Out Of The Formicary (6) – You’re The Only One I Can’t Forget
This is essentially another ‘what I did on my holiday’ submission. My intention had been to submit once a week from Thailand. That did not happen. Each ‘episode’ was either fully written in the time period it is related to or written up from notes made in that period. To make full or any sense of the ‘episodes’ it is (I’m afraid) probably necessary to first read this.
I had always intended to go to Ekkamai 30 – it was a written-in part of the voyage – the fact that there was another purpose to the visit made it a little easier. I was to meet Pa before going with her to Cha Am the next day.
Now those of a certain disposition, who find that over sentimental, self pitying, cloying, pretentious, self indulgent written stuff leads them to random acts of violence and/or projectile vomiting, should now scroll down. You will be told when it is safe to read on.
You have been warned! SCROLL DOWN – NOW!
In the UK I was not ‘getting over’ Nang’s death – in fact I was ‘going under it’ – I was thinking about her for maybe ten hours a day – clearly that is strictly speaking not true. To use a modern analogy, sometimes when I try to close down my computer I get a message, ‘Windows cannot close because there is a background program running.’ In my everyday life Nang was the background program. The next message I get is ‘do want to force a shutdown? You may lose work that you have not saved.’ I wanted to ‘force’ a shutdown (but did not want to lose – perhaps these submissions are a means to not losing memories). Some level of shutdown was necessary. The voyage to Thailand and especially Ekkamai 30 had to be a crucial part of’ ‘forcing shutdown’.
I love Nang – what does that mean?
You think I know???
So, on the afternoon of the 11th February I set off on a small journey that I in a way ‘feared’ but knew I had to take (bit like life in general really). I had taken the precaution of wearing a pair of sunglasses – pushed up above my forehead, like cool dudes do. But their purpose was not to look cool but prevent me not looking cool. I feared that a tear of two might be shed on the ‘voyage’ (glasses could then be deployed).
From Nana to Ekkamai on Skytrain.
I like Skytrain.
Off at Ekkamai.
I know little about Bangkok and really have little interest in knowing more but I know my way to ‘Family Ekkamai’ . There is a road, on the other side of Sukumvit Road, more or less opposite the bus station. There are plenty of taxis BUT walk twenty yards and on the left there is small ‘lay-by’ where the open sided, 5 baht ‘buses’ pull in (the journey will be just as quick in one of them as by taxi).
I was the only farang aboard (as is often the case) – the object of curiosity for the school-girls and shoppers who were my travelling companions. I had little curiosity in them.
OK, first ‘land-mark’, ‘Big C’ on the right – where we had bought a TV and DVD player via which many a porn DVD was watched. Nang loved porno movies – she preferred farang porn, “Thai have no idea, no brain…”. We had also got our small electric oven/grill there which was not used for any form of sexual purpose but would have been had Nang been able to figure out how (but it did twice cook us Christmas dinners – she loved Christmas pudding; I had to bring Christmas pudding whatever time of the year I came to stay).
Onwards. In quick succession the small garden-centre where we’d got the terracotta stuff for our balcony then the shop where we’d got the table and chairs for the balcony. I remembered the evenings/nights spent on the balcony – candles lit, Nang cooking or making those important ‘phone calls (sometimes to some punter in Germany). Loa music playing or the high pitch of cats fighting (or it might have been a porno movie – Nang really did like porn).
The sun glasses were deployed for a while.
And then you are there – Ekkamai 30. The baht bus usually terminates there – but you know you’re there because the big Ekkamai loop of roads begins there.
If you now turn left and walk you will pass shops on your left (including the one where we bought a towl) and then come to ‘Jowl Bar’ on a corner, further on, on your right there is a temple (where Nang made me, on my knees, swear my undying love for her…to a large, one tusked, plaster elephant…seems to have worked). Near the temple you’ll find a path to a large Klong – a river boat stop that will take you to Pratunam. This is far the best way to get to Pratunam…if you happen to be coming from Ekkamai 30! I discovered this. Nang knew neither of boat service or the Klong (!) … she was bloody useless at stuff like that. Walk further and you will find a very decent hotel with a roof top swimming pool. Many English teachers stay there.
Traveler’s Tip #6. I’m serious, that hotel and Ekkamai 30 are a real good place to stay in Bangkok, you’re in Bangkok but strangely (and to my mind mercifully) not in Bangkok.
But I was not to take ‘that walk’, so now over the footbridge on your right.
Nang had many habits that made me go weak at the knees. One was invariably saying “We cross the bridge but not go the beach.” Then giggle. (She had a ‘thing’ about remembering beach and bridge). I loved it. I loved her.
Across the bridge there is a collection of stalls – you know, fruit and vegetables and stuff and smells. I remembered.
But then I remember that I had come to meet Pa. I had forgotten this small point.
Ten yards to your left and you are in the ‘village square’, for that is how it has always felt to me, there are four or five open air restaurants which are differentiated by the colours of their plastic chairs – cheap (the food isn’t bad for Thai food – ok, its edible).
I sat at one of the restaurants – the one with blue chairs – and ordered a soda.
The sun glasses were deployed.
I ‘phoned Pa. She was to shower and meet me shortly.
An hour later I phoned again. “For sure, soon..”
Thirty minutes later I phoned again. Pa, “Where are you?” Me, “In Ekkamai, at restaurant near stalls and baht bus.” “OK, I come.”
Twenty minutes later Pa called (look her room is near the Tesco Local – five minutes walk – I KNOW). “Where are you?”
“At restaurant, blue chairs. Opposite 7/11”
“What, where are you?”
I was on the verge – I gave the phone to a waitress so that one citizen of Ekkamai 30 could explain to another citizen of Ekkamai 30 where I was – that is in the area’s perhaps most notable feature – an open air restaurant (which has blue chairs).
Pa had been standing 30 yards away.
She managed to successfully traverse that distance without further guidance.
Pa. “Why you not say karaoke?”
“Have karaoke here.”
“Ok but people eat here – it’s a (f*%king) restaurant (with blue chairs).”
I would have gone further but Pa had bought an ‘aunt’ with her (later a ‘niece’ and ‘nephew’ would join). Look, I hate this. HATE it. Where do the miserable freeloaders get off? It is not my job to provide for the idle, indolent, ungrateful hoards that are many Thai ‘families’ (who all too often are not actually family) who descend when free … well free anything is on the cards. Is it an individual trait? (If so, many Thais have it!). Would Thais do ‘it’ to other Thais? Is it cultural? If cultural it’s another plank in the ever growing edifice of my dislike of Thai culture.
Pa ‘did a karaoke’. Not bad – dogs did not howl nor bats fall from the sky. Not bad.
Dusk was falling and the last part of this mission was to be completed.
Pa knew of my reason for meeting her in Ekkamai – so I was not best pleased by her comment, when I got up to start my walk, “Don’t talk to any women”. She did not hear my reply, “Not likely – she’s dead.”
So, further into the ‘village square’ – past stalls selling ‘fake’ replica football shirts, flowers and smells. Keep to the right with ‘Family Mart’ on a corner on the left. Walk. My ‘good’ leg was already hurting but I knew where I would stop and stand. On the right is the first of two ponds with big lilies. Walk a little further (if your leg is not hurting too much) and you’ll find a second pond – slightly bigger.
I stopped at the mid-length of this pond (well it might have been mid-length I had no GPS co-ordinates or surveying equipment – but it would suffice). Night had fallen – only the street lights – I cursed Pa because I’d wanted to be here at dusk as I had been several years before.
Nang and my (our) relationship was somewhat physical (and that is not entirely a euphemism). I’m told that Thai’s are wary of public shows of affection – Nang was not, “Shy for what?” So it was that we had stopped and held each other one evening by the pond – lilies and rocks and terrapins (and plastic bags). Nang, “Look turtles!!” I carefully explained the difference between turtles and terrapins (as if I knew). But none where there this night – because it was night – I cursed Pa for making me late for the terrapin show.
Onwards. Past the shop on the left where we had purchased a sarwang. Then turn left. More shops and Tesco Lotus Local where via its ATM Nang had stolen LARGE sums of money from me in 2009.
I walk on, walk on (with or without hope in my heart) and I’m nearly there. A stall against a wall, selling barbeque stuff and smells is a landmark – THE soi is on the left. This area must have a mosque somewhere in it because I was all too often woken by calls to prayer. I was as pleased by this as I would have been by the screams accompanying Aztec religious rites involving human sacrifices (although those screams could have been easily confused with Nang watching another DVD). Anyway, no need to have donned a steel collar (Maasi warrior style) or to be carrying a can of Mace or a small thermo nuclear device (yet) – it’s all safe, indeed the shops in this area are a reliable source of alcohol on big, BIG Buddha days.
Enter THE soi and twenty-three yards on the left is ‘Progress House’ – ‘Family Ekkamai’.
Ours was a room on the second floor. From across the street, I looked up at the balcony. No candles, no lights. Perhaps Nang was out …
Anyway why not sit awhile on the stone bench just inside the entrance? I had a cigarette (Yep, I know it’s wrong and I fully deserve to be …whatever mediaeval torture that comes to mind. That’s the way it is). I almost thought of going up to the room but then my leg was hurting – so no.
So, just think about ‘Family Ekkamai’.
Of course I remember it all – the way that the place gradually filled up with family stuff – pictures, ornaments, mementos, memories – to the point where Nang declared, “It good home for mosquitoes”. (She preferred a more minimalistic, perhaps postmodernist approach to interior design – wardrobe, table, mirror, bed).
It might be suggested that ‘the room’ was simply part of the Orgonomic Research Project (an orgone accumulator) funded by followers of Wilhelm Reich (/raɪx/; German: [ʀaɪç], 24 March 1897 – 3 November 1957). It should be noted that a psychiatrist, who admired Reich, who examined him recorded, “paranoia manifested by delusions of grandiosity, persecution, and ideas of reference.” But then, none of us are perfect. Anyway, for me and us ‘the room’ was far, far more than an orgone accumulator – it was safety, it was security it was ‘family’.
An astute social commentator (Mr. Luke Murphy) was perhaps the first to propose that users of the London underground system divide into those who by subconscious inclination are “jumpers” or “pushers”. (Think about it!!!! What is your inclination? Later refinements of the proposition have accepted that a valid response is, “Basically I’m a jumper but I’m bloody well going to take someone with me.” What is not an acceptable response is, “What the f%*k are you talking about?” This simply indicates a lack of brain activity – those individuals giving this response should be socially isolated because they are boring).
Subsequently further schisms have been identified (by me). Thus, populations would seem to sub-divide into “cuddlers” and “separatists” in terms of ‘in-bed behavior’. (Think about it!!! What is your inclination? Later refinements of the proposition have accepted that a valid response is, “Basically I’m a cuddler but sometimes I take pleasure in stealing all of the duvet.” What is not an acceptable response is, “What the f%*k are you talking about?” This simply indicates a lack of brain activity – those individuals giving this response should be socially isolated because they are boring).
Anyway, Nang and I were “cuddlers”. We never separated. We knew that if one of us turned over it would be met by the other turning over – to cuddle. We did this all night every night. This is the ultimate comfort in, and defense against, the howling void that is the ever expanding universe. This is what ‘family Ekkamai’ meant to me/her/us.
I sat and smoked and thought on the stone bench just inside the entrance to ‘Progress House’.
But all things, even the maudlin, have to come to an end.
Time to go back to the village square.
(Should you want more about life in ‘Family Ekkamai’, towls, sarwangs and expeditions launched from it, go to the seminal work on the topic).
Not back the way I’d come but down the soi. Shops selling stuff, past strangers who would ask, “Where you going?” Very often our reply was, “Pattaya” or strangers who would declare, “It’s cold!”, when the temperature was 25 degrees plus. The soi ends with a pedestrian only bit – a bottleneck. Careful there are dodgy characters who might lurk here. But no, I turn left and further now back at the ‘Family Mart’, turn right.
There is Pa. I pay the surprisingly large bill – they must have got hungry in my absence.
Ok it’s safe to start reading again.
We returned to the Mothership by taxi (it took the best part of two hours, the baht bus/Skytrain would have taken forty-five minutes but Pa insisted on a taxi – hey it’s only my money). We dumped Pa’s (red) bag at the Mothership.
Life goes on.
I wanted to go out – to Nana Plaza. I’d stayed at the Mothership for a week and not gone. Rather like being two hundred yards for the Grand Canyon and not being interested enough to go and take a peak or turning your back and refusing to look at the Sphinx.
If you’re there you simply have to go to Nana Plaza. Why not? Scared for what? Shy for what?
Apparently going to a gogo bar was beneath a forty-two year old waitress/hooker. Perhaps it was because she owned a hair-saloon in Phnom Pehn. OK, Pa I don’t believe you. Although I often think that I am so naive that I should not be let out alone, this was a stupid lie! If you own a hair-saloon in Phnom Pehn (or anywhere except the Gobi desert perhaps) why would you possibly up and leave it for the meagre pickings of being a forty-two year old hooker in Bangkok? I never challenged Pa on this matter (f*%king face thing).
Pa attempted to rationalise her objection – beer was expensive in the Plaza, better to go to ‘her’ bar (where her ‘friends’ could pour drinks down their necks and run up a bill for me to pay that would undoubtedly be greater than the expense of the Plaza – with Pa probably getting a small kick-back for taking me there). No thanks.
So under protest we went.
Which bar to go to? You think I know?
I knew I did not want to see Bangkok’s finest shuffling around and looking at themselves in the mirrors. So I began to ask which bars had shows that were near starting. ‘We’ found one on the second floor – “Straps”. I am so naïve that I did not see the implication of the bar’s name!
Ok, if you have not got it, the bars theme is pseudo SM. Black vinyl bikinis (although some of the ladies had apparently mislaid theirs and so had to appear on stage naked), thwacking of rubber tubes etc.
Then the ‘show’. Two of the more absent minded ladies became ‘friendly’ with each other but another lady, possibly jealous or more probably unhappy with their public show of affection began beating them with a piece of black stuff that you insulate outside pipes with in Farangland to stop them freezing in winter.
But then…a portly, (nah fat) concerned farang jumped on stage and began ‘kissing the ladies better’ – in places where if they had been hit there would certainly have hurt.
I feared the worse – if he survived the next minutes he would be a lucky man. But no! Yes he was lead away but…he came back and did the same again. And was allowed to!!! One can only speculated that LARGE sums of money had changed hands or it was the show!! If the latter I had been entertained!
Pa asked me if I was, “…excited”. The answer was an emphatic “NO”. I was sad and entertained (which kind of sums up some of my feelings towards Thailand in general).
Back at the Mothership we went to bed. (Mercifully) there was no coupling, desultory or otherwise.
Off to Cha Am in the morning.
(Sorry but..) That’s not all Folks!!