Thursday, November 10, 2011

No Compromises

The floods that have been making their way through Thailand have at last reached Bangkok.  It has been a slow process, and by slow, I mean months.  It has taken over three months for the floodwater from northern Thailand to reach the capital. 

During that time, people here in Bangkok were certainly horrified by what was happening in other parts of Thailand.  I just feel like it never really occurred to anyone that it might eventually hit Bangkok.  I think we all* just kind of thought the floods might disappear.  Evaporate.  Run out of water?  

I don't really know how floods work.

What I do know is that the country has been devastated and the deluge has finally reached Bangkok.

I always thought that disasters of this magnitude struck suddenly - and in an instant, everything changes.  Floods like this, however, creep in slowly.  It can take weeks or months for the water to finally arrive and then the same amount of time for the water to recede.  Some areas of Bangkok are now completely underwater, while in others, we wait.  We sit and we wait in this surreal limbo that entails...well, sitting and waiting for a natural disaster to arrive. 

It's quite bizarre.

And the information we get!  Honestly, no one knows what's going on. Two weeks ago, there was a palpable sense of fear in the city, with doomsday reports urging citizens to evacuate as high tides threatened to overflow the (already high) rivers. 

I, along with many others I know, fled the city...
Only to return a week later to find that everything (where I live, at least) was completely fine. 

I felt a little silly.

Here's the 'hood....bone dry.

It's been confusing, to say the least, and it's become political and messy and I am just going to avoid that part altogether.

To bring you the real story.

Ladies and gentlemen, it all begins back with those doomsday news reports.  They inevitably led to an apocalyptic spending frenzy throughout Bangkok, most notably hitting our beloved 7-11's . This hoarding began a few weeks ago and, as these pictures from last night prove, it's still in full swing.

I can kiss trying to find a Diet Coke goodbye.

Now, I know that these are uncertain times.  People are buying whatever they can get their hands on in order to make sure that they have enough food and water should the floods render them housebound.  It's not a time to be choosy. 


What is so wrong with this guy?? 

Are we really so picky that in the event that we run out of food, Peanuts Chicken Flavour Coating simply will not do?  Is it that bad?

I don't understand.*

Also, in other news, when did everyone start hating Sprite?


At this point, we don't know when the situation will end.  Will we flood, won't we?  These questions still echo throughout the drier parts of the city everyday.  However, I do know that we will all retain our dignity, because under no circumstances will any of us be eating Peanuts Chicken Flavour Coating snacks. 

And that shows strength right there. 

*Just me?
*I didn't buy any either.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Simple Task

Running an errand in Bangkok is a game of chance.  If the deck is in your favor, the waves of motorcycles part, the wind is at your back and your destination is always open.  The deck, however, is rarely in your favor.  Bangkok is one giant house of cards, teetering precariously, and one move can send the whole thing crashing down in spectacular fashion.  And that, my friends, is why I love this place.

Case in point.

I had but one simple errand to run today.  I needed to get a bank statement which is required to get a visa for China, where I will go for a conference in September.  The bank that my work uses has quite an obscure headquarters located in a mall on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Now mind you, I attempted to go on this errand yesterday but I ended up getting on the wrong city bus and traveled for 30 minutes in the wrong direction.  Clearly, the deck had already started to crumble.

I finally reached the mall today and she was not without her obstacles.

One need only sidestep tasty treats...

And shimmy confidently through this dance party...

To reach the destination, an empty room, where you will be asked to take a number.

Only for the number to be called right as you're sitting down*.

In all honesty, it was fine.  I got the paperwork.  I made my way out. I even bought a pretzel.

I got in a cab and we were cruisin'.  I was eating my pretzel.  I had a full deck in my hands.

It's rainy season in Bangkok and usually this amounts to your average afternoon thunderstorm.  I enjoy this because I tend to enjoy thunderstorms, particularly from the confines of my apartment and a big blanket and possibly a bowl of traditional pad thai**.  Today was no exception and the rain came down in droves.  Thunder tumbled through the streets and lightening lit up the sky, silhouetting crumbling storefronts and shabby fruit stalls.

It took us over an hour to get home and when we did, my cab driver decided to sit in the car park of my apartment and wait it out.  And that's when you know it's serious.  Because these public transport guys?  They're tough.

I, however, was home.

I got into the elevator and pressed 9.  On floor 5, the elevator stopped and the doors opened.  In hindsight, the deck was falling fast and this was my chance.  I ignored it however, as I often do my intuition.  I stayed aboard and somewhere between 7 and 8, the elevator ground to a halt.  The lights on the floor numbers dimmed, buzzed and went out.

Welcome to my worst nightmare.

I frantically pressed buttons, any button, every button, the doors-open button, the doors-close button(?).  My heart in my throat, anxiety surged through my body like an electric pulse.  My hands shook.  I pressed the emergency button.  I pressed it again.  I pressed and held down with all my might.  I took a deep breath and surveyed the scene.  I searched for any ventilation, any place that would allow me to breathe should I be stuck there for hours, days, the rest of my life.

Then everything went pitch black.

I could feel the elevator start to groan and lurch.  And to my horror, we started dropping.  Slowly.  Fitfully.  Floor by floor.  Further and further into the black pit of my eventual demise.

Would I die in an apartment named Happy Place?

Is that allowed?

In the end, I didn't die***.  The jaws of life, aka a nonchalant maintenance guy who'd seen it all before, pried open the doors and I came stumbling out in all my panic attacked glory.

I proceeded to walk up nine flights of stairs and write my memoirs by candlelight...

....and wait for the power to come back on.

A simple task complete.

*They even made me go back to the machine to get a number, though no one was there
**Kraft macaroni and cheese

Friday, May 20, 2011

Super Giant Asia Tour 2011

A few weeks ago, some friends and I decided to hit up an excellent, oversized, continental tour happening this year.

Now is it just me?  Or do traveling carnivals the world over seem to have some sort of pact in which they compete to find the most derelict, seedy spots to throw down their temporary empire...

A few abandoned buildings on the left can't dampen this party.

And although it took us over an hour on various modes of transportation to finally reach this little corner of Bangkok heaven, all was forgiven upon arrival.  The sheer magnitude of class oozing from SGAT*'s radioactive pores blinded us, captivated us and eventually, destroyed us.  

"What constitutes a good time at a carnival?" - you, forced to ask me
"Many a thing, in fact!" - me, pleased with the opening

Could it be the sweet smell of McDonald's (clearly in cahoots with SGAT) wafting through the park(ing lot) on a sticky, hot May evening? 

Or could it be when four members of your party feign excuses and then actually leave the park after the pleasant sensory experience** that is "The Breakdance"?


Or is it the overwhelming urge to need an oversized styrofoam-stuffed animal to hold on your hip as you strut nonchalantly*** through the park?

It's possible...

Or is there just a certain magic to be found in among the jerky mechanics, the sleaze, the blinking lights, the stickiness, the tinny music, the rows of hard(won) stuffed animals, the gum stuck to the ground, the clang of the winning bell, the beer left in the bottle, the wiping of sweat, hands wrapped around metal, chugging and churning, whizzing, squeals of delight fading in and out, the beautiful, brilliant cheapness of it all.

Yes, it's all of that.

But mostly just this.

*I'm doin' it
**Nausea-inducing nightmare
***'What, this?  Yeah, I won it, whateva'

Actual footnote:  Breakdance picture from

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Best of Bali

Aaaaand we're back!  I realize it's been a bit of a hiatus here and for that I apologize, faithful readers*.

I will relay one funny/chilling tale from Bali and then get back to our Bangkok basics.

Now, every vacation has a few good stories and a few good stories usually mean a few good monkey stories and a few good monkey stories usually end with at least one screaming/scarred-for life child/me**.  Therefore, if you follow the formula correctly, most vacations end with at least one screaming/scarred-for-life child***.  You don't need Bali for this or a monkey, but those elements do provide for a great backdrop and a merciless antagonist.

This guy would never hurt you...right?

It was our second day in Bali.  We had spent a day relaxing on the beach in Kuta.  And by relaxing, I mean fending off the bracelet vendors, the ice cream man, the massage lady, the cross-bow salesman, the fake tattoo hawker, the pedicure woman ("Oh my God," she would murmur as she examined my toes****), the fruit-on-her-head lady, the beer guy (didn't fend him off), the giant wooden penis retailer, the sarong representative, the carved Buddha clerk, etc ad nauseum.  In summation, Kuta Beach in Bali...wellllll, hard to relax.  But it was great to watch the surfing, drink Bintang beer and eventually give in to the bracelet lady and walk away with five wooden bracelets that I haven't worn since Bali...

A more innocent time

That afternoon, we decided to get out of the tourist strong-hold of Kuta and see some of the "real" Bali.  For a price, we got a private driver to take us right into the heart of it.  Where, you ask?  Well, the tourist temple of Ulu Watu, naturally. 

We paid the fee (about a dollar), were given a sarong to wear over our shorts and entered the temple grounds.  The sun was beginning to set, providing a brilliant backdrop for the terror to come.  We were excited, as the naive are, to see many a monkey prowling the vicinity.  They're so cute and funny and just like us.

It was all going well, we posed for some pictures cliffside and enjoyed breathtaking views over the ocean.  We smiled, we relaxed, we let our guard down.  As we stared across the vast ocean, contemplating deep meanings and the complex truths of our lives - a bloodcurdling scream tore through the air.  Behind us, an ugly scene was unfolding.  A young girl was wailing and flailing hysterically as her father held her back.  One shoe ominously dangled from her right foot.  In front of her, a monkey.  Calm, cool, collected.  He held her other shoe in one hand.  He stared deep into her eyes.

And then he ate it.


**India, 2004 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thai Tiger Beat

So I was going through my back catalogue the other day of some favorite films.  You know, Khaw Hai Rok Ron Jaroen, Anda Kub Fahsai, Sabaidee Luang Prabang.  The ones we all came of age with.

In doing so, I noticed a common denominator in all of them.

That denominator being Thai heart throb, Ananda Everingham, naturally.

What teenage girl doesn't have his image plastered across their room?

This teenage girl certainly does!*

But folks. I say that to say this.

Never stop reaching for the stars.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When Billboards Get It Right

A simple walk through the streets of Bangkok allows this city to reveal itself in ways you previously thought impossible.  When you think that you have possibly seen all there is to see, Bangkok laughs - a crackling mixture of exhaust fumes and incense - and whispers...

Not yet...

Things seemed to be willed into existence that before could only have existed in a night of fitful sleep.

Bouffants are back. 
They assure me.

Sketches are drawn before you, lines intersecting in angular patterns, rising up like a phoenix from the ashes of a busy highway.

Safety regulations vary from country to country!
They remind me.

Masterpieces paint themselves before you, watercolors swirling on the page until they find just the right spot to settle.

We blew the grocery money on Pocky!  Again.   
They explain to me.  

The vivid tableau of Bangkok life is a gallery all of its own.  But it seems that no one - expats, tourists and locals alike - will ever really understand all that there is to know about Bangkok.

What does anything ever mean anyway?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Circle Yes or No

It's no secret that traffic in Bangkok is notoriously insane.  Cars swerve, careen, honk and sputter down highways, lanes and roads to the beat of their own drum.  The Bangkok pedestrian must be savvy, street-smart and skilled in the ways of Frogger to attempt even a simple jaunt down to their local.

Luckily, there are people to help.

I imagine that the application process is brief.

For there is but one trait necessary for the job.

Have you got 'em?

Saturday, January 29, 2011


This is my local 7-11.

Everyone's got their 'local', which isn't surprising considering there are over six thousand 7-11's in Thailand, half of which are in Bangkok.  So I guess you could say mine's not that special.  Except that it is.  For around the corner is my crew.

This crew consists of, what I consider, some of the best motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok.  They always look out for me, get me where I'm going safely and cut me sweet deals in the process.

I mean, check out this crew.

You've gotta love 'em.  

The Bangkok motorcycle taxi driver is easily identifiable by the bright orange vest that he dons.  To me, this vest represents a certain degree of professionalism.  I like to think that the moto taxi driver has to earn this vest, pass a series of difficult challenges, perhaps a written exam in there somewhere.  I like to think that if one is wearing this vest, there is a level of trust that he knows what he is doing.  I like to think that this vest guarantees my safety while hurtling through the streets of this big, bad city.  

I like to think a lot of things.

This might be why walking past this store the other day was a bit disconcerting.

Are the orange vests...for sale?  Can any Somchai off the street be a motorcycle taxi driver for the right price?  

Can I be a motorcycle taxi driver?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy New Year!

May you find exactly what it is that you have been looking for...

May you find time to rest when you are weary...

May you always have plenty to eat...

May you continue to dig deep when others have long since given up...

Happy 2011!