Bangkok. Sleep Tight!

Before I Go Home

I was back on the same street one year later. This time, things were a bit different. I had an early dinner, and as I was not in the mood for the company of my wonderful colleagues, I decided to saunter down the road before I left for the airport. I was not looking forward to the flight. I had a midnight flight to Shanghai, and I was not going to get more than 3 hours sleep. We were to have a day full of meetings the next day in Shanghai, and as I look back to that, I wonder why so many of us kill ourselves, while in the corporate world. At the time, it seems to be so very glamorous, with all of us strutting in our suits and ties, battling great monsters in the corporate jungles, and fighting great wars in the corporate boardrooms. At the same time, there are humble souls who fight their own battles outside, often on the street. We do analyze these people, and try and get into their heads, but behind the charts and presentations, I wonder how much we really try and understand what happens in their lives.

While in Bangkok, and in all the glossy tour magazines, you often get to see the bright side of the night life, when neon lights up the inly blue sky, and when we forget the real stars in the sky for the stars here on earth. Of course, when we booze too much, we do see stars of an entirely different sort.!

 

At The End of The Day

One year earlier, when I walked the streets, and I took photographs in black and white, what I saw was the energy of the young day, the energy of hope that a new day brings; energy that seemed to be bursting out of its seams.

One year later, that evening, as I walked the streets, I saw fatigue at the end of the day. I saw people who’s energy had been sapped by the heat and humidity that is so characteristic of Bangkok’s climate; energy that had been sapped at the end of a day of haggling and bargaining with local people, and with tourists; energy sapped by possibly sales that had not been as good as they had hoped for; energy sapped by the prospect of going back home to a dimly lit home, to maybe have a bath and clean up, to discussions about the day, and the prospect of standing there again, at the same spot the next day.

What struck me, photographically, is that black and white conveyed the energy of the young day, and the colour conveyed the fatigue, almost depression at the end of the day.

Bangkok does indeed have a vibrant night-life, and is a great place to wander around at various times of the day and night. There is much to offer, from great night markets, to sleazy joints, to elegant high rises, and to all sorts of wondrous and enjoyable things to do, and places to visit. Yes, Bangkok is all that and much more.

It is also, like many Asian cities, a great place, in that there is so much life on the streets,and there is a burst of vibrancy and energy when you just walk around the place. It has wonderful, kind and polite people who have a nice lilt in their voices when they speak.

Yet, when the lights go down, and people return to their homes, there is also fatigue and, possibly, despair to be seen on the streets.

There is an honesty about the streets that just does not go away.

Good Morning Bangkok!

The Conversation Before I launch into this little entry, I must clarify that this blog is not strictly a “travel blog”, in the sense that I talk about the attractions, the logistics of getting to places and all that sort of wonderful stuff. This is why I called it a photographic journey. That being said, while some of the entries may reflect current journeys and trips, some of them may not. That also being said, I will not follow a strictly chronological sequence while writing these entries. So, you will be whizzed up and down history (mine, and my view of the world’s history, if I am in the mood), strictly depending on my mood, and strictly according to my whim. At times I may come across as a bit of a ranting old bore, and at other times not.

So, here goes.

I was in Bangkok several years ago. I did get into some sort of trouble during that trip with my American corporate overlords, because I went with some of my colleagues to Pat Pong. This, I was told, by that serious and almost bellicose gentleman, was not strictly as per the moral codes of the American headquarters. While I have no argument with the Americans, I did have some internal arguments with the gentleman. Pat Pong, I wanted to tell him, was not a place I ever wanted to go back again. Since the time that I had visited the place with my wife, many, many years before, it had become really quite seedy, and the stunts performed by the girls seemed just rather sad. The whole area had an aura of dirt and filth, and I really felt sorry for the girls who had to perform all sorts of strange sexual stunts for the visual pleasure of tourists. With the dawning wisdom of my first few grey hairs, I realized that the lives that these girls lead was rather sad indeed. They did not have too much to look forward to either. Very few marriage prospects, and only if they saved up enough money from the tips that they scrounge for, would they be able to save up something for their old age – after paying expenses.

I am pretty sure, however, if I had told the gentleman that I had, many years before, been there with my wife, he would have had a heart attack, so I refrained from the disclosure.

With these rather sad thoughts, I went for a walk the next morning. I was staying at The Shangri-La Hotel, and the street outside was bustling with the activity of the new day. I took all the shots using black and white film. Sadly, it is very hard to find black and white film these days.

As I walked up and down the streets, I took in the energy of the morning, and the hope of the new day. At one stall, there were these two gentlemen, no doubt sharing a joke as they waited for their first customers. They were clean, bathed and seemed so damn cheerful. As an Indian, I am used to the colours, the smells and the sights of the street, and it never really does tire me out. Here was Bangkok, with an entirely new take on life on the street.

There were the two gentlemen. There was a lady preparing flowers for the sale. Her hair was freshly oiled, possibly with jasmine oil, and somewhere else, there was another bunch of girls with a cart, making what seemed to me, to be tea. That morning cuppa is something that I am, I must confess, addicted to. At The StallHowever, I must also confess, that I am a bit rigid when it comes to the morning cuppa. I need to have Assam tea, with a bit of milk, or tea with lemon. I do indeed love green tea, and jasmine tea and all sorts of teas, but that first cup of tea has to be Assam tea. It cannot even be Darjeeling tea! It is that comfort drink of the morning, that wakes up the red blood corpuscles and sends them on their way. I cannot drink any other tea, or that brown liquid called coffee, first thing in the morning. That, some eggs, toast and I am on my way.

A great way to have tea, is to dip hot, buttered toast into it. It is an elixir from the Heavens themselves, and this is something that you can get on the streets in Bangkok, as long as you are prepared to do it the local way.

The young gentleman on the right,looked, to me, to be quite the gentleman, as he stood besides his stall, waiting for that first sale.

The first sale is something that most traders take very seriously. I have often been thanked by traders when I have made their first sale of the day. They call it the “boni” in India. It is pronounced something like “boney”, and it is not skeletal! It have seen the chaps touch the money to their heads when I have paid them the money, and put it away carefully.

Yeah, that first sale is something that is taken very seriously indeed, and the young gentleman must have been looking forward to it.

I enjoyed that morning walk, and as I soaked in the energy of the streets, I clicked away quite happily. There was something energetic and dignified about the people on the street

I only hope that I managed to capture some of that energy

In Edinburgh

Edinburgh CastleThis is the last entry from my little trips to the United Kingdom, and the last of the really crappy photos. Well, I hope that this will be the last crappy photo that I put up anyway.

Edinburgh was wonderful. We were very fortunate to have three or four wonderful sunny days in May. I was later told that I was very fortunate indeed, as this is unusual indeed for the town. Anyhow, one thing that I did vow to do later, was to return to Scotland, the Lake District and to Wales. These would be successive trips. Driving around in these places will be wonderful indeed.

We were very fortunate to get a nice place, just 100 meters off The Royal Mile, and that too, at a price of 40 pounds a night. This was thanks to an old friend of ours, who booked the rooms for us well in advance. Else, left to us, we would have taken our own sweet time, and got rooms at a horribly expensive price.

The castle is indeed quite fascinating, with a fascinating history. One of the rooms that was a treat was the torture room, where the implements of pain were proudly revealed in all their glory. These got me thinking. We are indeed a strange species. Think about it. Animals hunt for the kill, and to satisfy their hunger. Once done, they walk away, and don’t wantonly walk around the place killing and maiming each other. Why, they even gather around the watering hole in the evening, have a drink, and generally gossip about the times of the day. We seem to delight in pain, which is why the ancient Hindus waxed eloquent about the concepts of Ahimsa and Himsa.

The fact that the spell-check highlights the word “Himsa” shows how little the world knows of this concept!

As I walked around the castle, I thought about the rather fascinating history of the country, and the events that have unfolded in the castle. The history is indeed bloody and violent, yet the stories that have unfolded have spoken of the desire for independence, self-rule and the right to choose your own destiny. This is something that I, as an Indian, can relate to. We have seen invasions for a thousand years, from Mahmud of Ghazni, to the Mughals, to the British until at last, in 1947, the young country of India was born.

Yes, the history of Scotland, and the Castle do indeed fascinate and inspire. History is indeed a magical subject, especially when told by a sympathetic and skillful historian.

Pissin’ Next Door To Al’

Pissin'

Pissin’

Now, on which blog, a delightful blog by a young British lady, did I read about her search for proper toilets in India?  Anyhow, it was somewhere on a WordPress blog.

The advantage, I know, of being a man, is that you can let your little fella’s dangle and you can let fly a stream of the yellowest and the stinkiest, if you have not had enough water to drink. However, as you grow older, and your hair becomes whiter, and as you climb up the corporate ladder, and as you drive in ever fancier cars, this freedom is no longer afforded to you, as you simply have to maintain decorum. Pray, pray that some of your colleagues, or your worst enemies don’t catch you pissing on the streets. However, having said that, theoretically, the freedom and the choice exists more easily for men than it does for women.

I don’t plan to get disgusting and talk about some of my misadventures. This will simply not do, in my opinion. I have been told that your digital life follows you everywhere you go, and you must care about your digital reputation. So, be it, sadly. And, that is why I call this entry, “Pissin’ next door to Al'”, and not “The Pissin’ Misadventures of Al'”

While indeed, much disgusting humour is to be found in the whole area of public urination, and some of it can be really quite funny, there are also some more serious issues that do need to be considered in this entire area of human activity.

Al and his friend, prior to me taking this shot, were having a little chat while they were pissin’, and comparing the lengths of each other’s members. And then, they left the memory of their recent activities behind.

The tragedy, when this sort of activity is allowed to continue unchecked, is that the entire area becomes a cesspool of stench, inhabited by flies and other such creatures of God’s own creation, creatures who’s main aim in life, is to spread disease. This, of course, does not only apply to public urination, but to public toilets that are left dirty. In such cases, men and women are generally equal, when it comes to being exposed to disease, and despite all the tomes and serious conferences, and all the right-minded lectures that I have heard on the area of public health, no one has seriously addressed the issue of clean, public toilets.

Let people pay for them, and may they be kept clean.

Else, apart from the spread of disease and malodor, we shall continue to see the spread of pissin’ humour across the world.

In God We Trust

The mad auto ride

The mad auto ride

Anyone who has been to India would have been privy to a country with a freakishly active street life. This has spawned many a photograph, and photographer, to gush about the colours, the madness, the teeming life, the smells and all that wonderful stuff that is undoubtedly a part of India’s street life. Then, they, and we, retreat into the comfort of our homes, and life goes on normally, while we weave tales of the exotic that is to be found in India.

Now, I was very much in this auto-rickshaw as it screeched and careened madly, taking me to my destination. So, how did I get into this unholy, maddening mess? Well, I have this wonderful BMW, which I am going to dump soon. The car just decided, on its own, and without permission, to have it’s second puncture, and when I managed to get it to the pump, I discovered two things. One – it does not have a spare wheel. In India? Holy hell!! This is not Europe, where you don’t have nails on the street! This is India, and you need to cater to India! Now, I was planning to take this car on a long journey, and the second thing that I discovered, is that you need some sort of a pneumatic press to get the tyre off! Imagine standing on an Indian highway baking in the sun, waiting for Godot and God almighty to have mercy on your soul, and hopping some mad man does not bump you off, all because you have a damaged and expensive toy with you!

Anyway, this is not about the blighted BMW. This is about auto-rickshaws. Nowadays, we curse them, and wish them into the nearest purgatory, but there will come a day when auto-rickshaws will no longer ply the roads,and we shall moan and talk with nostalgia about the days when we braved death on three wheels, and rode in auto-rickshaws, or “autos'” as we call them in India. Autos are air-conditioned. In the summer, the hot air blows into your face, during the monsoon, the wet; and, in winter, the cold. You brave the elements, and the whims of the auto-driver all at once.

As I looked onto the picture of Shiv, the God of Destruction ( as he is simplistically known – there are many, many facets to him), I could not help but think that maybe, this auto-driver wanted Shiv on his side, as I wanted him on my side. And, as the trees on the Faridabad highway whizzed past, and the hot summer wind blew into my face, I thought back, to another auto ride in Chennai. I think it was called Madras those days.

My boss and I were going to Chennai airport, to catch a plane back to Bombay (sadly, they call it Mumbai now). Our taxi broke down, and after humming and hawing for 20 minutes, I convinced him to take an auto. And so, I haggled over the price.

Me; “How much to airport?”

Him, scratching his nose: “140 rupees, saar”

Me, screaming: “Too much. 100”

He: “Saar, 140. Final price. Wokay?”

Me:”haggle, haggle, haggle”

Him: “Haggle, haggle, haggle”

After several rounds, we struck a bargain.

Me: “Final offer. We get to airport in 20 minutes, you get 140. Otherwise, 120″

Him, flashing his smile.”Wokay, wokay. Saar. Please sit.”

My boss got into the auto, and I got in after him. The auto driver yanked his lungi up his thighs, taking care, however, to ensure that the bottom of the lungi remained 2 millimeters below his private parts. Turning back, he said, “We go, saar”

And, we were off. Now, for some reason, the man would drive slowly whenever there was nothing in front of him but, when he would see a bus or truck or car in front of him, he would take off. Literally, like a rocket. Madness would come over him, and we would take screeching 90 degree turns, as we whizzed in and out of traffic like an oily snake slipping through an obstacle race.

I kept chattering with my boss, a Frenchman, I must add. Finally, he lifted his face from his hands, and said,”Listen, if I die, tell my parents I love them. Tell my girlfriend I love her. Till then, let me be in peace.”

The ride was – great!! We reached the airport, only to find that the plane had been delayed by two hours. Not helpful, I thought.

I am glad to report that my boss did survive, and he did marry his girlfriend.

Now, while I am agnostic, when I thought back on that day during my descent from BMW to auto, I thought that there are times indeed when it is indeed, in God we trust!

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