Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Japanese Member Only Clubs

While our friend Richard was visiting I discovered something new about one particular street.
This street in question is so like many others in Bangkokot. There are girls in mini skirts hanging around dingy entrances with staircases that disappear into darkness. Richard and I took a walk down this particular street and noticed that not one single woman shouted out or called to him. Prostitutes in Thailand are shameless and don’t care if the man is with a women. They know even if the man is with his wife, he is likely to return later and alone. They all just stood there chatting to one another. It was so strange because they were clearly prostitutes and in Thailand they NEVER give up an opportunity to catch a foreign mans eye. Eventually Richard asked a cab driver what the deal was. He told us that this was a ‘member only’ street for Japanses men. There is a large community of Japanese men in Thailand and they don’t like to ‘share’ their hookers. They have ‘claimed’ an entire street of bars, restuarants (Japanese food only) and women. Richard asked this cab driver that if he went up to one of the woman and offered her money to leave with him, the taxi driver said ‘no way, she will not come with you, she is owned by Japan man’
We then watched as black chauffer-driven cars and taxis pulled up and smartly dressed Japanese men got out. Suddenly it all became clear. Pretty amazing don’t you think?

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Watery Coke & Shopping Truths

Yesterday was a national holiday which marks Visakha Bucha Day a Thai Buddhist celebration. Some people went to visit Buddhist ‘images’ to touch the middle finger in the belief they will be blessed with good luck.
Another reason for celebration yesterday was the first day of the ‘walking street’ market. An initiative set up by the government to give those street hawkers most affected by the Red Shirt demonstrations, an opportunity to sell their wares in a weekend-long sale to the public. A number of roads were closed to vehicles allowing for the set-up of the stalls to take place and thousands of locals and foreigners to stream in a get a bargain deal. Many street sellers said they had lost all income over the past two months due to the UDD taking over the roads where they used to sell their wares. Many sellers depended on tourists for their income (mostly fake branded goods)
Of course, we had to go and visit. I have never seen such a crazy mix of items for sale. In Bangkok you will see porn DVD’s being sold next to pineapples, but this was an ever more exciting blend of offerings. I saw Halloween masks, cupcakes, origami greeting cards, pink head phones, floral print hand bags, sequin jackets, fake purple Crocs piled up on blankets, colourful hair clips with puffy bows attached swinging from string tied to umbrellas, artists sitting cross-legged on the floor sketching incredible portraits, dog jewelry, used Thai fashion magazines, frilly knickers on hangers, sparkling belly rings, Sponge Bob Square Pants shirts, Hello Kitty dressing gowns, pearl cufflinks, fried chicken, dim sum, peanuts and popcorn. The colours and smells are almost over-bearing.
I watched as a young Thai lady picked up a blue top which had plastic fake pearls sewn around the neck line and a large white flower sticking out the front. She was clearly delighted at her find and spun around to shove it in her boyfriends face for his thoughts. He stood there in a shirt which read ‘Cheap Date’ and yawned. It seems the shopping experience for girls and their boyfriends is the same world over whether you are in Prada on Oxford Street or a market stall in Silom Road.

A particularly classic moment – a policeman on his motorbike zoomed past with a heap of take-away bowls tied to the back of the seat….clearly doing his bit to help out a friend with a market stand 🙂
We then inhaled an over-priced watery Coke (no booze served on Buddhist holidays)and leapt into the nearest air-conditioned taxi to get home for some tranquility and so I could try on my new top……..promise there are no fake pearls or bows on it 😉

Photo Bangkok Post by Patipat Janthong

Classic Cabby Moment

We had to catch a cab to get to immigration for my passport issues. The one we picked was bright purple. The reason we picked it was because he offered a good deal and was fluent in English which helps for directions. The first thing you realise once you have taken cabs in Thailand, is that no driver will ever admit to not knowing your destination. They will always say ‘yes yes yes’ and usher you into the back seat. Then you end up driving in circles as you shout useless broken Thai at the stressed driver and get angrier and angrier as the meter ticks up.
So I did my keep-knees-together-in-skirt back seat shuffle and knocked my elbow on something hard. As I yelled out, Robbie jumped in and also hit something hard. The ENTIRE back seat was an enormous sound system encased in a clear plastic box, now our back rest!!!! How insane is that? Talk about not making your customers comfort a priority. Huge steel bolts lined the top and bottom of the case, so not only was the seat rock hard, it was punchuated with bolts which jutted into your spine. Thank God he didn’t turn it on! Immigration is not a short drive either, so there we were, bolt (excuse the pun) upright not knowing whether to laugh or cry, for nearly 40 minutes in Bangkok traffic. sigh.
The uncomfy drive was made worth while by our rather charismatic driver. Most English-speaking drivers will attempt to give you a bit of a guided city tour, even if you tell them you live here. This guy however, pointed out things you wouldn’t really consider. In pointed out the juvenile detention centre for offenders under the age of 15 and admitted how he had been arrested as a child but his parents paid off the police for 15,000 Baht 15 years ago (+-R4,500) His offence? Riding a motor bike with twenty of his (15 year old) mates.
Once he found out Robbie had a hotel in Phuket he told us his views on how few tourists were in Bangkok since the Red Shirt drama. It is always interesting to get a cab drivers perspective as they really see it all and are first to be impacted. He said how many of his cabby mates refused to take people to the airport as they would wait hours and hours to get a passenger for the drive back. He told us how any army person who was dressed in army gear would get refused at the market stalls. Can you imagine what that must be like? Your own people refusing to sell you food because they blame you for the deaths in the April shoot-outs. Crazy and sad.
Needless to say we made it, with sore backs. The news on my passport is I need to go to KL in Malaysia for a day. So annoying. Oh well.

Gay Soi and Scented Loo’s

We have discovered this classic soi (street) in Silom which is clearly a gay street. ALL (as in EVERY SINGLE) waiter/chef/cook/cleaner in this entire street is gay (male). It is packed with gorgeous little restaurants, tapas bars, wine spots and funky pubs. For my readers in Cape Town, it does have a Cape Quarter feel to it, or perhaps a little French side street. Chairs and tables line the street and cheery music floats in the air. There was a Greek Souvlaki restaurant with a glass kitchen and painted blue ducks on the wall; a pub with a banner depicting a man with a massive beer jug positioned suggestively between his legs; a bar called ‘Beardie Bar’ (‘beard’ is a term in the gay community for the larger, more manly gay man) and heaps of other boutique places. The atmosphere is jovial to say the least. The waiters have massive amounts of hair gel which sculps their locks into peacock type spikey do’s (or ‘dont’s’ for that matter), their shorts are short, their shirst are tight and they wear colourful All Star trainers. As you walk down the street they cheer and scream and try and get your attention so you will sit in their bar. I watched as a 70 year old grey haired westerner walk past as every single guy in the road erupted in applause and squeals of delight! This old man stopped, waved like the Queen of England and did a little heel-toe dance right there in the middle of all these bars! Everyone clapped and laughed as he eventually found a spot to sit and enjoy a beer in much younger company.
As many of you would know, toilets in Thailand leave little to be desired. They are usually extremely filthy due mainly to the fact one is not supposed to flush toilet paper but rather place it in an open bin next to the toilet, and the fact that Thai people use a water hose to clean themselves and therefore the floor is always wet and muddy. There is NEVER EVER any toilet paper to be found (especially after 11pm) and some places even make you pay for a tiny slip of single ply as they know how desperate women become. I have learnt to carry my own pocket-pack of tissue paper but this does little to help you cope with the smell and filth you have to squat above. The hand soap is always finished. The sink is often outside, blocked or leaking. Toilet spray is unheard of. However, one of the best things about gay men is that they CARE about the details. The table cloths matched and the men all had perfect eyebrows. Nothing escapes their notice. I had been delaying the inevitable toilet trip after 3 G&T’s when I ventured upstairs. I totally forgot about where I was as just expected the worst as I breathed in a gulp of fresh air and held it in as I entered the ladies washroom. Well well well. What a total blissful gleeful surprise. The toilet was absolutely spotless. It smelt of apples. There was no water on the floor, just a fluffy mat. The sink worked and had hot AND cold water. There were two massive squeezy bottles of pink scented hand wash (not watered down). There was a mirror (again, a novelty). There was a sign saying ‘warm hand dryer situated outside to the left’ GLEE. I admit I did linger.

It was delightful and we will return, this time without the pocket pack and waterless Detol hand gel.

Scary Pipeline contents

My Dad, who works on a mine in Congo (he is not a miner) forwarded me these photos which were from a friend of his in the area.
This is an oil pipeline that is being laid from Mozambique to Sasolburg, the part running next to the national road to Komatipoort has just been completed. Here are some interesting photos of what they found in the pipeline while it was being constructed……be prepared!

FAME

When Robbie and I went for a walk to take the photo’s I loaded in a previous blog, a reporter took a photo of the three of us! haha This photo is in the Sunday Bangkok Post Newspaper.

A Savage Approach

After any national crisis (with international impact) comes the time for truth, reconciliation and forgiveness. This is now happening in Thailand as the government attempts to investigate the deaths and fires. I am convinced a day of remembrance will be created to ensure those souls who lost their lives are never forgotten. The drive to find the truth however, has uncovered some unusual leads.
A video clip has cropped up of a foreigner (British) leaping in front of someone’s handicam shouting about how he was going to burn down Central World and loot everything out of it (with more explicit language) just days before this actually happened. The joy of social media is that it is now on You Tube for anyone to see and judge its sincerity, including the Thai police. The man, Jeff Savage, is a resident of Pattaya, a coastal town east of Bangkok. I read a Thai expat forum (thaivisa.com) as it is highly entertaining to keep up with the old foreign resident boozers commentary about life in Thailand. Most of them are saying that this Mr. Savage is a ‘piece of s*%’ and they have seen him around Pattaya. Another put on his motorbike description and physical address. It won’t be long until he is called into questioning.
A great deal has been said about foreigners getting involved in the Red Shirts demonstrations. It is one thing to take respectful photos and ask questions so as to learn something about a country in which you are lucky enough to live. It is another thing entirely, to join in and take on another countries beliefs and problems as your own. This guy is the perfect example. As the clip reveals, he has a bandana on his head and yells like a caveman as he hurls a sharpened bamboo stick towards the cameraman. Many of his Pattaya ‘forum friends’ claim he is mostly a drunk and deserves ‘a nice long stay in a Bangkok prison’ and that he gives foreigners living in Thailand a bad name. On the most part, foreigners did stay out of it. There are a few pics of gentle backpackers taking photos of the army tanks and shaking hands with Red Shirts and that was about it. At one stage, Robbie and I were a part of this but it is not hard to know when you need to leave or where you shouldn’t be. This guy may be blamed for instigating or encouraging the burning of Central World Mall which is a pretty harsh crime considering the lives that were lost.

What do you think?

BKK Update 11:39am

Robbie and I set our alarm for 6:30am for a morning walk through the previous UDD camp zone which is now deserted. It was incredible to walk around the massive 3sq km area devoid of human bustling, loud speakers, children playing, radios, generators, TV’s, food smells and music. There was nothing but piles and piles of rubbish and abandoned belongings. We stood at the same spot we had weeks previously when it was full of people and had a concert feel. I saw abandoned clothing hanging on make-shift washing lines, a BBQ with sweet potatoes on the grill, crates of unopened water, protest signs, family photographs, single shoes, caps, bedding materials, tyres, two massive orange generators now unplugged and piles of black tarpauline lying in huge heaps. It was clear that people had left suddenly and without much planning. I was amazed to see the latest Louis Vuitonne HandBag hanging in a window next to the sites main stage area. There were bullet holes in the glass yet no one had helped themselves to the expensive bag. Perhaps South Africa has jaded me but I admit I was shocked to see how little looting had occurred. There was a strong stink of refuse due to the fact the government stopped collecting litter from the area days before the take-over in an attempt to squeeze them out.
Central World Shopping Mall was incredible to see. Fire trucks were parked around the entrance while water hoses pumped thousands of litres of water into the simmering embers of what was once Bangkoks biggest destination mall. The shocking news this morning was that the reason it burn down so suddenly was because the government had switched off the power supply to the entire area, which affected the water sprinkler system in the mall itself. The good news is it only cost 6 billion Baht to build and the insurance covers 13 billions Baht, so, as predicted, in 6 months time Bangkoks favourite mall will be biggar and better than ever before.
Staring at the black steaming cove where the building once stood I remembered meeting Robbie in the Starbucks downstairs to refuel between shopping stints years ago. It did have that creepy World Trade Centre 9/11 feeling to it. 9 bodies were found in the building.
We spoke to army members, who, despite the ruin and horror around them, were kind and cheerful to us. They played with Finbar and asked us where we were from. The Thai spirit is certainly hard to dampen. I feel very sad for Thailand as I know no one wanted death and destruction. Thai people are inherently gentle and peaceful so this for them is mind-blowing. The prime minster said his focus is on ‘mental healing’ first and foremost. This stance is not surprising as happiness and peace in Thailand is clearly more important than shopping malls. Here’s to the healing.

“How much you pay?”

I find it funny that because the Bangkok curfew is 8pm, certain road side habits have altered accordingly. For example, Robbie just called me from Soi 4 (the road closest to us that has many bars) to say that because it is 10 minutes to 8pm (curfew) all the men and harlots (ladys of the night) had no time to get drunk and flirt….so they went straight to the point and made a deal. Robbie watched as four Turkish guys went over to four trollops and said simply ‘how much?’ and the girls responded with an amount (by using fingers) and the men pretended to be put off and this went on until they agreed on a price and 8 of them walked off arm in arm with their chosen hussy! Normally this process would take place over hours of chatting, drink buying, girl swapping etc
Talk about cutting to the chase!

Pink Chop Sticks and Rush Hour Traffic

Ahhhhhh things are almost back to normal! Despite the curfew (which, as far as we know, still stands until Saturday evening) Bangkok has starting to resemble its former fabulous self. We ventured off to The Emporium Mall to get some snackie-poos for din dins, and found ourselves stuck in rush hour traffic. As we watched the meter price increase minute by minute as the taxi stood idle in four-lane deep traffic, I couldn’t help but release a ‘whoop whoop’ and squeeze Robbies hand in glee. People were walking about the streets as if nothing had happened. I could see the Skytrain whizzing back and fourth as Thai’s and foriegners chatted on the platform. I cannot contain my sheer joy that my fantastic city is mine for the taking once again!

There is a great deal of reconciliation that is under-way and I am sure that healing the wounds of the past two months will take many years for those who lost loved ones in the struggle. Hospitals and banks will be open and fully functioning from Monday. As for the mess left from the demonstrators sprawling camp, I would bet good money that it will be cleaned up in a matter of  days. As for the burnt buildings and Central Worlds grave site, again, with Thai efficiency, I imagine a biggar and better mall will be built and this time it will be the largest in Asia;)

I bought myself a new pair of bright pink chopsticks and some sushi to celebrate. Not convinced with the tofu option that always just comes along with the salmon, avo and crab stick california rolls.