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Dec 272007
 

Bangkok

Having departed the U.S. on Christmas Day, I touched down at Thailand’s new airport, Suvarnabhumi, late in the evening of the 26th. Featuring dramatic soaring ceilings, and lots of glass and metal, its baggage, immigration and money exchange counters are unfortunately no more efficient than the old Don Muang airport. Soon I was taxi-borne, flying down congested streets at insane speeds, weaving through traffic until we reached the hotel sometime after 1:00 AM.

The staff had my room ready, but it reeked of cigarette smoke. This is a problem I had forgotten, and I hadn’t brought any air fresheners to mask the odor. I do have disposable respirators (in the event I encounter people with bird flu, for example), but they are uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. I’ll have to find a solution in the morning; I’m beat.

A New Day

I was up late packing Christmas Eve, and the news that former Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra’s new political party had won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections posed a new wrinkle. It was only a year ago that a military coup had replaced his government and forced him to live in exile. He said he plans to clear his name and not, for now, to re-enter Thai politics except as an advisor. Given the wealth at his disposal, his advice might be very persuasive. In any event, I was not expecting any short term impact from this news. Tourism is very important to the Thai economy, and the country’s attractions to the visitor remain undiminished. Thus, it was time to hit the streets of the City of Angels for some shopping, a massage, and wonderful food (not necessarily in that order).

Rising reasonably early, I visited the hotel buffet for an eclectic mix of fruit, salad bar (featuring tuna and hard-boiled quail eggs), fried rice, kim chee, and squid meat and tentacles with miso sauce over boiled spinach. Thinking I might do better on the street, I bought some bananas roasted in their own skins. These were not the usual bananas: sickly sweet with a well developed seed core, they were okay but I’m not inclined to try them again.

I had arranged to have dinner with some attorneys I had met at the big annual trademark conference, and had the rest of the day free to run a few errands. The first, a little shopping at the Aw Taw Kaw market did not work out — because I couldn’t find it. I knew it was near the Chatuchak Weekend Market, but I made the mistake of wandering in the sun for 20 minutes and had to call off the search. I’ll try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, ice water and a mango with sticky rice dessert will have to restore me to normal function.

I purchased a 10 hour wi-fi card at the hotel. Per hour, this is twice the cost of the local internet place, but the hotel wi-fi has the advantage that one does not have to wear a shirt while using it. After a bit of online research, I headed out to the Central department store to buy a watch. Here, there were more than 40 counters and as many brands of watches, from all the usual suspects and many more. I finally settled on a simple Timex. It probably costs much less back home, but the only “cheap” watches are fakes, and I needed something that would not conk out underwater or when I’m depending on it to remind me of a meeting time.

My final errand was a one-hour foot massage at Hatthai Massage, around the corner from the hotel. For about $7.50, it’s a real bargain. The masseuse works the feet and lower legs with a cooling lotion (smells a bit of rubbing alcohol and menthol), wraps one foot to keep it warm, and then sets to work on various pressure points on the other foot with a stubby, chopstick-shaped dowel. Many winces and grimaces later, the same service is performed on the idle foot. As you recover, your masseuse works on your shoulders, arms and hands. Finally, you switch from your chair to your ottoman and get some serious attention to your back and neck. It is hard to believe this is all done within an hour, and hard to understand how it could possibly hurt so much. But the goal is to eliminate 22 months of stress since my last visit, so I am not too surprised that it takes a lot of work for both of us.

For dinner we cruised down Soi Thonglor to Royal Kitchen, a nicely decorated Chinese restaurant. My hosts pre-arranged for an order of suckling pig, Hong Kong style, and luckily it is a very manageable presentation of individual piano-key-sized slices of wonderfully crispy skin bonded to pork, with a regrettable layer of fat in between. At home, I might remove this fat and set it to one side, but I dared not do that in company. Between the suckling pig and boiled chicken in its skin, I consumed vast quantities of fat. For balance we enjoyed large shrimp with a garlicky sauce, beef chow fun, and lettuce in a mild brown sauce. Dessert brought a ginger tea soup with four little glutinous rice balls filled with a sweet and smooth black sesame syrup. The trick is somehow to enjoy all of these flavors in each bite, as the ginger and sugar balance each other very nicely. All in all, a very pleasant dinner. Shortly thereafter, I passed out with lights blazing.

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