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Bangkok Thus Far

Just had a lovely breakfast of tasty chicken porridge with springy chicken meatballs and lots of diced century eggs. Our hotel overlooks part of the Central Business District, which from above looks like Kuala Lumpur with far more trees. It's a great view, with residences and service apartments apparently rising out of a forest from the city floor. The hotel itself is pretty snug and homely, being home to largely Asian families and young (married) couples. I settled into our apartment right away. There are potted jasmines outside my window, and of course, all those trees even farther below. It is the first time in a long while I've looked forward to waking up every morning.

There's a high Japanese population of expatriates in our area, so it is extremely easy to find Japanese signage and goods just by walking out the door (or not -- everything in our apartment has Japanese translations on the tags before the English ones). To give you a better idea of just how many Japanese people live in our apartment block alone, half the library downstairs is stocked with Japanese texts. The high expatriate population in the area also contributes to a higher level of English proficiency all around, so it's fairly easy to communicate with the shops. This isn't entirely true elsewhere. As an example, I asked a shop assistant at the airport for directions to the nearest bathroom, and he immediately looked around for someone else who understood English, though, after finding no one on hand, he did point me in the right direction. At another bathroom in a shopping complex, I asked the schoolgirls in front of me if they were waiting for a free booth, and all three of them looked confused but friendly. One of the girls let me go ahead of her, which was nice. So English communication does work in Bangkok, in that people do usually understand what you're saying, even if they don't usually respond in the same language.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bangkok, then and now, has been its people. They are unfailingly polite, humble and neat. I am made to realize how rude and how loud I am in comparison. I'm hoping the soft-spoken, gentle manners of the people around me will rub off. Bangkok, at least the areas downtown I've been to, is spotlessly clean. Public toilets are well-maintained. I consider the toilets of a nation a good indication of the personality of its people. I am personally embarrassed my home city, with its population a third of the size of the one here, is not nearly so diligent about maintaining order or personal hygiene.

We arrived on opening day for the new Suvarnabhumi Airport. This was my first taste of the new Bangkok's economies of scale. Suvarnabhumi Airport is huge. Even this is an understatement. It's four floors high and like the entire Kuala Lumpur International Airport, plus satellite buildings, stuck together in one massive structure. Having said that, Suvarnabhumi was a reflection of the city in terms of chaos as well. It's not a bad chaos. Actually, it's exactly the sort of chaos I associate with Bangkok as I remembered it. Immigration, for starters, was as impossibly slow as it was 6 years ago in the old airport. It took us 45 minutes to clear the line. Our luggage arrived pretty quickly, considering the large amount of flights. Waiting in the airport's lobby while my father sought a money changer was bad. It was as though people were deliberately walking into me and our mountain of luggage, no excuses or explanations necessary. This considering I was pretty much standing against a wall, well away from an exit. Finding a taxi was difficult. There were three large lines of people and three wranglers up front whistling at oncoming groups of taxis. Large fleets of taxis waited further away for permission to enter the airport's waiting area. Bad communication between the two groups meant that there were never nearly enough taxis in the waiting area (resulting in a massive backlog of passengers) and far too many taxis banked up outside the airport.

Once out on the highway, the entire scale of things hit me again. New construction in the last few years have carved gigantic shopping complexes and hotels into the skyline. I felt like an ant. Bangkok is the first city I've ever met that makes me feel so tiny in comparison. City traffic is still terrible, so walking and trains are still the way to go. Speaking of which, Bangkok has dramatically increased its train services since I was here last, to a truly impressive scale. The twin-level tracks running through the major shopping areas are virtually never empty. It's clear that the general wealth of the population has increased in the last few -- many of the old cheap open-air shopping areas have gone, replaced by the new malls mentioned above. It is still possible to buy fake branded goods, but the new malls carry a very large selection of the real thing, which seem to be selling very well. Clothes and related accessories are hardly cheap. The prices, due to the departmental stores, are currently on par with Kuala Lumpur, and I found that even while on sale, many things were actually cheaper in Kuala Lumpur during one of our major sale seasons (there are about 3 official nationally sanctioned sale months a year there).

Electronics and computers are also more expensive than in Kuala Lumpur, where these thing are duty free (and depending on what you buy, made locally). We went hunting for a desktop for dad. Pan Tip Plaza, the local equivalent of Kuala Lumpur's Low Yat Plaza, is, like every other shopping complex in Bangkok, built on a massive scale. Unlike Low Yat, however, choices are extremely limited. There's much less competition here for shops to outdo each other in terms of hardware. It took us 3 hours of wandering over 4 floors to find a shop that carried up to the Athlon 5000+. Many shops offered basic sets with 512k RAM and 80 GB HDs. Prices were generally a couple of hundred ringgit above Kuala Lumpur. High-end casings (read: something that doesn't look recyclable) were virtually non-existent. According to the shop we eventually settled on, there isn't enough of a market base to sustain sales of the higher-end products.

Bangkok has a population 3 times the size of Kuala Lumpur. It has, at a glance, far more branded stores at far grander scales than KL. The discrepancy in available technology boggles the mind.

We did find a nice shop (the one with Athlon 5000+s) to build dad's new box. It's the same speed as my current PC, another 3200+ with 1GB. The guy who built it, who looks like a yakuza but is very honest and perceptive about what sort of setup we required, took an hour to set up the hardware, and another hour to install the software. I have not seen wiring this neat, ever. (My own wiring looks like a hamster recently nested in it.)

Food in Bangkok is still dramatically cheaper than KL. A hot hotel meal for two people costs about RM20 (USD$4). A good, clean shopping complex food court coughs up food for two at half of that price. The supermarkets conspire to make me cry. There is so much fresh produce. So many kinds of wonderful tasty things. At such brain-meltingly cheap prices. I am, however, still looking for my elusive deep fried catfish salad. I had a Northeast version of the catfish salad yesterday, which turned out to be stir-fried boiled catfish with mint, kaffir lime leaves, chillies, lemongrass, shallots and lime juice, accompanied by a local compressed rice dish. The dressing was appetizing, though far above my heat tolerance levels. I ended up abandoning half the food because my throat was reacting badly to it. I have insane cravings for Thai banana fritters, which are like Malaysian banana fritters, except the batter has coconut milk in the mix, and everything gets coated in sesame seeds. Ate about 6 pieces on Saturday. It costs about RM2 (USD$0.50) for 10 pieces.

And now to go relax (with hamster wheels) for the rest of the month.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 2nd, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC)
So, basically, you're saying that we should visit KL and not Bangkok? ;)

I am made to realize how rude and how loud I am in comparison.
I have such a hard time imagining that. Although I've never met you in person, I've been reading your lj from some time now and I've heard your mp3 reading... you seem like such a softspoken person!
(unlike me... I can be highly obnoxious once in a while - my closest friends can atest to it for better or for worse).

I like how you so easily find a way to mention hamsters in your entries. :)
Oct. 2nd, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC)
So, basically, you're saying that we should visit KL and not Bangkok? ;)

Ack! No, I didn't say that! ;)
Bangkok is a really nice place. It's just not quite what it used to be for shopping reasons. But for food, and what must easily be the politest, sweetest, nicest, most honest people ever, it's amazing. I'm still blown away by the people part.

Though of course I would be chuffed to my ears if people visited KL too. ;P

People usually complain I speak so softly they have trouble hearing me. I've been listening carefully to the Thai language as it's spoken, and it seems this is a language designed to have the tonal differences of Mandarin, but softened in such a way that Thai people couldn't sound impolite even if they were shouting. Case in point, Thai rock pop -- you know it's really a rock song, but when the singer starts up, it's so soft.

Granted, I'm told I'm softspoken only until someone gets me on one of my "topics". Religion, for example, or anime, or heaven forbid, hamsters. I can sort of project my voice if I paid enough attention, I just usually prefer not to because then I worry I'm too loud. There is at least one friend I willfully choose not to believe who insists, "the only problem with your politeness levels is that you're too polite!" ;)

So I'm trying to make up for it in this country by thanking people and bowing a lot. Not a Japanese bow... it's kind of a nod that extends lower down my back -- an old habit I try not to lose because it helps make me look small and harmless. Doesn't hurt, since I am now in a culture where people really do seem to be going around trying to look small and harmless!

Interestingly, my original format for this post was an itinerary by Day, with frequent, "Food! GLOMP!" noises. I am still tempted to just ditch this post and go with a food diary here. ;)
Oct. 3rd, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
Approximate rude Vampster conversation :

"Hmm. I think that'd look better as bold text rather than underlined. NO WAIT! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be rude! Please forgive my horrible personal rudeness!"
Oct. 3rd, 2006 06:14 am (UTC)
*facepalm* Yes, and you would be the most recent friend who said my only problem was that I was too polite. ;P
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )