Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Legs on the Skytrain.
Boom... the one that made it in time.
And bust... fallout from the crisis of 1997.
Wat Arun in the evening.
Life goes on as usual in the side streets.
The tiger that didn't get away.
Temporary buildings are cleared away after the Royal cremation.
Khao San Road busy if not exactly humming.
I arrived back in the village from my book launch in Bangkok at 3.00 am this morning and with Cat at college for the day the house seems pretty quiet, especially after the excitement of the last few days.
I’m relieved and happy to say that the book launch at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand of MY THAI GIRL AND I went pretty well. The room was full, they laughed at my readings and jokes and my wrist became sore from signing books. And I can even say that I enjoyed it.
I’m always nervous before a thing like this as presenting one’s creative efforts to a discerning audience takes a lot of nerve. It was especially so this time as I’ve done what I never before thought I’d do and that’s to write about myself; about Cat and me. I’d exposed myself publicly to personal scrutiny and I felt naked and vulnerable standing there before so large an audience as I began my talk.
It’s one thing to know that copies of the book are being dissected by critics in the Solomons and The British Virgin Island, as I know there to be. It’s quite another to face up to my readers in the flesh and to have to deal with their sometimes searching questions.
Anyway I bluffed my way through the evening and I think got away with it. I read them my local version of the Little Red Hen story (page 133) in which the little red hen ends up in a bar in Pattaya and then one of my more cynical chapters called, “You Can Score on Route 24”, and it all seemed to go down pretty well. What with the excellent food and service at the FCCT, I think the evening was enjoyed by everyone.
My being in Bangkok also gave me the chance to survey the state of the nation as I took a trip the next day around some of my favourite city sights. Sukhumvit had already struck me as being unusually quiet with bars and restaurants unusually empty for the beginning of high season but would I see any other fallout from the recent political and economic turmoil that has recently hit Bangkok?
From The Atlanta on soi 2, I took the Skytrain down to the river where I was strongly reminded of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 on seeing the derelict condominium development just downstream of Saphan Thaksin station. Its construction came to a halt when the Thai economy went into free fall and it still stands uncompleted, a gaunt skeleton starkly reminding of the fragility of commercial affairs in a place such as this. Could the current world financial crisis again have a similar devastating impact on the Thai economy?
I then boarded a river boat headed upstream to the Grand Palace and all the major royal and government compounds. Predictably the boat was almost empty which made it easier for me to move around and to take pictures of the brash condo tower that was successfully completed just before the firestorm hit in 1997 and of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, dramatically back lit in the early evening.
When I landed, the amulet markets on the street seemed quite busy, but then life has to go on… the pavements were crowded with ordinary Thais and monks going about their usual daily business. Perhaps these difficult times stimulate a demand for lucky charms, though the scraps of what appear to be animal skin displayed for sale suggests that the tiger very definitely ran out of luck.
I then walked to Sanam Luang, the scene of recent demonstrations and saw nothing to suggest the political turmoil that engulfed this part of Bangkok only a few days ago. In the centre of this huge open space I saw the remains of the elaborate temporary pavilions set up for the cremation last week of Her Royal Highness, Princess Galyani, the King’s older sister. These are now being demolished and they look very sad, occupied only by old men asleep, rolled up in mats against the cool of the evening.
My last stop was to visit Khao San Road, the vibrant backpacker area which is usually full of young travelers and serves as an entry point where first time visitors get over culture shock with a foot in two worlds and buy bandaids at Boots.
Since Emma and Ben, the characters in my novel, THAI GIRL, first started their holiday in Khao San Road seven years ago, the street has been substantially cleaned up and is now a twenty four hour multi-cultural festival that few younger tourists would want to miss. While the political upheavals and closure of the airport have clearly affected business, the street was still busy, though not humming in quite the way it usually is.
So I happily conclude that Bangkok is still there, is safe and welcoming and will bounce back from the recent traumas. Memories are short and after the first rash of cancellations tourism will soon take off strongly again.
I have a particular reason to be thankful that the airport has reopened so quickly as my daughter, Anna and son-in-law, Will arrive here in a few days for a precious break from the English winter. So I’ll be taking a short holiday from blogging as I’ll soon be joining them on my favourite island of Koh Chang.
Then again I’ve managed to blog pretty extensively about Koh Chang on previous trips and I’ll be taking my laptop with me!
Can blogging become an obsessive/compulsive disorder? Maybe it can.
The “Thai Girl” Blog 9th December 2008