The Ruminator

Come on up and grab yourself a beer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Three Days in Bangkok

I always feel a bit disoriented for a little while when I arrive in a new country, and it's not just about the jet lag and lack of sleep. I think it takes a little while to get used to the stream of new impressions that hit you when you are somewhere unfamiliar. And when it comes to sensory overload, Bangkok has got a lot happening.

The heat, the humidity, the noise! I mean, everyone knows Bangkok is noisy, but the sheer scale of this has to be heard to be believed. Much of this has to do with the fact that many of the vehicles here have never even seen a muffler. Then there's the sights: glittering old temples and palaces, huge shining skyscrapers, and rusting shanty structures all jostling for the same space. Seemingly mile after mile of street stalls selling clothes, watches, shoes, weapons, Buddhist amulets, jewelry. And of course, let's not forget the smell. It would be easy to dismissively declare that Bangkok smells like too many cars and an inadequate sewerage system. Which it often does. But this doesn't take into account the other smells, which somehow, miraculously manage to drown out the background smell. Turn a corner and suddenly you are hit by the scent of fresh jasmine, or incense. Or delicious food being roasted on skewers over charcoal. (Food-on-a-stick my brother calls it, but I thought I would pass on the whole-frog-on-a-stick. I know I'm a base carnivor anyway, but I don't like my food to be recognisably something that, in its living state, would make me say 'how cute'!, as opposed to when they are chargrilled three to a skewer. But I digress, where was I?). Oh yes, and the smell of tropical fruit. Unfortunately the fruit really in season right now is durian. Widely acknowledged as the world's smelliest fruit, it looks like a large, spiky football, and has been accurately described as smelling like a teenage boy's smelly gym socks. There is a lot of it around.

Anyway, I think adding to the sense of disorientation is the language issue. I spent some time trying to learn Thai before I came here, with the upshot that I can understand on average between one-third and one-half of what is being said. Of any given sentence. Which means I get these weird, fragmentary impressions of the conversations around me. "Three of them .... From the airport .... By car ..... red ..... Not very much ... hot..." You get the idea. Anyway, this is just a brief stopover with my parents so it's mostly family time, getting some errands done etc. I'll see more of Thailand when I spend two weeks here in September.

Last night we had been doing some shopping so just had dinner in a little noodle place in a mall. On the menu was 'The Field Marshall's Noodles', which a couple of tables ordered while we were there. Not to be attempted by a group of less than four people, this monster of meal came, among other things, with a whole lobster on top, and would be delivered ceremoniously on a large wooden tray by two waiters, but not before the entire restaurant staff heralded its arrival with a very loud chant, which I'm told roughly translated as:

Here come the Field Marshall's Noodles
Worth spending your money on
They are super delicious!
It was a pretty good floor show to go along with my three dollar bowl of chicken noodles!

We've been walking a lot, which kind of broke my mother a bit. We've got a pattern of walking for as much as possible, then going into a nice hotel for a cool drink to recharge, then outside again. It's not just that the heat and humidity take it out of you. The problem is you arrive prepared with nice, comfy shoes to walk in. Then the weather makes your feet swell up and all of a sudden these great shoes are two sizes two small, and leave your feet covered in blisters, which really makes walking not much fun at all. However, I'm currently facing the world armed with a large packet of bandaids, and the occasional pause for a fresh lime juice (kind of like a non-alcoholic caprioska). Not too shabby at all.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I think I'm finally ready

Given that I'm leaving the country tomorrow, I'd better be! The bag is packed, the ipod is charged, and a friend is housesitting for me. Next post will be from somewhere exciting!