Monday, September 1, 2008

Bangkok: The world's most appropriately-named city?

In the interests of research and in spite of the just-imposed state of emergency I thought I would take a trip to Thailand.

Parts of Bangkok are amazingly advanced. When you arrive at the brand-new Suvarnabhumi International Airport, a stunning glass and steel edifice, for example, you are less inclined to throw around terms like "Third World", especially if you've passed through LaGuardia recently. A decent wind and most of New York's airports would fall down by themselves. And in contrast to Asia, the boot-faced staff at most US airports clearly missed their vocations as POW camp guards.

Bangkok is full of construction. There are two rapid-transit systems both only a couple of years old. Take a trip down the Chao Phraya river and you see buildings like this

and here, the Bangkok Peninsula. Ideal for all types of extracurricular nookie.

I misheard, and thought this was called the Temple of Doom. It's actually Temple of Dawn.

The deeply religious significance of this place was slightly undermined by the street vendor who pursued me, trying to interest me in buying a clutch of enormous wooden willies "for luck".

In Thailand etiquette is very important.

Presumably, Pearl herself is up for touching!

As a farang (foreigner), it's critical to know your place.


And NOT here:

The statues talk, for instance, this one is saying: "Not more bloody tourists! And no, you'll have to try to grow a beard like this for yourself!"

There is a real building boom going on in Bangkok right now. I did ask the COO of a large company here, what Thailand's economy was based on. She wasn't really all that sure, but Agriculture definitely figured in it. I hope things don't go pear-shaped for the Thais like back in 1997. Here's a building where they ran out of money back in 1997 and now people only live in the finished half!

There are chic pavement cafes, like this one, almost Parisian in its ambience

Speaking of food, this reminded me of how consultants tend to gather in large numbers around badly managed client firms, and all government entities.

And with the whiff of trouble in the air, I bade farewell to Thailand

Note: it's usually a bad idea to take photographs of soldiers and police, even in the US. I did this subtly. Also, of all the soldiers I saw guarding the Grand Palace, not one of their rifles had a magazine in it! Make of that what you will.

As a final note, here are my main takeaways from my trip.

1. English is not widely spoken. Assume anybody who has troubled to learn English is a scam artist until proven otherwise. Try to learn some Thai for yourself.

2. Every time you visit a tourist attraction, people (including the guards/staff at the attraction itself) will tell you it is closed and to come back later. Or in the meantime, hand them your map and they will draw on the location of somewhere better... or, they'll hail a tuk-tuk for you and tell the driver how to get there. Ignore them! The place is most likely not closed, they are just trying to earn a commission from the proprietors of the other place.

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