monuments to playfulness

POSTCARD#300: Bangkok: Writing this in the house we’ve had for fifteen years. It’s in the suburbs, a gated community, mature trees, landscaped, and the birds and critturs moved in, settled, as if they had always been here. “Return To Go”, we come on the weekends nowadays, this is the nearest thing to home, our point of origin. Feels like home, looks like home, although most of its history the house has been empty, except for a cleaner coming once a week and D, our nephew, acting caretaker. He got married in 2014 and I wrote a post about that. Now there’s a boy-child in the house too, born 20th December 2017, almost the Christmas story but not quite.

On a Sunday morning there’s only birdsong and beneath that silence, I’m fathoms deep in sleep. Then I hear the child crying downstairs… a reminder I’m not seeking a forever state of contentment, just content with the state of things as they are. Not easy, even though, but I am deeply glad, grateful too that I don’t have to go and tend to the child – sympathies for his parents, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.

No reason for Jiab and I to go beyond the joy of having a baby at home, into the harder reality of it all, because we are only there at the weekends and on Monday morning, we’re back in our very small rented downtown apartment. Only 10 minutes on the Skytrain from there, to the glitzy shopping malls and huge exotic foodhalls, I go there nearly every day, buy one fresh bagel for our breakfast and a few things I can pack in my small back pack, then home again.

So I’m learning how much everything has changed in Bangkok these days, after being away for 7 years and before that, temporary residency since 2003. Astonishingly elaborate Mall architecture, monuments to playfulness, shrines to maya (Sanskrit: illusion). More and more of these in Bangkok, new spending to suit a lightweight upbeat city culture, low labour cost and lavish “investments” … construction projects are ongoing.

It becomes more and more like a world-class city as the years go by, typically Asian, company staff dressed in bright floral uniforms hand out gifts to passers-by at the Skytrain exits. Usually I decline the offer but the other day it looked like they were giving away packets of shampoo, so I accepted. Then, laughter… a second woman took them out of my hand, saying ‘No, not for you,’ and gave me what she was handing out – hmmm, I don’t know what that was about, but this must be men’s shampoo, I thought.

When I got back to the apartment, I was putting away the bagel and things from the mall, then there were the brightly coloured packets – no product name displayed… oh-oh, not shampoo! Packets of contraceptives! I didn’t need to open the packet, could easily feel the contents with my fingers. So they all got flung in the bin.

I don’t understand how the first lady could have mistakenly offered me the product used by the female gender. I’m so obviously male, head and shoulders above the women, and a bristly, untrimmed beard. It’s the kind of mistake Thais make when they are ‘sapsong’ (confused)… maybe she was new to the job?

My mistake really, the sort of thing that happens when I don’t understand the language well enough, and anyway I’ve never had to use the Thai word for contraceptive ‘toong’ – in fact it’s the same word as plastic bag (it does what it says it does). I sometimes hear giggles when I buy something and they ask me, do I need a bag for that?


10 thoughts on “monuments to playfulness

    • This is it. As the younger generation move in to take their places in the faculties of design and architecture, we can expect it to become a hybrid of what we oldies would describe as science-fiction-like, maybe…

    • Yes, it’s amazing really, I created a new category for my blog posts: “Bangkok Stories”, there are so many anecdotes like this where people just slightly miss the mark, and time is taken up getting the confusion gently straightened out.

    • This is a characteristic of Thai behaviour, uniquely Thai, I don’t know of any other Asian country like it. Worth mentioning here that Thailand was never colonized, all other Asian countries were, except perhaps for Japan. So I’m saying that Thai dialogue is historical.

  1. Ah, your posts are so delightful, T! I get behind in my emails and don’t see them all, but I really enjoy what you write. I so often smile at the comings and goings of life you and I have in common. How wonderful to have the baby in your lives! We’ve been in Southwest Florida since October and will return in early May to our northern townhouse. My Prius sits in the garage there awaiting us. People check on car and home often while we are away. Due to the arduous 3-day drive from one home to the other and certain other phase of lifecycle realities, we will be selling the townhouse and making this our permanent home. Having an older cat makes flying impractical. A granddaughter, now almost 19, promises to visit us here in the fall. Life continues!

    • Hi Sunny,
      It’s funny (yes it is) how there’s an unexpected parallel in life as it’s lived in your world in USA and ours here in Asia. We’re all getting older, and there’s a time for drawing in all the outlying activities to a more centred, focused way of looking at things. The difference is, I sold my property in the UK a few years ago and now making the committent to living the rest of my life in someone else’s country. Well we don’t ‘own’ anything when it comes down to it. The big challenge has got to be feeling okay about that; withdrawing from the idea of ownership, letting go of all the unnecessary stuff.
      I expect you’ll feel glad to not have to embark on that three day journey any more, and look for the adventure in the here and now. And wow! having a grown-up granddaughter is a special gift…

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