Tag Archives: bangkok

All Thai’d up

Having lived in Bangkok for more than three years, it’s fair to say that my love affair with this magical, dirty, fabulous, stinky heaven of a city is going strong. But the same cannot be said of everyone. The place is full of deeply jaded expats and while I’m sure lots of things will affect my relationship with Bangkok as it changes and develops and gentrifies and so on, I desperately want to avoid losing my enthusiasm for it. Especially because it seems to me these grumps share a particular and common gripe that alarms me. And that is Thainess.

Yes,  the very things that make Thai people Thai – in Thailand – are what get the goats of those who have voluntarily chosen to live in their country. “This would never happen in[…..]!” is something you hear of Thai bureaucracy or health and safety all the time, despite the fact that we are decidedly not in whatever country we must infer is superior and therefore its practices are rendered irrelevant. Whenever talk of local business culture or the tendency towards ‘saving face’ arises here, there’s lots of condescending eye-rolling accompanied by this insidious little comment: “It’s sooooo Thai”. And everyone knows what that means.

This label, while objectively accurate, is loaded with subtext, and it’s liberally applied to humans too. When, for example, I ask a male friend about the new girl he’s seeing, it routinely goes something like this:

How did you meet? “Tinder”. What does she do? “Marketing”. Where does she live? “Thonglor”. Where is she from? “…”

At this point, if the answer is “She’s Thai”, it will ALWAYS be followed by some kind of caveat: “BUT she speaks amazing English”, or “BUT she went to international school”, or “BUT she studied in America.” It MUST be qualified. As if it’s in some way unseemly thing to live in a country and date a girl from that country unless she’s not, like, “really  western”.

Then, we have the term “Thai-time”. And listen, I agree,  a “relaxed attitude towards arrival or starting times” can be annoying. But if it’s a cultural norm where you are, rather than bitching about it, you just have to readjust to it like anything else. If you’re a naturally punctual person, just stay at home 30 minutes longer and hey presto, you’ll be right on time. And if on the odd occasion you are held up, you can relax in the knowledge that it won’t matter to anyone.

“Uh Nicky, that’s so Thai!”

Yeah,  you know what else is soooo Thai? Delicious food available at any hour of the night, slippers in the office and – my favourite – wearing a t-shirt in the gym! This is just one etiquette lesson the sweaty white men in my condo would do well to observe from our hospitable hosts.

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A roachy encounter

– and what I learned about myself from it.

I was feeling particularly smug about life that morning. I’d hopped out of bed with that feeling I sometimes get: the relish of living alone in my little flat and the freedom I have to do whatever I damn well please – like eating Reeses Cups for breakfast – because I’m a grown-ass-woman and I can take care of myself. Smugly smug smug. And that morning I was going to take care of myself via yoga in my PJs.

I like a bit of morning yoga; I open the curtains and go through a couple of sets in the sunshine. I like the feeling when I’m done and I’m a bit sweaty and my muscles have gone all shaky. I feel like I’ve done something good for my body but also nice and balanced and peaceful and, to be honest, even more smug.

So, this particular morning, I open my curtains and a massive winged cockroach flutters out. It stutters, falters and crashes drunkenly down on my bedside table and I SHRIEK and fling myself across the room. A proportionate response, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here I stand – panting – and consider my options.

I’m not sure where it landed exactly; it could be down behind the dresser or it could have fallen amongst the teddies who inhabit its surface. (A rag-tag bunch, they include Claude the French Christmas bear, Margery the floppy dog who insists on wearing broken aviator shades, and Space Bunny.) I’m scared that if I go over to investigate, it’ll fly out from among them into my face.

In order to ascertain its roachy whereabouts, I decide to send in an advance guard. Lionel, a beany-bottomed lion, is perpetually grumpy and this will do nothing to lift his mood, but there’s nothing for it. I hurl him into the midst of his furry colleagues. No movement. Not a flutter. And suddenly I am very aware of myself, throwing teddies across the room, because I’m scared of a bug.

cockroach-joe

I gird my loins and approach with caution. On closer inspection, the roach is indeed crouching behind the dresser and it occurs to me that even if I get him out in the open, I need an exit strategy. I open my window and aim the fan at it, wondering if he will get caught in the slipstream and just be wafted out.

That’s IT! I’ll just leave everything like this, go to work, and he’ll make his own way out.

Wait, no. What if I get home and he’s not there, I won’t know if he’s gone or merely lurking somewhere else, like my pillow case. No. I must deal with this now, like an adult. I get the broom.

After a rescue mission in which my fluffy friends are gingerly airlifted to the relative safety of the bed (Lionel eyes me with even deeper disdain), I hover uncertainly, with a broom handle pointing down behind the dresser. Nope, I can’t do it. My aim is terrible and I anticipate the scuttling. Shudder. ‘Aha!’ thinks I, ‘Bug spray!’ I grab the massive can under the sink, shake it thoroughly, aim it down the back of the dresser and let him have it. Scuttle scuttle scuttle! Unngghhhhhh.

So now I’m chasing him; he isn’t flying, thank fuck – he’s definitely already pretty busted, but fuck me, the fucker can scuttle. The spray is puttering but I keep it trained on him doggedly, round the bed, across the floor and almost to the rug where he gives up and collapses, legs in the air, twitching. I scoop him up with a post card, dump him out the window and slam it shut. And now I too collapse in a sweaty, shaky heap. The irony is not lost on me that the very yogic effect I enjoy so much was this morning achieved by something so un-zen as killing a fellow living creature. With poison – the weapon, as they say, of women.

As it turn out then, I am a grown woman, who lives alone and takes care of business; I can take care of myself and my home… by offing, in the most cowardly fashion, a tiny, injured creature that had infinitely more cause to be afraid of me, given he was entirely less well armed.

I am not so smug anymore.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Here is a little cautionary tale, friends, at which you will want to curl up and dye.

PING goes Facebook and there it is, an appeal from a friend asking for people who want to get paid to have their hair cut, for a hair show.

Great! Says I – notoriously lazy about having my locks shorn, usually opting to wait til I go home to England where I get my mum to just chop off the dead ends. My hair, in short, is looooong.

But it needs a trim and I fancy a  bit of a style and maybe some fun colour, so along I go to the casting and to my delight I am selected. The stylist, a suitably fabulous Italian man in studded loafers, named Silvio (obviously), points at a hairdo in a magazine – this is what he will do with my hair. ‘It is ok?’ It looks fine – mostly some cool blonde highlights and a lot of curling and volumising, but, with all that, it’s still below shoulder length. ‘OK, so it’ll still be long, right?’ I ask. ‘Sure, suuurree,’ he says confidently, if a little dismissively. This very exchange is repeated after they apply the colour and I sit in the cutting chair: ‘Because, my hair is the source of all my powers you know,’ I half joke, ‘I like, reeaalllly like my long hair. So, not short, right?’ I add, as he brandishes the scissors.

‘No no, not short,’ he sings just moments before he merrily chops METRES off my beloved locks. I let out a scream as I see the chunks fall on the floor.

‘No no!’ He cheerily assures me, ‘Is layers! Bottom layer, he is still long. Same long as before! No problemo!’

Bottom layer, he is NOT same long as before.  As for top layer, he is the same length as my fucking fringe. So now I have molto problemo in the form of a stupid haircut, which may, to Silvio, be the height of style, but looks to me like what is essentially a boofy mullet.

never trust a hairdresser

The next installment in my journey of humiliation was the prep for the hair show itself. Silvio, like any hairdresser worth his salt, absent mindedly runs his hands through my newly hacked tresses while chatting away to the colourist about another model entirely. I am, it is clear, simply the pesky human attached to the real star: ‘The woman under this hair, why is she crying?’

He applies BOTTLES of product to it and teases it inexorably upwards, curling and scrunching and pinning. Next up: make up. The bejewelled gentleman tasked with attending to my face has a particular disdain for my eyebrows. He seems unconvinced by their shape, blithely scraping at them with a razor. Now he has evidently decided they are rendered too flimsy – damn these feeble things, he thinks. I know, a lovely bricky brown, ooh yes, nice and thick. And now, for the eyelids. They shall be pink, of course!

The over-all effect was that of a terrible 80s drag queen with patchy facial eczema.

photo(2)

Perhaps, under the lights, it looked effective, I do not know. What I do know is that I am now faced with the daily reality of wrangling what amounts to a bowl-cut atop heavily textured layers, in Bangkok’s notorious humidity. This morning I washed it to see what I was actually working with and applied a metric shit ton of serum to it before venturing outdoors. This morning, I expect Silvio merely flipped his Skrillex mop top to the other side of his stubbly undercut and went for a cigarette and a stroll, ruffling the heads of passersby. Skipping probably.

The moral of this fable of follicles is simple: NEVER trust a hairdresser. Especially not a fantastically gung ho Italian one who is paying you to whatever the shit he likes with your locks.

A Yule Tale

– Gather ye round for a heartwarming festive story

Say what you like about Bangkok’s execution of Christmas (and I have), what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in effort. I happen to think that any predominantly Buddhist country that gets tinseled up and fairy-lit in the name of blatant and shameless commercialism spreading festive cheer deserves our appreciation.

It was in this spirit that I attended the Hilton Sukhumvit’s tree lighting evening and sure enough, they had gone for it gamely, with all the trimmings – all of them, indiscriminate about trimming use, they were. A brightly lit display of all the traditional Christmas items welcomed guests and warmed hearts.

Christmas display at Hilton bangkok

It’s just not Christmas without Limoncello and monogrammed handbags

We admired the unconscionably long chocolate log over steaming glasses of gluhwein (hot wine… in the tropics… cuz nothing says Christmas like sweating your Santa hat off).

Better crank up the air con, the wine's a-mulling

Better crank up the air con, the wine’s a-mulling

But the real magic was yet to begin. From nowhere, a shambles of adorable cherubs, attached to various stringed instruments, traipsed messily to the stage area, only to be hurriedly shooed away by their formidable ensemble mistress. Interest piqued, I found a spot with a good view and lo, a mini Christmas novella unraveled before my eyes.

The prettiest young lady remained seated, neatly arranging her skirts about her cello, demurely receiving the ardent attentions of the young chaps either side of her, one a gangly, awkward fellow cellist and the other casually wielding an acoustic guitar. Ahhhh me, sighed I, ruefully remembering the flutters of those early high school flirtations, oh and the complexities of the social hierarchies – how fascinating.

chirstmas choir bangkok

Cella-bella handles the love triangle masterfully

No time to linger, though.

pushy-choir-mum

Clap clap, Pushy Choir Mum had the stage to herself, having cleared the musical youths and, revelling in her moment in the spotlight, bade us attend the sweeping stairwell. A moment of hush, the sigh of a violin, and down they came, a harmonious troop of bobble hatted youngsters, shyly sawing and strumming at their instruments.

christmas kids music

As the Bangkok Von-Trapps played sweetly, PCM directing them with aplomb, I couldn’t help but notice, not every member of the ensemble shared her enthusiasm…

little violinist

Mini Taylor Swift is OVER it

The song finished to beguiled applause. The musicians relaxed a moment; swaggering guitar-player turned to joke with neighbouring cheeky-chappy violin dude, and I caught a glimpse of his face.

WHAT?!

buddy the elf

This guy is way older than these kids! Princess Cello remains remarkably poised considering she is sitting next to Buddy the Elf.

Luckily the day was saved. From back-row obscurity stepped a slip of a thing, clattering a little in her mum’s shoes. Handling the mic awkwardly, she lifted her little chin and sang ‘Happy Birthday Jesus’ in a high, pure soprano.

This picture is fuzzy to recreate the misty eyes she elicited

This picture is fuzzy to recreate the misty eyes she elicited

An audible sigh rippled round the room. Having stepped out to have a word with a colleague, Buddy the Guitar Elf and his (much more age appropriate companion) fell silent and watched in wonder.

Grown up elf love

Grown up elf love

…leaving adorkable cello fellow free to make his move and woo the princess.

cello love

An egg-nog after the show?

A happy ending, a Christmas miracle. My cockles have never been more toasty. Even mini Taylor Swift cracked a smile.

merry christmas

Merry Christmas every one!

 

For more of my thoughts on Christmas in Bangkok, click here.

For another uplifting little story, try this one.

Nyooooooo Shoooooozzz

– and the very visceral response they inspired.

Perhaps it’s just me. But I suspect not. Do you ever re-purpose songs to match what you’re doing?

For example, I never seen this…

lock the taskbar

The shareef don’t like it

…without humming The Clash.

And whenever we go here:

maggie choos bangkok

I sing (in my head… usually), ‘Maggie, Maggie Choooooooos’ to the tune of Boney M’s classic, Daddy Cool.

And the moment that I spied these molten beauties winking naughtily at me was no exception.

gold ked-style plimsolls

No sooner had they seduced me into procuring them, weaseled their magical way onto my wiggly feets, that the ol’ cranial orchestra struck up a jaunty ditty to mark the occasion.

The song in question, was (for reasons fairly obvious) New Shoes by Paolo Nutini. It goes like this:

And I,  indeed,  went like this:

happy feet in new shoes

Hey, I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything is right,

moves in my shoes from Zalora brand Ezra

I said, hey, I put some new shoes on and everybody’s smiling, it’s so inviting,

back slide like a pro

Oh, short on money, but long on time,
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine,

no excuse new shoes

I’m running late and I don’t need an excuse, coz I’m wearing my brand new shoes

Disclaimers:

– Buying new shoes may not be a clinically approved cure for depression.

– Your friends may not consider your recently purchased footwear an adequate excuse for tardiness.

Additionally, on closer inspection, Paolo’s little tune, while indisputably catchy, seems to be about some crafty moccasins that have some sort of adverse effect on the wearer wherein he develops short term amnesia, coming to only to discover his friends have been enjoying a frenzied, debauched bender in his house during his unconscious episode. Say no to clog-drugs, kids.

Unlike some fashion snobs, I have no compunction about sharing whence come these little masterpieces du pied. The sneakily gorgeous sneakers featured above came from online fever (perhaps related to the fever that knocked out dear Paolo)  – a rather nifty new Thai brand (buy local, guyzz).

And on the subject of sharing, if you enjoy the sort of silly scribbling in evidence above, you may be interested to know know i have started a new tumblr dedicated to my ridiculous little visual jokes.

Disclaimer part deux: if you do not enjoy crudely scrawled cartoons rendered solely for the sake of a laboured pun,  definitely don’ t click here: punbletumble.tumblr.com

Bangkok backpackers: the new breed

‘Ugh – Khao San – Ugh!’ Is not something you will hear from me, no siree.

I for one, am a big fan of the service Khao San Road does us all. I enthusiastically applaud those clever town planners of ye olden days who came up with the master stroke of including a special designated backpacker area WAY away from the rest of the city! We NEED Khao San, people, to separate the normal inhabitants of Bangkok who are merrily going about their day-to-day working lives, from the sarong wearing, chlamydia ridden, great unwashed army of passers-through. It’s better for everyone this way.

bangkok map

Now, in fairness, I’ll admit, I’ve been known to cross over to the dark side and partake in a little debauched, shoeless fun once in a while – snog a couple of inexplicably be-dreadlocked white boys, why not? And so, I shouldn’t begrudge these intrepid fellows a little exploration in return. However, the unfortunate but undeniable truth is that the classic traveler of yesteryear, the harmless, drifting, ukulele-playing, hemp-wafting, bumbag toting hippy has been replaced by an altogether more sinister beast. The traveling bro-dude. And their tip-toeing through no-mans land (Patpong) and behind enemy lines (Sukhumvit) is something we need to keep a close eye on lest this city descend into real chaos.

Even their website comes with a warning:

Khao san road may harm your computer

Tis riddled, I tell you!

Luckily, there are some tell-tale signs, some useful red flags to instantly warn any unsuspecting Bangkokians that they may have stumbled upon a douche-packer out of their confines. So, here is a handy guide on how to spot this alarmingly pervasive species.

Let us first consider their uniform. There will usually be a vest, almost certainly blaring the logo of a local beer – often neon and with enormous arm holes so as to display side-pec aplenty. This alluring garb is often teamed with island pants – you know the ones – low crotch, elasticated waist, printed with batik elephants. A winning combo I’m sure you’ll agree.

uniform of travellers

Behold: in all his finery

Desporting themselves thus, they demonstrate some rather telling proclivities:

– an unhealthy enthusiasm for Sangsom- particularly in buckets (see above)

– a fondness for tuk tuks unbefitting of a proper city dweller

– a predilection for tattoos in cursive script: it’s the Celtic bicep band of the new century and it foretells of unsavoury behaviour. Avoid.

ugly neck tattoo

I just…. no.

Finally we come to the aural markers that will alert any eavesdroppers that lurking nearby are escapees of Buddy Bar. The rule is very simply this: any phrase that could be emblazoned across the back of matching polo shirts or hashtagged in caps lock is almost certainly the brash declamation of a hostel-surfer. Examples include #LADS #LADSONTOUR #WhatHappensInBangkokStaysInBangkok #IThinkSheLikesMeBruv

With all this being said, last month I was at a party, deep in Sukhumvit, as far from Khao San as it is possible to be. People were wearing jeans, there was not a flip flop in sight. And then from out of nowhere came a young lady who looked as if she were a finalist for Miss Koh Phangan. Bra-less, in a tie dyed smock, hair clumped into braids by sun and salt water and carelessly barefoot, she twirled onto the dance floor, a whirling dervish of light, flailing freely to her own inner beat. And we were swept up in her nomadic magic. So, don’t lose hope – the real backpackers are still out there. Sift ye through the orange tans and Havaianas and ye will find the proper hippies.

A Tale of 4am Facebook Fortune

– in which Nicky loses her phone and puts the city on the case.

I will briefly set the scene and then just allow this marvelous story to unravel before your eyes via a series of (lightly annotated but mostly self explanatory) screen shots.

Twas a sparkly Friday night in Bangkok, we were frisky with mischief, the city was humming, something was coming.  A rag-tag, merry band of misfits made plans. They involved the opening of The Great Kabab Factory and a Bacardi party. It was to be a night of ‘Bakabs and Kabardi’ …and much else besides.

We quaffed bubbly and munched delicious paneer and lamb off skewers. We piled into taxis and screamed across the Chao Phaya. We drank rum, hot and infused with herbs, aflame and in vases. We danced, we sat under the trees on the concrete; our numbers swelled. We madly dashed through the supermarket, hunting and gathering supplies. We sloppily and hungrily ate crackers and plastic cheese washed down with still more rum on an 8th floor terrace; a couch was broken.

It was 3am and I decided to take myself home. In the street I realised I had left my phone on the broken couch, staggered back upstairs and recovered it. The taxi dropped me home and in the lift up to my flat I rootled through my bag for my keys, vaguely noticing it was full of a lot of ridiculous items among which my phone was once again conspicuous by its absence. Crashing into my flat and plonking down onto the loo for a nice pee, I emptied the contents onto the bathroom floor (the contents of my bag, that is). The sensation of simultaneously relieving oneself and being overcome with utter dismay is quite discombobulating. I was, all at once, pissed, pissing and pissed off.

whats-in-my-bag

I kicked aside the trappings of my evening and lurched for my laptop to hammer out a frenzied Facebook status, tagging everyone I could think of, in the desperate hope that the universe might smile upon me.

And this is what happened:

Facebook help plea

Gaia is straight on the case (I madly tag more humans who are probably asleep):

2-go-team

Miraculously, other people are awake and join the hunt:

help is at hand

how to find a lost iphone

And THEN:

the driver answers

6-super-driver

Twenty minutes later:

iphone is returned

In the subsequent hours, humans around the world react to this emotional roller-coaster:

beautiful story

Six hours late, Pan Pan wants to help (bless him)…

delayed response

And for the next 12 hours, people enjoy this heart warming tale:

great stories

A few closing remarks, if I may:

Hooray for technology: Facebook saved me and I now have installed Find My iPhone.

But even more – hooray for wonderful, generous, helpful humans. Special mention should be made that Gaia and Alisa had been with me all night and I think we can all agree they showed incredible mental and organisational fortitude despite being QUITE as tiddled as I was. You should also know that Alisa had to get up four hours after this escapade to sell her amazing soap all day at the Farmers’ Market – the woman is a machine.

I sincerely hope that singular taxi driver, that Cabbie among cabbies, will be blessed with brilliant, wonderful karma. If this story is anything to go by, I feel quite certain he will; social media is certainly powerful, but this city…. this city is magic.