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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Travels with Pavel: 31 January 2005

The Chris de Burgh song is not bad but this was something else! The lady in question, spiky-haired and with the winningest smile, almost pushed us into her bus leaving for the Damnoa Saduah Floating Market. Thailand has men bus-drivers and women bus conductors. The red outfit, I later learned was simply their uniform, though they also have long-skirt versions of it. Now, the relationship between driver and conductor it appears is like everywhere else – extremely chatty – the driver’s gotta stay awake – I guess driving as they do at under 30km/hr can be quite soporific. This despite the big wide roads and in good condition mostly – catch an Indian driver driving slowly despite narrow roads, in bad condition mostly. Bangkok’s tuk-tuk drivers by contrast seemed to be on a different diet from their bus-driving counterparts.

We finally saw what a floating market was all about. We reached rather late, about 10ish but there was still action on. The canals, the coconut groves, reminded me a lot of Kuttanad, my Mom’s place in Kerala. I miss home. Quite a place though DS. Built around the canals with their numerous boats plying their wares, are large markets selling all the regular touristy stuff from T-shirts to hats to postcards. Floating markets maybe but solidly grounded in commerce.

Damnoa Saduah Floating Market

Pavel and I carried on to Kanchanaburi – it occurred to me pretty late that at my old school, Our Own English High School in Fujairah, UAE, I was in charge of playing the cassette with the soundtrack from David Lean’s movie “Bridge on the River Kwai” for morning assembly. Dragged an extremely reluctant Pavel along, saw the new bridge built on the site of the old one, touched the waters of the River Khwae, and took a few snaps on Pavel’s crazy Praktika. It was a strange feeling to be reminded of half a lifetime ago and to think that the moment just happened almost without planning. Story of my life, nothing’s ever planned. Or the plans go kaput in short order.

Bridge on the River Kwai

The Burma Railway or the Death Railway as it was known is a testament to the way history is written in this day and age – hopefully something that is also changing even as I write. It is the 10,000-odd white Allied prisoners who died that are the focus of public memory rather than the 100,000 conscripted labour from Thailand and neighbouring countries. And yes, Indian soldiers too, died here. I doubt that any were whistling merry tunes.

Travels with Pavel: 30 January 2005

Pappa’s birthday, called him first thing in the morning, paid for our visas to Cambodia and found ourselves having lunch in the canteen of Thammasat University. Walked through a narrow lane with houses on either side built right out over the waters of the Chao Phraya. Peeped into, glanced into, looked into the houses and lives of Bangkok’s lower classes. Is it tourism still when we venture so close into the ways of the poor? Or is it voyeurism? Or an “I did that” kind of moment? Not very original questions, but likely to be asked over and over again.

Wat Pho with the Reclining Buddha, was followed by a ferry across the river to the Wat Arun – I finally see that for which Bangkok is most famous in its photographs – the Temple of Dawn, named after an Indian goddess and built by Rama II with Chinese porcelain pieces stuck to the outside. Yeah, I know, I’m very good at describing things.

Took the river ride to the Central Pier, followed by the Sky Train from one end of Bangkok to the other, to the Chatnehak market. An interesting place, seems quite large, looking on from the Sky Train, but inside we kept wandering the same way again.

I bought The Road to Damascus about 15 converts to Catholicism. Pavel bought a copy of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. The man is still recovering from communism, I can tell. Anything that has a history of ever being banned is extra kosher. Took a tuk-tuk – a three-wheel terror, but comfortable – back to Khao San. There was finally a breeze going for 30-odd minutes in sultry Bangkok!

“Thais Not Permitted Into This Rooms” reads the sign at the reception of our guesthouse named, quite ironically under the circumstances, “Sawasdhee” – Thai for “hello” or “welcome”. On first impression, it seemed particularly obnoxious, second thoughts – was it meant to keep out prostitutes?

Saw a bearded Shiva in a picture painting at one of the Wats. Seemed a thoroughly fake beard even in the painting! First I’ve seen something of the sort – but come to think of it how come Shiva is always so clean-shaven in India?

Learnt how to identify a Czech tourist. The man wears socks with his sandals.

Travels with Pavel: 28-29 January 2005

The mind is a funny thing – capable of plumbing abysmal depths or leaping to irrational joy. After several ups and downs, “going”, “maybe not”, “not-so-fast” swings, Pavel and I finally escape Taipei’s cold, rainy fingers for the sweltering heat of Bangkok, courtesy KLM which seems like Air India to employ the services of air-hostesses who have to make an effort to smile.

The two of us make a study of Bangkok’s airport layout trying to find out where the exit for the railway station is. In the event at 2300hrs local time, it’s too late. So we wait for Bus No. 59 and with a very morose bus conductor and make our way to Thannon Khao San. KS is one crazy street, I take 15 steps and I see a bunch of spoilt-looking teens of Indian origin sitting at the kerb. For the rest, it is the craziest assortment of whites I’ve ever seen in one place in my life. Lights, colour, lots of flesh, action. And one very cool, sun-glassed Thai tuk-tuk guy with a very fancy, colourful vehicle, playing some pretty good music – American, that is.

We come back to where we started as far as our room hunt went and given the heat, thank our stars we took the a/c. At midnight, the night still seemed young so off we were to see the Chao Phraya. Bangkok in the bus looked like any other old Indian city, a few late-night street corner eateries, the poor on benches or sleeping in the parks (the royal grounds in this case). Of course, with the city’s reputation for the sex trade, it was not long before approaches were made or looks exchanged, but there seemed families out also and it looked like a safe city for women – or maybe not. It was 4 in the morning before a long day drew to its close.

Not much sleep though. In our wisdom, we decided to venture out in the heat of 9 o’clock – though there was indeed a sizeable crowd about – and on empty stomachs walked and walked with some friendly Thai advice to guide us on our way – or maybe con us. Pavel seemed to think that he’d met one particular fellow on his last trip here about two months ago. So onward to the Standing Buddha shrine festival, which however is as closed as banks are on Sunday morning. King Rama V monument, Wat Bemchamabophit, lunch finally (!), Wat Saket (Golden Mount) with its 360˚ views of Bangkok, the beautiful Loha Prasat.

Pavel

Among other things: a woman in military uniform standing for the elections and going by the number of other candidates who appear also in military uniform, the armed forces still rule the roost in this country. Specialist Israeli haunts and some Japanese, more shop signs in Chinese than in English, so many white tourists – easy to see them all as a unity but there are Americans, British, French, Germans, the Belgians don’t like the Dutch, the odd Czech or two and a few mixed races; the roads are busy, chockfull and crossing them reminds me of India; Pavel doesn’t like traveling with big, “red” and “fat” people.

The wats I have seen remind me somewhat of the old, especially Christian Orthodox churches back home in Kerala – the placement of the tiles on the roofs, the placement of the trees within the courtyard, all bring on flashbacks of things familiar and the doorways remind me of temples back home. There are of course the vegetable oil paintings as well as the coloured glass lamps hanging from the roofs that remind of the St. George Valliapally in Puthupally, my home village.

“My home village” – now I know that makes me sound like I’m a country boy, but I’m not, not by a long shot. I mean its fun to see the elephant man give his elephant a bath in the little stream not 20 metres from my gate but my lungs can no longer do without their daily fix of pollution, nor my mind without the excitement of events moving at warp speed.