Readers' Submissions

Modern Singapore, Bad Bus Drivers, Wagyu Beef, And A Toothache..

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • August 2nd, 2006
  • 18 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By BKKSW

My last submission was about confession being good for the soul and quite frankly having confessed I’ve felt better all week. The submission before that was a start of a new series I’ll be doing called “Photographing Thailand” where we’ll start with how to choose the best pocket camera (for Thailand) and then move up the camera food chain and then get into some techniques and “how-to’s” I hope will be useful to you. I ended that submission by saying I was headed down to Singapore to try out / test all the pocket cameras I’ve narrowed my list down to and to buy one and bring it back with me. I’m back with camera in hand and while I won’t leak the camera name / model until I complete the next submission in the series I will tell you I’m very pleased with my choice and I think you will be too, but before I write that submission I need to hit the nightlife areas and take some decent sample shots to post along with the write up. So, this submission will be more about how I saw Singapore and some odds and ends since then..

My son and I boarded Flight FD 3503 out of Bangkok on “Thai Air Asia” after being herded aboard a bus parked outside the terminal door where it would seem they’d put the airplane. But no, this is a bargain basement airlines and we must take the bus a few kilometers to what must be the cheap parking spots where we get off the bus and head up the stairs into the plane. Immediately you notice this is a “sit anywhere” deal and the small 737 has six seats across and not even one of those cheap magazines to entertain you. No barf bags either so I pity the person sitting next to a motion sickened passenger. I was being nice when I said “bargain basement” as “sale on sub level 4” is probably more like it. No problem as it’s only a 2.3 hour flight and I can stand on my head for 2.3 hours. What I couldn’t do was stop myself from sweating as they had the doors open and the air conditioning off for a good 20 more minutes before the plane was able to close the door and start its engines. By then the entire plane smelled of skanky sweaty people sitting close enough to each other to wick sweat from each others bodies. No problem, inside of 20 minutes we’re now down to 20 below and even turning off the vents didn’t help and I feared for my fellow passengers when I saw a few of them start turning blue.

They rolled the cart around selling food. 55 baht for a Pepsi, 80 baht for a tuna sandwich, etc. Did I say tuna sandwich? Yep, and as I mentioned the plane was sitting out on the tarmac in some pretty intense heat for a quite a while and I was wondering if they use mayo in their tuna? I was about to find out as the guy next to me ordered two tuna sandwiches wolfing them down probably trying to eat to generate body heat. By the end of the flight he was looking a bit green and that was when I noticed the barf bags were missing and started to sweat it a bit hoping we’d land before this guy's tolerance level and the sun dried mayo got to him. The 2.3 hours went by a bit slow and after landing the passengers were busy chipping ice off their joints so they could move them and that was when we got the “special announcement” in both Thai and English. It went something like this: “Singapore has a rather harsh penalty for drug use and that penalty is death. We will be collecting “garbage” now if you have any.” I was a bit surprised by how many people had “garbage” to throw away. I can’t help but wonder what happens to that bag..

Stepping off the plane and across the little sky bridge (no cheap parking at this airport!) we were greeted by possibly the best and nicest looking airport in the world. If you’ve never been to Singapore airport you find yourself doing a quick 360 staring at all the “niceness” that abounds, from tons of nice big plasma monitors to plants, ponds, “travelators”, and you start to notice things that make a lot of sense.. like security checkpoints AT THE GATE so your family can still come see you get on / off the plane like before 911, carpet that’s not stained, clean bathrooms, and acoustics that provide for a nice and quiet terminal and not the noise pollution we’re used to in Bangkok malls, the airport, and everywhere else. Immigration was very quick and painless, no long lines, very fast process, and smiling clerks. We retrieved our bags and made it to the taxi stand without knowing we’d been through customs. I hate to say this, but Changi airport is having its 25th anniversary and I just don’t see Bangkok’s newest airport being half as nice.. especially since I’ve seen it. The Thais just aren’t interested in spending the money to have “niceness” around them, it’s just not in the culture.

It was about $15 SGD to our hotel (The Orchard) which is located right where you want to be if you want to be in the middle of the trendy food and shopping area. The ride in was beautiful. Singapore just keeps getting better and better. It really reminds me of Honolulu and the shopping areas of Beverly Hills! Not a whole lot of “Asian culture” going on here. The national language is English though most Singaporeans speak 3-4 languages, all the signs are in English, the place is clean, no sewer smells, no food stalls, no trike food stands in the streets, no pollution. I’m sorry, but Singapore is so far ahead of Thailand when it comes to the infrastructure that it’s not even funny.. but instead really, really sad. I mean.. here’s proof that it can be done in Asia. From the underground shopping / walking ways, subways, crime free, about the only negative thing you can say about Singapore is that it’s a bit pricey and a bit sterile. The hotel was first class, everything worked, no one trying to rip you off, and the women are pretty and interested.. on at least a number of occasions. I needed a break from the dreary scene of BKK so the change to me was a positive one and I enjoyed myself.

The next day we (my son and I) headed to the electronic / camera malls and sorted out the bait and switchers from the real merchants. If you get offered a really low price on a camera or radio or whatever be sure to ask if the battery, charger, etc, comes with it. Because once you say you’ll take it they’ll ask you if you need a battery, a charger, and so on. They strip the boxes and sell each piece individually. There are some nice stores and I’ll get to them in my next submission when I talk about the camera stuff. We received some decent deals, saved about 30% over Thailand prices, and had a great time in their city.

While there we had some great meals at western restaurants like Black Angus and McDonalds HAD HOT APPLE PIES and not those “corn pies” offered here. Who the heck wants a corn pie? Hmm.. We ate well for the duration. We also visited the zoo and night safari and had a good time. On the way out of Singapore we really enjoyed the duty free stores (all 180 of them I think) with top notch merchandise at great prices. After all our “deal shopping” my son and I were laughing at each other because the prices in the airport were cheaper (and the stores nicer) than out in town..:) And.. the warranties are honored in Thailand. I picked up a new Sony flash drive USB type Mp3 player and caught my foot on the neck strap and ripped it from the USB port of my computer in pieces the first time I plugged it in. Man did I feel stupid. No drama.. I collected the pieces, today went to the Sony service centre, the main one on New Petchaburi road, and was told they’d have it as good as new by next Friday, no charge! I bring it to them in pieces.. but since I had my warranty card and receipt I was good to go. Very cool. I will say that the service centre in Mall Bangkapi wouldn’t even look at it.. The main service centre is nicer and much more professional.

What’s next.. oh.. I wrecked my new SUV. That’s not entirely accurate, I had it wrecked for me. I was driving up Wireless Road when a big giant tour bus forced me over so far I was almost in one of those cement barriers / dividers and I couldn’t go any further when it took out three of us at the same time and then kept driving! By whatever God you pray to I was lucky. After it ripped off the side of my SUV, running boards, mirrors, fenders.. I remembered that I was driving and playing with the new movie mode of my new point and shoot camera and I can report that it’s a very good movie mode indeed! It caught the entire accident on it’s memory card in great detail showing the bus from being in it’s lane, to crunching our cars in my lane, to taking off into the sunset. No one bothered to stop since the bus was getting the hell out of Dodge so I waited until I got home to call the insurance people.

The insurance company was entertaining. “Where are you calling from?” Home. “Why did you leave the scene of the accident?” Because the guy hit me and kept driving. “You should have stopped your car right then and called us!” In the middle of the road? “Yes, if that’s where the accident happened.” That sounds stupid, I can avoid holding up traffic and call you from the comfort of my home easier? “That isn’t the point!” What is the point? “The point is you left the scene of an accident without calling us!” So? Is that illegal? “Well.. no, not if the other guy didn’t stop.” Then why hold up traffic being the only stupid person to stop my car on a busy road and sit on the hood calling you guys? “Because that’s standard procedure!” Can I talk to your supervisor?

Anyway.. the next day a claims guy comes out and shows me the fine print in my policy that requires a farang driver who lives here permanently to have a Thai drivers license. He looked very proud of himself. I was too and presented my Thai drivers license. A bit surprised he was. Then he tells me I’ll need to go to the police station, get them to file these forms, go here and do this, and he starts to give me a list. I ask.. why are you making me do all this? “Because many people hit someone else, wait a week, and then call and say someone hit them and ran so they can get their car fixed.” Do you think I did that? “Maybe.” What about the license number I gave you, did you track it down? “No, you only gave us the numbers.” What else do you need? “The province written in Thai and I’m sure you can’t read Thai can you?” He looked rather pleased with himself. I said, no I can’t, you got me there.. but can you read Thai? “Of course I can read Thai, I am Thai” he says proudly. Good for you I say, then take a look at this movie I took of the accident happening and the bus and tell me what province the SOB is from and then go get him! “Umm.. you have a movie of the bus causing the accident?” Yes. “Where did you get it?” I wasn’t about to tell him I was distracted testing the movie mode of a new camera for the Stickman site so I lied and told him I had video cameras installed in my car just for problems like this (thinking about it these last few days and thinking about if I had hit and hurt a motorcyclist or kid or someone.. how such a system could really pull my ass out of trouble. Next week I’m going to look into installing 180 degree video cams front / rear that feed into a 2-3 hour loopback system.. the police use them in the states and if they’re not too much I’m going to install such a system in my car. Reading the tea leaves I can really see this as the ultimate CYA device.) and then I show him the movie. The license plate is very sharp and clear and he’s actually impressed.

More.. he apologized for being such an ass and gave me the form on the spot to go get my SUV fixed. He really felt like an ass. He explained to me that many people really do hit and run and then wait a week or two.. and then call and say someone else hit and ran them so they can get their car fixed. He said it’s really hard to catch them. Hmm.. another LOS scam. I’m still going to be checking into a video (with night capabilities) system for the SUV for that one in a million chance a kid chases a ball under my car, a motorcycle cuts in front of me and goes down under the chassis, and so on.. If it’s under $1000 US I’m getting one and to be honest after this last incident and seeing the way they instantly “assumed” I was the bad guy I won’t feel comfortable until I do. I’m thinking maybe those small video camera guys at Pantip might be able to set me up a lot cheaper..

I had a toothache last week. First one ever. I can tell you toothaches SUCK BIG TIME!!! I was in so much pain I couldn’t drive (about five days ago) myself to Bumrungrad in my battered SUV so I walked across the street to a Thai hospital and thought I’d try my Thai out in a real life scenario. No air conditioning.. wow.. The dentist was competent however and told me my face was swollen badly making my head look round like Charlie Brown. Not bad English I thought.. he almost made me laugh. He said he couldn’t fix the tooth until the infection was gone and I’d need to take some antibiotics for a week and then come back. He asked if I was allergic to anything. I said yes, aspirin and penicillin. He said ok and sent me on my way, the bill which included the medicine, X-ray, examine, etc, was 512 baht. Not bad. However.. when I picked up the meds from the pharmacy I read the label and saw he gave me penicillin! And I thought he liked me… He was very upset with himself and came over to apologize (when would a western doc ever do that?) from his office and made sure I got the stuff I needed. I’m getting ready to leave and the cashier taps me on the shoulder and says the new medicine is more expensive, 12 more baht please… Oh my, I tried to laugh but it only hurt more so I just paid her and left.. The pain went away within hours of the first dose of meds and now things are back to normal. I’m trying to think of a good reason I don’t need to go back there and let them drill in my mouth. Anybody?

Tonight is a sad night. These nights always are. My son who has been with me the entire summer is getting on a plane back to Hawaii (Hilo) in the morning.. in fact in about four hours I need to wake him up and get him ready to go. We’re really close and really enjoy doing things together. These visits always start out happy and end up sad, but I guess that’s the way it goes. I always find a reason or two during the year to go visit Hawaii (and him) but I miss him just the same every year. Even our housekeeper is sad he’s going and had to leave and go somewhere this weekend.. I think because she didn’t want to cry when he left. She’s a nice girl. They’ve been great buddies the entire summer, swimming and working out together and talking and all that good stuff. Tonight we had our usual farewell dinner and I let him choose the place. In the states we’ll usually try and find a Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and he asked if there was one here. I told him no but maybe I could find a Kobe beef place. After checking out Kobe Beef on the internet he said trying a beer fed well massaged piece of beef might work out fine. So I call around.

The Metro has Australian bred / raised Wagyu beef which is supposed to be 99% as good as the Japanese stuff. So I emailed Warren Lucas over at the Metropolitans restaurant and reserved a table and told him to have a few slabs of Wagyu ready. We showed up and he introduced himself and was very nice and sent over some complimentary items to try, one which was seasoned raw fish was exceptional! The man really knows how to make spices jump around in your mouth. The last time I had something that tasty was real sharks fin soup. The taste is like magic and changes in your mouth about ten times before it’s done tickling your taste buds. The fish was very much like that. This is a high end gourmet type place, small portions of well arranged, attractive, and very tasty food. We both enjoyed it a lot.. though I can tell you while the beef was exceptional by western beef standards.. it is not up to Kobe beef standards that I’ve had several times before.. well.. many times as I lived in Japan five years and every special occasion Kobe beef was my choice. He also prepared it differently but that was ok as he’s got a real talent for using spices. We don’t drink but we both had Wagyu beef, bread, salads and veggies and the bill came to about baht 7k. Expensive yes. Do I eat like this often? No. Rarely. It was a special occasion however so we splurged and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again and probably will. I’ll probably forgo the Wagyu beef however since I know better, though I imagine if you haven’t had authentic Kobe beef from Japan, in Japan.. then you wouldn’t know the difference. Instead I think I’ll try some of the seafood choices. My son was all smiles and said it was the best he ever had (and considering how good Ruth’s Chris is that’s a high compliment indeed) and that made it all worth it. Of course I’ll be eating rice and ramen noodles for the next two weeks until my grocery budget is back in the black…:O)

I’ll be getting down to the Cowboy or the Plaza with my new camera soon so I can give you guys some samples and a good review in a week or so. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Until then..

Stickman's thoughts:

Another very enjoyable read of your adventures in Bangkok, and abroad. I agree with so much of what you say, from Singapore being a really decent place to the humour of the insurance man. Good stuff!