A Travellerspoint blog

The perils of swish parties

Why hanging with diplomats sounds more fun than it actually is...

rain 30 °C
View D heads back to Asia on DenaAllen's travel map.

May 13, 2009 – 10:32 pm

DSC03820.jpg

Hot men in suits. Scads of them. Hot European men in suits. And I still left the party early. The European Union Commission’s celebration of Europe Day. The 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Ambassadors, business moguls and the women whose plastic surgery they pay for. What a bore!! To be fair, I’m sure it would have been more fun had I been a) European, b) gave a crap about Europe Day, and/or c) knew a single soul at the party.

DSC03808.jpg

I had a chat over a plate of porcini mushroom risotto with a very friendly young Polish man. I actually thought he was kind of hitting on me till he said he developed a taste for risotto while working in Rome. At the Vatican. It was only then that I cunningly detected the priest collar – surely I would have noticed!!

DSC03827.jpg

Then drank champagne with a down-to-earth Turkish couple. Looking at the long line of middle-aged white men onstage, we joked there was no room left in the spotlight for Turkey to join the EU. They told me of their eleven-year old daughter and all the exotic species one can buy at the weekend market as pets. They were nice, despite their affinity for endangered wildlife.

DSC03847.jpg

The folksy Turks moved on and I was left standing there looking rather at ends. This leaves one open to attack by glamazons. Tottering precariously on her stork-like legs, too high Lucite heels and too short skirt, the 6-foot “third runner up for Thailand’s entry to Miss Universe 2008” descended on me. She gushed. I cringed. She admitted that she was a professional party goer/’local colour’ scenery prop.

DSC03805.jpg

I could barely make out a word she was saying, something about her agent and past beauty pageant triumphs. She asked and I told her I worked for an international children’s charity. “Me tooo!!!!” she squealed. “I’m a Christian also!” ummmmmm, yeah. I shifted uncomfortably in my patent heels and started blathering about our non-religious, non-political stance. She clasped my hand fervently to reinforce all that we had in common. She wouldn’t let go of it. She was now stroking it like it was a 3 week-old puppy. I was uncomfortable and she was crazy. I made a panicked dash for a smoked salmon canapé and zigzagged to the Grey Goose vodka table for good measure.

DSC03858.jpg

The crowning glory of the evening was the 7-foot high pyramid of white cupcakes with mini-EU flags tooth-picked into them. I really really REALLY wanted to take a picture of it with my camera phone but felt sure that would be frowned upon by the diplomatic corps. Next time.

Posted by DenaAllen 07:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Nekkid & blushing

And wondering how I got here...

sunny 35 °C

May 4 2009 – 8:34 pm

DSC03751.jpg

It’s a good thing I have a healthy body image and am not squeamish about nudity. Or else I might have been more than mildly embarrassed laid out butt-ace nekkid, face up, on the massage table with nary a sheet nor a towel to cover my fine self.

Here’s what happened.

I get chronic headaches when I’m under pressure. I’m under a lot of pressure with the new job. Massage therapy is the only thing that helps. There’s a massage joint pretty much every three feet in Bangkok, but there are massage places and then there are massage places. I’m looking for the former. Let the despicable sex tourists stick to the latter.

DSC03746.jpg

So I’ve been on a mission of discovery to find my favourite massage joints in my neighbour. So far I have it narrowed down to two – Lavana on Sukhumvit Soi 12 and Asian Herb Association on Soi 31. They’re fantastic. Professional, skillful and friendly. And at about $12 for an hour-long traditional Thai massage, well, a girl can’t complain.

But here’s what happened.

My buddy girl from Canada was visiting recently and we decided to try out the oil massage at Lavana as I usually go for the pajama-clad traditional Thai one. We were booked in for a “couples massage” and were on separate tables in the same room.

DSC03733.jpg

Our massage therapists presented us each with a pair of “disposable underwear” in plastic wrap. They were black nylon and obviously designed for Asian proportions. They looked binding. Nuh-uh. No way was I doing that. So I just went al fresco like I always do at home. Sweet Buddha under the bodhi tree. That was a tactical error of serious proportions.

The massage ladies giggled when they returned to find we’d given the nasty nylon knickers a pass. I thought they were just being prudish. Nope, they were being eminently practical. Let’s just say that the massage got a lot more, ummmm….”active” than I am used to and limbs got positioned at angles that would have made the wearing of underwear a very, very good idea. Those poor ladies got quite a show. And now it was our turn to giggle nervously.

DSC03693.jpg

Did I mention that there was a brisk but thorough breast massage included?? Now, I carry tension in a lot of places. I carry tension in my shoulders, my head, my jaw, my neck especially. But I can’t say as I carry tension in my breasts. Not that I’ve ever noticed at least. Please remember, these are solid professional massage therapists working in reputable salons – I can only imagine what happens in those massage places!!!

So this brings the story back to me, completely naked, on the – in my opinion – overly lit massage table at the new place. I had booked in for another oil massage. This time I was ready. I left my knickers on, no need for uncomfortable disposable ones or the even more uncomfortable scene I would find myself in without them. I was prepared.

DSC03646.jpg

But no. When my massage lady came in and saw my underwear she clucked her tongue at a rapid rate and went “Huh?? Nonononononoooooo!!!” while giving my bum a few friendly pats to drive the point home. She then proceeded to roll me over onto my back and PULL THEM OFF OF ME!! With the perfunctory air of a seasoned professional, she slid them over my butt, shimmied them down my thighs and up over my ankles. She then folded them neatly and placed them on the chair. Wow.

We mutually agreed that, as the A/C had kinda crapped out, the room was too hot for a towel laid over me. So on we went with the standard oil massage complete with the “active” angles and the boobie business. Good thing I’m at ease with my body. Good thing I wasn’t uncomfortable ;)

DSC03792.jpg

Posted by DenaAllen 04:36 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Shockingly smiley

It's alllll true...

sunny 35 °C

April 19, 2009 – 2:02 pm
DSC01460.jpg

Thailand’s tourism tagline boasts that it’s the “Land of Smiles”. I hate to reinforce a cheesy marketing slogan and a sweeping cultural stereotype at the same time, but you know what? It’s true.

Seriously. People here are friendly. The kind of friendly you don’t expect to find in a city of 9 million and change. Genuine. Of course there’s always going to be a few bad mangoes in the bunch who will try and overcharge you, scam you or generally take advantage of your clueless farang ace but for the most part, people really go out of their way to help you.

DSC03630.jpg

Take the all-around-super security guards at my condo. There are two fellows on the night shift and two fellows on the day shift. It’s smoking hot out there and they’re opening doors, touting bags, moving gates, flagging taxis and making sure that the condo residents and guests get where they need to go. And they do it all with a 100-watt smile, a stiff anachronistic salute and a cheery “Sawadee-kap!” Never once have I felt that I was being a bother and not once has anyone held out a hand for a tip. They seem to take great pride in making sure everyone is taken care of.

DSC03609.jpg

My friend Amanda was visiting this past week and each time we ventured out on a tourist trip, all we had to do was stand in the shade as they flagged a taxi down and made sure the driver knew exactly where we wanted to go. This morning at 5:30 am Amanda was off to the airport and the usually cacophonic streets were bare of taxis. So without hesitation the helpful security guard hopped on a bike and rode a few blocks further up the road to a busier intersection to flag one down and send it our way. That’s pretty above and beyond as far as I’m concerned. (As an aside, there’s nothing as endearing to sleep-befuddled eyes as a dignified man in uniform pedaling off into the pre-dawn blush astride a hot pink Hello Kitty granny bike tricked out with bell and basket. Classic.)

DSC03597.jpg

During the recent Red Shirt protesting/rioting/general mayhem, we had one taxi driver who very patiently at a red light took out a tourist map and pointed to where the “angry people” were and drew a nice 40 km circumference around this spot, explaining we were not to venture into this area on our tourist wanderings today. He then went on to helpfully point out all the other safe tourist highlights on the map outside of the no-go zone. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to take the time but he was genuinely concerned that we would inadvertently stumble into an urban conflict zone with our digitals snapping and our Lonely Planet waving.

DSC03618.jpg

Hell, even the Red Shirts themselves were pretty friendly when I had to walk through the street blockade they’d set up in front of my neighbour the Prime Minister’s house! On my way to get groceries, I was confronted with bullhorns and indecipherable placards and a few hundred protesters shouting and waving fists in the air. There was no mistaking that they were pissed. But as soon as I gave them a sheepish smile and an “I’m sorry” on quiet repeat, they parted like water to let me through.

DSC03773.jpg

Another case in point…showing up at the muay Thai (traditional Thai kickboxing) fights last night in the pouring rain, we were met by one stadium employee who darted out with an umbrella and ushered us under the overhang, another who – in flawless English – explained the seating prices and fight schedule for the evening, and then another who guided us through security and picked us the best ringside seat on offer. Our butts had barely hit the chairs before another smiling lady asked us if we wanted a beer. Ummmmm…does it get any better than this?? We smiled back and answered a resounding “Yes!”

DSC03765.jpg

DSC03784.jpg

Posted by DenaAllen 02:04 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Moving into the new digs...

Do heads of state lend cups of sugar?

semi-overcast 35 °C

April 5, 2009 – 4:16 pm

DSC03576.jpg

Picture yourself at the Thai version of Home Depot if you will…the joint is choc-a-bloc with do-it-yourselfers, harried moms and weekend reno warriors. There you are choosing soap dishes, plastic clothes hangers, towel hooks and other necessary, well-priced utilitarian household items. Totally tedious.

You’re staring at your rather enormous pile of goods, wondering how on earth you’re going to transport it all on home in a taxi (cos obviously the sky train is now out) when a friendly twenty-something brightly informs you of free delivery within Bangkok when you spend a minimum of 6,000 baht. Ace!! She then offers you a seat at the customer service counter and brings you a bottle of water and a plate of sweets. I’m quite certain no one at Home Depot in Regina is gonna offer you a plate of candies while they sort out your free delivery.

DSC03581.jpg

Same scene today at Central Chidlom department store. With about one sales person per 2 square metre of store space, there’s always someone at your elbow, listing the features and benefits of this or that particular product in shy and halting English. It can be somewhat annoying when you’re trying to rummage through sheet sets and you have three very animated sales ladies flitting ‘round chattering about thread counts and washing temperatures with an enthusiasm usually reserved for fine jewellery or luxury vehicles. But everyone means well. And everyone knows you’ve got foreign currency and an empty apartment.

DSC03569.jpg

So I spend, spend, spend and the special English translator lady in a smart navy suit sporting a bright red “I Speak English!” button on her lapel is called in to arrange the free delivery of my pots and pans and plates and glasses and ironing board…and the list goes on…is 10 am tomorrow good for me? Ka! Kap kun ka!

DSC03557.jpg

My new apartment is fabulous. By far and away the nicest place I’ve ever lived. The neighbourhood is industrial-strength expat. Farangs of all colours and ethnicities running around dodging the kamikaze motorbike taxies. I’m just on the edge of Little Tokyo, and so have about three Japanese restaurants and a Japanese style karaoke bar on my road. (Don’t think I won’t be polishing off a few Toyama-ken karaoke favourites...) But despite all the gleaming marble and glass dropped down smack-dab in the middle of Bangkok’s bustling downtown, we’re still in the old Siam…and I can still hear a rooster giving its lusty best every morning outside my lower-floor-high-rise window.

DSC03559.jpg

Only after moving in did I discover that the Thai Prime Minister lives about three doors down. I figure I probably live on the safest street in Bangkok as a line of soldiers are permanently parked outside his door. I watched him glide by the other night in his gun-metal grey Jaguar and attendant armed cavalcade while I struggled home with two heavy bags of groceries. Didn’t seem prudent to ask for a neighbourly lift ;)

DSC03582.jpg

The apartment building also boasts a fabulous pool, a totally tricked out gym (no excuses for being a lazy ace now!!), a 24 hour office with very helpful office ladies and a resident handyman on the main floor, and a fleet of exceedingly smiley door men who – without a single exception – all insist on calling me “sir”. The only thing that causes me confusion about my new building thus far…in a climate that maintains a steady fluctuation between hot, hotter and hottest…why in the name of Buddha do we need a sauna and steam room?

DSC03580.jpg

Posted by DenaAllen 06:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Gettin' ghosty...

semi-overcast 35 °C

March 22nd, 2009 – 1:44 pm

Went to the noodle shop round the corner with my work buddies for lunch the other day. Hot and humid and raucous with all the office workers on break, the fans struggling mightily but barely making a dent. I’ve been getting by most lunch times with pointing to pictures on menus or gesticulating wildly at items being dished out up front. It’s been working so far. But not today!

No menus, no pictures, no public dishing out to point at. And one can’t very well flip through her Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook looking for “can I have a bowl of noodles” when there’s a whole restaurant devoted to them. My eyes beseeched the Thai work buddies.

“OK, do you want thick, medium or thin noodles?”
“Medium” (seemed safe)
“Egg noodles or rice?”
“Egg”
“Fried, boiled, or in soup?”
“In soup”
“Beef broth or fish broth”
“Beef”
“Pork pieces or fish pieces in the soup?”
“Pork”
"OK, she'll bring you chilies and fish sauce and sugar so you can season it how you like."
"OK"

<my order is communicated to the sweating and harried server in rapid-fire Thai>

Uh yeah, there is noooo way the old LP would have prepared me to handle that little exchange on my own. The “pork pieces” were in fact sad little grey balls of processed pork smashed into globes. Wielding my chopsticks like a pro, I deftly transferred the slippery little suckers into Mim’s noodle bowl as payment for her translation services. I need to sign up for Thai lessons STAT!

Whilst happily slurping noodles and sipping on iced coconut juice, our meandering lunchtime conversation moved towards ghosts. It appears we have to move an upcoming event we were hosting to a different hotel because the one we have chosen is haunted. A gas cylinder in a nearby apartment exploded ten years ago, killing pretty much an entire block of people on the street. They’re pissed. They’re not going away and they’re concentrating their ghosty malevolence on the hotel. Explains why we got such a good rate.

Like other parts of Asia that I’ve been to, people here take their ghosts very seriously. There are different categories of ghosts and then different individual kinds of ghosts within those categories. It’s all very complicated. Everyone at the table told a spooky ghost story they’ve heard or that had happened to someone they knew. It was my turn. Hmmmm…not having a story to tell but not wanting to scoff, I said I could believe in their existence but I’d never seen one.

“Oh, well you just need to visit one of our tsunami reconstruction projects then! There are ghosts everywhere!,” my friend grimly informs me.

My buddy goes on to explain how directly after the tsunami, the fancy tourist hotels in many areas were used as makeshift morgues, with hundreds upon hundreds of bodies just laid out on the floor in rows. With everything in chaos and nowhere to take the bodies, loved ones stayed on those posh marble floors for days. In the tropical heat. We all shuddered.

And then it kind of dawned on me. I’ve talked about “the tsunami” tons. It was a tragic touchstone in my work at the Canadian Red Cross and I spent lots of time telling donors and reporters about our work in “the tsunami-effected areas”.

But this was the first time it was really made real for me. It wasn’t just some heartbreaking but essentially abstract event that happened a world away, but a very real thing that killed thousands upon thousands of people here, decimated the livelihoods of many, and had implications for this country and the entire region that are still felt to this day.

Our noodle slurping got pretty quiet after that. I finished my coconut juice and we went back to the office and into the blessed air-con.

Posted by DenaAllen 02:40 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 22) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »