Readers' Submissions

Bangkok Blues

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • September 22nd, 2007
  • 13 min read


Sometimes I just like to talk with no specific story or experience in mind and see where it takes me. I needed a title though and looking out the window and examining my mood the title came easily. This has been one of the rainy, cloudy, drab and boring weeks I’ve ever spent in Bangkok. Perhaps it’s the calm before the storm? I’m one of those people who gets depressed with a lack of sunlight and it took me 4-5 winters in the northwest to figure it out. I’d be ok when the clouds would first come in October, but by the middle of February I wasn’t doing well at all and by the time the clouds broke in mid-May I felt like I’d been through a war. You get like you don’t want to do anything at all, motivation is on vacation, and if it wasn’t for that thing we call work you might not even want to leave the house. But when the sun broke through a smile appears on my face and I’ve got 1001 things to do and a few times I stayed awake for 3-4 days on end just full of energy 24/7 until just passing out, one minute you’re on high speed, the next you’re zonked. Growing up in Southern California was great, lots of sun. Everywhere I lived until the northwest had lots of sun, but sometimes things can just sneak up on you when you least expect them..

Within walking distance of my place there’s a pond with a ½ kilometer track around it for running and basketball courts and a few places for general exercise. 3-4 times a week my housekeeper and I will walk there in the late afternoon for exercise and while she’s running around the track I’ll use the chin-up bar and sit-up station and later we’ll stretch out together and watch people for a while before heading back. The demographics of this exercise park are quite interesting, mostly middle aged women working hard to keep their figures and a few men really into running. Watching the women round the track in flat 100 baht ‘cute’ sneakers actually makes my back hurt as their feet slap the ground heavily and their form guarantees aches and pains. Last year when we started this activity I had to show my housekeeper the basics of stretches and exercises and while I was doing this I’d look around and there would be a few women watching and imitating. After a few weeks of going there steadily we had a small following that would wait for us to start our exercises and then they’d join in. For her birthday I bought her a pair of New Balance running shoes and decided she’d have to learn to run properly. Any runner will tell you that running takes technique and a person who can really run is as fun to watch as a really good swimmer or any other athlete, even if you know nothing about running you can recognize someone that does. She quickly became a good runner. A few weeks later the park was full of middle aged women in New Balance running shoes attempting to duplicate my housekeeper and doing exercises when we did them. A few of them even approached her and asked if I’d give them private lessons, mentioning they liked the way I’d help her do chin-ups by standing behind her with my hands on her waist using my arms to boost her to the top of the bar.

There’s one area where a lady sets up speakers and leads the women in aerobics. I love watching. These are all quite ordinary women but I find it fun to watch because not one of them can keep time with the lead instructor. She’s the most patient instructor I’ve seen, and will start over and over and play the same song and the same dance over and over, yet they still don’t get it. What you end up with is about 25-30 women doing their own little dances with none of them being in time with the music, but man are they having fun. They pay their 20 baht, grab a circle, and dance dance dance. Dancing bears.

The walk back from the park is a bit over 2 km and takes us through some interesting areas. As you leave the park you walk directly through a nice sized market that sells everything from food to clothes and toys. Three days a week this place is filled with people shopping for bargains, dinner, and it appears even suitable bed partners. As you leave the market area you cross a street and head north on a cobblestone sidewalk that looks like an earthquake put natural waves in it. All kinds of obstacles are present, from the frames that hold plastic tarp roofs in place and extend well down below two meters, to holes in the sidewalk where you could easily break a leg. The last time we were there I actually ‘forgot’ one of the hundreds of obstacles and hit my head on a hollow metal pipe fashioned to frame a plastic roof. It actually stunned me and opened a gash on top of my head that started bleeding.

Now this piece of framing comes over a chain link fence that separates the sidewalk from the outdoor restaurant on the other side of the fence 4-5 of these poles come about a meter over the fence angling down to about chin level, the only sized person who could walk under this carefree would be children or very short adults. Looking through the chain link I can see the owner looking at me and then he quickly turns away and refuses to meet my gaze. My housekeeper is angry seeing the damage and calls the guy over and he ignores her like she’s not there. No problem I think as I got the urge to grasp the poles and bend them straight up until they snapped off almost exactly over the fence line. Why they didn’t cut these off when the put up this haphazard structure is beyond my comprehension. Gathering the five pieces I broke off together I walk around the fence, into the restaurant and notice the 4-5 tables of customers are watching me, and hand them to the owner who was doing his best to ignore me. His mouth falls open as I walk away and I notice the customers smiling like the enjoyed the show. No doubt my housekeeper enjoyed the show as she scolded the owner for being so stupid.

As we head up the sidewalk we get to the 20 meter stretch that has been torn up for two weeks now. Each time we pass we see the entire crew is sitting around on chairs drinking beer. One day the sidewalk is normal (for Thailand), the next day it’s torn up and impassable, and for the next two weeks nothing changes and the crew drinks beer. There’s actually a lot of this going on around the city from small private to large road projects. As we step into the street to pass this area we walk around cones and risk our lives as the cars come directly at us not even bothering to move towards the center of the road the least little bit. Back on the sidewalk we continue north.

Everyone has seen the drab run down concrete buildings that fill in the space between the nicer buildings and as we approach a set of nondescript buildings with no signs, no parking, and no apparent entrance we notice about 75 blue shirted factory workers exit what must be a sweat shop on the way home. You’d expect worn tired looking individuals but what you see are very well fed and plump workers that could stand to spend more time walking than sitting doing whatever they do. I notice these workers in shape and personality don’t differ that much from any blue collar factory worker you’d find anywhere in the world. They come in and out not of an entrance or door or even stairway, but from between two buildings separated by not even a solid meter! Looking between the buildings I see the small passageway extends a good 30 meters into darkness.

As we pass this entrance we come upon another exactly the same. Like the last one there are no markings, no address, no signs, nothing that distinguishes it from any other building or entrance. For the last year I’ve noticed a steady stream of well dressed me like you’d find in any office streaming in and out with whiskey on their breath, shirttails untucked, and laughing and joking. It didn’t take much imagination to guess there was some sort of brothel somewhere down between the buildings in the darkness but I ask my housekeeper for confirmation. She hesitates and then admits that’s probably what it is. “How common are such places” I ask and she sighs and tells me they’re everywhere and that most men stop in on the way home to their families for a drink and whatever.. and indeed it appears that’s exactly what’s happening.

A collection of motorcycle repair shops, a muffler shop, small restaurant, and other small businesses later we near the last set of buildings before we get to the hospital. This is a busy stretch complete with a fake 7 Eleven. I know its fake because 18 months ago the owner told me it wouldn’t support the franchise fees and was being shut down. Two weeks later someone who looks a lot like the guys brother opens it up but without the ‘polish’ of a real 7 Eleven and stocks it with inferior products, vegetables, a small meat counter, and other things that turn it from a convenience store to a small grocery for the less than well off. Business is brisk however as people stream in and out on their way home from work. I suppose this area needed a general grocery store more than it needed slurpees and ready made sandwiches and packages foods. Yet the 7 Eleven signs remain.

Rounding the corner at the hospital we head down the entrance soi to our complex and its also lined with small shops of all kinds. A few days a week it gets turned into a major market with many vendors coming and setting up tables and there’s more food carts than usual. Today it’s not that busy except for the cars transiting the “inner soi” which is a pretty interesting multi-cultural area that would warrant a separate submission. This is where she usually pokes me in the side and points to one of the tables where we buy a lot of local fruit to fill our fruit bowl. Today she picks out a bunch of bananas that probably weighs over two kilos and I had over my 35 baht and get a smile and a plastic bag filled with bananas in return. She refuses to let me carry them insisting that’s what she gets paid for. Not one to argue I accept this and we continue walking until I see the iced chocolate drink vender. She loves the iced chocolate drinks, it reminds me a lot of a chocolate slurpee. She never asks or even hints for me to put down my five baht for a personal treat but a few times I drove by this place and noticed her treating herself to one, so on days I’m especially pleased with her I’ll stop and order an iced chocolate, pay for it, and then turn around and hand it to her with a thank you and in return I get one of the best smiles in the province. We continue walking, her with a bag of bananas in one hand and a chocolate slurpee in the other.

Passing the barber ship “my Tom” waves and her cute little live-in hair washer gives me that coy smile I always get as she spend 20 minutes washing my hair that takes anyone else 2-3 minutes. One day I’m going to write about the dynamics of this lesbian ran business and this little ‘tinkerbellish’ hair washer, but lets save that for another day. Besides, my housekeeper noticed her smiling at me and me smiling back and that earned me a New Balance shoe in the side of my shin. Very interesting this barbershop has been during the last year, and even more interesting it’s become since my wife returned home and decided to make a deal with them so she could set up her fingernail business inside. Now when I get my hair cut there will often be my housekeeper, wife, tinkerbell, and my Tom all in the same small place with me as the center of attention and if you knew all the facts concerning my relationships with all of them you’d understand why it would make a great submission.. but not today..

We round the final corner and we’re in the home stretch and the four big towers are within site. The only people on the road now are the cars and taxis full of residents and the steady stream of maids, cooks, and other service personnel heading home for the day. You never ever see the residents who live here walking down the soi, in the entire two years I’ve lived here I’ve only seen my own family walk the soi. We pass one building and go into the other and the security guards acknowledge us by letting me know there’s mail in my box and soon we’re through security and riding up in the elevator. My parrot recognized our footsteps right as we step out of the elevator and says “welcome home” loudly so we can hear it well before we get to the door. After my shower I like to stand out on my balcony and “drip dry” and watch the city below.

This day I’m standing on the balcony watching the lighting flashing across the city through the clouds and hear the distant thunder as the sound rolls across the city. I can see the rain formations heading right at me not even five minutes away and I continue to watch as the sky darkens and the evening officially starts. People walking start running to beat the storm and the mosque makes its first call to evening prayers. Five minutes later the prayers start in earnest and the rain storm reaches the building and I decide to go inside and dress. Bangkok is quite the exotic city, but when you live here it becomes as normal and routine as anywhere else you might have lived. I’m ten minutes away from the tourist nightlife scene, five minutes from three massage places, and not really far at all from almost any of the tourist attractions people fly around the world to see as many of as they can in their one or two week vacation. But for me today it’s all routine, it’s the same as the day before, and I know I’ll get more enjoyment from sharing dinner with my girls and listening to them talk about their days. It’s the Bangkok Blues and I won’t feel like changing things up until the rainy season is over and the sun recharges my motivation. I hope you enjoyed walking with me today..

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

The talk at the start of the submission about exercise really made me laugh. Whenever I see Thais exercising, unless they are part of a competitive team, everything seems to be in slow motion!

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