Bangkok: "Recovering"


Soi 1
October 18, 2006

Dear Family and Friends,

Almost every day I lean against the low wall of the large sixth floor terrace of my apartment building. I look west towards the Bangkok skyline. The sweet, salivating unmistakable aroma of barbeque chicken wafts up from the vendors on Soi 1, my little street below.

Behind me sits the small, yet adequate swimming pool my orthopedic doc has encouraged me to use.

Yes, I know you are wondering about my right knee, now one month since surgery. In a word, I am recoveringslowly.

In addition to the swimming and a daily quadriceps building exercise (back against the wall, feet apart and forward, slowly sliding my back up and down the wall) I am walking around the neighborhood for meals, Internet, newspaper, coffee, dry cleaning and an occasional oil massage.

Last Saturday I managed a taxi ride to Panthip, the enormous and crowded six floor shopping mall devoted solely to consumer electronics. I got a couple of quotes on custom-built PC's. On Sunday I took the BTS Skytrain (elevated subway) to Peterson Piano Gallery where I auditioned several used Yamaha uprights. On Monday I rode the BTS and transferred to the MRT, the new, attractive, spotless and efficient underground subway, to the Fortune Tower -- another electronics mall where I listened patiently to the unassuming and non-aggressive salesmen telling me about HP and Acer models.

Speaking of the Internet, I hired David B. as my new webmaster. We are making good progress on my Web site. More on this later.

And speaking of swimming, I nearly took a swim of a very different stroke last Tuesday evening.

For the past several weeks, Thailand, and many other areas of Southeast Asia, has been inundated with annual storms. Bangkok has had its fair share.

After a heavy tropical rain, the streets in my neighborhood are temporarily flooded. But the sidewalks are passable. Except when a car speeds by. Then I need to watch out for the waves coming "ashore."

Last Tuesday evening just after working hours, the rains simply swamped the sewer pumping stations. Along with everyone else in Bangkok, I walked home through about a foot (30cm) of water from the main thoroughfare down my Soi, about 500m to my building.

Try to imagine me on my gimpy knees with less than 100% balance, as I grope and stagger down the darkened flooded sidewalks through the murky river. With each sliding step I anticipate the sidewalk will end and I will plunge deep into the street level up to my calf or knees. And cars and motorbikes send breakers in my direction. Hang ten!

I am reluctant to describe the contents of the black solution sloshing about my legs. Later I showered thoroughly and applied hand sanitation lotion to my feet, ankles and legs. Fortunately I was wearing an old pair of jeans and an old pair of walking shoes. The shoes started to stink as they dried. I ditched the shoes. I kept the jeans.

And my reaction? And the Thai reaction? "What is, is." Not a horn beeps, not a finger or a voice is raised in frustration or anger. My wading comrades just chat and smile.

I should not be so cavalier, so flip. In the north, there is considerable suffering. Farmers have lost livestock, crops, homes. Photos of desperate families floating about in the floods appear daily in the newspapers. Apparently, the rains are normal, but the water management system in several areas has failed. Up north, they are also recoveringslowly, very slowly.

Just this past Sunday, Amir, my young Israeli landlord/friend, invited me for a ride in his new black vehicle. A Toyota HiLux, a Thai-style luxury SUV -- a four-door, five-seater with an open flat bed in the rear. Our destination is Chatuchak Weekend Market. There are 15,000 stalls with 200,000 shoppers a day. They've got everything from roosters to rattan, clothing, house wares, souvenirs, tropical fish, art work, snakes, it’s all here.

Amir wants to show me an antique piano he spotted there last week. (The piano was a total wreck.) I think the piano was just an excuse he gave to Gay, his Thai girlfriend. He bought an old glass gum ball machine. Last week he lugged home a 60's jukebox. He's into that old stuff. "Old" for him, anyway. He’s a little meshuggah, but who isn't?

And if the rains abate today, I'll be back on the terrace for my swim.

Cheers from your back-stroking buddy,

"Poyai" Jan

PS The lady on the street below who sells the chicken also sells som tam. Som tam, spicy papaya salad, is the national dish. First, red hot chilies and garlic cloves are mashed together in a huge mortar and pestle. For Thai people, the som tam lady throws in a handful of chilies. I remind her, "Neung chili - Just one for me, please." Then a glob of brown sugar, lime juice, cherry tomatoes and peanuts and finally a handful of julienne green papaya and pieces of green beans and other juices I don't know what the hell they are. I decline the dried baby shrimp and the cut up live baby crab. When the mixture is complete, the lady scoops out a large spoonful of salad. I dip my fingers in and take a taste. I smile and respond, "Aroi mak mak." Very delicious, which it is, of course. And hot for me, even with only one chili.

I get a large chunk of fried chicken that she chops into bite size pieces. Finally a package of sticky rice. Yes, these grains of rice stick to each other in a large compressed mass. Properly eaten, I pull pieces off the pack by hand and dip them and the chicken into the som tam juice, but not before, back in my apartment, I microwave the chicken.

The som tam lady doesn't know my name. But she can see my hair and observe my gait. So, she calls me "Poyai." a term of respect with a dollop of friendship. "Po" means "papa" and "yai" literally means big. So, she calls me "grandpa." I smile. I am happy in my neighborhood.

Speaking of neighborhood: I will be visiting Miami for Thanksgiving. I arrive on 21 November. By chance, I found an apartment to rent in Aventura, my old neighborhood. So I will see you/talk to you soon. My Miami mobile number is still working.


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