When you're late getting somewhere in Bangkok, the fastest way towards your destination is always on the back of a motorcycle taxi. I ride them at least once a day. These drivers pay no attention to any of the vehicular rules and regulations. Expect to weave through traffic, drive straight into oncoming masses and cruise part of your trip down busy sidewalks. What stoplights?
update Motorcycle taxis are the total badasses at the top of Bangkok's transportation system. They're the fastest, most dangerous, and certainly most expensive- and the underground Asian mafia controls most of their organization. You'll notice the blue vest my driver is forced chooses to wear- it helps identify who his local boss is.
Bangkok's Jatujak weekend market continues to entertain me. I've spent a majority of my time there wandering around the apparel sections,
glancing through walls of vintage T's or imagining how She might look in some of their dresses. This Saturday afternoon's downpour flooded all seven square kilometers of aisles, but that didn't stop the severed plastic appendage salesman from peddling his wares.
They sell everything here- bootleg BAPE, fake watches, pet squirrels, bed frames, bamboo tusks, and lots of very rare plants. It is the largest and most compact commerce environment that I have ever been in, with districts scattered throughout in a loose arrangement by type of goods sold. What you heard about blue jeans stands true; a pair of second-hand genuine Levi's will still cost you between ten and twenty dollars anywhere in the market. I got a few business cards from people offering to almost pay for my next air ticket in exchange for the suitcases of jeans I told them that I can get at Goodwill back home.
One thing that has been updated is the bargaining. That old tourist adage about halving the seller's first offer will only get you looks of disgust from most of these long-time weekend capitalists. Maybe it's because I usually shop with a Thai friend, but even on my own the most I'll average in a friendly bargain down is ten to twenty percent.
updateThat's not to say that that Thais aren't going to try to rip you off at every chance they get attempt to profit from your naiveté. It's not as bad today as Vietnam (I hear), but there is plenty of price gouging for Fresh Tourists- just not so much at JJ anymore. Go to the Patpong night market for that.
During the past few Friday nights, my co-workers have been doing a great job of putting up with my lackluster badminton skills. Nevermind any high school tennis experience: this is an entirely different raquet game.
Thailand is father to the Western world's original carbonated
high energy drink, Red Bull. Consumers support a variety of
energy drink brands here, with M-150 being the most heavily
marketed in Bangkok. At about US$.25 each, the beverages carry a largely blue collar
stigma to them; Thai people always remind me that bus and taxi drivers are your
typical M-150 consumers. You can see the original Krating Daeng beverages in the
lower left of this image from a convenience store near the office.
In 2000 and 2001, there was a serious problem with amphetamines-
ya baa in Thai- to the extent that somewhere between
two and four percent of the entire population was addicted.
The government here handled this startling social plague by simply killing off the
drug dealers. No arrests, no trials: Over 2,000 people were executed during
a series of elimination sweeps by the police, often in assasination-style drivebys
and shootouts. Personally, I think that the ya baa cleanup efforts were secretly
funded by a consortium of Thai energy drink companies.
On Saturday, I put in a few extra hours of work down in Pattaya
watching over The Pizza Company models
as they escorted our Porsche Carrera Cup drivers around the track grounds
between races. The girls and the massive sun umbrellas they carried were undoubtedly
a good investment.
Have I mentioned how Thai people look incredibly young for their
age? These models are no exception. The first one on my right is twenty three;
the rest are twenty five.
Swarm theory holds that you move fast and don't worry about securing the rear. The benefits of this are many. First, you need fewer troops and less equipment. War becomes cheaper. Second, it's harder for the enemy to attack a widely dispersed formation. Third, units can cover much more ground- they aren’t forced to maintain the wedge by slowing down to accommodate lagging vehicles. Fourth, swarming allows you to go straight for the heart of the enemy’s command structure, undermining its support from the inside out rather than battling on the periphery. Joshua Davis, Battlefield Technology, Wired 11.06
¶ Permalink 7/17/2003 03:35:00 AM0 comments
Half of the 16th floor here has been converted to make room for the yearly health check-up. In addition to the standard height, weight, blood, vision, and lung capacity tests, each employee is measured for their standing long-jump ability, maximum pull-up strength, and tap number. (Your tap number is the number of times that you can depress a large, telegraph transmitter-looking device in one minute.) No pictures allowed, but just imagine what a room full of tie-wearing executives and skirt-wearing secretaries leaping over metal markers and quickly exhaling into plastic tubes would look like.
¶ Permalink 7/16/2003 12:08:00 AM0 comments
For about 300 to 500 Baht (US$7.50 to $12.50, compared to $2 or $3 for
a regular seat), the Gold Theater option available at
some cineplexes in Bangkok is a movie-goers wet dream. Each of the 30 to 40
seats in the full-sized, totally visually and audibly-souped up Gold
Theaters are remote controlled, fully reclining leather lounge chairs.
You are escorted by an attendant to your assigned seat (all theater seats
here, regardless of price, are self-assigned at checkout). Upon reaching
your huge La-Z-Boy of a seat, you are presented with a pillow, blanket, pair
of socks (?), and a menu, from which you can order wine, popcorn, sandwiches,
other fresh thing about movies in Thailand is that right before the movie starts,
but after all of the upcoming trailers, everyone in the audience must stand
up and pay tribute to the
King of Thailand. You have to remain standing for about three minutes during
an elaborate on-screen photo montage that shows pictures of the young king rowing,
taking pictures (the King LOVES photography), entering the
monastary, growing up, etc. It's a hilarious experience for the first time,
but after being here for a while you realize that the people of Thailand honestly
love and respect their King. This stand-and-salute-the-monarch routine also happened at the train station when the clock struck 6:00PM.
I hopped on a plane yesterday and, after two short, uneventful and totally calculated hours, arrived back in Bangkok. The entire last week in Laos was gorgeous. Here are a few photos, with more on the way.
If you are the 28-year-old brunette from Toronto that I travelled with for the past four days, I have two things to say now that you're gone:
1one, You are sooo much cooler than the music you listen to. Seriously, your CD collection blows, save that one soundtrack and your old folk-country discs. 2two, I never, ever thought I could be attracted to someone with a tattoo. But the entire time you were telling me about working for the wiretapping agency and I was pretending to listen intently with my eyes closed? I wasn't listening much because I was imagining you naked, not because I was tired.
I got your point about "The road of excess leads to the path of wisdom" and managed to back out of the condo on Thursday. A little upset, I packed a light bag and crossed the border into Laos on Friday morning. I'm in Vang Vieng now and am making my way towards the Luang Prabang World Heritage site.
Already, Laos is gorgeous and raw beyond words. After 30 minutes in Vientiane I knew I wanted to leave. The guest houses were deserted and the streets were sprawling and sleepy in this tiny capital (and only real "big city") of Laos. The guy sitting in front of me on the bus ride north was carrying three chickens, a backpack, and a machine gun. All I've got are the clothes on my back, a bathing suit, some Nutella and crackers, a few books, a comb, my contact stuff, and a growing collection of kip bills. Because of inflation and a generally poor economy, the American dollar is worth slightly more than 10,000 Laotian kip. Customers to grocery and convenience stores, petrol stations, and other areas of commerce which cater to Western products (and thus higher prices) are reduced to carrying literally bundles of kip bills. A simple exchange of US$20 yields over 50 notes of the largest bill.
After 30 minutes in Vang Vieng, I again knew that I wanted to leave. The place is simply too gorgeous to entertain my wreckless travel break. Beneath the lush tropical vegetation that covers the stiff limestone cliffs just across the river are a smattering of unexplored and hidden caves. The influx of tourism here within the past two years has encouraged several enterprising Lao people to set up shop advertising their "Guided Tour" services. For less than US$7 each, myself and six other travellers composed a circus that would spend the day kayaking our way down the Nam Song river to spend two hours exploring an underwater cave and its connected passageways.
The following day I got a mountain bike and hired a boat to cross the river again. After approx seven kilometers biking down unpaved and often washed-out roads, a 200 meter climb up a steep limestone trail led me to the unmarked entrance of the beautifully empty Phu Kham cavern. Today has been a rest day after a rather rough evening drinking bootleg Lao whisky with set of local men and two Hawaiian girls, and tomorrow is an early bus ride into Luang Prabang. Wish You were here.
¶ Permalink 7/05/2003 10:59:00 PM0 comments
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Dear Mom and Dad,
I wanted to let you know that you don't have to worry about the five huge cash withdraws from my credit cards over the last few days. Some of Amy's friends have helped me find an incredible apartment that is close to Bangkok's cosmopolitan center of modernization near Lumpini Park. The place I'll be living isn't even an apartment, it's this beautiful brand new condominium that Luis's sister's friend and her husband bought before they got married and then Luis's sister's friend's husband's father gave them a house and, well, the condo is sitting there with its hardwood floors and incredible furniture overlooking the best part of the city with sliding windows and just waiting for me to move in tomorrow!!
True, it might take the average Thai villager eight or nine months of work to pay for 30 days in this place. Thank you, strong dollar. I know it might be a little expensive, but Mom- you wanted me to find a really safe place, and Dad- you have to see Amy's friends!! We sign the deal at lunch tomorrow and I'll move in later that night.
For dinner I ate bird's egg pancakes and then rode through sprawling underground parking lots on the back of John's Harley! I love you guys and am having the best summer ever. Maybe you can help me out with some of the rent though? Pictures to follow, I promise.
Pictured above are Amy, 27, and Luis, 35, model and investment banker, respectively, of Bangkok. We're sitting at a coffee shop in MBK, where I'm trying to understand why every "young" professional I've met here carries two cell phones. In the down time as we wait for our drinks, Luis starts juggling numbers between his two (still a tedious process, infrared might as well not exist) and Amy is taking calls between lines. It's not as if these Southeast Asian urbanites simply carry two cellular telephones at all times- they actually use them both, all the time.
"If I take this one out," Amy says, holding up her silver camera phone with a perplexed look, "then why wouldn't I take the other?"
"Of course," Luis confirms. "If we're going out, why wouldn't we take our mobile phones?" It makes sense to have one mobile for work purposes and the other for personal business (I've seen it enough in the States), but in this Bangkok crowd, their tandem occupancy as attached to the mobile body is entirely taken for granted.
¶ Permalink 7/01/2003 11:47:00 PM0 comments