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?