Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

BrLtBgCty II - Water Water Everywhere

Once we fully awoke from our early morning nap, we headed out to get our first glimpse of the City of Angels by day. About fifty feet down the road from our "youth hostel", we came across ample evidence that we weren't in Kansas anymore. This was an entirely carbon fiber bodied Porsche Cayman, Ben and I could not resist. It made the surrounding Porsche and Mercedes Benzs look positively utilitarian and shabby.
 After a 3 dollar cup of coffee at the neighborhood bakery Neil's- Oh Awesome! Real baked goods! Real coffee!...Oh shit! How much??!! Where is the nearest Isan run street food? Whoops! We continued our tour.Parts of Bangkok could be anywhere in the States- nice manicured park lawns, a beautiful elevated, air conditioned, train system that runs on time, traffic, bustling business types heading to make hay.

Architecturally I found Bangkok interesting, as there are multiple modern towers that are playful and unique. I am sure there are other cities in SE Asia much more extreme in this sense, where modern success and money has poured in and met modern building techniques and structural abilities. I am actually stopping in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Australia in April, so I may get a gander at those super tall towers.
That glass on the front of the building pictured here is actually a swimming pool and that figure a swimmer. Note to self - It would make a hell of an action shot for a movie to have someone assassinated in such a pool, the glass shattering and the water and body flooding down onto the street and cars below. Bangkok's roots are evident everywhere as well. Parts look more like Downtown Detroit, especially along the waterfront and the canals, which makes sense since in its earliest incarnation, Bangkok's waterways must have been the busiest avenues. They continue to be a good, inexpensive means to see the city in a broad sense. These houses are on the edge of one of the several large canals that provide routes east/west and north/south. It was one of Ben's prime missions to catch one of the canal ferries before we left.
I think this giant lizard (Komodo Dragon? God, I am such an ignoramus) we saw swimming in the park that morning may be Ben's distant ancestor since he seemed to think along similar lines.
 Before we caught a canal ferry, we toured the Chao Praya river on a taxi express- basically a water bus that runs every 20 minutes or so up and down, making stops every half kilometer or so. These are packed with a combination of tourists from all over the world and locals going to and from their destinations. About a third the price of a cup of coffee at Neil's Bakery.
 One gets a great view of the waterfront, and the captain and crew are nothing short of remarkable with their skills of navigation and docking. The crew were very intense about boarding and getting people below so that passengers on the next stop would have room to board- no patience for this old falang who wanted to stand on the stern and feel the river breeze! The next photo is a famous wat on the far side of the river. It is a little tricky getting to that side since most stops are on the other, and then one must catch a cross river ferry. We tried to visit this wat but ran out of time on our last day.
 There are many other types of craft which ply their trade on the river, from fat dinner cruise arks to large barges, and a few single-owner speed boats. I saw no boats under sail, which makes sense I suppose in such a busy, choppy area. That little tug on the right was hauling a gigantic trail of three barges rafted together. I have no idea what was on the barges- garbage perhaps? I remember watching the garbage barges leaving NYC when I lived there, the enormity of the waste mind boggling- all out to sea where it "goes away".
My favorite boats were these long handsome devils. Brightly painted and swift, some of them transported goods, but mostly they were for private tourist hire. If we had a slightly bigger group it would have been worth it to charter one for the hour and zip up and down further than we did, but alas! we were just volunteer teachers on a tight budget.
 The big engines on these means whatever they are hauling, they can really haul ass.
 We did eventually find a way to a canal bus stop on our last day. For a while it seemed as if this was going to be the Moby Dick that got away for Ben, but after much dogged walking and searching we dropped down into a little cool area and found one. Here waiting was one of the many muslims and hindus we saw in Bangkok.
 A bit ironic that a good part of our tourist seeking was after what was, and still is for many, ordinary transport. Still- people do it for the trolleys in San Francisco, yes?
 These boats were fast and crowded, partly with people attending a red shirt rally that day ( more on this later). At less than 20 Bht they were the best ride deal in town. Not too easy to get on and off, and they raised and lowered the plastic tarps to minimize the splash.

Our final water destination was in this mall. I could have been in Short Hills New Jersey or any other wealthy suburb of America the moment I stepped through its doors. There was Krispy Kreme and Haagen-Dazs and all the other accoutrements of the so called good life. Surrounded by fashionable types and lovely women by the score, sophisticated and worldly and lavish, who no longer cast interested looks towards my young handsome compatriots. Yes, once again I was just a haggard geezer and my young friends just a couple of obviously poor Raskolnikovs.
 Just as I know how confusing and confounded the confluence is between the imperatives of capitalism and Christianity in America-  I am my brother's keeper...Get up and get a job you lazy welfare mom! - this mall and all its worldly temptations in Buddhist country was hard to process as well- Nirvana is achieved with the elimination of all worldly desires...except for that sweet Lamborghini on the eighth floor next to the Imax theater! I tried not to follow my usual depressing slide under such circumstances, to just go with the happy flow of shoppers. I had to fight hard the feeling I get when surrounded by such cornucopia. To me, everyone looks stoned on Soma and all I can think of is Eliot's The Hollow Men. Oh dear... Anyhoo, we were there to see the aquarium Ben's friend told us about. The usual admission price was 900 bht, ouch!, but by proving we were living in Thailand we got in for 380- a nice and sensible gesture. Some day I would like to see an ID card issued which reveals one's net worth, and all admissions would be based on this. Red Sox game for Bill the mechanic from Natick? 25 bucks. Koch brothers? One hundred thousand please.

 Though the basement entrance of the aquarium, featuring a singing extravaganza of Nemo-costumed dancers (except the two chipmunks in the back row-not sure how they fit in), did not inspire much confidence, it turned out to be terrific- better than any aquarium I have ever visited.
It just kept going on and on with a minimum of commercialism and a maximum of up-close encounters with sea life. After a few hours in the bowels of the mall, we surfaced to take care of our other mall business- satisfying a craving for a cheeseburger. These were certainly acceptable burgers though they were nowhere near the last burger which crossed my lips- a Seven Napkin Special at the General Store in Owl's Head- selected the best in Maine for a reason. It was a Buddhist holiday and so no beer was legal to sell. This being Thailand, that meant our beer had to come in coffee cups!
Then it was home to the rooftop pool for our watery finish, where I caught this particularly special moment between Ben and Zach.

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