A few days ago I was kindly taken on my first “local” led guide of Bangkok. After some deliberation I felt I really, really, really needed to locate a good bookshop in the city because, as those who know me will attest, you can leave me in one of these fine literary outposts for an entire day if you want whilst everyone goes and does something else. At my core, I am a simple bibliophile. This makes it easy for gift buying.
Having left the diplomat and Isla to attend the latter’s first birthday party invite; I headed out with my guide who hails from K-town (a sobriquet given to the first Canadian capital by the inhabitants of Kingston, Ontario) to find said bookshop. We took a taxi which gave us the chance to burn rubber down Langsuan, hang a left across the top of Limpini Park and onto Wireless Road. Wireless is the boulevard where the US embassy has its manicured gun turrets, parked behind the traditional white picket fence, swiveling their eagle eyes on any who dare blink. Nipping left just before the Thai Belgian Bridge – which, located on Rama IV, was the first fly-over built fifteen years ago in Thailand. Its construction took only two days and was part of the ‘viaduct of Koekelberg’ given by the Belgian Government to Thailand – we headed along Rama IV past the Khlong Toei Pier market which looked like you needed to be kitted out with a ball of string gifted by Ariadne herself in order to plunge into its labyrinthine depths.
A scant few soi later we turned onto Soi Ari/Sukhumvit 26, hopped out of the taxi and went to a small second hand book store named Dasa. Outside there is a small table with about a hundred or so faded books, all with the inside stamped “Bangkok” and a pencil scrawled price range from 20Baht to 100Baht. Stepping over the lintel came that sense of hush one gets whenever you enter a place of hallowed tomes. It is a narrow shop, with that gloriously musty smell that comes with books that have sat there longer than “Five Spice” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75r7UflPoNw ). The air is dry, any chatter is muted. In the middle of the shop next to a decaying register sits an expat, a book lover, a purveyor of forgotten words. He has lost most of his hair and his creased smile is more in remembrance for a life tried than the glint of passion in his curious eyes whenever I see his hands caress a faded journal. At some point during a delightful near-hour I overhear another buyer asking if the books are arranged at all. There is the slightest of indignant pauses as the owner regards the inquirer as though he has just tasted something unpalatable.
“Everything”…a subtle yet heavy stress on the word as though he is clearing his throat just to barb his point…”is in order. By genre and in alphabetical order by author.” You can sense the desire to flick his hand imperiously, dismissing the hapless tourist.
It was a happy time. My companion and I separated amiably to browse, to peruse, to examine and emit small exclamations of delight as we wandered like literary nomads through an oasis of words. I emerged from my happy riffling with a stack of books from waist to brow, spotted the “cash only” sign and glumly commenced the necessary culling. Anything I could get on a Kindle went till I was left with the classics of authors like Defoe, Eco, Racine, and Azuela. 800Baht well spent. With a hop, a skip and a light step I took one last inhalation, savouring the dust, the age, the burning crease of knowledge and blinked my way back into the cloying humidity of Thanon Sukhumvit. Yet…the heady trip that was a mixture of nostalgia and pleasure did not end there as we headed to “The Emporium” – a shopping mall which was a solar opposite. The ground floor was crowded with the international fashion autocrats – Furla, Prada, Dior, Coach, Theodore Baker, Gucci, Cartier, Mont Blanc etc. – the immaculate white uniformed guard opened the entrance for us and started a customary salute which ended with him covering a yawn.
Several escalators up I was directed towards Kinokuniya – a book store that rivals Waterstones or Indigo. It had to have been 95% English books and possessed a history section that was split by century, by culture, by event. It had a fiction section that separated science fiction from fantasy. Every single new arrival was wrapped and I lunged at them, clinging to five, six, seven before even drawing breath. A fast glance at the comic section showed me a book for the diplomat – “The Burma Chronicles” which has had the pair of us laughing and recognising our own current experiences deep within its cartoon life.
I managed to pick up a book I had never been able to find in the UK (not even in that most perfect of bookshops, Blackwell’s of Oxford) – Tottel’s Miscellany: Songs and Sonnets of Henry Howard…
A fruitful morning had indeed flourished. As the Earl of Surrey himself puts succinctly:
“And friendship may not faile where faithfulnesse is sound,
And faithfulnesse is full of fruit, and frutefull thinges be sound.”
From here we got back in a taxi and headed to “K-town’s Mini Me”. Otherwise known as K-Village http://www.kvillagebangkok.com/wine-connection-deli-bistro-gshopid11-shopid28.aspx. It is an ex-pat magnet, a small shopping village with a fantastic Wine Connection with an adjoining Italian-fusion restaurant serving bistro gastronomy at prices I still can’t quite believe. Two plates of Bolognese, a beer, a coke, water, bread all for £10. è incredibile. Having made sure we finished before 2pm – there is a law here saying you cannot buy alcohol betwen the hours of 14:00-17:00 – we sourced two nice whites and reds, some cheeses and a baguette for a light evening repast finished nicely with a lovely chocolate creation. It was time to go and we got our third and final taxi of the day, headed past the charming courtyard at Bo.lan (Sukhumvit 26) where on the first Saturday of the month an organic market is held. Next weekend, the diplomat, Isla and I will definitely go to this before we head to the ball at The Four Seasons. That’s a soiree where I have had to go buy a new suit as it’s black tie event only. However, finding a Massimo Dutti suit, tailored, for £400 was yet another incroyable! I can see how Westerners get used to being here.
That’s a story for another day and most certainly will be what diplomacy is all about. I must go polish my ferrro rocher eating skills. These things matter, you know.
To my guide…thank you. It was a most perfect morning.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?