Bangkok - City of Angels
September 2002©Nigel Spiers

Here I am at Sydney International Airport en route to Bangkok. Have you ever noticed that after 8 hours of sitting in a transit lounge the embarrassment of starring at your fellow travellers disappears? You just sit there playing mind games like “pick the plainest person in the terminal” or “spot the drug baron at the bar”. Meanwhile the staff serving in the airport shops and cafes are playing their own little games like “how long can I keep talking to my boyfriend on the phone before the customers give up and walk away”. I’ve thought of getting a taxi down to Coogee beach and ogling a few tidies. However in my experience the Police here are rightly suspicious of middle aged men sitting fully clothed on the beach with a briefcase on their lap.

In the morning I take a stroll outside my Bangkok hotel. Streuth! – it’s like diving into a warm bowl of soup. Mind you it’s a cracking day with clear brown skies. I think I’ll go shopping and have a look at some of that inexpensive software Thailand is famous for. Of course Bangkok has built a shrine to our boy Bill and its called Pantip Computer Heaven. If you can prove you love Bill’s software and take the oath they let you have a little souvenir or two. I can’t bring myself to barter with these lovely, smiling, gentlefolk – the prices are so ludicrously cheap and my US dollars seem to have a marvellous calming effect on them.

As I walk out of the store I’m greeted by the full blast of the mid day sun and throngs of locals doing the Sunday sidewalk shuffle. Beautiful women in silk gowns with bare shoulders and slits up the sides. They sashay arm in arm with their girlfriends and as they pass the silk makes a strange high pitched mewling sound against their thighs – no I think that’s me. Under skimpy shade cauldrons of fragrant red and green curries are bubbling and women are throwing in handfuls of fresh Coriander. It’s almost enough to make me forget the last time I tried a street stall in Asia and spent the next 36 hours doubled over a big white telephone while giving birth to triplets.

Ahhh – here come my hosts for the week Pierre and Stephan and they tell me they’ve got a treat in store for me. We go to a fabulous Hotel and I am assured that this is the tres chic place to be seen in Bangkok on a Sunday. The buffet covers all the world’s great western and eastern cuisine’s with fresh fromages flown in this morning from France. There is a fair bit of squealing going on as the boys greet some long lost waiters with hugs and much batting of eyes.

CNN – the curse of the unwary traveller. You arrive back in your hotel room after a long hot day beating the bushes, select a beer from the mini-bar and collapse into a chair. You turn on the TV and surf through the channels until you hear some English. Only to hear:
“aaand nowa overrrr to you Dan for the latest on today’s big story”
“why thaaank you Jiiiiiim – the big nuuuus here in Washington is that absoluuuuutely nothing has happened at all.”
“Thanks Dan and wow! folks is that some kinda big news or what and we aaaall really appreciate your keen analysis of the situation Dan."
“My pleasure as always Jiiiiiiiiiim.”
“Now don’t go away folks there will be an update on this incredible unfolding drama just after this commercial break – stay with us – This is Jim Bland for CNN and just remember - you heard it here first.”

Meanwhile Bangkok’s independent morning newspaper The Nation reports the latest coups by the newly formed Ministry of Corruption:
“PM’s Son Caught Cheating in Maths Exam”. The other half of the front page is taken up by a picture of a politician called Sanan Kachornprasart who has been accused of sexually molesting a reporter. Says Sanan:
“Patting the shoulders and knees of reporters is just my way of saying goodbye”.

Yes its all true what they say - the hotel lobbies and streets of Bangkok are full of sad old European men hand in hand with beautiful young Thai girls. This rampant prostitution in a city and country as fundamentally conservative as Thailand seems a little odd. Pierre explains that the huge sex industry here was born of poverty. However more interestingly 95% of Thais are Buddhists and believe the body is merely a vessel to hold the spirit. This spirit resides in the top of the head and hence sex with strangers in no way harms or effects them. However you should never touch a Thai man, woman or child on the head as this may impair their ability to attain enlightenment.

Some of the wings may be a little ruffled but there is no doubt this is the City of Angels.

Sawadee Khap

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