Check, check, double check
Flying isnít what it used to be! This time Iíd been so clever as to put my pocket-knife in my big backpack (Iím learning quickly). As it turned out, that was a good idea. In Paris thereís a Ďbagage enregistrť envelopeí for these kinds of things. But in Katmandu there was only a frosty (nice pun, Kathmandu being some 1,000 meters above sea level and after all cold hardships on my side) notice that stated all knives, weapons and any items resembling weapons would be confiscated. That was loud and clear! My poor little backpack had to be scanned. In spite of the fact that I travel 'light', the strapmachine thought otherwise and strapped him as if heíd have to shed some ten pounds. (Thatís right, Iíve started referring to my backpack as a Ďheí, so that Iíve still got something male with me. Yet I keep wondering, ĎWhy should I be carrying him instead of him carrying me and why should I be carrying him on my back of all places? Oh well, never mind...)
And weíre still not there! No, before boarding the plane the ladies are separated from the gentlemen. Behind a screen (a grey metallic frame with a vertically wrapped, dirty white cloth of the kind you always see in hospitals featured in films about the Second World War), a kindly smiling Thai lady will kneed your boobs and feel your crotch. ĎThai Airlines: smooth as silkí suddenly gets a whole new meaning. She opens some ten centimeters of my little backpack and then itís all over. It all doesnít seem very logical to me Ė as if Iíd carry a Magnum 44 in my bra or put Semtex in my tampon. And no, I wouldnít keep those in my backpack, either!!!
Once again itís clear to me that reason is overruled by emotion in Asian countries. Even though I can understand this up to a point, I think and I feel that this is just the limit.
A member of the Bouter family is always on time (meaning: half an hour earlier than the average person) and as a result Iím only the third person to check in. It secures me a seat in the aisle with lots of extra leg space Ė even though Iíve asked for a window seat. Iím lucky to be sitting on the right side (the right side being the left) and to have a window nearly behind me, so I can take pictures of the mountains. Thanks to my neighbour, I know exactly which oneís Mount Everest, and Iím making a manic use of my camera. That I have to put my chair back during take-off (which isnít officially allowed) and rise from an ultimate gradient canít spoil the fun: I just have to take a snap of that Everest!
When the plane lands in Bangkok itís around seven in the evening and dark. Oops! How much of a heroine am I when Iím about to explore Bangkok for the first time in my life in the dark? If Iím honest, I have to say that Iím not that fit (due to a nasty cold plus a graffiti toilet walk). Also, as Iím about to face a temperature shock of at least ten degrees (going from <20 degrees Celsius to >30 degrees Celsius), Iím not feeling too happy about the situation Iím finding myself in. Just before I leave the plane, I turn around and ask the couple behind me (who are about my age) if theyíll also be staying the night in Bangkok. They say they will. I ask them if they mind if Iíd accompany them. No problem at all, they say Ė and they already have names of guesthouses with them, too! Easy-peasy and bobís your uncle! Iím just so happy and relieved. When we collect our luggage they bump into a friend from college (Everythingís just so normal, isnít it? No, it isnít!). A few minutes later weíre all seated in a taxi on our way to a hotel of some sort.
Iím amazed how clean and organised Bangkok is. Itís a little Paradise! Also, taxi drivers donít argue about the agreed price and go straight to the right place. They drive over proper highways (at proper speeds of more than 140 kilometers per hour, but thatís the least fascinating part of it all; Iím in Bangkok!), have air conditioning and yes, I spot neon advertising from Toshiba, Samsung, Philips, Bayer and a McDonalds!
Iím suddenly reminded of Singapore and feel glad to have this little 'upgrade' in an even more civilized country. The guesthouse isnít your average backpackersí lodge Iíve already become used to, but a little more luxurious. Today (16th December) Iíve been travelling for exactly three months, and a little bit of a luxury (if I can call it that) makes a nice change!
One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
The sound, light and movie introduction for my Art and Culture course
module in September 1992 started with this song about Bangkok (from the
musical Chess, written by the men from Abba - who doesn't know them?). I
still find it a great song; probably because of the staccato use of words
and the rhythm, which moves like a train. I based my image of Bangkok on it
and decided there and then I'd have to see this city for myself some day.
For a while it looked as if it'd happen the next year (the plan was to
accompany San on her trip), but circumstances prevented me from doing so
(and I'm glad about that now; there wasn't much of an Internet at the
And finally, nine years on, I'm here! I'm in Bangkok, Oriental City, City of
the Angels. It's quite sobering to find once again that life had its own
plans. I felt flu was coming, still had to get used to the heat and would
have rather stayed in bed. But I needed to go to the main post office, as I
was expecting mail from my sister. The quickest means of transport in
Bangkok is the boat. I tried my luck with one that would take me to my
destination for only a few pennies, if my estimates based on the sun, the
river, the Lonely Planet and the front of the boat weren't misleading.
Miraculously, but they weren't. Within no time I found myself at the post
office in front of the poste restante desk. I picked up a big jiffy bag
feeling quite hot and bothered, with the sweat running down all known areas
again. My head and heart were pounding as I opened the jiffy bag. I was
crying as I looked at pictures of the family, Sinterklaas* sweets, postcards
from Holland and a lovely long letter full of my sister's banter. She also
added that she was missing me. A dry throat, swallowing,a deep breath,
tears mingling with sweat (Just let them run.) and sitting down feeling
incredibly happy. What a rich and lucky person I am!
* Sinterklaas (cf. Santa Claus) is celebrated in The Netherlands on 5 or 6
December (note from translator).
It all gave me so much energy that I walked all the way to the station in
the still tropical heat (which at times felt stifling). I was going to buy
myself a ticket to the beach. Bangkok really is beautiful, but I first
needed to recharge my batteries with sun, sea and beach energy!
Whoever wonders what the title of this entry is about, here it comes:
Although I'd sort of planned (being the planning person I am) to spend the
evening at the guesthouse, Rob and Penelope (my Kiwi friends from the plane)
thought otherwise. That evening the four of us (including their college
friend Jonathan) were heading for Patpong. I'll first explain what Patpong
is before people start thinking it might be some local ping pong club or a
Thai variant on the Chinese Mahjong game.
Patpong is a former banana plantation, which was once owned by the Bank of
Indochina. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the bank sold
this piece of land to the Patpongphahit family for 2,400.00 US dollars. The
family nowadays receives more than 250,000.00 US dollars per month for it in
rent (which isn't a bad return at all). Previously, it wasn't so much the
American soldiers who fought in the neighbouring countries, but the airline
crews that had settled close by after the war that visited Patpong most. In
1956 the first massage parlour opened its doors, and by 1960 the trade was
blossoming. It got a further boost in the seventies, when American and
Australian soldiers started entering Patpong. The place is a lot more quiet
nowadays (having said that, it's still crowded with people). Next to the
bars and clubs is a market where you can buy anything from fried squid to
fake designer watches. [Message for Nard: I promise to get you that fake
My Kiwi friends thought it wouldn't at all be interesting to me, being from Holland and Holland having a certain reputation among foreigners. (If you're
from The Netherlands, you're supposed to have seen and done everything that'
s available under the sun. It goes without saying; it's beyond doubt; it's
just logical if you're from a country that allows you to try anything, isn't
it? As if I spend my days drinking, blowing and snorting or know the red
light district inside out. It doesn't help if I protest, it only makes
matters worse.) However, they argued 'it would still be nice to have you
with us and you wouldn't go there by yourself'. So, we got into the taxi
with air conditioning (as if my poor body could cope with any more
temperature shocks). When we got off we found ourselves once again
surrounded by McDonalds, KFCs, Pizza Huts and accompanying shopping
facilities. The fake Rolexes, Guccis, Chanels, Diesels, Calvin Kleins, Levis
and Louis Vuittons radiated, glittered and shone once more in the shape of
watches, clothes, bags and shoes. This is the place to boost your brand
consciousness (for little). Having said that, it's a total rip-off unless you
learn to haggle, so I decided to postpone my shopping for a bit.
Opposite the market stalls we found the clubs. At other people's suggestions
we entered a venue called 'Super Girls'. Outside Thai ladies were singing
these girls' praises dressed in Superman outfits - don't ask me why they
chose it. The first Thai lady we noticed inside was sitting in a bath - a
life-size cocktail glass filled with foam and this lady was dangling over
the bar. It all wasn't very impressive, as you may gather; which is often
the case when it comes to naked bodies. The setting was simple: a red and
black space which was both practical and well-ordered. Inside a square bar
in the middle of the venue (a bit like the wall in a Mahjong game) there was
a show stage. Only disco lamps and glitter balls lit the venue, so that the
audience was literally kept outside the limelight. The music had a good
rhythm, which enabled the girls to move easily. Tom Jones' mega hit 'Sex
Bomb' was a favourite with the mixed crowd. At the bar you could find the
young single men, who were here by themselves, with a friend or in a group.
They were mostly foreigners (Europeans) who drank beer while a sweet smiling
(where had I seen this before?) or annoyingly giggling local beauty hung
around their neck, while making an effort to make their blood run and heart
pump harder. Seated on the benches against the wall were the 'not-so young
men' in their flickering fish net shirts, which emphasized the aerodynamics
of their six-packs. Without an exception, they'd all got their share of the
local 'hot dishes' and were enjoying it. They seemed to think all good
things came in twos; women not excepted. Last but not least, there were
couples like us (No, I wasn't Jonathan's partner, but that's what it felt
like. Otherwise I don't think I would have felt so much at ease to study the
other guests so closely) who could either be found at the bar, like
ourselves, or on the couches behind it.
In the meantime, our first lady from the erotic tummy-tub must have been
clean by now, got bored with her swinging and disappeared. The second lady
wanted them raw. Even though Easter was still far off, she had no difficulty
at all putting two eggs into her 'basket'. Then she let herself fall down a
few times (her upper legs broke her fall, but it had to look like a shaken-not-stirred-act) and plop - the eggs fell out again undamaged, like
coins from a vending machine. It was a bit different from, say, an evening
out playing pool.
Attention, please - the next act is about to start. Two young chicks in
black bikinis and black thigh-boots enter the stage, holding a tray with
darts in one and a pipe in the other hand. It's not difficult to guess what
they're about to do. Shoot some arrows, of course! How right I am. I think
there must be a short cut from their lungs to their reproductive organs, for
the darts are blown across the venue with quite a bit of force. There's not
a dart board in sight. Instead, there are grown up men as red-faced as
toddlers on their birthday, who are holding balloons. Sniggering and
applauding feverishly when ever a balloon gets shot, they'll be paying quite
a bit for this dar(t)ing act afterwards [maybe this is something Barney
could consider taking up?]. It's followed by some acts involving ping pong
balls (maybe there is a table tennis club somewhere close by, after all?)
and hooters, but they all turn out to be variations on the preceding acts.
We decide we've seen enough, pay for our drinks and leave the Super Girls,
both on and off the stage (for I suspect we haven't seen all this place has
And do you know what I find saddest? These girls on stage look so bored
while they're performing, as if they've just come home from a hard day at
work and discover they still have to peel the potatoes and put the garbage
out. In doing so, they reduce the whole show to something so banal that I
can't imagine anyone getting excited over it. But then, who am I? (I've been
travelling for three months and still haven't found myself a bloke... Will I
ever land on my feet???)