Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bangkok - Day Three - Part Three

We are terribly adept at accomplishing more in the morning before most people wake. David says that we're like the army. Keeping in tradition, we had already visited Lumphini Park and traveled to and from Ko Kret by 11:00 a.m. We were starving.

We had a leisurely lunch at our favorite sushi joint in town, sharing eight different kinds of sashimi. One interesting dish was some fish that I had never heard of. It was covered in kimchi
[1] and taught me a valuable lesson…Kimchi still tastes like kimchi even if you wrap it in delicious raw fish.

From there, it was on to Siam Paragon for some shopping. We had barely done any shopping so far, spending nary an hour at the mall right next to our hotel. A mall in which I couldn’t even afford to breathe in some stores. A mall that taught me a hard, fast lesson that La Perla should be avoided at all costs as you will want something and you will justify buying something and then you’ll walk outside and realize that your impulse could have fed an entire Thai family for two months.

The last time that we were in Bangkok there was only one mall, MBK. David described it as a ten-story flea market. I’d have to agree as navigating MBK was like navigating Bangkok’s Chinatown, complete with food carts and cheap knockoffs. We had been in search of something to wear out on the town as our friend Sunny was taking us out dancing. We finally broke down and asked someone in the mess of MBK where we could buy nicer clothes. A round of us speaking Engrish
[2] back and forth resulted in a lightbulb going on in her mind and she said, “Fat-in-a-bowl”? “Yes!” we replied, “Fashionable!” She smiled and said, “Siam Square!”

Siam Square was quite different than MBK. It was a side street with a smattering of nicely designed clothing and house wares, much more leisurely and up our alley. When it came time to finally put some shopping in this trip, we knew that Siam Square was our destination.

All the new things that I had read prior to this trip informed me that Siam Square had been renamed “Siam Paragon” and was now an actual brick and mortar mall. Imagine our surprise when we found that it wasn’t just a mall, it was the mall. Made up of ten levels, called “facets”, the mall had koi ponds with bridges, outdoor seating over the water, the most delicious-looking restaurants that made me regret eating sashimi earlier, and bathrooms that actually stopped me in my tracks and made me wish that I had a camera what with its super-sleek design and huge flat screen televisions everywhere and all. David, being all metro, loves to shop and I love to spend money so we set off to find anything worthwhile.

The mall was so huge that we couldn’t even make it to the Oceanarium which at least gives us something to do next time we are in town. After about two hours, we totally burned out on shopping, dropped off our packages at the hotel, and headed out for another Thai massage.

It was about six. We were getting hungry and went looking for my favorite noodle vendor. I got down to the ATM bank and she wasn’t there…drats. So we set off to find other food. It was seemingly too early for most vendors but we were drawn to a bustling cul-de-sac a few streets down Sukhumvit. Where people are, food is. Harmlessly looking for food, we had found ourselves in Nana Palace, the “good time” capital of Asia. Not being one to cop out of an experience just because very questionable women (and girlie boys) are offering my husband a good time, I just soaked in the sights. Girls sitting around tables playing cards, some smoking. Lots of young white men who had drank way too much leering at the women. One girl was polite enough to offer me a good time, at least offering equal opportunity prostitution. In the midst of this trashy hedonism, David found something that he had been looking for. Fortunately, it had more than two legs.

It was here that I found myself standing in front of a bug vendor. Bugs are a traditional food of the Northern Thai farming community. It is the daughters of these poor farmers that usually work in Nana Palace and the bug vendors work these streets to provide this comfort food of sorts to these girls. Giant or bite-sized cockroaches, fat grubs and extra-large crickets were all fried and selectively seasoned. David was thrilled to finally try some entomology cuisine, a quest he was not successful in completing on our last trip. I navigated him away from the grubs. He didn’t want to eat a cockroach because he thought it would be gooey but he was perfectly fine eating a lump of goo in the form of a grub. He finally saw my point and ordered a bag of the deep fried crickets as well as a scoop of what I can only describe as “an assorted ant stir-fry with green onion, basil, and peppers”.

We found that people stared at us a lot in Thailand and believe that it’s because we’re always parked at some food vendor of sorts. We pass the rest of the tourists sitting at restaurants with names like “The German Haus” , stepping over a puddle of what could possibly be urine in the process, to take a seat on a little plastic stool amid the filth and traffic to be fed the real thing. Thai’s take interest. If we catch their eye, they smile as if to say, “You different. You love our country.” Tourists look too but their eyes scream, “Don’t you know you shouldn’t eat that?! That water has ice in it. You could get a parasite! You don’t know what that meat is!” I don’t think that we’ve ever been looked at as much as when we were standing at the bug vendor. It seemed that every girl around had gathered to see if we were going to walk away empty handed. When David popped a large handful of crickets and declared them delicious, there was a collective gasp like, “Damn! The boy
[3] did it!”

“Tastes like potato chips,” David said. Eating handful after handful, we strolled back down toward the Thai massage place. He kept telling me that they were like the tastiest potato chip he had ever had and that I just had to try one. As I am not a fan of potato chips, that was exactly the wrong way to lure me. I promised to try one when we got back to the room. I didn’t want to vomit in public.

It was down our little Sukhumvit Soi 11 that I was just tromping along, looking at the street, when the second of three things that I have always wanted to see/hear in my life happened. I almost walked into the back of what I thought was now just a myth...something that existed at one time but was now just a legend. I looked up just in time to avoid ramming myself into the back of an elephant's behind. That's right, an elephant on the streets of Bangkok. We've been around elephants's just such a trip to see one on a street crowded with people and vendors. Street elephants are the elephants of poor famers who come into the city to beg for money with their elephant. Elephants are the pride of Thailand yet suffer much abuse by the hands of a desperate farmer who doesn't have any wood to farm for his elephant to earn its keep. Seeing it, I pulled out all of the money I had and just handed it to the mahoot. I didn't want a picture, I didn't want to feed it sugarcane (although I did), I just wanted to help this seemingly well-cared for elephant keep that way.

Two hours and another massage later, we were delighted to find that my favorite noodle vendor had set up shop. We filled our bellies one last time, memorizing her location in the hopes that she’ll be there upon our next return, and headed back to the hotel. As we walked into the room, David said that the crickets were spicy. That made all the difference to me. Tell me that something is spicy and I am totally down. As we set up the crickets for a photo shoot (and my eventual consumption), I noticed that they had beady red eyes, long fang-looking things, huge wings, and a two inch body. There was no way in hell that I was going to eat a single one. Besides, they were cold.

We spent the rest of the night packing. Going to bed at one only to be up at five, we made good use of our last night in Bangkok. In the morning, we put on our best in island wear. We were returning to our version of tropical paradise, Koh Yao, an island that David, when describing to locals how much he loves it there, waxed poetic with “It is what I see when I close my eyes and dream.”

[1] Kimchi: officially, a traditional Korean dish made with fermented vegetables and spices. Unofficially, it tastes like rotten vegetables in vinegar and smells just as bad.
[2] Engrish: a form of broken, grammatically incorrect, and often poorly spelled English that thrives in Asia.
[3] Boy: David sometimes gets carded for rated R movies and always gets carded for alcohol. No one thinks that he could quite possibly be 30 this Friday. On our trip, everyone thought that he was a student. It used to be cute. Now that I am married to him, I feel like a cougar and am kind of sick of people wondering if I am robbing the cradle.

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