Bangkok nights

Last night began with dinner at a Japanese restaurant and then found me on the 36th floor of a swank apartment building amidst a swarm of salsa-dancing duos. The party's host was a Brazilian man who’s moving to South Korea in a few weeks. Since Korean law forbids him to enter the country with wine and liquor, Marcelo commissioned his guests to finish off his stash. As bottles were drained, he raised them with a cheer: "Five bottles gone!" "Six bottles gone!" Most of his furniture had already been moved out, leaving behind a wide open dance floor. Marcelo is part of Bangkok's salsa circle, and some of the city's best dancers were there. I'm not sure which view was better, the one of fancy footwork on white tiles or the one from the balcony looking down on an illuminated city. A city of ten million that seems like a small town at times. Here we are at a random party, invited by a friend of Toby's we just met hours earlier, and Sarah runs into her salsa teacher. Six degrees may be a conservative figure. Our group said our good-byes around 3am and decided to take a walk down the infamous Soi Cowboy (I mean, how often are we right around the corner?) before splitting into different taxis. And that's when I ran into a long-lost childhood friend (Just kidding, but wouldn't that have added to the whole small world bit?) My first encounter with the street known for raucous behavior was actually disappointingly uneventful. I guess we had outlasted many of the revelers. Or maybe we were just too exhausted to be shocked.


Maid in Thailand

I just discovered something that makes me love Bangkok even more. You can have your apartment cleaned—floors swept and mopped, furniture dusted, windows washed, bathroom scrubbed, even the dirty porch brushed off—for six American dollars plus tip. Those of you who know me well know cleaning’s not exactly my thing. There are just too many better ways of spending time, including going to the dentist and filing taxes. I’ve never understood those who say it’s therapeutic. I’ll buy into meditation, exercise, yoga, gardening … but not scrubbing bathroom tile grout in a futile effort to remove mildew. I recently read about Bangkok that once you move into an apartment, you will be asked about employing a maid, and that many foreigners will at first think it’s lazy or exploitive and insist on doing the work themselves, and then they will come to realize that it’s expected and that they’ve disappointed the would-be maid whose salary could have been higher. My thoughts turned immediately to the woman who’s here all day cleaning up the premises and who cleaned my apartment before I moved in (I know that because when I signed the lease, I asked if I could move in in, oh, about two hours, so she was just finishing up when I arrived with my overstuffed suitcases still reeling from allergies to the previous apartment). I thought, my god, I hope I haven’t been disappointing her this entire time. I was never asked and given the chance to decline for moralistic reasons and then reconsider my position. So I approached my building manager, and after a careful dance of communication between the two of us, she said something to the effect of, “Oh, you need your room cleaned? Yes, you just tell me when you want it cleaned and she’ll come up on the same day,” like I was never supposed to be cleaning it myself in the first place. “How much?” “200 baht.” Deal. So I just walked into my spic-and-span pad and feel like I could eat off the floor (although my food hygiene standards are a tad lower these days).


Dating I

A word about Thai boys. It seems that, compared to American guys, a much larger percentage of them are gay. Well, I’m not sure if that’s actually the case, or if there’s just not as many in the closet because homosexuality is more socially accepted here. But because totally straight Thai guys can be effeminate (in the most endearing and attractive way), dating comes with an extra layer of puzzlement here. Case in point. A group of us were out Saturday night at this bar in my neighborhood that’s mountain-cabin-comes-to-Thailand: wood furnishings, buffalo horns along the walls, and a disco ball rotating above the sliver of dance floor. There’s live music and a livelier crowd once the whiskey settles in. The house band plays Thai folk songs, with the exception last night of two songs in English: Happy Birthday (much better with a Thai accent!) and Country Roads (okay, the last time I heard this song, I was in Piazza San Marco in Venice and there was a crowd gathered around a big screen singing karaoke to it…Who knew it was such an international fave?!?) Anyway, Sarah swears this guy is checking me out. I start to question her position, though, when I see him feel the beat a little too much in his shoulders. “Sarah, I think he might be gay.” She’s laughing, but insisting, “No, he’s not gay. Thai guys just dance like that. Wait, you’ll see them all get up and do it soon.” A few minutes later: “Sarah, look now. Tell me he’s gay.” The music had pulled him out of his seat for a little jig. But after about thirty seconds, he covers his mouth with a giggle and sits down. “I swear he’s not gay. Thai guys do that. They want to dance, but then they get embarrassed. Plus, this is a country bar. Gay guys wouldn’t come here.” (I figure the fact that one of the guys with us is gay is a useless argument.) This goes on a few more times until finally, “Okay, Sarah, look now!” He was up dancing with a woman’s pink scarf around his shoulders and lip-syncing to another guy. “Oh god. Okay, he’s gay.” But just to be 100 percent sure: “Hey, Scott, is that guy gay?” And with the look of absolute certainty, “Oh yeah.”

Dating II to come later. Yes, it takes two entries. It’s complicated ching-ching (really) here.


What's your name? Name. Yeah, what is it? Name. Right, but what is it?

Ah…It’s Saturday and I just rewarded myself for completing the first week of the new term with brunch at my favorite neighborhood café, which serves top-notch Thai and a killer American breakfast. This cozy little joint attracts a mix of expats and artsy Thai boys. Its French-inspired shabby chic décor makes me feel like I'm in Paris rather than Bangkok, minus the view of the cheap massage place across the street. The two women who are always there—one waitressing, one behind the bar—are sweet and beautiful and always greet me with the warmest Sawatdeekahs. Typical for Thailand, the vibe is laid-back and there’s no hurry to leave. It can take a while for an American—used to the getcha-in-getcha-out dining experience—to adjust to service in Bangkok. Your server will usually bring menus and stand there waiting while you decide what to order (this can be somewhat anxiety-inducing, but I’m told it’s considered good service and they’re in no hurry for you to choose.) After your food arrives, you will not be approached by the server again. Not a “How’s the food?” or “May I get you anything else?” It’s up to you, the patron, to flag a server—any server, not necessarily the one who took your order—down for any other needs, including the bill. (Requesting the bill is a simple check bin kah—or khrap if you’re male—while moving your pointer and middle fingers in a circle.) I’ve grown fond of this undisturbed style of eating, particularly when I’m in a leisurely mood and have a good book, but sometimes when nary a server is to be found, the impatient American in me starts fidgeting and drumming her fingers on my nerves. But not today. Today, I'm on Thai time.

My classes this term are going really well so far, but they’re larger so I’m having a harder time remembering all the names. Almost all Thais adopt nicknames, for which I’m grateful, but still... Many of the nicknames are just common American words: Bird, Ball, Game, Golf, Bowling, Beer, Ice, Pie, and my personal favorite, Name. And others are Thai nicknames, which can be difficult because certain sounds don’t exist in English and the rise and fall of syllables is so important. A class during my first term cheered when I finally (at the advice of another teacher) pronounced Ple just like bun, despite their insistence that it sounds like the second syllable in apple. So this term, Ople seemed impressed when I addressed her as obun right off the bat. I’m getting there. But when to tell the innocently named Porn (short for Jiraporn) what her name means in English?


Back in Bangkok, Missing Ben

Happy new year everyone! I hope 2008 is off to a great start for you. I had a fantastic trip back home, although I felt like it was over before it even got started. Maybe that was the jet lag effect. I wish I could have seen more people, and people more. I did spend a lot of time with Ben (only four days old when I arrived!), who is too precious for words so I'll just add lots of pictures. Needless to say, it was very hard to say goodbye to the little fellow.

I left Atlanta's 23 degrees to return to Bangkok's 84. But the weather was not the most noticeable difference to me. For one, Atlanta now seems so quiet compared to the clamor of all the vendors and motorists on the streets of Bangkok. Also, Atlanta is predictable, while this desultory city is full of the unexpected. My first day back, I couldn't stop smiling at the random things I had gotten used to: my security guard sitting at his post, listening to the radio and belting out Thai tunes; a waiter at one of my favorite restaurants sitting in the corner powdering his nose (the day before he was makeup-less and picking his nose); being asked "Where you go?" instead of "How are you?", maybe because it produces a more honest and practical answer. On the cab ride home from a bar Saturday night, I commented to friends on the Christmas decorations still up all over town. I wasn't surprised to hear, "Oh, they'll be up for another few months at least."

He was very alert to voices.

With Gram, who's looking like she couldn't be any happier

Carolina boy
Christmas bundle

Baby's first Christmas picture. He looks thrilled.

And he's so over pictures