South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: There's no place like. . .
Date: April 21, 1995 00:56

20:22 Saswasdee House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 17 APR 95

Television has a presence here. In the shanty towns, the markets and restaurants, the cathode ray tube effervesces, continuously, and before it lies prone the masses. Today, the images of opium dens from history books became manifest in the Bangkok central market. In the stalls, closed for the afternoon, the shopkeepers rested, mouth gaping, eyes open, intent and empty but for the electronic eye that stared back at them. For some who lay prone, looking sidelong at the flickering tube, the image struck me with frighteningly uncanny clarity.

It is everywhere. In the shanty towns where toilets empty directly into the stagnating pools simmering a stilt's length from the floorboards, there are television aerials. Along the river are tied 5 meter long boats with curving corrugated tin roofs like mini Quonset huts. The kitchen is relegated to the river bank, since a Thai of average height cannot stand straight in the boat. These too have aerials so the permanent residents won't miss prime-time.

And it is always turned on. In the heat of the day or the muggy night, people of the tropics leave doors open wide to the light but cooling breeze. Visible through these openings it most every home is the characteristic blue flicker and, in repose, the viewer it illuminates. Big Brother doesn't need to watch since all eyes are on him.

Prime-time here begins near noon when the belligerent sun remands all to the peaceful shade. Many choose this time to relax. In the succeeding slack hours they sleep -- any horizontal surface will do, or they swim and bathe in the incalculably filthy rivers and canals. And if they do neither of these, they watch television. It is remarkable.

Another remarkable occurrence? I'm listening to Christmas carols. It's one of those things. The lobby/restaurant of this guest house seems to have a limited tape selection . This is at least the second day in a row this one has played.

I've been storing up some observations. I think I'll just ramble some of them off.

The Thais, unlike the Malays, dress a la West. Jeans, T-shirts, minis, pumps and even black leather shit-kicker boots with studded ankle straps.

Buy a piece of the Chicago Bulls. That trademark is worth major bucks. I've seen it emblazoned on everyone from Borneo natives to food hawkers to bus drivers to commuting business execs.

Travelers in Thailand differ than those I encountered Malaysia. For one thing, there's scads of them in Thailand. Fortunately, they stay pretty close to the beaten track. Spending time alone with the locals is as simple as walking 500 meters away from any group of white people. If there's another group of white people standing there, go for another 500 meters in the same direction. You'll rarely have to go more than a kilometer to shake off the tourists.

Off the beaten path you realize some great advantages. First, shopkeepers and restaurateurs charge you like a local, rather than the exorbitant tourist rates you'll pay near any location mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Second, you get the same food and stuff that locals get. Third, you feel like you're in Bangkok rather than some ethnic neighbourhood slowly being over-run by flower children.

That last one brings up another difference. The travelers here are of a different variety than I'd grown accustomed to in Malaysia. There's an awful lot of 'alternative' types here. By alternative I mean flower-children wannabies. I figure it's the drugs. The hippie types won't get caught dead in Malaysia 'cause if you're caught with even 15mg of ganja there you are dead. Literally: the death penalty is mandatory for drug traffickers defined simply as anyone carrying more than 15mg of a controlled substance.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

As fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed;
So it spread;
Chance directed,
Chance erected, so they built;
On the silt.
  graphical element Rudyard Kipling's impression of Calcutta.
Equally applicable to Bangkok