The Bangkok Express

Uh, what was that? Could hardly believe that just a few days ago I was in little tiny Phimai…

From which I nabbed the bus at 6:00 in the Monday AM to head to Khorat, and then the train to Bangkok. Train was pretty long ride, not very scenic, but rather enjoyable. In third class, the seats are for-sure on the hard side, but the price was so nice! Here’re the fares for each leg (one may recall that a single Greenback Dollar will get you thirty Thai Baht).

  • Phimai to Khorat: 1.5 hours, 50 Baht.
  • Khorat Tuk-Tuk from Bus Station to Train Station: 10 minutes, 60 Baht.
  • Khorat to Bangkok: 7.5 hours, 55 Baht.
  • Bangkok Subway: 5 minutes, 24 Baht.
  • Walking to hostel: no charge.

I had, as I say, booked at a brand new hostel (open about six weeks) whose proximity to Khlong Toei marked I did fancy. De Talak, a converted house, is owned and operated by a forty-year-old (as of to-day!) ball of fire name of “Rata”. Of Chinese descent, she has lived only in Thailand, and speaks only English and Thai.

She lived five years in Chicago obtaining a masters in Computer Aided Design. A degree which she’s never used — though she did attain an impressive command of English vernacular.

Previous to opening the hostel, she had begun the first plus-size clothing shop in Thailand; whose success was apparently rather a sensation: she was interviewed on the radio and the teevee show; and there was even a book-length interview published detailing her story. She expanded to wholesaling, with thirty establishments in her network. But once word got out, the competitors sprang up and began eating into her profits.

She opened the hostel, she told me, because she had once been a backpacker herself (not a hippie, she was quick to point out), and had fallen in love with hostels’ spirit of camaraderie, in distinction to traditional hotels’ here’s-your-key-now-go-watch-the-teevee-show coldness.

The very definition of going “above and beyond” to make her customers happy, she has managed to attract, in such a short time, a scintillating mixture of guests. The Australian motorcyclist of German descent, the Japanesians looking for used clothing — one of whom had learnt English by spending five months in the US of A just going to bars and “horsing around”, the Albanian here to learn Muay Thai boxing, the Spaniard to learn meditation, the Frenchman fresh off having lived four years in China translating state propaganda from English into French, the Nevadan grandmother obsessed with the stock market. To name a few.

Such an interesting and entertaining lot — but Rata herself surely the most entertaining of all, with a million-and-one fascinating and hilarious stories to tell.

When I asked her if the Durian had come to Khlong Toei yet, she was somewhat shocked. “Duwrian? You like Duwrian?” She pronounces that particular word with a slight lisp.

“It’s my favourite!”

She began madly waving her arms in the air, proclaiming, “Finally, I have found somebody to eat Duwrian with!” But then, the bad news: the Duwrian are “very late coming” this year. Perhaps a couple of more weeks.

Bummer. Mangos, however, are in season; and so, much less expensive than usual.

Monday night, the Frenchman and the Belgian were describing the pretty sickening delicacies upon which they had dined. The Frenchman quite likes dog, he says; but he had had to draw the line at the Chinese predilection for live mouse fetus. Also, he loves cats, so refuses to eat them.

The Belgian had had to draw the line at Elephant’s penis. Upon hearing, the Frenchman went into a minor tizzy, wondering what kind of person would be “crazy enough to eat Elephant dick?!?!” Needless to say, I was rolling on the floor.

They began arguing over what ostrich tastes like: the Belgian claiming beef mixed with chicken, the Frenchman duck mixed with chicken — neither would budge in his position.

I had been of the impression that Khlong Toei was primarily an early-morning Market; but Rata informed me that it’s a 24-hour proposition; and that night-time is when it’s at its most bustling, as this is when the restaurants come to make their purchases for the next day.

So the Frenchman and myself went over to check out the scene. An avid photographer, he informed me on the way there that we needed to be ready for a “street fight”, in case any people objected to having their pictures taken. “What?” I protested. “Thais love having their pictures taken!”

Much to my surprise, after his very first snap, from above the scene on the pedestrian walkway, a lady yelled up at him, cursing he and his camera. Uh…whoa. But this turned out to be the closest we came to inciting a “street fight”.

The market was, indeed, a madhouse. This is when the butchers come out to play, carving up huge mountains of meat.

It’s meat everywhere. Meatapalooza. Meatatopia. Meat madness. Meat meat meat meat meat.

Not all of it is pre-butchered, naturally.

Yum! It’s not only meat, though. Night-time is also when the huge blocks of ice are brought in.

And of course, there are plenty of vegetables about; so many, in fact, that the sellers spill out of the market proper and onto the adjacent street.

Tuesday morning, Carolyn, the grandmother (did I mention she’s insane in the membrane?) from Las Vegas, was describing to me her short-selling stock-market exploits, and trying to glean from me which brands of clothing I was apt to purchase. I guess she thinks that The Gap is headed down the tubes.

The Frenchman said that he wanted to create a brand, whose calling card would be quality and durability. “Too late,” warned Carolyn, “L.L. Bean already beat you to it.” The Frenchman then went on to relate how he’d once had a pair of shoes that’d lasted him eight years, lamenting that he’d not since been able to repeat that experience; then setting out some principles and theories and whatnot.

Each time he paused to take a breath, Carolyn interjected, with ever-increasing annoyance, “Ell Ell Beeeeeeeen!” Oh, boy, it was a hoot! But I couldn’t stick around too long, ’cause I was a man on a mission. Namely, to get my dimpled ass to Lumphini Park, where which to spend the day.

Gadzooks, what a blissful occasion it was to be back home in the Lumphini maelstrom!

Doing some juggling, I was approached by a musician from Southern Thailand, name of “Lazarus”. Well, at least I think that’s what he said his name was — though it’s not a particularly Buddhistic-sound name, I shouldn’t have thought. He could juggle three balls just fine, but was completely entranced by my four-ball patterns, imploring me to teach him how to do it.

I related that, as with all things juggling, the concept isn’t the problem. It’s all about the execution; and this can come only through practice. But I was happy to show him the patterns which I’d found most useful to learn with. He kept on begging me to show him, again and again, the nature of the patterns. Finally, as appreciative as anybody ever has been, he gave me a big hug, and was off.

Later on, I was sitting reading, and was approached by a group of University students, requesting to interview me. I was, of course, thrilled to oblige.

The gentleman to the cinematographer’s right was holding up questions written out in a spiral notebook. The lady to his left was the director. And there were two people flanking me on the bench, asking the questions.

Same old usual questions: from whence did you come, where have you been, what is your occupation, and so forth. But near the end of the interview, the question being held up in the notebook was, “Do like Thailand?” while the interviewer asked me, “Do you like Thai food?”

“Do I like Thai food or Thailand,” I asked, pointing at the sign. Then we all started cracking up. They never did clarify, so I went ahead and answered both questions (didn’t let on that, for me, Thai food means Thai fruit). After the interview, they repaired to a shady tree about fifty yards away to debrief, from where I heard them mercilessly skewering the interviewer for his untimely gaffe.

Shortly after the interview, the aerobics music struck up, taking me rather by surprise. I quickly gathered my shit, raced over to the site, pulled the juggling balls back out, and it was though I’d  never left. Lumphini!

I didn’t stick around for the second session, as Rata had said that as she didn’t have very many check-ins that night, she’d take me to where she thought we could get some Durian for not very much money.

On my way out, who should flag me down but ol’ Lazarus, sitting with a friend of his, and her son (name of “Teo”). Splayed out before him was any number of juggling balls of different type and colour. He begged me for a refresher course in the ways of four-ball juggling. So I again showed him the pattern, and wished him well.

Rata’d said to be back to the hostel by “five or six or seven”, but when I arrived, she told me 8:00. It ended up being about 8:30, as she had to first take a bunch of guests to her favourite dinner-time shop, which serves duck noodle soup. Apparently, you get all of the duck’s organs, but none of its bones.

So then,  she was taking myself to get Durian, and dropping three Swedes, riding on the back of her pickup, off at a Pad Thai shop she recommended. She offered, also, to drop at the subway a threesome headed for the night train to Chiang Mai. They were surprised by the kind offer, and she explained, pointing her finger upward at a forty-five-degree angle, that it’d be no problem, as, “I’m taking him to get Duwrian. To-day is Duwrian day!”

Shortly after setting out, we were pulled over at a police checkpoint; Rata and the copper engaging in a heated discussion, the only words of which I understood were “farang”, “Chiang Mai”, “Pad Thai”, and “noodle”.

Eventually, he let us go, and she told us that he’d wanted her to pay him a bribe for the right to transport the Swedes in the back of the truck — even though the law only prohibits truck-back riding while on the expressway. She’d finally been able to shame him, saying that she was trying to be a good host, showing the foreigners the friendliness of Thailand, but that the he wasn’t helping her out very well.

She offered to pick the Swedes up on our way back from getting Durian, but they said that they knew exactly where they were, and could just walk back.

So, we arrived to the Night Market she’d had in mind, but…no Durian truck. She took me instead to Tesco/Lotus, where the Durian was pretty expensive, and, she thought, not of very good quality. So, we returned empty-handed. Upon arrival, she announced that this trip was to be known as, and recorded as such in her logbook, “Duwrian Succofaw” — which means, if I understood her correctly, that the expected Durian bounty had proved to be a chimera.

Around about midnight, a bunch of us were sitting outside bullshitting, and Rata suddenly remembered the Swedes. Where had they gone? Had they gotten lost? Would she have to go looking for them? About twenty minutes later, they showed up, in good spirits. “Five hours! Five hours to find our way back!” (It’d actually been more like three, I think.) They said they’d asked five or six Tuk-Tuk drivers for directions, but none of them had been able to help.

Wednesday, yesterday, was my turn, as I spent the day in Chinatown, just being always and forever lost. The best kind of lost, however: lost in Bangkok Chinatown. I did visit some temples, but didn’t make a big study of it or nothin’. When next I return, perhaps.

Also took my first trip on a Bangkok city bus. Great fun, and much cheaper than the skytrain or subway. Best of all, believe it or not, was the horrific traffic, which greatly facilitated the watching of the goings-on on the streets and sidewalks below.

I had misread the map (well, factually, it’s more than a little ambiguous), and so ended up nowhere near where I thought I’d do with the chosen route. So, actually ended up using two buses to get from Chinatown to Lumphini — but it was still cheaper than it’d have been had I used the subway.

Arrived just in time for aerobics, lingered around a while, then wandered back to the hostel for another round — this one lasting well past midnight — of wonderfully entertaining discussions.

Including which, get this! Remember the German motormouth I wrote about from the last time I was in Bangkok? Turns out, he’s a scammer!

Rata had been saying that she’s been surprised at the diversity of guests who’ve stayed there in the few short weeks she’s been open; that she thinks she may even write a book about us. I asked if there’d been any criminal activity in the hostel (thinking that maybe she’d caught somebody selling drugs or something), and she explained about a German guy who’d had his bags stolen, and could he stay at the hostel until the embassy had time to get it sorted out, and blah blah.

Sounded familiar, so I started grilling her for details. Had he worked in construction? Had he been bald of head? Had he had to wait until the week-end had ended for his embassy to address his case? Had the fall of the Berlin wall been a nightmare, forcing him to employ a bunch of lazy-assed East Berliners who didn’t know the value of work? Had he wished for one minute alone with the thief?

Check, check, check, check, check. She thought she had a picture of him somewhere on her camera; but couldn’t find it. We’re quite sure it’s the same guy, though. Now she’s going to warn all the hostels in the city about this particular grifter and his particular game.

Frickin’ small, weird world!

To-day, Thursday, I had to relocate to a different hostel, near the train station, as the train to the Cambodian frontier leaves at 5:55 in the AM, while the subway doesn’t begin running until 6:00 in the AM. A quite nice place, with very friendly and helpful staff…but just not the same. Plus which, it’s costing me $12 for the night; by far the most I’ve yet paid for lodging.

Before I left, Rata promised not to eat any Duwrian until I returned, and it was time for some picture-taking.

That’s her cousin on my left, arrived from China about five years ago. Always eager to please, she speaks Chinese and Thai, but no English.

The hostel, I understand, has a Facebook page, to which she’ll be uploading pictures taken with her camera. So if anybody knows anything about Facebook (which I myself do not), you might be able to find them there.

One of the receptionists here at the new hostel told me where to find a coin laundry. When it wasn’t where I thought she’d said it’d be, I asked at another hostel if they knew where it was. The spritely receptionist offered to let me use their coin-op machines, warning that I’d need to purchase my own “washing powder”. So, I got me some laundry taken care of.

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1 Response to The Bangkok Express

  1. SST says:

    Why am I not torn between elephant penis and durian?
    Here’s why dear durian derelicts: Everyone you hold dear will suddenly despise you. Not only will they sustain collateral olfactory damage from standing within several yards of the vile pod, once you’ve ingested it, you’ll be afflicted with burps so pungent as to roil and rot all air in the room around you. The noxious emanation will not cease for many an hour, and by that time, your loved ones will have located alternate living quarters, possibly in another hemisphere.
    Pass the penis please.

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