Monday, 19 November 2007

Travel XIV, Ping Pong Thai Style

Well, here I am sitting in the lobby of the Royal Orchid Sheraton, Bangkok.

Only last week I was shivering in the cold Twickenham mornings wondering what I'd done wrong, when low and behold, my brother conjured up a set of golf clubs and said "here you can have these". Things picked up from there, the French railway workers went on strike so I cancelled the Paris trip and took the time to prepare for Bangkok.

It's 25-30 degrees here, I've been walking around the city in flip flops, that's one of my favourite things about hot countries. I'm going to do it again tonight. Only problem walking around here is the constant offers of strip shows and hookers. I wanted to see the Golden Palace but it closes at 5pm, I'd happily pay someone to sneak me in but that doesn't seem to be happening.

Nevertheless, as research for this bit, I went to see one of the famous shows. I don't know if these shows started out as a sex thing but today it's more of a circus. Tourists come in on buses, at least half of the audience is women (even those with headscarves and long garments - a bit off-putting frankly). There were a lot of "acts" in a one hour show, here's some:

Lady come's onto stage with a handful of ping pong balls and inserts a good few into her "jingle" while dancing in time to a local rip-off of some dance track which I vaguely recognised. Then she ejected the balls into a tall glass filled with water. One missed and bounced off the stage, she asked one of the guests to help retrieve but he refused to touch it, even when she offered a handful of tissue paper. She showed her displeasure before continuing the act.

Next, lady dances around for a bit and suddenly starts pulling a long ribbon out of her jingle. The ribbon has little bells attached to it but the really amazing thing is the length of it, she was wrapping it around four poles on the stage, I estimated it to be about 15 metres long and she was a mere strip of girl.

Similar act, a lady produces a series of dayglo things (about the size of Christmas tree decorations) attached to each other with dayglo string. This was easily as long as the previous one, incredible because of the size of the decorations.

Next lady lay on the floor and fired a "projectile", somebody shouted banana - it would have to be a small one, into the air, caught it and repeated half a dozen times.

This one will make you wince; another string pulling trick but this one had razor blades attached to the string, not just a few, I'd say 30-40. There was a group of women sitting next to the stage on the opposite side (round stage), the expressions on their faces would have made a good picture but cameras aren't allowed. Just to prove the point she then took a piece of paper and shredded it with one of the blades.

The next act was quite impressive, the lady inserted a small "blow pipe" into her jingle while her assistant launched a balloon into the air. She fired something out of the blow pipe and burst the balloon from about 2 metres away. She did that twice and then used the blow pipe to blow out candles on a cake.

Then there was the lady who took the top off a bottle of coke (the jagged metal tops), another one with metres and metres of neon ribbon, then a comedy act. This lady took some water from a small coke bottle and ejected it into another bottle, the trick being that the ejected fluid looked just like cola, it did raise a laugh.

Next, lady rolls up a sheet of A4 and inserts into jingle followed by felt tip marker pen. After much jiggling about she retrieves the paper and proudly displays the writing "welcome to Thailand". That brought a new twist to the art of sign writing and an end to the show, well the closing "act" was an erotic simulation by a couple of young ladies but no one was interested in that, people made their way out and the next bus loads came in. It was bizarrely not-erotic, all I felt was hungry and so I also left.

I wandered around and looked in at some of the street food stalls but I wasn't actually sure which were selling food and which were souvenirs, trays of brightly coloured things everywhere, I could smell food but I didn't recognise any. None of the vendors spoke English. I ended up in a Thai Restaurant (they just call them Restaurants here), sitting outside by the riverside, very nice. I'll tell you what, the chili sauce doesn't leave you wanting! I've got to bring some of that back. The restaurant is called "Sala Thai", joke for Punjabi speakers there.

Other than that there's the weirdo news typical of dictatorships. Today's Bangkok Post headline was that the Princess Royal has released a diary of her photographs of flowers taken in the Palace gardens. The second spot; "Thais Happier than at any time in Past Year", they have an actual Gross Domestic Happiness Index which is at record levels since the military coup two years ago (when they ousted Thaksin Shinawatra whose key foreign policy was to buy Liverpool FC from the proceeds of a Thai National Lottery). The GDHI is now 6.90, the maximum being 10. The reason for this happiness is that the King just came out of hospital after successful treatment for a blood clot.

One of the chaps in the office told me about the military coup. There was a general announcement that no one should go to work that day and military were posted on all street corners. That's it, children were running around and playing on the tanks, and few days later life went back to normal. There'll be an election next month but there's no rush.

I had Pad-Thai for lunch and suddenly realised why I've never liked Thai food before. Here they put heaps of chili sauce and dried spices on it, my host is a German fella and he said he couldn't handle it at first but now he's used to it, it's the only way to eat it. My main experience of Thai food was in Sydney, bland, they don't serve the spices and sauces that are supposed to go with it. I'm happy now I can say I like Thai food, I was a bit uncomfortable with that before because everyone raves about it so much.

And now, off for more Thai food (and Singha beer)

Coule of hours later:

eeeeh! I right enjoyed that, tamarind soup rocks! I had to send the port back though, you can't put ice in a Taylor's! Wait a minute, there's ping pong balls in the soup! no wonder it tastes a bit spicey!

errrmmm... okthengoodnight.