from Kuwait to Bangkok

Rose Hotel

June 27

The final leaving of Kuwait was calm and without incident and JAL took off on time (22:00). It was a clear, dust-free night over the city and i was able to look back until Kuwait’s lights were no more. Had a final look, too, at the lights of Bahrain and imagined and recalled the many visits. That was a sadder moment than the leaving of Kuwait. Then it was down the coast to Oman and across the sea to Bombay and points east.
The flight was relatively turbulent-free; there were the inevitable bumps and rattles over the Bay of Bengal, no wonder Bangladesh gets drenched silly every monsoon, but all in all it was comfortable and enjoyable.
For the final exit from Kuwait i’d decided to leave in style and went first class. JAL treated me royally, excellent service and attention, and there was lobster and filet mignon, superior wines and champers. I couldn’t enjoy all the beverages as i was taking antibiotics for an infected thumb but i did manage a few drinks, naughty boy. The infected thumb (particles of wood lodged under the nail as i was taking a picture down last week and i had to have them scraped out) is now on the mend and the antibiotics are over and i can enjoy a few beers.
Haven’t been drinking much since i arrived nor have i been going to the bars. I’m no longer the tourist and practical considerations come first. Spent the first day doing bank things and have them pretty much under control. Then there were meetings with the people at International School at eight so i had to be up at six – no Patpong until two or three in the morning, not yet anyway. My work permit is being processed at the moment and will take a few weeks.
Spent the past four days flat hunting. Now that is a story in itself. When i had a flat here in ‘86 i paid 3,500 baht a month; the same flat today is 15,000 as the area is now regarded as one of the best in town. The commercial boom has to be experienced to be believed. People who lived in grass huts on the outskirts of the city ten years ago and owned a few acres of land are now worth 50 million baht because in the past two years they’ve been able to sell at astronomical prices to property developers and speculators. The Chinese and Japanese business communities and other blow-ins have driven the market crazy, and good accommodation in Suriwong, Silom and Sathorn is beyond my financial reach. Three-bedroom flats near the school where i’ll work go for 40,000 baht a month and all are occupied by Japanese businessmen whose companies give generous housing allowances.
But not to worry, i’ve found a place. I must be lucky because (after hours and hours of walking and tuc-tuc riding, mind you) i found a nice place off Rajaprarop Road and it becomes vacant on July 6th. It’s a studio with air-conditioning for 4,000 baht a month. No one at the school can believe my luck; some of the staff have been looking for a place in town (and Rajaprarop is right in town) for the past six months and meanwhile have to live miles away in the suburbs. The next piece of good news is that at the top of the building are three two-bedroom flats one of which becomes vacant on September 1st so i’ve already reserved it with a deposit. The studio is fine but the bigger place will be so much better and at only twice the price. But overall, the market’s out of control. Thais i’ve spoken to are of the opinion the bubble will burst in the next year and prices will tumble, it can’t go on the way it’s going. This is not a new phenomenon, many cities have had their boom and then settled to more reasonable levels, but right now Bangkok is booming.
It’s monsoon season and the rains are coming down with great weight and regularity. Mosquitos proliferate but for some reason best known to them i’ve escaped their attentions, only two bites so far and that’s a minor miracle. Having said that, i’ll probably be bitten mercilessly in the next 24 hours.
I’ve made a new friend, Clive, an Englishman based in Hong Kong who regularly visits here. He’s an electronics man with a commercial shipping company and is the spitting image of Ben Kingsley – quite an incredible double, it’s like walking down Silom Road with Gandhi himself! He’s often asked if he’s BK and has grown so tired of saying no he now says yes to please the askers and tell them what they really want to hear. He’s a delightful character with a strong interest in Buddhism. The first evening we met we talked from five in the evening till two in the morning. How about that for getting along with someone? He went to Chiang Mai on Sunday but will be back tomorrow and then we’ll resume our conversation. Perhaps we’ll go to Pattaya together for the weekend as I feel like getting away from BKK for a few days.
The city is noisier and more traffic dense and more polluted than ever and AIDS or no AIDS the girls in Patpong are doing excellent business even in this, the low season. Patpong at night now has an open market where one can buy anything from an aardvark to a baby zebra, almost. It’s a demanding experience to try and walk through the place at ten at night, one has to pick one’s way past the stalls, the vendors and the customers and at the same time dodge the girls and their touts. Believe me, it takes a bit of doing, and Fahaheel was never like this. In the middle of all the commotion it’s quite likely to find people eating and sleeping and a mother breast-feeding her baby while the father flogs you a copy of Sex, Lies and Videotape which, incidentally, is an enjoyable movie, and it’s nice to be able to see a film in its entirety without silly cuts.

June 29

Last night i met up with CG, an Australian woman i used to work with in Kuwait. She’s on her way back to Melbourne and has stopped off here for a week to show her mother around. Her mother is arriving tonight from Down Under. Anyway, we did the town last night. Since she’s staying at the Narai, a short stroll from the Rose, it was easy for us to get together. Unfortunately, last night was very rainy but we managed. She loved the ‘conducted tour’ through Patpong, and being a mature woman wasn’t upset or put out; in fact she was delighted to see how a certain portion of the world carries on. Afterwards, we had dinner at Talad Nam and got locked on cold beer. I walked her back to her hotel at 2am. It was a simple night out in just a small area of this vast city and yet we had a thoroughly enjoyable and inexpensive time; you don’t need to pay to see a floor show in Bangkok, it’s free on the streets.
Today i’m meeting up with Clive again (after I collect my 24 black and white photographs that i’ve had to have taken for residence processing purposes) and the two of us plan to go to Wat Po to visit the monks. Wat Po is an oasis of calm and sanity in this mad, noisy city. Then we may head for Pattaya as i don’t have to report to school again until next thursday. After that, things’ll get busy as i’ll be moving into my flat.
Haven’t had time to think about Kuwait. Last night, CG told me that Eid is on at the moment, i had forgotten. The papers here usually carry a small paragraph on the Middle East each day, and a small paragraph is enough.
It’s fascinating to browse at the newspaper stalls in this city, everything from the Helsinki Chronicle to the South China Morning Post is on sale, everyone’s catered for. The amazing Thais!

7 thoughts on “from Kuwait to Bangkok

  1. Thanks for the tour of Bangkok , history and your life, John. When i was in the army in ’68 it was every old sgt,’s dream to transfer to Thailand for the money to be made on the black market. Enjoyed your account immensely. Look forward to reading the next installment.

  2. John you recount your journey of long ago with great clarity. The personal experiences and the way in which you have related the interpersonal relationships makes your story hold this readers interest. I am anxiously awaiting your adventure to Wat Po with Clive and your impressions of the monks. Getting grounded and complying with the residency requirements has the same feel as almost anywhere else. Bureaucratic redundancy to the enth degree. I like the feel you describe of Patpong. Hustle lives everywhere.

  3. Good one. Much enjoyed. Been some years since I was in Bangkok, ’85 I think. Sounds about the same. Have some interesting photos from Pat Pong – one classic. No idea what to do with it. Have been in Chang Mia which was known for umbrellas then if I remember correctly. Never been to Pattaya. Wat Po was wonderful, my favorite spot. So cool and peaceful. Do they still do massage there? I envy your travels. I don’t get around as much as I used to. Amsterdam next month, one of my few escapes from reality. Keep posting!

    • Thank you, Bruce, for the lengthy comment and for sharing your own experiences. These entries are from my time living there (1990-92) and once i left Thailand to come and live in Singapore i’ve not been back to Bangkok except in transit at the airport and friends who now visit Thailand regularly tell me i wouldn’t know the place so much has changed.
      Yes, Chiang Mai was and still is home of the umbrellas and Wat Po still does massage.

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