It’s been raining in the town.
Life, mostly, has been humdrum average — eating, drinking, laughing a bit and the odd movie. But raining it has been and rain in Asia, despite its regularity during parts of the year, is often an event.
Yep it’s been raining an awful lot in recent months. That, I’d argue, isn’t really a surprise as it’s the infamous rainy season here in central South East Asia. Actually, that’s not true — the rain is a surprise every year, or so it seems. Given the regularly voiced reaction to the way the heavens open, the rain for some reason seems to surprise every year — and has done so I guess since, well, forever, whenever that was.
Because every and each year, as the water buckets down week after week, you hear the same inevitable shouts of ‘the rains are early this year’, or ‘the rains have lasted longer than usual this year’, or ‘the rains are are heavier this year than usual’. It becomes the chat de jour everywhere — and it’s not true. The truth is the rain comes every year, it stays for months — not unpleasantly when it’s 30 degrees plus outside — and then goes. It is — year in and year out — mostly quite predicable within a range.
At least it is in Bangkok town. It floods. It floods again. And it floods with some monotony — and in our frustration we somehow forget that it did the very same last year.
That the city seems to be sinking too, I’ll avoid as difficult right now.
In Auckland there is — too — always annual surprise at the rain that falls incessantly every year from early June to the end of November with little respite. It does it most every year and it does so coldly and uncomfortably. Then the sun arrives, the mood lifts and we forget the rain until the following June, only to express surprise when it stays until November. Again.
That said, nothing — nothing — is more wonderful than Auckland on an icy-cold sun-filled winter’s day1.
The UK seems to get the worst of it. But they really only have themselves to blame — not only is the annual four day summer in July inevitably proclaimed as a ‘heatwave’ — which throws every when they do actually get one every decade or so — but the nation still seems blissfully unaware that every year it will snow and every year, unless somehow they are ready for it, it will cause substantial mayhem.
Sadly some 1100 years of continuous government has not, it seems, prepared Great Britain for this twelve monthly eventuality, and in a way that only the British could, they seem utterly surprised by the arrival of ice and snow each year and the aforesaid mayhem ensues. Every bloody year.
The United States and Europe both seem to get it far worse than the UK and whilst airports are closed, trains are stopped and there is brief disruption, both long since worked out ways to deal with the annual eventuality, and impressively push it out of the way as soon as feasible or turn it into a national tourist or sporting plus.
At the time, I wondered how the UK would have dealt with the recent US Atlantic storm (which I mistakenly called Teresa in an email to a friend but, of course, was tagged Irene — a far less stern name. There is a Simon - I checked — but happily it’s in the far less malevolent North East Pacific and to date has caused less harm than many of its mid Pacific and mid Atlantic cousins. Names rotate — I didn’t know that — and Simon is due back in 2014. Fingers crossed.
It’s raining again here as I write. So much so that the street has flooded again, which trashed any ideas about getting out on weekend night for a beer and a tune. I’m become obsessed with the intriguing Shazam app on the phone. Far more so than any piece of software I’ve found of recent. It can identify songs in noisy pubs from a few bars, over the din. Yesterday it got Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster and an obscure 60s American garage punk thing that even I’ve not heard of. It identified Coltrane!
My friend Sam — a DJ — told me that kids turn up in his DJ booth with it on their phones. When asked, they say things like ‘I’m the DJ tomorrow night and I’m just working out my set from what works for you’.…
I’m impressed with the software if not all the users, but it will have to wait to be tested again: the soi is now flooded.
Which is bizarre. At 6pm I’d just completed a six km walk from Ladprao to Rama IX, down the eight lane juggernaut of Thanon Ratchadapisek. I’d discovered two new malls (one had seven floors and yet another Gucci store) and what may be the world’s biggest brothel:
Do you pay more or less for a room on the tenth floor? Does a view matter in the allocated hour of what I assume is pleasure? I also wonder about the big stacks of broken bathtubs you often see out the back of these places. I try not to wonder too much about them.
I saw countless big brothels as I walked, but none as overwhelmingly large as that one. You do wonder how they all survive — this is after very much not tourist Bangkok, this is Thailand and in the small cafés there is absolutely no farang signage.
Mostly we don’t exist out here. The boulevard — quite orderly given the traffic — cuts and delivers through a massive Thai-targeted entertainment, shopping (the hardware stores here are five or six times the mega versions of Mitre 10 in Auckland) and eating zone, heading north to the LadPrao uber-mall zone, where two of the biggest malls in the world (one — newly — with the world’s biggest LED screen as an outside wall) sit on opposite sides of the road.
I grew uneasy with the endless massive knock shops — as open minded as I try to be I do suffer a personal sense of discomfort when confronted with this sort of thing:
I crossed the road, but the other side was filled with glassy insurance towers and an uninspiring five-floor monolith that seemed — if I translated the Thai words and imagery correctly — to sell only Arabian themed tiles and bathrooms. There is a market I guess in a city of 15m. Perhaps the broken bathtubs are a clue?
It was dull. So I climbed back up the next overbridge — one doesn’t try and cross a road like this without one: Thai drivers have yet to learn the art of letting a pedestrian pass safely in front of the car. Which is still better than China, where buses noticeably accelerate into parts of the road optimistically marked as a zebra crossing.
I was confronted by a branch of the world famous Somboon Seafood, home — as the sign says — of the ‘original fried curry crab’. I don’t like fried curry crab, original or not, so I moved on. Still, I’m told that this particular Somboon is to fried curry crab fans as Abbey Road is to Beatles fans, so I can at least say I’ve seen it when I next spend time with one. A guy flies up from Singapore to this outlet every week, eats and then flies home, or so the legend goes.
The greater problem for me was the heat. All afternoon it was stinking hot and getting hotter. I wore a hat. I need to. The last time I attempted a walk like this without one — in Dusit — I eventually succumbed to heatstroke, despite a friendly cop offering me a gratis bottle of iced water. Not again.
There was nary a cloud in the blue cloud and I was beginning to stagger under the relentless onslaught. 35 it said on the big LED outside another multi-storey specialist plumbing supplies mega-opolis. It felt it. The Thai people driving past were laughing at me — nobody sane, as the song says, does this. I walked on.
Another mall and — I really feel uneasy about saying this — a Starbucks looked really enticing. Sometimes a sugar infused passionfruit frappé seems far more appealing that you know it really should.
On the fifth floor of this mall was a CD store with a really impressive selection of Black Sabbath remasters. For the folks to listen to in their Arabian themed bathrooms perhaps?
I tossed around, briefly, the thought that I would call it a day and head underground into the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT station — named not for the malls, the curried crab and big knock shops, but for a distant arts centre oddly over a kilometre away and almost impossible to get to from here.
Instead I foolishly staggered to the next station, drawn by the IT mall next to it, where I found some respite in a bottle of that slightly salty fresh orange juice I quite like and the comforting floors of monitors, gadgets and pointless cyber add-ons.
I then caught a cab.
Within a few minutes of arriving home around 6.30, the winds began to gust — a sure indicator that rain is coming — and a huge black cloud was pushed into the sky. It duly erupted within a few minutes — flooded the street to ankle depth.
This morning the street was clear. The phone says it’s 32 outside and the sky is blue again.
Today someone will tell me that the rains are staying late this year.
ETA: As the heavens opened tonight, Brigid said “the rainy season seems to be lasting longer than usual this year.”