The Major Players

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Thursday, January 6, 2005

I love mornings here in Bangkok. After showering and getting dressed I head down to the common area in the guesthouse, which is crowded with old wooden tables and stools, rattan chairs and fans blowing the smell of incense in the cool morning air. I pour myself a cup of coffee and fix my plate of muffins and fruit. I then find a place to relax and wake up while I crack open the Bangkok Post and find out what's happened in the world. While planning this trip it is the beginning of my day and the end of my day that I dreamed about most. I know how mornings are in guesthouses in Asia -- I've been in them in India and Vietnam and I longed for them again. Something clicked today. They say when traveling such long distances across so many times zones that your soul takes a while to catch up. It found me and two cups of coffee later my soul and I hit the ground running.

I could have done it blindfolded: the skytrain to Siam Station, transfer to Taksim to the end of the line and board a boat to Pier 8. Learning a city -- especially its public transportation system is one of my favourite challenges and I never rest until I've mastered it. Moscow has the most beautiful subway system in the entire world, Calcutta has the dirtiest and darkest, Paris one of the most extensive and I must say that Bangkok has one of the most comfortable and easiest systems, which is not bad for a system barely five years old.

I hopped off the boat and headed over to the Wat Pho to see the famous golden Reclining Buddha. Ignoring the touts who are famous for telling people that something's closed and then offering to take them for a ride, which normally ends up with you being scammed into buying "gems" or some other less clever way to fleece the farang. It always begins the same way, "Where are you from?" I normally answer without a break in my stride and a smile on my face "New York -- where are you from?" This normally stops them from bothering you but if they persist I tell them that either a) "I live here now" or b) "Honey I've been coming here for years -- take care and have a good day."

The Reclining Buddha is really awe-inspiring at first sight. Once entering the narrow temple your first glimpse of him ("Him"?) is the top of his head. No sooner are you inside gawking then before you know it you're trying to get your shot and move along to another venue. I wish to almighty Buddha that the tourists would read and observe customs of other countries prior to traveling. In every guide book it will tell you not to stand and have yourself photographed in front of Buddha images or wear revealing clothing exposing your shoulders, etc. And what was at the feet of this glorious and holy image but two American slags in tank tops posing like jackasses. We are all ambassadors and representatives of the country from which we hail and in case you haven't being paying attention we could use a little decent PR nowadays.

Well, after my mental disgust at the shoulder-bearing heathens at the Wat Pho our good friends at the Grand Palace were not having my little get up I assure you that. They weren't tolerating around half the costumes they saw and they've got a plan those folks at the Grand Palace. First of all: No Tight or Short Pants (I was wearing nice black Capri pants) and No Backless Foot coverings (I was wearing black leather open toe slides). Well, forget about it. After I'd bought my ticket I got in line and the fashion police -- no, really -- they really are the fashion police and they've got guns for crying out loud. You don't want to screw with the Bangkok Fashion Police because they will blow your damn brains out. White shoes after Labor Day? Don't even think about it. The girl in front of me was sporting denim clam diggers with holes in them and they started pointing at her rips and I was worried they were going to bayonet the bitch in the stomach and I was hopping I could kick her head in when she was down. They practically frog-marched a bunch of us to what I thought was going to be some sort of holding pen where we'd wait before being beaten with slit bamboo then brutally raped by Thai ladyboys. Instead it was a little area where we had to put our shoes in a cubby hole and put on some horrible Velcro sandals with socks -- never have I felt so close to my Teutonic heritage in my life and it made me die a little. Next I had to wrap a very nice long burgundy skirt with golden embroidery over my Capri pants and now I was deemed fit to enter the palace grounds. It was just in the nick of time, too! The second I stepped out to go get back in line the guards were pushing everyone aside, "The Princess is coming -- step back!" A brass band struck up the royal anthem and then about six or eight cars and SUVs sped past and that was that. I couldn't see her because it was too fast and plus when I noticed other people bowing I followed suit.

I want mirrors and I want thousands and thousands of those tiny little colored mirror mosaics and I want them in my bathroom and my the backsplash in my kitchen and I want the kitchen table and chairs covered in them and I want a shiny multicolored blinding-in-the-sun cat litter box and by God I want dresses made out of this shit and underwear and lamps and drapes and George Forman Grills covered in every damn color of mirror you can imagine and for the love of God where there's a hairline of space inbetween -- are you listening?--even the tiniest of hairlines I want that sonofabitching hairline GILDED in 24 carat gold! Yes, damnit that's right! Gold! I want shit you can't even see gilded underneath those mirrors! I'm not done yet! THEN I want some of those mirrors to be gilded themselves -- you heard me --golden mirrors. Burn-your-damn-eyes-out-mirrors, that's what I want. People are you listening to me? Such a place has existed since the mid-1700s and it is an area within the confines of the Grand Palace of Bangkok! Sweet Mary Mother of God I almost lost my mind today. In all seriousness the beauty of this place is ineffable. I was so inspired so -- well, bedazzled if you will -- or will not (I don't care). I'm just going to let you see the photos for yourself. They won't do it justice because well, they're photos on a computer and I was actually there in the flesh shaking and making an ass out of myself today. At one point I gaped up at the golden mirror-covered wat and I said aloud, "My THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!!!" When I saw those mirrored figures supporting that golden stupa I panted "Oh come on you're trying to kill me here -- ooh MY. GOD. WHAT-THE-HELL?!"

After my conniption and convulsions I meandered throughout the palace grounds, which were ridiculously over-the-top brilliant but the rest was mercifully less brilliant than the first part because as I've stated I couldn't take much more of it. I had to sit down so I found a nice little snack area and had a couple scoops of Hagen-Daz to sort of cool myself down and then I had to walk past the outside of it on the way out but I couldn't walk back through it without paying again, which is good because I was starting to well-up just thinking about it.

As the sun was setting and I was heading back to my guesthouse I knew I'd follow another routine that I've longed for these past several months in anticipation of this journey. I went to my room, showered off the heat and dust and freshened up. I put a thin flowing white cotton tunic with side slits and white calf-length pants and before I left my room I sprayed my wrists and ankles with mosquito repellent. I descended the stairs and a few paces later I plopped myself at my favourite bar.

Ah, early evenings in Asia and the first sip of your first gin and tonic.

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