Friday, January 8, 2010

Western people funny...

Blooming Lotus -Jim Thompson House

Our last afternoon in Bangkok was all about getting a babysitter, thus freeing Mike and I to explore more of of the city. The hotel staff member taking my request looked confused. "We have you checking out at 1 pm today, madam, but you want a babysitter at 2?"

"Oh," I said "we had to change our stay dates because we booked our flight on the wrong day, so we're staying until tomorrow. I have the confirmation email," I assured her.

"Of course madam," she agreed and that was that.

I probably should have paid more attention at that point.

Dvaravati Torso of the Buddha, 6th Century

One of the oldest surviving Buddha images in SE Asia.

-Jim Thompson House

Mike and I went on the riverboat, then on the Skytrain out to Jim Thompson's house, the "legendary Amercan of Thailand." A former CIA agent who had sucessfuly revitalised the silk industry in Thailand, he built a beautiful place, filled it with amazing antiques, and then on a weekend trip over with friends in Malaysia in 1967, took a solitary walk out into the jungle...and disappeared without a trace. Conspiracy theories abounded, but most likely he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and his body was buried by native people who had no idea who he was but didn't particularly want a dead white guy lying around.

Alternatively, he got eaten by a tiger. Which would also qualify as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The museum-like atmosphere of his home made us glad we'd left the kids back at the hotel where they could glut on cable TV to their little hearts' delight. We padded around in our socks, admiring the antiques, and weren't allowed to take photos inside his residence. I felt sorry that Jim Thompson had only gotten to spend 1959-1967 in his home, because it was quite a place, assembled by bringing together 6 traditional Thai homes of golden teakwood and combining them to make fantastic living spaces around a courtyard and exotic garden that had me drooling.

Wandering back to the Skytrain we boarded in search of our next no-kids destination, the world's most notorious red light district, Patpong.

Now, before you switch off the computer in fear (or surf ahead for dirty photos) I have provided no reason for either behavior. OK?

The correct term for Patpong, well, there isn't one, but it's somewhere between boring, pathetic, and maybe even a little sad. We timed our visit for dusk, before the true weirdos came out; many of the storefronts were closed, and as I understand it, most of the ground floor entertainment is mostly bikini-clad go-go dancers. Oh, whoop-dee-doo.

The second floor places are where things can get truly dicey, which suited us: easy enough to avoid. I hear that going up to one of those places can get you into some interesting and expensive connundrums, even if you have a "hands-off" policy going. No interesting stories from us, sorry. (Actually, not sorry at all.)

The places on ground level that were open had plenty of poles, but not much else to see from the street. Mike had photos thrust into his hands a couple of times, of the amazing delights with multiple ladies of the evening that could be his, and we were invited, strenuously and repeatedly, to ping-pong shows (if you don't know, you don't want to know) and the like.

Mike was saying "no thank-you" over and over, and when one guy was particularly persistant I told him sternly "MAI CHAI!"

"Same same," he replied sullenly, which cracked us up, heartless tourists that we are.

I had honestly expected something more, but it was surprisingly mundane. We didn't go into the gay section (it was pretty obvious where that was) to spare Mike from getting groped from every direction, and really, the most interesting thing I saw was a vender cooking quail's eggs. Well, that and the motorcycle girls going into the S&M place. Oh yes, and the signs explicitly describing what you could pay for, and what the associated "health" benefits were. (Bad back, anyone?) We had some sophomoric giggles over those.

Like I said, it was not all that exciting. I hear the so-called erotic shows are performed by jaded women doing things that most people don't really want to see, so I think we made a good choice of wandering through and getting the heck out. But don't think I didn't take any photos:

Probably the sexiest place there.

and I spotted something else that got me all riled:

The only Siamese cat I saw the entire time we were in the country formerly known as Siam. Whoo-hoo!

It was pretty obvious that if you wanted anything you had to pay for it, and here was something we'd never seen before:

A coin-operated computer. Raised some eyebrows, I can tell you.

For Thanksgiving dinner, we went back to the hotel and took our over-tired kids, undoubtedly fried from too much TV and well past their usual eating time, across the river on a ferry to the outdoor riverside Yok Yor restaurant. We'd eaten there before and knew they had a huge variety of food. Through a crowded market, selling cheap clothing and nailpolish, and around the corner, past fragrant flowers, giant lizards and snails surprising us on the sidewalks, and back to the river where the restaurant staff were happy to see us again.

Thomas eating what he calls, affectionately, "Yukky Chicken Soba"

Admittedly, it wasn't the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but then again, it was memorable, the kids got spoiled; Bethy was given seashells from the hapless mollusks being boiled up, and Thomas got to try his hand at netting fish and crabs from the open tanks where the can't-get-fresher-than-this critters swam. The menu alone was entertainment: fried duck's tongue, pork thigh soup (you are what you eat!), crispy frog with basil.

In Bangkok you can try the bug-seller carts who gladly feed tourists Thai-fried insects such as mealworms, caterpillars, or grasshoppers, if that sort of thing, pun intended, is to your taste. No bugs, turkey or potatoes with gravy on our menu, but the chili beef and spring rolls were tasty, and the nicely inexpensive drinks worked for us. Watching the barges and party boats go by, lights reflecting prettily off the waters, was a lovely way to spend Thanksgiving evening.

The next morning we went to the airport to fly to Singapore. And it was at the airport that a glaring oversight was gently but firmly pointed out to us: the date on our tickets was for the day before.

Many, many mental bad words.

I had really messed it up this time. Mike had accidently made the airline reservation for the 26th instead of the 27th. No problem; I had called the hotels and changed our hotel reservations to reflect that. Twice I had commented on the blog that we were going to be in Singapore for Thanksgiving. Still I got it wrong.


All packed up and nowhere to go.

They put us on standby. Mike and I immediately began exhibiting classic symptoms of having heart attacks. Also yelling at the kids. The airport staff told us to check back one hour before the flight we'd thought we were going to be on was scheduled for take-off.

Yeah, right. Like they'd have 4 seats available.

I called our hotel in Singapore. Our most expensive hotel. They seemed even more confused, "No, ma'am we had you staying with us on October 27-28th, not November, checking out on the 29th then returning on Dec 4-5." I had arranged that stay by phone, and when I went back to my printout, there it was in glaring black-and-white, exactly what they'd said.

Oh, for crying out loud.

Staring disjointedly at nothing while we fed the kids (having no appetite ourselves), there really was nothing to say. I thought I had checked everything, obviously not. I had a color coded calendar and coinciding sections with all the emails, research, ideas and so forth in a binder, which had given me the illusion of being with it.

Mike said in a dead sort of tone that when the credit card charge from our Singapore hotel had appeared back in October he'd assumed it was some sort of booking pre-charge.

11:45 AM. The airline apologised profusely, we braced ourselves for the verdict:

They were very, very sorry, we wouldn't all be able to sit together on the flight.

Were they serious? We miss our flight completely, they put us on the flight we thought we were getting at no extra charge and they apologise to us?!

Holy cow, Singapore Air rocks!

My usual luck held as we dashed through the airport to the tones (again) of last call, filling out customs paperwork on the fly, dragging the kids. I resolved to wear a jogbra from then on out anytime we were going anywhere near an airport.

We just made it. On the flight they'd put Thomas and me together, and the stewardesses asked around and reseated others so that Bethy and Mike could sit together as well. This was seriously nice of them.

The flight was uneventful. The first landing attempt, however, was aborted, making one hell of a noise at the last moment when the pilot pulled up. We circled around for awhile and then the pilots took a second crack at getting us down, during which Mike and I both thought something along the lines of how ironic it would be if we crashed on the flight we'd been so relieved to get. More hideously loud noise but safely down. I had been stroking Thomas' head and murmuring, "OK, Mommy is officially freaked out, buddy, yes, yes she is."

Despite my best efforts, we all made it, alive and well, to our next port of call....Singapore.

And one of the first things I did was to sit down with a pen and our itinerary to triple check everything.


Joanna said...

These posts have been awesome. I thought the cooking school one was my favorite, but the combination of red light district and travel drama may top it!

Julia said...

Alright, your airline/hotel conundrum definately trumps our Air France one. Point for Nat and Mike for making it through!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

I thought sure the kids were going to be sitting outside with luggage around them when you got back!

I'm glad you made it onto the plane. Your adventures keep me going through these rainy days.

Will & Cheyenne said...

Okay, that totally stressed me out!

Anonymous said...

Totally fun to read. Isn't life ....interesting.