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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