Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bedding Down In Bangkok, Fads and Ecclesiastes

Good fun was had in Bangkok over the Lunar New Year weekend.

Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3
Already, on the way to check out the new Changi Airport Terminal 3, there was the Great Currency-Exchange Exchange:
Accountant: What's your method of converting from Thai Baht back to Singapore Dollars?
Lawyer: Oh, I just divide by 20.
Accountant (derisively): No! You should multiply by 0.5.
Lawyer: ....

[1 minute later]

Accountant: See, I just got 1,000 Baht for S$50. If you divide 1,000 by 50, what do you get?
Lawyer: ....
Accountant: Oh.

[3 minutes later]

Accountant: No, you shouldn't divide by 20. That's too difficult. You should take away a zero then divide by 2.
Lawyer: ....
Accountant: Oh.
Lawyers 3 - Accountants 0

Bed Supper Club, Bangkok
A few hours later, once past the iconic Bangkok traffic, we hit the ground eating. At Bed Supper Club, a spaceship designed by Orbit Design Studio docked in a disused lot on Sukhumvit Soi 11, the 5-course surprise menu meant that we were surprised to find that the noodles in our bell pepper soup were made of mozzarella and that our char siew was actually duck.
Bed Supper Club Lunar New Year Celebrations
In honour of the Lunar New Year, there were waitresses with tight spacesuit cheongsams with slits waist-high climbing up ladders, a lion dance, tumbling acrobats, a fortune-teller with non-ethnic tarot cards, non-ethnic fortune cookies...
Rat Year at Bed Supper Club
...and also a housekeeper rat dusting diners off. Restaurant not just as venue for imbibing cooked food but as stage, as packaged experience: comfort and surreality, identifiable tastes and unidentifiable ingredients, performance and audience participation. Oh sure Bed Supper Club's surreality and subversiveness is faddist and trendoid, but we had one of the best meals in Bangkok there.

The Orangery Restaurant, Siam Paragon
The Orangery Restaurant at Siam Paragon was a pool of the kitchens of several culinary Bangkokian institutions, including Blue Elephant. At least the food at Bed Supper Club was yummy. Dishes from the Blue Elephant kitchen were either too bland or saltish.

MBK Food Centre
Standards at the MBK Food Centre had gone the way of US subprime loans as well. Tasteless stewed pork. Sour mangoes in the mango and sticky rice. Next time, we'll hit the alleyways and plastic chairs.

Ruen Nuad
Massage-wise however, things were good at the little boutique Ruen Naud Massage Studio on Soi Convent in Silom. Good, that is, for the masseurs since they weren't accidentally kicked in the teeth while their customers were in the throes of the uncontrollable tickles. Ok, good also for us that the masseurs were pretty thorough and took no prisoners.

Peanuts + Ice Age 2
Because holidays are the only times I bother to turn on the telly, there was quite a bit to catch up on: being educated that CSI had 2 spin-offs since I last watched an episode, dancing with death by eating peanuts while laughing hysterically at the loser-ness of the prehistoric squirrel in Ice Age 2,

Donuts + Last Life In The Universe
attempting to watch Last Life In The Universe in bed while balancing a box of diabetes-inducing Dunkin Donuts and bottles of teeth-melting thai tea on the covers. ("Attempting" because after gasping in horror as the suicide-fetishistic Kenji swung from the ceiling, some of us fell asleep. Then after giggling as blood was splattered over Kenji's neatly stacked books, others of us fell asleep and soon the reception was ringing in the 5am wakeup call for the red-eyed dash back to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport.)

Woke from a short nap over southern Thailand enroute to Singapore to more laugh out loud moments with a visually spectacular and typically irreverent episode of Top Gear, the Polar Special, where the Jeremy-James-Hammond trio attempt a man+husky versus machine race to the magnetic north pole. The driving over international waters with a gin and tonic in hand was brilliant. And later, the bickering Jeremy Clarkson and James May, having painfully hacked their way out of a field of ice boulders (and Jeremy having gotten a bolt unstuck from between his lips), tried to rekindle some of the fun that seemed to have gone missing from their race to the North Pole:
James: I spy with my little eye something beginning with...'S'.
Jeremy: Snow.
James: Yes.
Jeremy: I spy with my little eye something beginning with...'S'.
James: Sky.
Jeremy: Yes.
James: I spy with my little eye...
Jeremy: If it's something beginning with 'S', I'm going to kill you.

Watch it here:









Anyway, we'll never be able to do Amazing Race because we failed in all our stated Bangkokian missions:

Mariage Freres Tea at L'Espace de l’Oriental
No. 57 for the birthday boy and Mariage Freres tea for the lovely ladies who like Mariage Freres tea: fail. No. 57 was sold out in all of Bangkok. None of the MF leaves smelt any good. The Marco Polo we had with our afternoon tea at L'Espace de l’Oriental, an Oriental Hotel spin-off (nothing says Institution like spin-offs), tasted exactly like strawberry shisha.

Girdles for Geriatric Secretary: fail. Requested size too large for a shop catering to stick-thin Bangkokians.

Fill Used Love-letter Tin With Fried Insects and Bugs: fail. We spotted Bug Man on first 2 nights but thought we could score a fresher supply by going back on the last night. Of course, he'd scuttled away by then.

Oh plus our club-hopping plans failed too. Remembered the no shorts, no flipflops and ID (even if you're obviously over 20 years old and, in fact, geriatric) rule for Bed Supper Club on the first night. Then next night found us outside Club Culture and RCA (Royal City Avenue) in illegally sloppy clothes.
Flix/Slim, RCA
No matter. Flix/Slim was absurdly empty at 11pm on a Saturday night. RCA, we were told, was, like Madonna remixes, very yesterday. The downhill slide started in 2006 when the new government decided to enforce a 1-2am curfew on clubbing venues. Then the police, who had, apparently, before the coup, stayed about drinking with clubbers, started to raid clubs, suddenly shutting off the lights and the music and locking the doors and getting random people to pee in cups for drug tests.

Club Culture, Sri Ayudthaya Road
So the popular Club Astra'd moved on from RCA to be reincarnated as Club Culture on Sri Ayudthaya Road. Unfortunately, it was goth night when we got there and in the deathly silence, all that could be heard were loud Americans complaining about the emptiness of the venue.

Club Culture, it was said, was also very remixes of John Digweed. The real happening places were private parties where people could drink and dance out of sight of the authorities. Those without invites apparently congregate at Soi Ari, home to all sorts of "creatives". But in Bangkok, something new and cool is always just across the road from the raided club.

And the Thais acknowledge their faddishness.

Siam Square
In 2005/2006, Siam Square, that trend-following little village of tiny record stores, indie boutiques, tutor schools, cute cafes and secondhand bookshops just off Rama I Road, was already considered too cheesily mainstream. The It place was Soi Thonglor (Sukhumvit Soi 55).

Playground!
And along Soi Thonglor, the spotlight was on Playground!, a black-slate Colette-like self-proclaimed "novel art boutique" curating a selective collection of international magazines, indie music, glossy art books and edgy clothing, containing a Vanilla Industry Restaurant for graphic designers and other creatives to hobnob and hothouse fresh ideas.

Even then, the architects for Playground!, IAW Company Limited, when asked how long trends lasted in Bangkok, predicted "not more than one year". Playground! managed to bleed along for 3 years till early 2008. They were having a "moving out" sale when we visited.

Suvarnabhumi AirportSuvarnabhumi Airport
Fads though, mean that instead of the 1980s modernist Robot Building by Sumet Jumsai on South Sathorn Road and the 1990s Elephant Building on Paholyothin and Ratchadaphisek Roads, the first decade of the new millennia gets Suvarnabhumi Airport (ท่าอากาศยานนานาชาติกรุงเทพ-สุวรรณภูม) by Helmet Jahn. Natural light-harvesting strategies involving glazed structures = very current.

Travelling, the visiting of foreign lands, is great for the opportunity to check out the zeitgeist of the place, to see how a different culture attempts to solve the common problems of our common humanity, to observe (if possible) the cross-flows of megatrends from one country to another. Shopping colonialism per se's just too boring.

With current opportunities for cheap travel and the increase in interconnectivity without even leaving home, the pace of crossfire of ideas and the ability to observe such cross-fertilisation and change wrought by the growth and mutation of its fruit has increased greatly.

The concept of impermanence is itself not new: Heraclitus had his flowing stream; anicca formed the basis of Buddha's teachings; the Qoholet lamented, in Ecclesiastes, the vanity of human toil in light of the temporariness of human life.

Change is all very exciting when it's about the newest fad in food, fashion, music or design. But there is also the change that has to do with ageing, with decline, with deterioration, that isn't so cool; the torturous twilight of Lord Tennyson's Tithonus, a grey shadow once a man, compounded by his suspension in cruel immortality, maimed and marred by age, longing for the rest death would bring; the evil days when men will say "I have no pleasure in them". When the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut - when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low, when a grasshopper drags itself along, when desire fails, because men are going to their eternal home and the mourners go about the street (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5).

How should we live in this terminal condition brought about by birth? If life is short, shouldn't we hedonistically grab all we can before we are sucked, kicking and screaming, into the grave?

It is true, says the Qoholet, that nothing of lasting significance can be gained under the sun. All the toil that we put into getting money, objects, prestige, reputation and even the intangibles like happiness or love in this life are ultimately a vanity. Neither the fool nor the wise man can stop the inevitable march of death.

But.

There is a Creator who has created good things. Therefore remember your Creator in your days of youth. Let your heart cheer you. Enjoy the sweetness of light and the pleasure of being able to see the sun (Ecclesiastes 11:7-9). Eat, drink and work with joy. Be full of thanksgiving for your current situation. Life is unpredictable. We do not know what is waiting for us around the corner, but in the here and now, we can take pleasure in the good gifts of God.

The Creator is also the Judge who will judge all things on the Last Day. For death is not the end to all things. So even as we walk in the ways of our hearts and in the sight of our eyes, we should know that for all these things, God will bring us into judgement. So even as we enjoy our nubile youth with thanksgiving to God, we should also fear God and keep his commandments. For God will bring every deed into judgement. Nothing, none of the things we do under cover of darkness, secrecy and deception, none of the sins we continue to commit complacently because no one has caught us out and rebuked us, nothing can be kept secret from God. He will judge every deed, whether known to all or hidden. And not just the evil deeds but the good ones done behind closed doors as well. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)[1]

Bed Supper Club
26 Sukhumvit Soi 11
Bangkok

The Orangery Restaurant
4th floor, Siam Paragon
991 Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan
Bangkok 10330

L'Espace de l’Oriental
M/F, Siam Paragon
991 Rama 1 Road, Pathuwan
Bangkok

Ruen Naud Massage Studio
42 Convent Road, Silom, Bangrak,
Bangkok
Do tip your masseur directly if you're pleased with her work.

Richard Chin
[1] managed to catch only the last bit of a series of talks on Ecclesiastes that Richard Chin, National Director of Australia Fellowship of Evangelical Students, did for Project Timothy's Evening Expositions. Nice little round-up.

---------------------------------

Since someone asked, thought I'd put this here for future reference:
Useful Information
Accommodation
Best to stay near a BTS station. This is important if you fancy spending half your time stuck in traffic jams. Near = 5 minutes' walk. 15 min is too far away because you have to keep avoiding traffic, puddles, touts. Streets not necessarily well-lit depending on where you are.

Transportation
Avoiding the roads is best. If you have to take a cab, make sure they use the meter.

Shopping Centres
Not very bothered about shopping so may not have comprehensive information.
Pantip Plaza
Cheap electronics, software. There's a fried insect seller outside the building.

Platinum Fashion Mall
Warren of shops where you can buy things at wholesale prices. 1 piece = retail price. 3 pieces (normally) = wholesale price.

Popular with Singaporeans are department stores crowded round Siam BTS station. The malls are linked by a skybridge.

Central World Plaza
Singaporean aunties flock to Zen/Isetan for underwear. Best not ask why.

Gaysorn
Upmarket shops. Only possibly gay thing there is the gay men in Greyhound Cafe where there is fusion food and funny t-shirts on waitstaff. If Greyhound Cafe isn't there any more, there's another store on ground floor of Siam Paragon)

Have a look at the Erawan shrine on way to Siam Paragon. Very popular spirit house. A mad man who hacked head and body of statue off some years ago was killed by enraged streetsweepers who didn't seem to find it silly to be worshipping a hollow piece of metal that was unable to protect itself.

Siam Paragon
Large shopping complex. An ocean world and nice foodhall in basement, luxury cars on 3rd/4th floor etc. Boots the chemist for all your OTC needs.

Siam Centre
One of Bangkok's first shopping malls, so a bit dingy.

Siam Discovery Centre
Habitat and some interior deco shops.

MBK
Ground floor good for jeans. Buy titbits at TOPS supermarket unless can bargain well at shops on 3rd/4th storey. Fake watches, fake handbags, Bath and Bodyworks toiletries. There's a shop that sells cheap VCDs/DVDs of many movies, sitcoms, cable series that can only be collected the day after. Food court on 6th floor (more Thai food than international food court on 5th floor): buy tickets to purchase food. Remember to get refund on remaining tickets on same day.

Siam Square
Not a mall. Not quite the "Harajuku of Thailand". A few roads of independent shops. Gives idea of youth culture and what's in fashion at the moment. Mango dessert store there not bad. Hard Rock Cafe somewhere in there.

The Emporium
At Phrom Phong BTS. Another popular mallzzzz.

Chatuchak Weekend Market
Another biggie. Must go if just to see it. It sells everything from live animals to designer leather furniture. Best arrive about 9am-ish and leave by lunch when the sun and crowd become unbearable.

Suan Lum Night Bazaar
The authorities keep threatening to close this one. Not as massive as Chatuchak but loads of shops. Joe Louis Water Puppet show not bad if still there.

Patpong
Shopping sux at Patpong but there's a cart at one end that sells all sorts of obscure CDs.

Food
Somboon Seafood: worth it if you've got a group. There's a branch about 10 minutes from Patpong.

New York Times' street food recommendations here. Austin Bush takes nice pictures of Thai food.

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4 Comments:

At February 16, 2008 11:27 am , Anonymous pingu said...

We were meant to live for so much more!

 
At June 07, 2008 10:18 pm , Anonymous Ryan K. said...

Your Bed Supper Club exterior photo is easily one of the best I've come across so far :)

To introduce myself, my name is Ryan K. from Bangkok. I'm the editor-in-chief of a annual guide book called Visitor's Guide to Thailand (VGT). I would love to have your bed supper club photo featured in our upcoming issue to be released late July 2008. The guide can be found in major bookstores in Bangkok. Nevertheless, it would not be possible for me to offer any financial return on my part; however, we could credit your contribution and send a copy of the guide to your address (Singapore?). Please reply to my email at akharakit@gmail.com should you have interest in my proposal.


Best Regards,
Ryan K.
Editor-in-chief
Visitor's Guide to Thailand 2008
www.visitorsguidetothailand.com

 
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