musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘klong’

No-Fi, iZombies, and other notes

Business at my bookshop in Bangkok was very good in December and has continued to be strong so far this month, which is a big relief after the extremely slow days during the flooding mayhem in October and November. The Lunar New Year (“Chinese New Year”) holiday hasn’t officially started — that’s later this month — but we’re already seeing lots of travelers from the Asia region, taking their long holidays in Thailand or passing through Bangkok. And many Western tourists are finally trickling back into Thailand too. Maybe this year’s high season won’t be so dismal after all.

Not all people walking into my bookshop come to buy books. Inevitably, we get some laptop-lugging geek asking if we have wi-fi, the answer to which is a resounding “NO!” But the fact that we are wi-fi-less doesn’t stop many of the laptop slackers, or those with some other trendy iDevice that will be obsolete in six months, from laying claim to a seat at our front counter and “hanging out” for several hours, blissfully unfazed by the fact that they are monopolizing one of the few seats in the shop. They seem to think that ordering one cup of coffee entitles them to such privileges. Oh, if I had a grenade. What is it with the new generation and the bizarre sense of entitlement that so many of them flaunt?

Speaking of clueless, I continue to be amazed by the legions of electro-zombies stumbling around town — on sidewalks, in malls, on public transport — transfixed by their shiny new iDevices, totally oblivious to what’s transpiring around them. They are blissfully mesmerized by that little screen, furiously texting, or poking away at the screen of their iWanker. I find this e-addiction both humorous and frightening; a “perfect storm” of social engineering that I think will have a negative effect on civilized society. Well hell, it already has had a negative effect, but I think it’s only going get worse. But hey, as long as these folks have the latest shiny gadget in hand, they won’t care that their freedoms are quickly eroding, or that around-the-clock Big Brother surveillance is nearly here. You want “social networking,” well you got it, baby! It only confirms a long-held belief: most people are sheep.

I made my weekly trip to the Sizzler restaurant on Thonglor for dinner last Thursday night. After I had finished eating, one of the waiters told me that they would be closing down next week. That’s closing as in “for good”. Well, that threw me for a loop. I’ve been going to that particular branch of Sizzler on nearly a weekly basis for most of the past decade. For me, the big draw is their well-stocked soup and salad bar. It’s a chance for me to get a good balanced meal instead of just eating noodles or rice for dinner, or getting lazy and ordering a pizza. Anyway, it looks like I’ll now to find another substitute for my Thursday night meal. I suppose I could go to the Sizzler in Central World Plaza instead, but that’s a little out of my way.

Speaking of Central World, I did go there earlier this week and walked around the B2S branch, browsing the CD selection. I managed to not buy a single CD, remarkable restraint for me. But then again, they weren’t having a sale and I didn’t find anything on my wish list in stock. The B2S shop aside, Central World remains a baffling maze of shops, department stores, escalators, and obstacles — they even have a small ice skating rink. There is no logical pattern to the layout, a bit like Bangkok itself! After all these years, I still manage to get lost or turned around when I visit this retail monstrosity. But one thing I did notice at Central World — as well at other malls and restaurants I have visited this month — is that they STILL have those gaudy Christmas decorations on display. I’m tempted to borrow a wrecking ball from one of the nearby construction sites and initiate a bit of creative demolition. I’ll deck their fucking halls!

When leaving Central World, I debated on how to get home. I could walk back to the BTS Skytrain station at Chidlom, take the Skytrain to Ekkamai, and then get a motorcycle taxi the rest of the way home. Or I could walk across the street to the Pratunam Pier and take a water taxi on Klong Saen Saeb, the big canal that intersects the city. I opted for the boat and took it to the Thonglor Pier, whereupon I walked the rest of the way home. Easy. I hadn’t taken the water taxi in several months, and using this mode of transportation reminded me of how much I enjoy it. I used to be a regular boat commuter in the mid to late 1990s, those traffic-jammed days before the Skytrain or Subway systems were in operation and Bangkok commuters had more limited options. Despite the fact that the black klong water is horribly polluted, smells bad, and boat’s engines are loud as hell, I find the ride on the water is very relaxing. I don’t have to worry about being sideswiped by a passing motorcycle or breathing toxic bus fumes. And naturally there are no traffic jams — or even boat jams — on the klong!

One of the supremely cool customers at my shop — one that doesn’t sit at the counter and play with his laptop — is an American named David, just back from his first trip to Myanmar. Even though he’s from Philadelphia, and a Phillies fan, David’s a good guy, and I was happy to give him lots of pre-trip advice about traveling around the country. He reports that he enjoyed Myanmar very much and is already planning a return trip for later in the year. He made the usual circuit — Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Nyaunghswe/Inle Lake — as well as heading west to the beach town of Ngwe Saung. He found a huge bungalow right on the beach for only $15 per night. Yes, bargains can be found over there, even during the high season.

Escape from Bangkok

I fled the scene. Abandoned ship. Got the hell out of Dodge. Whatever you want to call it, I’m out of Bangkok and on higher, dryer ground.
Yes, I’ve joined the thousands (Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?) of other Bangkok residents who have left town as the danger of floodwater descending on the central part of the city (where I live and work) becomes more and more real. People are frightened.
Thus far, both my home (right on the banks of the Klong San Saeb canal) and my bookshop have been spared from the floods. But that could change in the days ahead. Right now things are very dry and operating as normal in our part of town. Except for the fact that we aren’t seeing the normal daily traffic jams and locals have panicked by going on buying sprees: there are no bottles of water on store shelves, and other food staples have also vanished. People are freaking out. And the floodwaters keep creeping closer to the inner city.
I was scheduled to go to fly to Yangon, Myanmar on November 3, but I reasoned that if I waited another week I might not get out, so I changed my departure date. The past 48 hours has been a whirlwind of craziness: changing reservations, obtaining visas, juggling work schedules, making sure books on lower shelves at my shop are safe from harm, and hoping that everything would all fall into place and I could get out of town this weekend. Thankfully, I did. It’s Friday night and I’m safely in Yangon. Sweet relief!
I should feel happy and ecstatic to be here, but I have to admit that I’m feeling very conflicted. I really do feel like the captain that abandoned his ship. I’m now in Myanmar, happy and free from the floods, but my friends and employees back in Bangkok must stay and deal with the dangerous rising waters. I almost wish that I had stayed and seen through this ordeal. But then again, I’m not real keen on misery. All I can do now is hope that the inner city doesn’t experience the same watery ordeal that the suburbs of the city have been dealing with recently.
I’ll be on the road for the next 3 weeks or longer, at least until my money runs out. Hopefully, by the time I’m ready to return Bangkok will have returned to normal. I look forward to the stinky arrival of the sidewalk squid vendors once again.
I took the airport link to the airport in Bangkok, not wanting to take a chance on a traffic-choked highway. It was a quick trip and I found myself with plenty of time to kill before I needed to check-in. So, I exchanged money (the young woman at the SCB counter was extremely helpful in finding me clean banknotes to take) and then had some Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai and an iced coffee at a Black Canyon branch.
Meanwhile, here in Yangon (where there is also a Black Canyon branch!), the streets are dry but the air seems more polluted, no doubt due to the ever increasing amount of vehicles in town; lots of cars, taxis and buses, but oddly still no motorcycles. You read that right: no motorcycles allowed on the roads in this city. People are still spitting red streams of betel nut on the ground, vendors are shouting out prices, and laughing children play games of badminton under dim streetlights. This place is magical.
I stayed at my usual hotel, and the desk clerk excitedly told me about a new video he had been watching. No, not some porn flick or a lame Hollywood blockbuster, but “An Inconvenient Truth,” dubbed in Burmese. “He is a great man,” raved my desk clerk buddy of Al Gore. “Yeah,” I replied, “and he should have been president too!” I met my friend Win Thuya for breakfast this morning at Feel Restaurant. I had my usual bowl of Shwe Taun Kauk Swe and a cup of hot tea. Chatted with the usual crew of smiling waiters and all seemed right with the world. And then I remembered the precarious state of things back in Bangkok and I temporarily lost my own smile. I hope to have a wonderful, memorable trip over here again, but I can’t stop thinking about Bangkok.


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