Boy, am I ever thrilled that I ended up flying out of Bangkok. I love Penang, and I like KL pretty all right. But Thailand…Thailand is just the best (as this latest, briefest visit served to yet again remind). They call Thailand “The Land Of Smiles”, but as I’ve argued many a time previously, Land Of Weird And Surreal would be an epithet every bit as appropriate.
Take this goddam place I visited the other day, for example – Papaya Vintage Shop, up there at Lat Phrao. Oh, first of all, take this goddam 22-hour rail passage from Hat Yai, which lolled into Hua Lamphong a full six hours behind schedule – making it, I think, both the longest and furthest-behind-schedule train ride in all of my Thai rail experiences. A little fact-checking may be in order, here.
Economical – Yes, it is that, in spades. Seven bucks for the passage, including the overnight “accommodation”. Prices like those are impossible to resist.
Safe – In my experience, it is that, too; though I have on occasion read in the Post of trains having jumped their tracks.
Fast – Um…ah…er…I think…not.
Comfort – Ha ha. At least in the Economical classes frequented by yours truly, comfort is about the thing it’s furthest from.
But, actually, the sign misses the best part of the third-class rail-ridin’ experience, viz., poking one’s head out the window, feeling the rush of the wind upon the face, listening to the clickety-clackety clickety-clack drone on for endless hundreds of kilmotres, and gogging at the beautiful Thai countryside rolling by. Nothing but nothing beats that! It’d be a bargain at ten times the price.
Anyways, back to this goddam Papaya Shop joint. Stopped by there on the way to attend the Muay Thai, and stayed so long I ended up arriving late for the Muay Thai. What it is, it’s a freakin’ temple o’ kitsch. Three huge floors covered right up to the gills in bric-a-brac.
Factually, it’s not so different from the House Of Museums, which I visited three years ago — though Papaya, unlike the latter, is shockingly free of dust, cobwebs, and ankle-loving mosquitoes (all features so common to Southeast Asian museums one would think they were mandated by the contract). The music of choice, though, at the House Of Museums was old-thyme Thai traditionals, while at Papaya, it’s all Sinatra all day long. But also, whereas the former seems more ad hoc, the latter is a monument to OCD. Imagine a series of Jar Jar Binkses next to a wall of clocks, next to a room full of furniture arrangements, next to a mountain of suitcases, next to…next to…next to… But all of it very lovingly and carefully arranged, see?
My favourite was the collection of old typewriters and adding machines…
And there were plenty of other crazy shit besides. Here is a very small scratching of the surface. Yo, if there’s anybody can tell me what this “SMASH!” thing is for, I’d sure like to know. (And in re the nekkid mannequin: There were dozens, maybe even scores, of nekkid mannequins throughout the grounds. I don’t think I ever spied a one with its clothes on.)
The oddnesses continued next afternoon, after I’d said my tearful adieus to the Good People of the one/only De Talak Hostel (centre of all that is righteous in humankind – though they were not the ones doing the crying, let me assure you), gathered up my luggage, and popped the subway to Bangkok’s tallest skyscrapah — the Baiyoke Sky Hotel — to meet up with my Thai sister-from-another-mister and to sample of the hotel’s fruit buffet, which had been recommended to me a few weeks before by arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell.
No sooner had we filled up our plates, sat our dimpled asses down, and smelled the first whiffs of the Durian which the staff had parsimoniously doled out from behind the wizzzard’s curtain…that in walks arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell – with his bags (and his cool/mellow son, name of Damien) in tow! I’d known that we were to be flying out of BKK on the same night, but had not guessed I’d be seeing him here. Well…fuck it: Fruit party every body!
But, huhn, that’s not even the trippy part yet. Which, there we were having ourselves a gay old time scorfing down the restaurant’s Papayas and Pineapples and Grapes and Coconuts and Mangos and Longkongs (the Longkongs were very delish) and Dragonfruits and Honeydew and just you-fuckin’-name-it, and then we noticed, being projected in a video-loop upon the wall behind us, an interview being conducted with the very ringleader of the Durionic Hordes, the all-time Durian obsessive, the Queen Of The Thorns, Lindsay from the Year Of The Durian blog.
We barely even had time to wonder How-in-the-fuck? before, in scenes from a Thai Durian Orchard, comes bounding onscreen everybody’s favourite human, the God of Chanthaburi fruit-hunting, Mr. Nong von Nongster.
And then finally, the coupe de god damn fuckin’ schweirdness, up on thee screen come footage of none other but arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell himself (!). Right while he was watching, too! That’s some weird crazy shit gone down over there in Bangkok town. And for those who don’t subscribe to the primacy of coincidence, well…you tell me what it all means?
I et my last pieces of Durian – Boo! Sob! – and, as nobody else’d ponied up the extra Baht to check out the O-Deck, shuffled up there by meself. I was serenaded, in the lift, by a three-piece band heading up to the top-floor restaurant to perform – and, ho hum, each member rocking a crazy-assed haircut. Then, the stairwell up to the revolving outdoor viewing stand smelt permanently of fart, was painted up in some kind of sci-fi narrative, and had a dude in a orange monkey suit walking around. Fuckin’…Thailand Weirdland! Who-could-ever-want-to-leave-this-place?-land.
After all that had gone, the view was frankly pretty anticlimactic. But, here it is, Bangkok from the top.
Grant and Damien had waited for me downstairs, so the three of us hopped the link train out to Suvarnabhumi. My flight was just getting ready to check in when we arrived, and theirs was still some hours forthcoming. So, I bid them a fond farewell – Grant is going to be running in some damned-fool twenty-four-plus-hour marathon all the way across the United Kingdom in just a few days’ time – and made my way into the bowels of the airport.
There were a few tense minutes at Passport Control – three different personnel took it in turns to screw their faces up into confused-looking contortions when cross-checking my hard-copy with their computer’ screens’ records. When she finally did deign to administer the ever-precious “chop” (as the Malays delight in terming the applying of the stamp – if you ever travel in a van with Malays, you had better be prepared to discuss at great length your “chop” experience, or you ain’t gonna be discussing anything at all), I asked the clerk if there had been any problem. “No problem,” she merrily replied, “I check your data!” O-kay, do-kay.
I arrived to the gate with just about exactly enough time to listen to the new Sleater-Kinney rekkid before the boarding call, and that was that. Thailand Weirdland; that’s-a the place for me-land. Save some Durian for when I return, if you would be so kind. (By thee way, all of my pics from this year’s Thai Rodeo are shimmering themselves silly over at Flickrside.)
Oh, before I forget: One last pix, from Cambodia, which I’d (wrongfully) neglected until now to share. How cute is that shit?
I’ll see ya tomorrow.