Catch a bright star and a place it on your forehead / Say a few spells and baby, there you go

I used to blog a lot more.

I’ve written about five posts in the past couple of weeks but when it came to hit the publish button, I decided otherwise.

There was a time when I used to write almost daily. Much of it was nonsense. Some of it was not.

It mattered not either way.

I didn’t mind whether anyone read it, although the stats have been fairly good from time to time. No, that was not the point. Mostly I wrote just to put things down, to express an emotion or to get a thought out of the way so I could mentally move on.

I wrote – often – when I was angry. I wrote when I was exhilarated. I wrote to exorcise nostalgia or to document things that I thought needed mentioning by someone before the moment passed forever.

Many times I wrote when I was amused or bemused.

Indonesia, and in particular Bali provided a lot of material for the latter – rarely a day passed when I was not confronted with the odd. Many days the odd was more bizarre. Sometimes it was funny bizarre, sometimes it was rather unfunny bizarre. It is a bizarre place.

As my twitter-buddy Matt said in a tweet which caused a belly laugh:

bewildering how much of a functioning disaster Bali is. like drunk guy staggering through traffic and somehow getting through alive

Thailand doesn’t offer the bizarre in the same way. Unlike Indonesia they mostly have it together. Things work and there is a logical process to the way the world functions. Thus, I almost miss the bizarre, the broken, the irrational and the illogical that is Indonesian day-to-day. It offered inspiration.

I almost miss it. But, of course, I really don’t. The amusement, which often conflates to shock and then to horror is only a part of the day there and on balance I’d rather have working as a daily starting line than broken.

The other reason I stopped posting as regularly was the fact I was doing, and am doing, so much writing, most as yet unpublished – one book done, another in draft and other bits and pieces that all partially fulfil my need to create something now that I’m not actively involved in the creation or dispersement of music (something which I miss and has clawed an unffilled hole in me – I fully understand why Roger went back when all logic says out right now is much wiser).

I was, I guess, worded out most days.

That said, this city does inspire. I wander some days almost randomly. 99% of the non-Thai that come here see so little of it. Krungthepmahanakhonmamonrattanakosinmahintharayuthayampahadilokphopnoppharatratchathani-buriromudomratchaniwetmahasathanamonphimanawatansathitsakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit (the world’s longest place name – don’t let New Zealanders or Welsh tell you otherwise) as it is  more correctly known, is to most tourists a few blocks of naughty bars, a river, a palace and temple or three, the unwashed hippie-fest of Kao Sahn Rd, a bunch of mega-malls that dwarf almost everything in the west and a floating market.

Which, to be honest, working off the guidebooks and internet, was all it was to me the first couple of times, although on the second I had an urge to see what was off the so-called Groovy Map and in doing so discovered the pretty wonderful ‘burb we now live in, which exists well outside the beaten non-resident track.

Bangkok is a city of some twelve million people and is a complex clash between the thousand year history of the only nation in Asia never to have been colonised or conquered and the second decade of the 21st Century which it embraces fervently. This is a city with 17,000 free wi-fi terminals running next to amulet markets that have existed longer than anyone knows or has recorded.

Wi-fi is no novelty 1 so I went to the Amulet market.

The intriguing thing about Thailand – truthfully about Asia as a whole – is, as I said once before, that you turn a corner and never, ever have any idea what you may find. In New Zealand, and indeed in much of the west, you almost always know exactly what’s around the next corner. That sort of surprise is rarely part of the day there. It can be reassuring and sometimes I miss it.


I’ve arrived at the pier (N9) from the River Express Boat to, once you get past the scamsters (‘the palace is closed today’ sort, or as the warning signs amusingly say ‘wiley strangers’) and the throngs of Dutch, Germans and Japanese 2 head on up to either the 24 hour flower markets, or a couple of cafés we like, many times. To do so I’ve always turned right after the hawkers that crowd the pier exit selling hats, water, snacks and almost every possible variation on useless junk you’ll never look at again.

Today I turned left and walked. I walked into Thailand’s superstitious past present and future. The past part, walking into a market like that, is obvious. The present also because it still is and for many – most – Thai people, these talisman – small statuettes of Buddha, carved penises, and animals – are incredibly powerful, bring luck and ward off evil.  The future, not only because they protect from or herd the future, but also because the street and the market off it are also home to large numbers of that other Thai phenomena: the fortune teller. The most educated Thai, even if they don’t actually visit these people, are usually wary of dismissing the words of these populist seers, who can be found everywhere, often in clusters on the side of the road or inside the huge suburban malls. The (true) story is told of a western guy who’s girlfriend, a translator with the government, left him because a fortune teller warned her that he would be unfaithful in the years to come. He’d done nothing errant to date but she said, sadly and despite his pleas of innocence,  she couldn’t stay and left.

Two weeks ago, amongst the swarms of students you find clustering around the Victory Monument junction I saw a massive line stretching out of a market area and around the corner. I went to look and saw they were all queuing for one hunched over old woman to predict their future. The ever so patient queue was mostly kids consumed on their Blackberrys and iPods as they waited.

Past, present and future.

Within a fifty metres of the throngs beyond pier N9 the tourists had disappeared – I’d stepped outside the guidebook zones and I was back in Thailand again.  Quickly the footpath became almost impassible. It was after all Saturday afternoon and the path had been narrowed by the beginnings of what I’d assess without fear of being corrected were several hundred street stalls selling luck, and by dozens of orange clad monks and ordinary Thai folk hunting for that same luck. There were familes with kids sucking on Walls ice creams in tow, groups of businessmen, increasing as I walked on, and primly dressed wealthy matrons with their drivers parked without complaint as they hunted for that one ceramic icon they needed to muster up the magic to improve or protect their lives or loved ones.

The market proper headed off the street about 150 metres on and seemed to be, looking in, somewhat quieter than the crush outside. I bought a ten baht bag of those delicious caramelised deep fried bananas I like but which seem harder and harder to find, and headed on in.

It was quieter but only because it looked to be where very the serious trading was done. I walked through the mazed undercover alleys and came upon what I guess was the amulet trading floor – the amulet equivalent of the NASDAC. I went to take a photo or four and was warned off by a sharp bark from a guy in a cage. I was, as far as I could see, the only (nervous) farang in the labyrinth.

Behind rows of solid wire cages sat men (and a couple of women) while a large and serious grouping of monks, business people and traders, many of whom looked decidedly ancient, studied the charms intently using photographic loupes, moving slowly from one to the next then often darting back for a second look. Some were talking money, others were moving from trader to trader but all were focused on the tiny carved effigies which were carefully laid out in open flat cabinets. These weren’t the 50B varieties that filled boxes and trays outside by the thousand and many of the traders were, after putting down the loupe, ringing, I suspected, clients to discuss a find or a price.

I was intrigued but there is only so much intrigue I can fit into a moment so I headed north through the alleys, past more dealers, less intense and more relaxed in their pitch, then past a mini market within a market which sold second hand dentures (yeeech) and into the graduation outfits lane before coming back out into a small enclosed soi, with two storied shophouses and a roof, which could have been in Paris. It was full of more fortune tellers and a huge ginger cat.  Easily the biggest doemstoc  feline I’ve seen, I walked towards it but it glared back and made a strange hissing noise. I knew which one of us would be the worse from the encounter so I reversed back and found myself back in the street, next to the deep fried banana vendor again.

I turned left once more and then again into a market going through to a cross river pier (N 11). I saw the fab shop that sells T-shirts with sixties Thai pop stars on the front and the most famous Thai Indie rekkid store of them all, Nong, and I was back in my comfort zone.
Feel free to file this post under nonsense but I may begin to scribble again.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. even if an unnamed friend saw it advertised on the wall of a restaurant and thought they were saying they were pet friendly
  2. they say there are some 20m tourists a year through BKK – I’m sure most can be found swarming around the Grand Palace gates at the same time any day in high season

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