This past week has been a series of snapshots owing to the fact I have been locked down to the Bangkok region of Pathum Wan with the dreaded chest infection. When these pale afflictions strike you down it gives you a good chance – as you lie abed hacking, wishing you were in a better, kinder afterlife for at least a couple of blissful seconds – to play “Cluedo” and work out the heinous monster who gave this evil disease to you, in which room, and their method of delivery; like the unwashed hand on the bathroom door, or the direct sneeze in the face. I have a friend who was awoken on a flight by a man queuing to join the ‘Mile High Club’ who decided to sneeze directly into his face. The aggressor repeated the action just to ensure my friend knew it was no dream. And then followed it up with the injured look, slight shrug, and mumbled “Wot? I is ill, innit? Soz.”
Ah…the delights of the traveller. Being in a plane is almost like being in an elevator. I confess I’d love to adopt the Dara O’Briain stance on how to act in an elevator…just the once. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Te9r8F7mIFU
Anyway, as you sift through the cast of suspects – given you by the diplomat who has declared that “everyone at work’s got it!” – you find that ticking off a list of people acts much like counting sheep and you drift off into a dreamy land of Tylenol-fuelled slumber to awake as your lungs impolitely request exit from your chest cavity about 30 minutes later.
My – by now fairly usual – week comprises a day of work punctured by a cycle ride round Limphini Park, a trip to Villa Market, contemplating a swim, playing with Isla, making endless bottles of milk, “Sawadee Krup”ing a dozen Thais whom I now know by sight if not quite by name, and waiting to hear the latest diplomatic news from diplomat on her return from the hallowed echelons of a ‘cocktail party and paperwork’ lifestyle. With regard to the penultimate item on my list, the diplomat and I noted yesterday that the guard on our front gate has been promoted to the rear of the building. This is not as odd as it sounds because he now also gets to direct the apartment traffic in accordance with his onomatopoeic heel “click” and snappy salute. The beaming grin on his face shares his promotion with all of us and I have to say that he is a welcome sight on our return to our abode. He is the alpha and the omega of our sashays up to Central Chit Lom where I either run the smooth disapproving look of the diplomat as I push Isla up the four lane highway against the traffic who flow around us or the gamut of the pavement moguls which are getting more and more broken. It is the final 20m to the intersection that are the worst as the building on the end is being torn apart to make way for a new “Mercury Food Emporium”. The cavalier attitude to H&S is remarkable. We dodge falling masonry, inhale bongs worth of diesel fumes, get caked in dust and emerge into the pristine air conditioning of one of Bangkok’s premier malls.
The mall at Chit Lom reminds me of the film “Mannequin” with Kim Cattrall and Andrew McCarthy. In the sense it’s a huge emporium which every night undergoes a magical transformation in its shop windows and interior décor. OK, so it’s an army of workers every night rather than two guys and a doll, but the otherworldliness of it all must exist. Almost every day we walk into a new place: flower gardens give way to Lexus racing sets; Andy Warhol inspired neon scenes collapse into softly lapping shores with Crème De La Mer stands; glittering jewels that sing a siren call of diamonds and pearls fade away to the oiled scent of leather bags – Furla, Versace, Boneta, Prada. It’s a microcosm of opulence at times that ushers you onto softly carpeted floors selling everything you could ever want. Even the gloriously tacky is somehow more polished, a whisper on the senses rather than a harsh braying. Of course, the walls are given life by a polite mass of gurgling humanity where pushchairs and wheelchairs are ushered into elevators first, where I‘ve never seen a frown, not heard a raised voice. This is a place where service rules. Where item guarantees are filled out, plastic bags presented just so, fitting room doors are opened, scents waft delicately, not overpoweringly. The sales assistants want to help you, not sell to you. It works, it works well because you relax and spend just a little more than you might in the crush of a Bluewater shopping Centre.
Can you tell I like it?
So, the week cruised past. I tried to play tennis and cycle with the aforementioned chest infection. I don’t take kindly to illness and the tried and trusted method of “ignore it and it doesn’t exist” paid some small dividends as we raced towards the climax of the week which was Isla’s first birthday!
We had a mathematical moment of humour as we worked out that Isla being born at 17:25GMT on November 16 2011 meant she turned 1yr old at 00:25BKK on November 17. It’s not often you have to celebrate over two days! Anyway, as everyone in possession of a small child knows, the first birthday is really all about the adults and the shiny wrapping paper for the person of honour. Oh and a cake that will ensure other kids go home with their parents spinning faster than a fast spinning thing. Having ordered a vast quantity of beer, the diplomat decided we would have a BBQ ribs party – it’s a Canadian rite of passage – on the Weber we’d shipped out for our balcony. I was happily contemplating the interior of our fridge when she staggered back in on the heels of a “whuuummmpppffff” that I heard, considered, then discarded as Bangkok background noise. The smell of ozone from singed hair permeated our kitchen slowly. Turns out the BBQ had gone out as it was down low, she’d reignited it and watched as an entire side of pig lifted with its metal grating about two inches as it blocked a mini fireball. Pan flashed ribs, anyone? It was a minor hiccup on the way to culinary excellence and combined with our double cheese mixed jacket potatoes, two enormous salads, some Baileys liqueur infused cake morceaux, and multiple White Russians the party got underway.
This wasn’t three hookers and a baby. It was fifteen diplomats and a toddler. Ah, how time changes in rapid order. Meanwhile, a scant 250m away from this heaving rave a certain Barack Obama was cruising into the Four Seasons, Bangkok where a suspiciously large number of people were having brunch there (it’s a good brunch, but not that good!), new cameras and crash gates were installed, and the number of security personnel had increased noticeably. I have to say, burly Americans stick out like a sore farang here. I cycled Limpini yesterday morning and found myself weaving around people carrying cameras, trying hard to look inconspicuous, and otherwise exuding “Secret Service” tattoos on their foreheads. I got all this from watching Hollywood film, of course. Happy Days, and not of the Henry Winkler kind.
So…that was the week. Our guard got promoted, Isla turned 1, the diplomat tried a perfume of “Eau D’burnt–hair-from-a-BBQ-explosion”, the President of the United States caused me to cycle Limphini slower than normal, and the sun continued to blaze out of a 33C sky.
Is this what diplomacy is all about? A little bit.