Monday, 30 September 2013

Narz, bangkok, Surchumvit soi 23

Like all clubs in Bangkok, you could miss it if you didn't know what to look for. It could be a shack on a river, but this is  Sukrchumvit, not any river.

In the heart of downtown Bangkok, this place knows where it’s the shit, so don’t be a backpacker fresh of the boat expecting to mack some chicks. You need to bring some game and some money. Partying doesn't come cheap, no matter city in the world you are in.

Cover can run you 400 baht and 2 more drinks on top of that. For those of you who haven’t learned how to use the exchange app on your phone, that’s about $20 US.  There are 2 floors. The first floor is mostly native Thais. The second storey is the hip hop drum and bass you’re used to-- with a Thai flavour, of course... This is a native club. This is where the natives go party. If you’re anything but Thai, expect to feel out of place.

 If you like to be in the thick of things and really feel what it’s like to live in different country and feel the shit-- this is the place to go. You won’t find this on Lonely Planet.  People like you don’t get invited.

Downstairs is mostly a trance to chill out out. For a more hip hop vibe go upstairs. Most of the patrons are young students. This is where they go to chill and let loose. If you are not down with that, don’t bother. This is not a meat market. They are not here to get laid and fuck old white men. That’s what Khosan Rd is for. This is a place to chill. Studies are down, work is over, lets’ dance and party.

Drinks, on average are like what ever you would expect to pay in the US-- 5-6 a drink. Or 250 baht.  Finding the place is only for those in the know. We know it is.
The other day I was bored so I went to a place called Patpong. What a place. I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll start at one end of the street. By the time I got 2 metres, I had been offered 23 ping pong shows. I refused them all. After about another 50 feet, I got sucked into a place called King’s court. I think it was the cheap Sam Miguel that sucked me in. It’s a premium where I come from, but dirt cheap at this place.
As soon as I sat down, I was immediately attracted by the suicide girls. Girls with curves. Not like most Asians who are all skin and bones, but healthy Russian or black or Chinese-- girls with curves amid tattoos and shit. Big boobs. The cheap beer wasn't bad either.
After dealing with the pimps and madams,  the girls approached me on their own. I bought a few drinks; they actually bought me a few. When they were finished “working” we went for some food. I ate Thai food they don’t normally serve to us Westerners because they think it’s too spicy.
It was a good meal and a good time.

I went back. This time they knew me, and set me up like royalty. We were allowed to relax without being “tout”ed by a bunch of touts. The girls I met before made their rounds, we drank our drinks.

Cost-- nothing
Place-- Patpong

Monday, 9 September 2013

One Week in Bangkok...

There are too many options and most of them are only available to locals. This is not to say that you can't take them, only that you may not be aware of them. I could take a bus if I knew how to read Thai... but I can't, so every trip is an adventure to an unknown destination in the general direction I want to go.
There are these Toyota mini pick-ups everywhere. They're like the local version of the local bus routes. If you are on an actual bus, it's probably an intercity/district bus. Tuk-tuks (the tourist money grab), motorcycle taxis, and these pick-up trucks are the transportation mode of the day. They cost about 30 cents (10 baht) per ride. If you pay more, you're being ripped off and you should get out or re-negotiate (cost of the trip is usually discussed at the beginning of the journey). 400 baht ($13) may not seem like much of a fortune to the average westerner for a Taxi, but you could eat 3 meals a day for 6 days for the same amount of money in Thailand. Tuk tuks are for tourists. Don't use them unless you know where you're going and how much it costs to get there or they will rip you off- that's their goal, white boy.
Taxis do not have GPS, unless they are coloured blue.. Google Maps (and Wi-Fi service) is your friend, as a newcomer to Bangkok. Taxi drivers are stupid. They don't know they're own city at all and will often ask for a phone number of your destination so they can call and get directions. To be fair, these cities outside of North America have no idea what gridlock is since there is no grid to lock, but city streets made for a horse and carriage don't accommodate motorized vehicles very well. Nor is there a way to make streets wider when the buildings are built right up to the edge of street in the first place. Naming and numbering those same streets is a nightmare. It's no wonder they are clueless. Taxis are very cheap for the service they provide, but be prepared to know exactly where and how to get where you are going. If you have internet available to you, mapping out and planning your trip ahead of time will save you a lot of headaches. It is much easier to point at a map on your smartphone and say “go here” than to try to mime your way to a destination the taxi driver doesn't know of, or how to get there. Showing them a map also prevents them from trying to scam you by taking a “short cut.”

The Internet and Mobile Phones
Getting on the internet is as easy as buying a USB dongle and a SIM card from the 7/11. There are a couple of service providers to choose from, but they are all essentially the same. Once you have the USB stick and SIM card, you can purchase time for about $5 or $10. As far as I can tell, you are charged by time rather than amount downloaded, but I haven’t really tested that theory yet. If you spend a lot of time screwing around on Facebook, you will spend a lot of money doing it, but if you are just checking for messages and communication, then your pay-as-you-go service can last a few days or week. Many places have free Wi-Fi if you ask, but you will need a username password almost every time, too. I brought my mobile phone from Canada and unlocked it for about $20 (Rogers wanted $50). With another SIM card picked up at the 7/11, I suddenly had a phone again and access to the provider's Wi-Fi network when I was in range of a hotspot. This can be a little spotty as well, but better than nothing.

Food & booze
I am loving Thai street food. There is still a lot of rice in every meal, but no soup or kimchi. When you do eat soup, it’s usually with noodles and you add your own spices to flavour it. Your options are sugar, vinegar, red pepper, and fish sauce. You can make it as sweet, sour or spicy as you prefer. Pad Thai is usually a plate of rice with a choice of meat and curry-like sauce poured on top. You can also get all sorts of meat on a stick, fresh fruit smoothies... There are endless possibilities when it comes to eating food on the street and the prices can’t be beaten. In a restaurant you can easily expect to pay the equivalent of about $5 or $10 per meal, but street food won’t cost you any more than a dollar.
Alcohol is readily available, but chain stores won’t make any sales before 5 pm or after 12 am. It’s pretty easy to bypass this law by going to a mom & pop store or one of the millions of bars throughout the city. Domestic beer is about $1.50 for a large bottle or tall can, and about $1 for a normal sized bottle. In a bar, the cost is closer to $3.

The people
When it comes to people, I've found that they are pretty much the same no matter what country or culture you are in. Each country has their own idiosyncrasies, but for the most part they are the same. Aggressiveness is frowned upon in all Asian countries. It shows a lack of control, but when encountering language barriers it’s sometimes unavoidable. In Canada, when you want to get something done, there is more of a sense of doing it right NOW rather than later. In Korea, and Thailand, as much as they like to talk about a fast culture, there is actually a pretty lassier-faire attitude to getting things accomplished in a timely manner. Generally, people are pretty friendly and helpful everywhere, but you will always encounter that one person who isn't when it matters most. And that is true in every country.

The City
Bangkok is a large sprawling metropolis with the same problems as every city-- traffic and pollution. When compared to some place like Vancouver, it’s disgustingly dirty, but if I compare it to Seoul, it’s really no different. Certain areas are very well maintained. Especially around the large malls where there are litter police (and tourists). Tossing a cigarette butt can result in a fine. In other parts of the city however, it can be so dirty, the smell is overwhelming. There are a least a few garbage cans on the street, so it’s not like Seoul in that regard, where the garbage can seems to be non-existent.

Bangkok is criss-crossed by an extensive canal network. It is possible to travel to any part of the city by water if you so desired. They are also very polluted, but effort is being made to clean them. They add a contrasting beauty to the city overrun by traffic congestion, with the banks of the canals choked full of foliage and lined with banana trees. The bananas should be rip in a week or so, but the Thais will probably snatch them up as soon as they are able.

There are stray dogs and cats everywhere, but they are pretty tame. I wouldn't attempt to pet any of them, but I don’t fear them either. I've also seen lots of rats and a few geckos crawling up the side of walls in the evening. The wildlife is very noisy at night, but you soon get used to the din of frogs and crickets and other assorted fauna. One day, I was walking over a bridge spanning a canal, and stopped to enjoy the view. When I looked down, I saw what I thought at first was a log, but turned out to be a very large lizard. When he saw me staring at it, it dove and disappeared into the murky water. At a school I visited, the grounds had large ponds filled with water lilies and fish. If it wasn't for the plastic bottles on the lilies, it would look very nice.

The Weather
Hot. That is all. Sometimes it rains, but it’s still hot.

The Nightlife

 There are more bars than you can shake a stick at. I've been to a couple of the usual hot-spots. Khoasan Road is full of college kids getting drunk. It is fun to people watch there because they are so out of control. Since it’s so hot all the time, some bars consist of nothing but a bar set up on the street with a tent over it. Another area called Cowboy Street is all old men and girlie bars. I walked down the street to check it out, but I didn't partake in anything offered. My new residence is in yet another part of town known for its ‘pong’ show, also involving scantily-clad or naked girls. I have yet to explore this since I just got here today. The place I'm staying at costs $3 per day.

Monday, 2 September 2013

and back again.

I have finally arrived in Bangkok. It took 2 years, one of which was spent in a cage, but I had finally arrived. I know I'm back in Asia because no one can spit silently. They have to advertise that they're hacking up half a lung. Little old ladies rush the subway, fighting like Asian tigers to get that seat. Sales people are pushy but when I push back they get offended. If I wanted your services, I know where to go, I'll come to you. Don't push it in my face. On the other hand, it must work or they wouldn't persist in a such  tried and true method. You want bang bang or boom boom? One will blow your mind and one will blow you. I assimilated quickly in the last 3 days and I'm ready to go. My only contact was V.

V didn't answer his phone. My only contact. With only what was in my bags, no money, in a strange country. I had a general idea of the name of the place of where I was going courtesy of V, who had disappeared.

At the airport, the taxi bookers argued amongst themselves of where I was actually going because no one knew. It took 4 cabs passing up the fare before I got a hit. This did not bode well.

No options but to get in a cab and trust my directions or stay at the airport indefinitely.

The cab driver spoke some English, but stayed silent the entire ride. It was a long ride, but I didn't mind, I was city-struck. I feel this way in every city I visit. I'm amazed-- I'm finally there and everything looks so new and different. Even when I've visited the city before, coming back feels the same way.

The land is very flat, with many water ways. I saw packs of dogs drinking by the waterways. Lots of scooters. Many tricked out and stylized. There were no pine trees, but many palm trees. At the beginnign of each highway intersection there is a monumnet to the King. On the dashboard of the taxi cab was a  miniture.

Just over a huge suspension bridge, we pulled into a gas station. I looked at tewh gauge, it was half full. The driver got out and asked the group of mechanics, friends and co, directions to the area of town I was going. I was beginning to develop a strong appreciation of GPS. I had no wireless on my own phone, so I couldn't Google map it, and his phone was of the flip generation. He could barely get email, let alone Google maps and GPS.

We finally got to where we were going. V works at a 'big' school. The 5 security guards were stand around in a circle, smoking, eyeing the strange foreigner all dressed in black in 30 degree weather, hauling bags outof  a cab, wild hair, no shower, crazed by the last leg of his journey...

No one knew who V was. His phone had decide to go on the fritz, but I was pissed because he wasn't answering his phone and he knew I was coming--I thought he had turned it off or forgot it. It turns out V was no longer V, but S. I would have strangled S if I had seen him at this point. 5 security guards, and 2 administrators figured out directions to V's home after we had figured out V was really S.

S wasn't home. I had no local phone service or wireless. I was dead in the water. My phone still worked on roaming charges. $3 a minute talk, $0.75 per text. When you have no money, a $0.75 text is a big deal. I called a few times with no answer. Good-- because no answer means I'm not paying $3 a minute to say "where the FUCK are YOU?", bad-- because I'm in a country with no money, no place to stay, on a couch tossed carelessly outside the door of some 4 story building. Where the FUCK was HE?

So there I sat. I tried to sleep. I was so tired, but the mosquitoes had other ideas.I kept calling S every 30 minutes. I went in search of a store with directions from one of the security guards. I bought 2 tallboys and a pack of smokes for $5. One call was a hit (it always works out, so chill out.) 2 hours later,and less than 5 minutes from that call, S rolls up on a scooter. Hugs are all around, bags are dragged into vast rooms, Js are smoked and we're off to a bar for S's farewell party because he was just fired, this was his last day and he needs to move out in 2 days.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

... limbo...

There is some sort of stupid rule that you have to be at the airport 3 hours before your flight for international connections. Q helped me with this. At least there was free wi-fi-- that last really free wi-fi I would see for a long time.

Bags checked, boarding pass procured. Sorted. Now what do I do? I have no money, so, no booze (but this is Canada, so no booze anywhere anyway. Stupid Protestant society.. Did I mention that I left Canada with about $1 in my pocket? I downloaded the other drug of the masses-- tv shows, and watched them instead. 200 people looking at their phones/tablets laughing to themselves.

I sat next to a little old chinese woman with an afro. I helped her with the entertainment system on the back of the seat. She watched Korean dramas. When it came to food, we ate the same options. I ate the leftovers.

When I got off the plane, it was 5 am. The airport in Shanghai was closed. There were now 50 people confused about how to transfer to different destinations, 7 hours later. One of us discovered we could go through customs & immigration or we could wait until a transfer ticket window opened. We went through customs and immigration.

I still had no money, but a miracle happened and I found some funds. I bought a couple of beers from the vending machine. I paid for wi-fi. I couldn't blog, tweet or book my face. Youtube was kaput. I could Fark and I could stream Veetle. i was blocked by the Great Firewall of China. I couldn't do anything but check my bank account at the bank of Hang Kong... I had the foresight to at least chose the best international bank. Citi is another one. I tried to sleep, but airport benches are about as comfortable as a concrete jail floor. At least I had a pillow and a blanket in jail.

The gate in China turned out to be a door leading to a bus that took us to some stairs leading up to the plane. I've never gotten on a plane by a stairway before... not a 767 jet plane. And then we waited another hour. My seatmate got another seat next to his friend, so I had 2 seats to myself. A concrete jail floor is still more comfortable than 2 seats on a plane to spread out on. And I even had 2 pillows and a blanket this time. No entertainment system either (I almost expected to see propellers .This plane was in desperate need of a retro fit), but I have the entire 2nd season of Homeland on my computer and a couple of fresh new episodes of Pawn Stars. I love that show.

When I got off the plane, the Thailand immigration officer was too concerned with talking to his colleague to notice I had no address in Thailand, no money and no means of exit. I got my baggage and negotiated my way to V.

To hell...

There's nothing really hellish about Vancouver (or Canada), but it served as a reminder of how much I have changed in the last 10 years overseas. I reconnected and met so many new/old friends, but I never really "reconnected" with anybody enough to compel me to stay.

The best part by far, was hanging out with my little monkey, Z. Except she ain't quite so little any more. She's a young woman at the beginning of her life. With a brain of her own and opinions. It's very strange (for me) but really cool. The last time I hung with Z, she was 6. The difference between 16 & 6 is beyond words, yet I don't feel much different between 20 & 40 in myself, though I'm sure there are some. It would be stupid and ignorant (arrogant?) to think otherwise.

I spent most of my time watching TV, waiting for her to get off work, waiting for her to finish hanging out with her friends, waiting for her to finish hanging out with her boyfriend... she has no time for dear old dad. Cat's in the Cradle and all that. But it was awesome-- the time I had.

For the most part, we walked around window shopping and talking about whatever topic came to mind. I didn't get as nearly as much time as I wanted to pick her brain, but it was good enough. M & G have done an amazing job being parents. I know this because I had very little to do with it, so the cool, awesome person she is has nothing to do with me. My biggest (and only) regret. And yet, I don't regret it too much because we have a special connection, even more so now, that very few daughters and fathers have. She'll always be my little monkey, but I respect her as a young adult. Cool shit.

I tried to meet her boyfriend, S, but she was too uncomfortable, or maybe he was too uncomfortable. In either case, I felt that if he was that important, I would meet him eventually (he could be a son-in-law), or he would join a long list of soon-to-be ex-boyfriends and it wouldn't matter if I met him or not. I can barely remember some of my own ex-girlfriends, and I did more than just meet them.

The rest of the time I did my best to stay as inebriated as possible with no money whatsoever. Not become I'm a cheap bastard, but I don't have any money (buy my book, buy my art, you freeloading cretins!).

I meet my childhood friend/brother-from-another-mother S for a few nights. I have 3 friends like this. 2 of them are actually brothers from the same mother and father and the one left over is a mutual brother. Out of all three, only one of them is on any social networks. the other 2 are practically Luddites except they embrace technology-- just not Facebook. I can respect that, but it makes it difficult to stay in touch in this day and age.

S wrote a song. He writes lots of songs, like so many of my friends do, but he did it on a PC. He is like me-- as an artist using computers, it's not the Apple Mac you have, it's how you use the computer you are given. I could care less if it was a Mac or not. It makes no difference. Photoshop is the same on every computer, and according to S, the music shit is the same. V, a fiend I will talk about more in the next post, is the same. A PC setup that kicks the shit out of any Mac for a quarter of the investment. Apple fanboys can kiss my ass. The song he wrote is #1 in Germany by some band called Front Line Assembly. I heard they were really popular in Japan during the 90's. After the struggles we have/are going through, good for him. We indulged a night of debauchery-- drinking (the PC version), and hanging out at music studios and nightclubs. It got messy(the PC version) and at our age (we're not 20 anymore, bro), took a few days of recovery.

C lives on the coast. I never got to see him. I'll see him again.

B lives in Croatia or some shit like that. I'll see him next. One day soon.

P and I avoided each other as much as possible. I did not reconnect with P. Mostly because, like my family (and I mean my sister), they don't understand why or what I'm doing. I encountered a lot of this in Canada. I understand why you want to stay and love your stability. That's not me, I can't do that, why don't you understand that? He got up at 6 am every day and went to work at a soul-sucking job that he's had for 20 years. When he was finished, he got drunk and stoned and complained about how bad his life was. He has done that everyday. For as long as I've known him. Change it. Enjoy and celebrate life. And you call me crazy. Sure, he has a steady income and never has to worry about what to eat, but he has 2 mortgages and when he finally pays them off so he can enjoy the property, he'll be dead. Exciting. That's what I want to work towards. Fuck that. I'll take my "here and now" attitude and live today, any day. M has a similar attitude. At least she has some beautiful spawn. That's something to work for, I won't begrudge that-- but this is not 1923-- my job and what I do is outside anything that has been attempted before, but it doesn't make it any less worthwhile. You may see it as lounging around doing nothing, but I assure you, it takes more effort than you can imagine. Try to understand, and don't judge me just because I'm not like you. If I was just like you, wouldn't that be a boring world?

The extra time I took in Vancouver allowed me to see people I may not have seen otherwise. It was eye-opening and mind expanding. Shout outs to P, M, C and H. Beers, dinner, pot, whisky, poker and whores. None of that happened, but the subject came up.

A shout out goes to Q. A man who has his own demons, who does better than most. I couldn't have done this without you.

He fed me and drove me around when he had better things to do. He lent me a bike so I did't have to pay $3 per bus ride. He drove me to the airport. Into limbo...