Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Bangkok Story---Part I

Was flipping through the Penguin Book of Indian Journeys, an anthology edited by Dom Moraes and was reminded about my own journeys that I have not written about, notably, my trip to Bangkok. Here goes……

The trip, a very short one at that, started off a bit tense as I had some problem with my passport and I wasn’t sure I would be allowed to go. But the press tag solved that temporarily. The flight was boring as usual. (I hate flights, except the taking off part) Way past midnight, I was woken up by the flight attendant to be given some bland noodles. Four and a half hours later, we were at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, a huge huge place that instantly impressed me after the ramshackle thing we have for an airport at Bangalore. This place is huge, all glass ceilings and huge structures. Traditional sculptures are strategically placed all over the place. The airport itself looked like a tourist attraction.

After a tedious immigration process (official at the counter hardly spoke English, a counter for international passengers!), we gaped around appropriately for a bit and were then met by our local host, a poor little thing who must have been glad to get rid of us two days later! The drive to the apartment we were to stay in was ok. Good roads but bad traffic again. The one thing that hugely impressed me was that no one was honking away to glory there! Everyone was staying in their lanes. Absolute silence despite the number of cars on the road! Coming from Bangalore, that was such a joy to see!

But otherwise, the city of Bangkok did not impress me much. It so reminded me of Mumbai in many ways. After getting settled in an apartment that I shared with another girl, we were out at the first instant to go shopping. There was a street close by where I went shopping.

Bangkok is a tourist haven. I bought several things I didn’t need and bargained to glory. The local currency baht is pretty much equal to the rupee, so you would not be paying through your nose for anything. In all my travels, I have seen touristy places where people know you can fleece off you and do that very rudely too. But Bangkok is different in the smiles of people. Oh, you get fleeced here too but strangely, you don’t mind here because the people are so friendly!

All vendors on the street greeted me with a smile, a genuine one at that. They have a very interesting way of bargaining. Most speak very less English, if at all. They all have calculators that have a sticker with the words “How Much?” written at the back. If you point out at something that you are interested in, they punch in their price on the calculator and show it to you. Bargaining is when you punch in how much you are willing to pay, the vendor’s hands fly to his mouth in a theatrical show of shock, he vigorously shakes his head and punches in another figure and you walk off when he calls out to you and it goes on like that, a common show of bargaining that is played out across the world.

The street had some fascinating stuff. Cute little cigarette lighters, stoles, clothes, souvenirs and what not. I ended up buying dozens of stuff, little gifts, silk pillow covers, scarves, figurines of apsaras that I treasure a lot. There’s another story there…

Walking down the street, I spotted these figurines at one stall and went over to ask the price, followed by the now familiar process of bargaining. The guy began flirting shamelessly. After my purchase, he wanted to know whether I wanted to buy some horrible shorts for my boyfriend. When I said I did not have one, he asked me to buy it for my husband. When I told him I was not married, he had this big grin on his face when he said he was not married either but had three children already! I had a great laugh, took his picture and walked away with a smile on my face too. Men!

Impressions of the city, its people, more thoughts, in my next post…

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