The Return to Bangkok: Sheesha, Scorpions, Sedaris, and “Solitude.”
Well this story has been a long time coming: the tale of our first weekend as residents of Bangkok. Well, not exactly as we had been residents for 3 weeks already, but due to some shortages of resources, it wasn’t until the end of November that we finally assumed our rightful position as ‘indul-gents’ of Bangkok’s entertainment offerings. We had yet to experience Khao San at night and since Tom & Gina already planned to descend on the area like two rarefied alabaster Nubian gods from Mt. Kilimanjaro, we decided to cut them off and make the tango a full on party.
The pilgrimage was one of our first successful ‘rotmay’ (bus) trips into the sprawling city and came from Major Rangsit, by way of Victory Monument, where we hailed a cab for the last couple of kilometers. Once arrived Cengiz and I patrolled the streets of Khao San area admiring the many souvenirs and opportunities for liquid libations as we strutted through catcalls from eager Indian tailors and lonely Thai businesswomen. We had plenty of time to take everything in as phone tag with Tom & Gina wasn’t progressing very quickly, so we took the opportunity to scout for potential places of business that night. The tattoo parlors seemed particularly untrustworthy and unoriginal so we made mental notes to stay out of them later and the massage offerings were heavily over priced, making them also easy to avoid. Many of the bars were thumping techno, others offered the English Premier League, while others had live music. Which to choose was difficult, especially since it seemed we would not find some cheap, hidden gem in this well mined cavern.Most exciting were several second hand book stores. Having finished both books I brought from the US, these were sites for sore eyes; literary oasis for a thirsty, demoralized, Bedouin English major. Cengiz indulged my excitement and patiently browsed the stores with me or waited outside with loyal nicotine diversion. I ended up deciding to go with Nobel winning Gabriel García Márquez’s fine novel, “100 Years of Solitude” after an excruciatingly thorough search of the stores and realistic inventory of funds. As I was settling up, my glorious companion produced one of my favorite collections of all time and perfect opiate for the coming holiday season, David Sedaris’s “Holidays on Ice.” After borrowing some baht, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face walking down the street from the store. Still, it was time to battle through the euphoria and decide upon a starting point for the rest of the night. Though I was already certain it was going to be a good one.
We ended up choosing a set back Indian restaurant and roosted upstairs, sprawled on Indian pillows, waiting for the duo to make their way. We chose the place primarily because the very cool looking, laid back downstairs was empty and sported a hookah, and because the vibrant food stall in front shielded it from casual observation and might thus then keep the chosen spot a bit more reserved for the remainder of the time. The choice was a good one.
For the next couple hours, the four of us got to catching up. We shared horror stories from the first month of teaching (Tom’s kids making fires in class, alligators, fainting and dehydration on sports days, our introduction to Triumbundhit, plumbing, etc) and delicious sheesha from the towering hookah that watched approvingly form the table. For food we shared a sampler that included several tips, fresco style and yogurt based, chickens, rice, and lamb with plenty of nan- it was fantastic. To wash it down, we loyally stuck to Chang, though Tom brought some Sang Som whiskey to celebrate after dinner. The place ended up being perfect: it was reasonably priced and only extracted a prince’s ransom from us due to willing indulgence; it stayed remote, as we hoped, with only a group of Spanish travelers that occupied the opposite corner and who were very happy that we shared their ambivalence to cigarette smoke; and of course, the chance to smoke delicious hookah again was an unexpected luxury.
Afterwords, we headed out to Khoa San to patrol the streets and see if the advanced hour had produced any new or previously unnoticed opportunities. Immediately after turning the corner out of the shop, we came across a bug vendor. Now, Khao San made the offering even more touristic than it would have otherwise been, but bugs are bugs and goofy experiences like eating bugs had been the M.O so far when the four of us got together; so, we ‘grubbed.’ Gina raved about Scorpion, having already had it, and since it was the most badass looking, we started with it. Now, I still think she is crazy to actually suggest that she ‘enjoyed’ scorpion, but in all fairness, it wasn’t bad. It was very salty, very crunchy, and tough and chewy. Eating a venomous, battle tank of the insect world is fun- that cannot be denied. We proceeded to experiment with grass hoppers (or crickets, who can tell the difference), beetles, and of course, a grub. Our version of Fear Factor was not too dramatic, everyone ate the bugs and though we couldn’t stop laughing, no one had an embarrassing experience.
After the bugs, we continued to stroll the street, with frequent stops at each 7-11 for another drink or two, and just enjoy the environment and people watching. Though this thoroughly enjoyable remainder of the night produced little more in terms of story relevance, there was one more character destined to leave her mark on the evening. Child vendors and panhandlers are a common site in Thailand and are increasingly (with time spent here) easy to annoy. But we were cornered by one particularly talented girl who had my number. The gimmick: challenge the mark in a thumb war. Now, I am a decorated veteran of many a thumb war and though my small, nimble digit has been crushed by some larger, stronger forces, it is no pushover on the field of battle. 20 baht wager to beat an 11 year old? You bet I’m on that. She proceeded to take 60 baht from me that night. It was freakish. I have never seen such a small, feminine, quick thumb with such FREAKISH strength! She was like a master Muay Thai fighter. She looked tiny, Thai, and intimidating but she could whip some ass. I am confident that she may be the best thumb wrestler on the planet and encourage anyone that reads this to go to Khoa San and seek her out if they have any unworthy feelings of pugilistic phalanges superiority.
It was, in retrospect, one of the oddest, most disjointed nights so far in Thailand. While the Land of Smiles can fairly be described as a place with the unexpected around every corner, and while our foursome was known to participate in some odd encounter every time we set out (i.e Muay Thai fighting), this night was totally oddity. Ok, dinner was pretty normal, but eating bugs? People watching? Book store hopping? Thumb wrestling? None of this was expected. Of course, that’s probably why it was so much fun. It was a good introduction to Bangkok fun, a Cotillion if you will, that led to a legendary December- King’s Birthday, Christmas in Lamlukka, New Years in Koh Tao, and much more.
Here are some fuzzy screen shots from the ever present Flip: