Land of Confusion Part 3
There was a quiet knock on the chalet door at 5:20 AM. I’d somehow dragged my carcass up 20 minutes earlier for a shower and in the chilly mountain morning I opened the door to see Jen standing there in the dark. She looked lovely. ‘Taxi is here’. In the shadows, a beaming Thai man nodded in my direction. ‘Ok I’ll be 5 minutes’. A Thai girl being early…it does happen. We were leaving our charming resort in the Northern town of Pai to make the arduous drive back to Mae Hong Son city to catch an early morning (9 AM) flight to Chiang Mai, before flying onto Bangkok in the early afternoon. At least we had a sporty saloon to make the return journey rather than the buckaroo-ing Toyota minivan we came in, so the ride promised to be less torturous. We made off without delay through the deserted town. I was sat in the front but could still sense a slight atmosphere from Jen, swaddled in the back seat by herself. The driver, as if aware of matters, chuckled frivolously as he pointed to the right as we left the town. ‘Pai hab airport…go Mae Hong Son no need!’. Yeah, thanks mate. I should have understood earlier that this was the probable cause of the main sulk I’d been enduring the past two days from Jen. She’d probably ‘lost face’ by booking our flight to Mae Hong Son airport instead. When this came to light on our arrival, I think I may have briefly looked a bit peeved, but instantly shrugged it off as I forked out for the long taxi ride. My momentary angst, though, was probably all it took for a 3 day ‘pout majeure’ from my ex-girlfriend Jen. I turned and asked if she was ok and made some light-hearted remark, if only to confirm that the driver’s comment had indeed re-invigorated her strop. She’d folded her arms and looked like a moody teenager.
I was feeling awful after a patchy sleep for about the fifth day in a row, so it was not possible to fully enjoy the beginning of this spin back through the mountains. Even in my zombie state, though, I was appreciating the driver’s skill as he handled the car round torturous bends at speed, anticipating the occasional lorries and motorcycle riders heading to work at this ungodly hour. I settled in to glancing at the white stone distance markers every 5km or so. They seemed to go backwards at times. Later today, I would be back in lovely Bangkok, and out of Jen’s sphere of negativity. As we drove further into the dawn I felt better and just gazed out… in silent contemplation of a landscape that was just exquisitely beautiful. A misty morning, buffalo grazing, a vista onto a distant village, a kaleidoscope of vivid greens reflected in drenched fertile fields. The Thai tourist board would do worse than to promote the views along this highway. Really, the scenery this morning on route 1095 was breath-taking. This really was Thailand…photos couldn’t do it justice…and I even forgot the distance markers!
Eventually, Mae Hong Son city started to exert its presence and, as is customary, we seemed to be pulling off our route for some unplanned de-tour. I only began to feel the merest sense of creeping dread of the ‘missed flight’ kind, but it subsided quickly enough. The driver stopped near a shack of a house and Jen said ‘he’s getting your fleece’. I’d completely forgotten the fleece I’d left in the van on the outward journey and was shortly re-united with it. I could have done with it the last two mountain evenings, and of course, it was just what I’d need in Bangkok. We got to the provincial airport to find it practically deserted. Mae Hong Son airport has quite a large terminal building and it was surreal being outside with not a soul about. Additional to whatever else was going on, we were both travel weary so Jen and mine’s conversation was limited to the practical. Time passed until we were called to the gate, and I was delighted to see we’d be travelling back in a Cessna Caravan, a tiny prop plane. The seat number on my boarding card was ‘1A’ so I thought I would have a pretty good view of the cockpit.
The view from seat 1A
What a treat this was…a semi-geek like me was fascinated for the next 45 minutes or so of flight time. The main points of interest were both pilots hands always operating the flaps and throttle controls together (the levers in the centre) and the heads-up display of the 1st officer (the shoulder-high screen on the left) that switches to a real-time ground proximity warning map during flight. Any features at an altitude higher than the plane are drawn in blocks of red…so this panel was lighting up like an Xmas tree as we flew between the many mountains! Chiang Mai soon appeared in the north-easterly direction and before we knew, we were dropping towards the runway after a series of almost imperceptible turns and corrections. The pilots made it look like flying a plane was the easier than a Patpong coyote dancer scamming lady-drinks. Jen seemed oblivious to all
When we got into the terminal, her pout was out in force. She was in one hell of a sulk. We found a chain coffee place and bought some breakfast. When Jen said she was ‘going outside’ I couldn’t have been more relieved to escape the atmosphere for a while. I never thought I would have such unkind thoughts about a young lady who appeared so sweet-natured when I met her and for the first few years of knowing her. But today, sleep-shafted, hot and stressed out by her, I couldn’t now wait to be out of her presence. We had about 3 hours to kill before our connecting flight to Bangkok. Jen had mentioned the day before something about maybe meeting a friend of hers for lunch in Chiang Mai. I wasn’t sure what was happening about that, but decided now might be the time to deal with the dreaded work emails. Up and running with the coffee shop Wifi, I gleefully ‘shift-deleted’ swathes of crap from my inbox. It took a fair while, and I only got in about 10 minutes of net-surfing before my Dell’s battery died…M****F***er!! Ironically, I had an unwrapped iPad in my rucksack, but that’s another story. That was supposed to be presented to Jen at some point, but now I was thinking of those who might be more worthy causes and grateful recipients. I think it was packed next to the bikini I would never now be seeing her in.
An hour killed, I wandered outside and found Jen leaning against the front of the terminal building looking somewhat more care-free than I’d last seen her. ‘P will meet us for lunch. She picking us up in 10 minutes’. I learned that they studied at Ramkhamhaeng University – political science. I had a quick inward laugh, remembering when I was first told what Jen was studying, thinking, ‘great, we’ll have hours of future debate on all sorts, as I pick her brain on the complexity of Thailand’s political history’. I learned fast that this would not be happening. The first and only conversation was shut down quickly and somewhat disdainfully. Don’t worry, it was duly noted. Anyway, soon a low-slung red sports coupe thing pulled up and it seemed this was our ride. I got in the back and exchanged a polite hello with Jen’s friend P, who looked like little Miss Cool in her sunglasses and stylish bobbed hairstyle. Shortly, we drove into what looked like some large university grounds that appeared mostly deserted. We entered a large building, the foyer of which had set tables which would evidently be our lunch venue. There was an open-hatch kitchen behind us and our table looked onto pleasant parkland resplendent with a lake. Very nice indeed.
Lunch venue, Chiang Mai City
You’ll have to excuse me, I don’t have the name of this place. Jen remarked that it was very popular for evening and weekend dining in the city. It was only a 5-10 minute drive from the airport and seemed to have some attachment to the military – a training school of sorts – but the restaurant and grounds were open to the public. It was a curious place – expansive and cavernous. To visit the rest-room, I found myself ambling down a corridor and then across badminton courts inside a sports hall. The menu was also expansive (but reasonably priced) and faced with too much choice, I could only muster a green curry. It was only 11.30am as well, a bit early for lunch. The girls ordered several dishes. When they arrived, one piqued my interest. When I asked what it was, Jen seemed to demur somewhat. It was a curry of some sort, orange in colour with unidentified…crustaceans, perhaps? One of the sides was ‘fried courgette straw fries’ which were perfect with the green curry, a pleasant but much more liquid affair than the one I’d had in the night market part of city three days earlier.
It was only now, with the two girls sat opposite, that I really noticed how pretty P. was. She possessed the sort of modest beauty I always favour. Every now and then I would see the merest trace of a coy smile when she saw my gaze linger after she had said something. They caught up with each other’s news and talked in Lao just in case. I didn’t really bother thinking whether this was impolite or not. Eventually, after I had forgotten about the dish, and other things had been spoken about, Jen spooned the curry a little and said with a falter, as if admitting to some lapse, ‘this one…pond-snail curry…’. I would have tried it, but I already had that queasy feeling from my days-long sleep deprivation…not today. Before we left, I took a photo of Jen and P at the table. P. lent in and smiled demurely, giving that cutesy two-finger Asian photo salute we all love; Jen, just as I pressed the button to take the photo, turned her head away and gave that two-finger sign we all like a bit less. I thought I’d imagined it, and had to check the photo a few times since, including just now. It seemed to be done in a surly fashion rather than a joke. It was time to leave. Walking behind them out of the restaurant towards the car, Jen slipped her willowy hand around P’s slim waist as they chatted. Then her hand moved lower and playfully patted a part of P’s derriere and said something along the lines of…’Girl, you’re getting a bit more junk in the trunk there’. Let me tell you, in her figure-hugging pants, the ‘junk in her trunk’ was no more or no less than perfect. I found this moment very sensual…and I rack my brain for something similar, from all the times spent in the bars.
In no time, P. had dropped Jen and myself back at the airport. The lunch was a pleasant interlude and helped what would have been a strained couple of hours left to our own devices. Jen remained brighter for a half-hour or so…but without saying too much or anything passing between us in particular, her manner became ‘Surly Sue’ again for the half-hour before we got on the plane. Like a married couple who irritate each other with almost everything they do, I watched as she literally spent half an hour at a kiosk trying to decide between two different bags of fried pork skin. Charlie Richardson spared me a little as I read about his further escapades. On the plane to Bangkok, I was a bag of mixed emotions – excited at the prospect of being in the city once again; so disappointed at the state of relations between myself and Jen. Previously, when we were ‘together’, I quickly established ground rules. For instance, I only gave her financial assistance for important things, not trinkets and baubles. Since we stopped being a couple, I haven’t supported her in any way, but shortly before the trip I did break ranks. I was quite generous towards helping her with a medical issue. At the time she was grateful, saying ‘you’re the only person I know who ever helps me’. I also remembered the hassles I’d had changing work holidays and reservations around for this trip when she had to change her dates at the last minute. ‘Please, I’ve missed out visiting Mae Hong Son before, and I’m determined to go this time’, said the email. I helped her make it happen. The three days of precious vacation time I’d just endured with Miss Sulky-drawers had left me drained of patience. Aside from the patent disappointment I’ve proven to be, I can’t help wondering how much Facebook and other ‘social media’ has contributed to her new demeanour. She was never like this before all that crap took hold of her. But, we now live in a Golden Age of Mediocrity, as my mate Don often quips.
And there I am on the plane, between pangs of annoyance, still ‘checking her out’, the silken hair, the lovely long legs, the full pert breasts in the tight black top. Sweet baby Jesus and the orphans, what’s wrong with me? A further curt remark about something brings me round to my senses and I try and think of a way to not have to endure, if the traffic is bad, maybe two more hours of a shared cab ride in Jen’s presence. I need to get away from her now! I don’t indulge ‘moods’ or silent treatments. I don’t pander and ‘try and make things right’ if I’ve done nothing discernable wrong. So right now, I’m ‘not thinking too much’, as I have so often been advised to do…and no doubt about it, this is the cause of further resentment…how ironic! Arriving back at Suvarnabumni, today the moving walkways, with their baleful warning message ‘End of the walkway!’ seem to have more resonance. Jen is on a go-slow as we traipse through the airport, collecting luggage etc. At the baggage carousel, I find deliverance. ‘I think we take separate taxi…more convenient for me going to Rachada’, says Jen. It’s the sound of the Seraphs’ trumpets and the Archangels’ chorus together. I was determined to get a taxi myself and this saved an inevitable scene.
I feel such blessed relief as I sink into the back seat of the taxi cab alone. The kind you only feel when freed of a woman’s scorn. My taxi driver is a 50yr old rogue and now my best mate in the world. I think I agree to a 500B ‘all in’ fee and he actually earns his money for once, by avoiding the dreaded late afternoon Ploenchit-Sukhumvit snarl-up. This guy is one of the seemingly few drivers who knows about the Tobacco Land shortcut – one that many of us Westerners know – that saves at least 30 minutes off a journey to an even numbered Soi along a certain stretch of Sukhumvit. He motors along the expressway, doubles-back from Lumphini, takes the shortcut and drops me at my hotel on Soi 10 in a ridiculously quick time. In my room, with restored Wifi connectivity, I see Jen has LINE-messaged me about a dinner tomorrow night with her friend K, a lady I met before and liked. The dinner is early enough to agree to and be able to still make excuses to leave after the food is eaten. I’d rather not go at all, but I agree – Jen would lose face if I declined. Jen says ‘You at hotel already? How so fast?’ She’s still mired in traffic somewhere and can’t believe I’m here.
I just love the Centre Point residence on Soi 10. At the far end from the Sukhumvit madness, it’s a tranquil oasis. There’s no bling, aside from a bit of marble here and about, but the service, spacious rooms and on-site facilities are of almost no compare at a similar price range. Most of the clientele look like they’re here on business or on family holidays. Maybe it’s too sterile for most, but it offers a balance, an equilibrium I crave in this city of craziness. Also, the icing on the cake, for me at least, is that it’s a minute’s walk from Benjakiti Park, probably one of Bangkok’s less famous public spaces. Being a runner who ‘has’ to run regularly to feel normal, this hotel’s location is a dream come true. I decide to go for a gentle run this evening to revel in ‘alone time’ at last, and to perk myself up for an evening out alone. The park, set around a large lake 2km in circumference, is just gorgeous on this late cool-season evening and tonight as usual, there’s plenty eye candy to admire among the fellow joggers.
Benjakiti Park – just behind Sukhumvit!
That evening I headed to the open-air Sunrise Tacos restaurant in Times Square. It’s a novelty to dine in the open-air for me, smog-filled or otherwise. These places in Bangkok seem to be disappearing fast – in the race to seemingly turn the city into one giant Megacondo. This is another good people-watching spot with views onto the main drag. Eye-candy abounds in the restaurant seating area – parties of Thai office workers arrive and there’s a table of four lovely Japanese girls with two guys next to me. They take about a billion photos of themselves and their cocktails. I can hear the sound of Facebook’s servers crashing from where I sit. I like the head waitress-cum-Madame here. Of senior years, she looks more like a contemporary of Madame Noi over at the Check-in 99 bar. Noticing that I look like I’ve been waiting about 10 minutes for my food, she asks me about the order and then goes off to expedite. In no time, my fajitas arrive sizzling hot and they’re as good as you can expect them to be outside the Americas. I think I’ve already heard this place might be closing down, so I order an extra beer after my food. I soak up the atmosphere, turn my seat towards the big screen and watch the repeated Champions League game on the big screen. I can’t believe they’re selling this off to make way for yet more shit-for-brains condos.
I can’t avoid it any longer…it's Nana Plaza time. If I had my choice, Jen and I would be canoodling over a nice glass of wine or two right now but hey, life’s a shithouse sometimes. There are worse fall-back options in the world than Bangkok’s nightlife options. I pass the familiar sights – Georgio Armani’s shop (you’d think he could afford a better sign), Nana BTS – ladyboy pickpocket-free tonight, the deaf stall-holders. Outside the lot on Soi 6 that stood derelict for years, there’s an army of construction workers pouring concrete into formwork on the ground. The problem is, the formwork is where the whole footway used to be. The private forecourt is cordoned off, so that option is out. So tonight, pedestrians are forced into the bus lane on Sukhumvit Road. It’s that or fall into wet cement – your choice. I pass Landmark and casually glance up at the terrace – I don’t see her at first. Oh, wait – there she is. Still rocking that cocktail dress, conversing intently with a middle aged Westerner. ‘She’ has been a familiar sight in my visits over the years – a tart with attitude I once made the mistake of engaging in small-talk with in Gulliver's about 5 years ago. You’ll see her night after night in Gulliver's, Landmark, Bully's, Bangkok Beat, etc where she’ll tell you in no uncertain terms she is a classy Bangkokian, and what wretches all those Isaan girls are. Up to the corner – Soi 4. Hello tree, my old friend. I keep saying ‘goodbye forever’ to you, but I’m back again…
Decisions, decisions. Nana Plaza to a man with only one thing in mind is like Billy Bunter breaking into a Patisserie at midnight. Tonight, I want a fun vibe, so it’s Spellbound I go for. I remember an enjoyable vibe in there last visit during the World Cup. It proves a sound choice. There’s a good atmosphere and a great line up of good-looking women, most of them in sexy lingerie. Cold beer. Decent music. It’s not a difficult concept, is it? A bit of style in the venue’s design is an added bonus – I like the way the stage is set obliquely to the seating – wherever you sit, you get an interesting vantage point. Someone’s actually thought about that. I catch the eye of one of the older dancers – it’s never the other way round – and she comes over to chat. She has a pleasant personality and a fantastic shapely behind. She dances on the podium near me – all the time willing me to choose someone else if I like. Another drink each, watching the lady-shows and the bar-fine is paid. Leaving, I cop looks of horror from a couple of overstuffed farang birds sitting by the exit. Back to HQ. My barfine is a good-enough performer and for a bit of added spice, I notice she looks facially very similar to the wife of one of my best friends, albeit a Thai version. I make sure I play this thought into proceedings – apologies, G! As I mentioned before, this lady had an amazing derriere and that and my abstinence combined led to a swift conclusion in our activities. With her bid goodnight and sent on her way, I reveled in the huge expanse of mattress, pitch blackness and deathly quiet. Bangkok awaits, but I would sleep well tonight.
To be continued…