I love gnarly shiny Bangkok with its jarring juxtapositions. Vendors selling anything and everything you didn’t know you needed (vibrator anyone?) for miles and miles along potholed smelly sidewalks, next to towering air conditioned shopping malls, the likes of Terminal 21 – a play on a 5 story airport, each floor representing a different country. The ease of speeding from one gristly or glittery part of the city to another on the Sky Train. Thais holding smoking incense sticks at their heads while bowing to temples with golden Buddhas in the shadows of mega skyscrapers.
I ate a hurried meal of naan and curry on the street of Bangkok’s little Arabia, and watching the people pass by in the streets was like being on the film set of Arabian Nights – not entirely surprising considering both the Pakistani and Dubai embassies are located nearby.
Bangkok reminds me of Bombay in “Shantaram”, the book I am currently reading. It is the biggest, most bustling, economically alive melting pot of a city I’ve seen in the world. It’s good, bad, beautiful and ugly all stirred together. And it works.
I am here to get my visa renewed. Easy enough to speed to the Indonesian Embassy across the steamy city on the highly efficient and cooled sky train. And it was no surprise when I arrived at 1PM – the hour advertised on the Indonesian Embassy website that they open – that someone had pasted a piece of paper with the number ‘2’ over the ‘1’. So to kill time, I thumbed through hundreds of pirated movies and music at the nearby Phuntip Plaza – a 4 story shopping mall entirely dedicated to all things digital.
I am also in Bangkok for my yearly physical exam at one of the world’s most medically advanced and inexpensive (by US standards) hospitals. Kings and queens and just about everyone else with even a little bit of money or means in Asia come to Bumrungrad for medical care. Today in the waiting room I met a pilot from Ethiopia, a woman from Bangladesh, and an American couple living in China. I saw women wearing black burkas with only eye slits sitting next to women in flirty, silk lace-edged veils, and men with table cloths on their heads and white pillboxes, some wearing white flowing gowns (and these weren’t hospital gowns), and I have no idea who and where all these people come from. But come they do.
See the story I wrote on this hospital in 2003. (Scroll a ways down on this blog roll).
I stood next to an older guy outside the elevator in the hospital who when I asked for directions to Building A, sounded like he was from Iowa, and then I noticed his name tag said Chief Executive Officer, Bumrungrad Hospital. Dennis Brown showed me the short cut to get to the next building over for my next appointment.
Next time I come to Bangkok I’m going to check out the Chulalongkorn Hospital where they have a snake farm out back.
With Love from Bangkok,