Monday, August 08, 2005

City of temples and ping pong

I'm writing this from an internet cafe in Bangkok that costs 20 baht or 50 cents an hour, surrounded by teenage Thais playing online video games such as Warcraft III and Command and Conquer. It's 8 in the evening, a warm 86 degrees with a 90 per cent humidity. It's just been raining -- it's monsoon season -- but not much.

Of course, I have to start with the food. This is Planethalder, afterall!

Over the last few days, we've eaten glossy, dark green, stir-fried morning glory, bright orange red crab curry -- the meat oozing out of the shell, and a white-fleshed, meaty snakehead fish cooked whole and brought to our table sizzling on a bed of coals at Sombook -- a seafood restaurant that enticed us inside with aquariums full of live crab and fish awaiting their gastronomic fate. We've eaten noodle dishes in roadside, family-run cafes, most satisfyingly near the Grand Palace amid wafts of dried shrimp and other dried fish. We were diverted through backstreets by our tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) driver who took us to a place filled with other mislead tourists to eat overcooked grilled king prawns and sea bass.

I also had my second best Japanese meal ever, after my exquisite birthday meal at Matsuri a few days ago. We took the Bladerunneresque SkyTrain to Silom -- one of the main shopping roads in the city -- and found Aoi -- a tiny Japanese restaurant tucked anonymously in a sidestreet or soi that looked like a small and traditional ryokan or inn, with sliding doors, dark wood and tatami mats, and filled with visiting Japanese tourists and ex-pats. There we feasted on deep-fried lotus root with minced pork tempura, deep-fried smelt whiting fish wrapped with mint, tuna belly sashimi, eel with teriyaki sauce, soup and pickled vegetables. All followed by fresh fruits and green tea ice cream.

After this meal, we drank Cosmopolitans and vodka tonics at a bar on the predominantly gay road of Silom 4, and watched the world go by, including a Western man, who we presumed was his female partner and a Thai lady boy at the table next to us. The man was all over the lady boy, much to the annoyance of his partner who eventually began to cry. We never found out the outcome of this curious menage-a-trois. They were still there when we left.

In adjacent roads (Patpong 1 and 2), we've also been offered -- by men and the occasional woman -- the various delights of pussy ping pong, pussy water, pussy candle, pussy tire, and if these failed to delight then: "You want darts? You want balloons?" The women inside gyrate impassively and go through the motions of their various tricks. And we've seen girls lined up for all sorts of pleasure outside bars on roads where police patrol but often turn a blind eye because, we've read in the local newspaper, many of them are involved in the industry such as demanding protection money even though both practices -- prostitution and protectionism -- are illegal here. We've also seen ubiquitous old, bloated, tattooed Western men with their much younger and prettier Thai girlfriends.

We've also taken boat trips along the Chao Phraya and gorged on wats or temples which stud this dazzling city at every turn. But more of this another day.

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