Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Siam

I'm not going to find out what they actually serve in the restaurant above.
Talk about sensory overload! Just looking at all the Bangkok street food makes your head spin. There is so much food that looks so good, and some that looks so beautiful and strange, and some that just looks strange, that I actually believe I'm going to lose weight because I get sated just by looking at it.

Beautiful and strange food.
Just strange.
There are hordes of people out here, in certain places, less Thais than all kinds of foreigners, most of whom I have nothing to do with except for the fact that we are tourists. There are certain male specimens that exemplify European colonialist degradation to such an extent that someone should embalm them (alive, if possible) and put them in The Museum of the Appalling.  Have you ever seen Diego Rivera's depictions of deformed, depraved, syphilitic Spanish conquerors? Like that, but three dimensional, alive and thoroughly repulsive. Then there are their more enlightened brethren, who come here looking for Nirvana and they seem to be solemnly serious about it (they also seem to be following my diet of looking at food only). Then there are the backpackers. I backpacked back in the Pleistocene period, and it is amazing to me that people still have not figured out it's a royal pain in the ass. But there is an entire street dedicated to backpackers and their cheap ways and it is one of the tackiest streets I have ever seen, so their sense of superiority somehow seems misguided.
Among the backpackers of both sexes are those that distinguish themselves by dreadlocking their hair into massive, impenetrable beehives. They walk around with elongated necks, like Nefertiti, super proud of their updos, which I'm afraid serve as youth hostels for bats and other creatures.
Instead of their pictures, here are some pictures of beautiful places in Bangkok:

There are many Israeli travel agencies that advertise themselves with huge signs in Hebrew, and this somehow feels perfectly at home with the surrounding alphabets: Thai, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese. Latin script is not the be all and end all, you know. As for the Thais, they are mostly very gracious and pleasant, if rather inscrutable.

As in any underdeveloped country, there is no shortage of polite misinformation, taxis whose meters  decide to stop cooperating, in cahoots with the driver, etc. You would have to be a virgin tourist to confuse a tout with a friendly host, but here they take touting to another level. In fact, in the Olympics of touts, Thai touts would be gold medalists because they make the extra effort: they tell elaborate and quite convincing lies. To be honest, if it wasn't for our detestable Lonely Planet guide, I probably would have behaved like a virgin myself. (My gripes with Lonely Planet are legion, but just to name a couple: 1. They send you to places that are not there. 2. I defy anyone to make sense of the way they number their maps. If you find number 24, or number 85, which is right next to number 13, for instance, I'll erect a statue in your honor).
Bangkok is huge and spread out and doesn't make a lot of sense, with incredible temples and humongous shopping malls, but a river runs through it and I keep imagining what it must have been like in the 30s, when there were no eyesores, and you could run into Sam Spade, or Mata Hari, as you shivered from malaria and typhoid, at the veranda of the Hotel Colonial.

Mata Hari would not be caught dead in this modern monstrosity
They did not preserve much of the old buildings, which is a shame.  But what Bangkok lacks on finesse, it makes up with moxie.  What you see on the street can take an almost hallucinatory character, and I mean that as the highest praise.

Amulet market.
Someone else's dentures for sale.


  1. Food pic #1 just made my stomach grumble. Food pic #2 is grass jelly -- sweet, herbal, delicious. Totally doable, flavorwise, though I would be wary of that giant block of ice.

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