself checked in, put on my bathing suit, and explored the large complex of infinity pools that seem to be the hotel’s major calling card.
After a light dinner at the hotel restaurant, I decided to stay in for the evening. I have an all day adventure involving speedboats and island hopping tomorrow and sleep is in order.
Just not very much to say today. Perhaps more tomorrow…
Merry Christmas to all, from where Christmas day is finishing up on the other side of the International Date Line. I cross it again next week. Which means that my fourteen hour flight from Seoul arrives twenty minutes after it takes off using local times. It’s going to take a couple of days once I get home to get my biorhythms back in synch again. I am due home Sunday afternoon but don’t have to be at work until Wednesday morning so that should give me enough time to sort it all out.
My viral whatever seems to have more or less run its course. I’m feeling my usual self now other than some sore muscles which I put down to six hours of paddling a sea kayak yesterday. With luck, it will not be back. Given my weird GI tract, I’m very thankful that I haven’t had any serious problems in that department. A trick I learned years ago, and that has always worked for me, is take Pepto Bismol tablets twice a day starting three days before a trip, all through the trip and for three days after and your chance of problems declines significantly. And that’s your medical advice for the day. You can settle your bill with the receptionist on the way out the door.
Today has been, by design, a very quiet day. I did get up this morning and climb on an elephant for a short trek through the local jungle. I was of two minds about this being mindful of elephant exploitation but I checked the company out and it has a good reputation so I thought why the heck not? How often does one get a chance to ride an elephant through a jungle of bamboo and rubber trees? And so, I found myself seated behind my mahout who seemed to communicate well with his charge and who never used his goad, preferring whistles and muttered directions in Thai. It was interesting to close my eyes for a few minutes and imagine myself a maharajah of a distant century undergoing a journey but my ultimate thought was that elephant travel with its lumbering sway must be very uncomfortable indeed for long distances.
Most of the rest of the day was spent in water. Dunking in the sea. Dunking in the pool. Showering off. Lather, rinse, repeat. That and a couple of naps. I got some reading done (a reread of Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series – I’m on Volume 5, The Unicorn Hunt), some writing done (new MNM columns), and a lot of thinking done. Dinner on the beach of pork curry with a large Blue Hawaii cocktail (in honor of Raymond Quintero) as the sun set and then back to the room to lounge with whatever is on the local movie channel. Last night’s late night movie was Die Hard so even in Southeast Asia, they recognize it as a Christmas classic.
I’m trying to think of a Christmas memory. The first Christmas I have any recollection of was Christmas 1965 or 1966 when I was three or four years old. I was still an only child at that point. I celebrated Christmas that year by coming down with the mumps (this was before the MMR was invented) and I remember I was not very happy about anything as I didn’t feel well. I do remember that I got a Lassie coloring book (Lassie was my favorite TV show at the time) and a large Tonka tractor trailer that transported cars. I was given a lot of traditional boy toys (it was the 60s after all) but when I went off to nursery school, I always made a beeline for the corner where the girls played with the girl toys. They were much prettier. (That should have been a big clue…) My favorite toy at Acorn Academy (my nursery school which was a mainstay of northeast Seattle for generations) was a paper doll named ‘Magic Maryann’ who had all sorts of wonderful outfits you could put on her. And they had little magnets in them so they would stay in place when you moved her around to tea parties. I wonder what would have happened if I had been exposed to RuPaul’s Drag Race at a young age? I was also, of course, always given books for Christmas. I still have many of the good editions of children’s classics I was given over the years and even some of the big picture books from early childhood that have fond associations. As I start to think about aging and downsizing, I wonder what will happen to things like that. Better start passing them off to the kids at church in need of starting their own libraries.
Tomorrow is a travel day. Krabi to Phuket. It’s about 35 crow fly miles but more like 100 land miles due to geography. Hopefully there’ll be some interesting sights along the way.
I had the actor’s nightmare last night. That’s not a usual one for me so I have no idea what triggered it. I was being directed in some pretentious Pinteresque piece about group therapy by Alan Litsey. Others in the cast included Ginny Stahlman Crooks, Todd Wolfe, Keith Rogers, Gary Packwood, and Linda Corliss. How such a cast could or would have been assembled was not explained. Anyway, I had no lines in the first act, just reactions to everyone else’s histrionics. Everyone was so worried about getting the first act just right that we never seemed to get around to the second act in which I had pages of monologue. Final room run, we’re finally due to work Act II so I show up early only to find the rehearsal hall full of flamenco dancers holding a revival meeting. No one speaks English so I can’t find out where I’m supposed to be. I start exploring the neighborhood, which seems to be a Mexican beach town and get picked up by the cops for trespassing. I woke up after being put in the back of the police car. OK armchair Freudians and Jungians, make of that what you will…
I’ve only been in the back of a police car once. It was about ten years ago. Many of you know that I inherited by father’s somewhat odd GI tract which will occasionally do some very strange things. One of its worst tricks is sudden onset cramping that sets off my vagus nerve and drops my blood pressure. Anyway, it was a Saturday afternoon and I had to run a number of errands. I was at Sam’s Club laying in household supplies when the cramping started. It wasn’t too bad so I soldiered on from there to the Home Depot. The cramping was getting worse so I thought maybe time to get home. I just had one more stop, the ABC store. We needed a bottle of Amaretto as I was making a batch of chocolate sauce later that weekend. I march into the ABC, pick up my bottle and am waiting in line to pay when the cramping gets worse than ever. My vagus nerve goes into overdrive and I collapse in a heap on the floor. I came to, managed to pay for my purchase and headed back for the car thinking if I could lay down with my feet up for a few minutes I would be fine. I passed out again half way across the parking lot. Fortunately, the bottle of Amaretto survived the fall. That’s when the cashier at the ABC called the cops, assuming I was some sort of falling down drunk. The policeman, when he arrived, was very nice. I explained the situation, and that I was a medical doctor who knew exactly what was going on and no, I didn’t need either a breathalyzer or a trip to the ER. He very wisely suggested that it would be best not to drive home, loaded me up in the back of his cruiser and ferried me up the hill to the house. I took a nap, felt much better, chuckled with Tommy when he came home some hours later and then went down to collect the car.
None of this has anything to do with the usual travelogue so let me get back to business. After a good night’s sleep, despite, the odd dream, up for breakfast at the usual hour and then down to the beach to await my longboat transportation. The shallow water craft are long and sleek with a motor with a very long propeller shaft that acts as both power source and tiller. I waded out to the boat and was ferried across the bay to Aow Thalen. It was very James Bond racing past the Phi Phi Islands (they were a major location in The Man with the Golden Gun) and there is a James Bond tour offered, but I declined. On arrival at Aow Thalen, I met my guide Joon, and we headed off together for a day of sea kayaking. I’m not sure that kayaking was the best choice after a couple of days of myalgia and my deltoids and triceps let me know they were there after about fifteen minutes but he was strong and sure and did most of the paddling while I joined in when I wasn’t too sore.
The route we took was past beaches and through narrow canyons carved between pillars of limestone covered by stalactites with trees clinging to what purchase they can find. At the bases, were mangrove swamps inhabited by an inquisitive family of macaques who seemed quite put out that we had no intention of feeding them. As we were solo and not part of a flotilla, it was all incredibly quiet and peaceful floating by these amazing places with kingfishers flashing by and the cicadas calling to each other. The occasional monitor lizard swam by, but none tried to board our kayak which was just as well. Half way through, we stopped at the pier for a delicious lunch (which I had to photograph) before continuing on to a sheltered lagoon with sheer rock walls on all sides. By that point, my arms had had about all they could take so back on a long boat back to the hotel. The weather, that had been lovely all day, began to cloud up on the way back and the heavens opened just as I stepped out of the boat back at the hotel. Being a true Seattleite, rain doesn’t perturb me so I simply took my dip in the bathtub warm Andaman Sea in the rain before repairing to the pool and the pool bar.
The resort is having a Christmas Eve special party on the beach tonight. I really wasn’t that interested in going until I realized that it’s happening about fifteen feet outside of my lanai so I’ll be attending anyway so I put on a clean shirt and decided to be a fool among fools rather than a fool alone. The major entertainment was a female vocalist in a sexy Santa costume with a rather unusual repertoire. A lot of 70s and 80s pop with some oddball stuff thrown in. As I sat down with my plate, she broke into a medley of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and ‘All of Me’ and I took that as some sort of sign that I was in the right place. I also had to show my server a picture of me and Jan Hunter in Dolly to explain why I was singing along. I don’t think she understood. Lounge singing was followed by such traditional fare as fire dancing, a Santa rapping to K-pop, and a Thai folk dance.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day – a day earlier than most of you as I am on the other side of the date line. I’m not planning on doing a whole lot other than rest, relaxation and contemplation. I’ve found that the amazing bathroom with the big spa tub and the rain shower with incredible water pressure have made that much easier. I’ve taken three showers so far today and may have another before bed.
It’s going to be another early to bed night. I’m feeling better than yesterday but still not 100%. No fever, no major respiratory or GI symptoms, just the blahs and some mild myalgia so I assume it’s likely a virus picked up from crowds of southeast Asians jostling me at all turns. And then there’s five plane rides in the last week.
I’m now in the lovely middle of nowhere on Tup Kaek beach (sounds a lot like Cupcake) and WiFi is spotty, probably because every guest at the resort is trying to log on at once. I am therefore writing this on my phone as cell reception is doing better than the WiFi network; I don’t like typing at length on the phone, but needs must I suppose.
I slept quite well and long last night waking up about 6:30. I sat on my balcony and watched the river for awhile and then opened the computer. The first thing that greeted me was one of those memory photos from Christmas 2014. It was of me and Tommy in the narthex of the church holding Mandy Olson’s precious baby daughter, Anna Cordelia. I hadn’t been expecting it so it caught me a bit off guard, but the memory was a happy one so it was only a momentary tear.
The morning was devoted to breakfast and the Tetris puzzle of packing. I’ve added somewhat to my belongings. Fortunately, in anticipation I had bought a new backpack while bazaar hopping and everything ended up fitting. My next transfer is by car rather than plane so I don’t have to worry about stuff to much until it’s time to go home. Tonight is the official half way point of the trip… downhill slide.
Pete the indefatigable tour guide and driver were on time and we beat our way back across Bangkok traffic to the airport. Having allowed for some traffic jam time, I hung out, had lunch twice (a decent one at the airport and a not so decent one in flight) and then off to Krabi.
The view from the plane as we landed showed acre upon acre of agricultural land with muddy rivers meandering through. I was on the wrong side of the plane for an ocean view. Baggage claim (slow) and then a driver who spoke essentially no English or French to take me to the hotel/resort.
Krabi looks like pretty much every other beach town from Cancun to Charlotte Amalie but with more Muslims. We’re quite close to Malaysia which is Muslim and there seems to be a certain blending going on. Off we went down rural highways and the landscape soon started to change with huge sheer granite monoliths and hills rising out of the serene surrounding countryside. The drive was about fifty or sixty miles ending up at a lovely beach with a number of resort hotels.
My room is beachfront with ocean view windows in the shower and tub area. A light breeze through the lanai and the white noise of a water feature which surrounds the room. I took a dip in the pool (the only design flaw being the infinity lip having a glorious view of a privacy hedge), has a little something to eat, and sat in a lounge chair and watched the sun set into the Andaman Sea.
Tomorrow and the day after are the actual holiday. The trip was designed to take me somewhere calm and restive on those days. I think this will fill the bill. Haven’t heard any English yet from the other guests- mainly French and German and one large family shouting at each other in some Slavic tongue.
No story tonight… typing issues. I’ll try writing something I can cut and paste later if the WiFi keeps acting up.
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.
Up this morning to sample the breakfast buffet at the new hotel. Like Chiang Mai, a mix of Thai and western cuisine. The Thai is definitely better. They must have a number of British guests here as there were baked beans on the buffet which is a London breakfast staple. Pete, my guide, arrived promptly and I once again found myself on a private tour. I don’t know if I paid a premium for this or it’s just the way it worked out. Either way, it’s sort of fun. Pete’s English is pretty good so we ended up having quite the conversation about various things while the driver navigated the craziness of Bangkok traffic.
The first stop was the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha. Good thing we were up and at em early as it was still relatively cool and not overly crowded as we wandered over the 160 acres of temples, ceremonial buildings, and grand residences that make up the ceremonial home of the king. (The king actually lives a couple of miles away is a more modern complex that likely has better air conditioning but this is the one with all the fantastic decoration and architecture.) Most of it dates from the late 1700s (the city was founded then by King Rama I) but much of it was added on to in the mid 19th century by the westernizing kings Rama V and VI (Mongut and Chulalongkorn of The King and I fame) so there’s a number of very European looking sections which have had Thai ceremonial roof architecture added on. It was all gorgeous and very impressive.
Then it was off to several more temples (there are hundreds in Bangkok so I only scratched the surface), the one that sticks with me is the one with the reclining Buddha half the length of a football field entirely covered with gold leaf. This took us up until late morning and we were ahead of schedule so I decided on my Christmas present to myself and Pete took me to a tailor recommended by his tour company. (I’m sure it involves someone’s brother in law and a kick back but I’ve learned not to ask too many questions.) I’ve always wanted a tailor made suit and, while looking through their gorgeous fabrics, it didn’t take them much effort to upsell me to a package that includes two suits, a sportcoat, six shirts, and accessories, all made to measure. It was a bit pricey but still less than what one single tailor made suit would cost at home. I’m going to look very dapper for the next few years when I have to dress up. (Alyn C Duxbury, my father, will be very happy. He’s been wanting me to get some tailored clothes for years.) Tommy would also be pleased. If he were with me, he would have gone hog wild at the tailors and likely emerged with two suits, a half dozen coats, two dozen shirts and a tuxedo. Tommy was very difficult to fit due to his odd body. He was built like a linebacker above the waist and like a midget below the waist. Fitting him in anything was always a challenge. We did have some shirts made for him but it’s so expensive at home that we weren’t adding to the collection very quickly.
Tailor appointment being done, I went off to explore downtown Bangkok a little, ending up at a seven story bazaar/shopping mall where I bought a few things and had a nice lunch of green Thai curry. Then it was time to explore the public transportation system, taking the skytrain (think the Chicago El) back to the river and then transferring to one of the river ferries for a ride back up toward my hotel. I got off the ferry early when it stopped at an interesting looking temple and did a bit of exploring on the opposite side of the river (think Jersey to Manhattan) before hailing a tuktuk – a sort of motorized open air tricycle cab thing unique to Thailand – and headed back to the hotel for some pool time and a lie down. I don’t have the stamina for more than about eight hours on my feet in tropical heat before I need a break.
The tailors popped in to my hotel, just eight hours after measuring me, with the rough cuts of a suit coat, trousers and shirt to make some final adjustments. They’re obviously quite skilled and very efficient. The final products are being shipped directly to the house so I don’t have to haul them around. One thing I’ve learned from this trip, I tend to overpack. Some of that is from growing up in Seattle where every trip can present from frosty to blazing, often in the same week so I always pack for any eventuality. Next time I come back to southeast Asia, I pack less and I’ll buy some new things as I need them.
Ventured out for dinner and drinks at one of the night markets but decided tonight was not the night to stay out too late as I have to be up quite early so Pete can come pick me up and take me off to the floating markets. Again, early is better in terms of both crowds and temperature.
Instead of a story, I’m going to go off on a bit of a rant here about the various ‘outrages’ making the rounds about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. I keep reading posts about how people are going to delete their accounts due to privacy concerns etc. I started to use email nearly 40 years ago. I used BBs services through dial up before AOL became a thing. The world wide web didn’t exist until after I finished residency and I was an early adopter of Mosaic and later Netscape. One thing I figured out right at the beginning was anything you turn into electrons and send out into the interweb ether leaves your control the minute you press send. It’s always been that way and, with the ease of data transfer and copying in the digital world, there’s no way to call anything back. Facebook is a tool and, like all tools, it can be used for good or ill. I like to think I use it for good: for connection, for entertainment, for information. I don’t belive half the stuff I see posted and, if I get taken in by something (which doesn’t happen often), I immediately delete it. I’ve been here since 2006, back in the days when you had to have a .edu email address to join. If you scroll back, you’ll see quite a record of my life. The good, the bad. I try to think before I post. An attorney once told me never write anything in an email or online that you wouldn’t want to have read out in a court of law. I think that’s a good rule to follow.
I’m getting used to being alone again. That leads to a lot of time for introspection. When I do something like travel, I’m a normal human. I want to sit at dinner and share my impressions of the things I’ve seen and experienced but I no longer have that person in my life. Between Steve and Tommy, I was partnered for nearly thirty years. I did some traveling in the interregnum but a lot of that was with friends and not solo. The last time I did major international travel by myself, I was 22 years old and a completely different person. I journaled about that trip through Europe (and I still have my notebook where I kept my travel diary) but no one has ever read it. Facebook allows others to share my thoughts and experiences and respond and gives me the ability to feel that there’s someone on the other side of the dinner table with whom I can share. I guess I’m here for the duration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.