Take this brother / May it serve you well

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.

I real­ly don’t — but I guess it will come across a lit­tle that way.

I don’t win things. I know that every­body says exact­ly that but I real­ly don’t. Okay, I won $754 the first time I played Lot­to. What a killer game thought I — and I spent sev­er­al thou­sand dol­lars over the next few years try­ing to do it again before I stopped, and made what I thought would be a dif­fi­cult-to-com­ply-with res­o­lu­tion to there­after avoid the week­ly what-if flutter.

It was­n’t and I don’t. Mostly.

Nobody I know real­ly wins Lot­to. Peo­ple in rur­al towns win it. Not urban wastrels like myself — peo­ple who’d be as like­ly to blow it in a year or two on irra­tional artis­tic black-holes, or fund­ing hope­less­ly won­der­ful but always mar­gin­al records, as I’ve tend­ed to do in years past when I have a sud­den wad of cash. Oth­er peo­ple buy hous­es, I give the mon­ey to record­ing stu­dios in what must be the most fis­cal­ly fool­hardy action pos­si­ble in a nation of where a gold record is unlike­ly to cov­er the cost of the give­away T‑shirts let alone any­thing more substantial.

Then my uncle won first prize in Lot­to, but sad­ly only as a part of a large con­sor­tium. This, it occurred quick­ly to me, meant he had expend­ed his — and you may argue the whole fam­i­ly’s — ran­dom-chance­ness on about enough to make an only just mea­sur­able dent in his annu­al — not exces­sive — outgoings.

This week how­ev­er both Brigid and I won. My wife makes me feel like a win­ner every day, but what I’m try­ing to say is that is, we both won a prize.

And from the same mag­a­zine —  Bangkok 101, eas­i­ly the best vis­i­tor aimed mag­a­zine in this town — and, real­ly more impor­tant­ly, only one of two that does­n’t seem to crawl around Pat­pong or Soi Cow­boy’s gut­ters, cater to over­weight Irish pub dwellers, or, and I don’t know which is worse, project some sort of post-Raj expat lifestyle com­plete with Polo Ponies, priv­i­lege, and columns com­plain­ing about every­thing in, and explain­ing how ‘they’ should fix large parts of, this sup­pos­ed­ly not-like-home pisspot of a city/country. Fuck off. Really.

BKK 101 has, unusu­al­ly, per­haps unique­ly, for Eng­lish lan­guage mag­a­zines in SEA, humour, depth and style, and deserves the plug (if you are com­ing this way…) I’m giv­ing it here.

So yes, two prizes. Quite different.

The first was a river­boat cruise. A moon­lit din­ner — which they awk­ward­ly pitch as roman­tic — and boo­gie set against a mov­ing back­drop of the famed sights on the Chao Phraya Riv­er, on one of those mon­strous neon and gaud adorned float­ing restau­rant barges that trek up and down the riv­er that defined and still defines this city, every night after dark. A kind of poor-mans inland loveboat.

And of course, nor­mal­ly wild horses…

How­ev­er, we decid­ed to walk the plank on the Pearl of Siam if only to take the piss, and duly booked, mak­ing a men­tal note not to eat too much of what would doubtless­ly be hor­ren­dous, reheat­ed, spice­less and Farang-friend­ly (mar­gin­al­ly) Thai food, and thus avoid any chance of food poi­son­ing wreck­ing the sec­ond won prize, a din­ner for two at the min­i­mal-fab and nor­mal­ly sil­ly expen­sive Bed Sup­per­club.

After a drink at one of the city’s great secrets, Bal­co, that elu­sive and almost unique thing: a well priced bar with an an impres­sive view of said riv­er, we joined the queue of flip-flop and tourist mar­ket t‑shirt wear­ing Aus­tralians, South­ern Euro­peans, Kore­ans, Chi­nese and Japan­ese, and stag­gered on, won­der­ing repeat­ed­ly if per­haps we should’ve stayed in the rooftop bar long enough to miss the gang­way being raised.

But we did­n’t and here we were, I imag­ine because we were on a free­bie, being grace­less­ly ush­ered into the bow­els of the big boat, where the win­dows were only mar­gin­al­ly above the water-line, to our table — nat­u­ral­ly num­ber 13.

I looked anx­ious­ly for life jack­ets and exits. Hav­ing hap­pi­ly not­ed both I sipped my lumi­nous-pink jel­ly-like wel­come drink. It tast­ed like the syrup found in those cans of fake cher­ries which Brigid, who knows these things much more-so than I do, says are real­ly olives dyed pink, mixed with some FDA approved solid­i­fy­ing agent and extra sucrose to kill (or cre­ate per­haps) the flavour.

The Japan­ese and Kore­an tour par­ties we were shar­ing our semi-sub­merged deck with seemed quite impressed as did the smil­ing evan­gel­i­cal cou­ple from Ida­ho across the way, in their match­ing his-and-hers tan safari outfits.

Brigid thought briefly about a cock­tail until I men­tioned the local spir­its that sell for 150B per litre in the 7/11, and we both set­tled instead on a Singha.

The boat was still docked when we were invit­ed to eat. We wan­dered cau­tious­ly to the front of the deck, where a throng of our fel­low deck dwellers were semi-silent­ly push­ing and shov­ing each oth­er to max­imise their own suzerain­ty over the large plat­ters of salmon sushi and prawns. To my eye, there seemed to be enough for all, but the par­ty of elder­ly Kore­ans at the front were tak­ing nei­ther chances nor any bull­shit from an equal­ly aged group­ing of Japanese.

Per­haps the rift ran deep­er than the fish.

As I wait­ed for a moment of calm, this caught my eye:

Tech­nol­o­gy, huh?

I moved on.

The larb-gai — or a rough approx­i­ma­tion of it — actu­al­ly looked ok, so I added some to the side of my plate and then went to the prawn cakes (with plum sauce it said — I could see none at all). I made a point of ensur­ing that every­thing I took looked very well cooked — I side­stepped the fishy look­ing sal­ad — and I sat down and ner­vous­ly put a small piece of the chick­en in my mouth.

It was good. Real­ly quite good.

Brigid point­ed to the prawn cakes and nod­ded. They were even better.


Feel­ing a lit­tle more assured — and hun­gry — we returned to the buf­fet and added cur­ries and more. I returned twice and then found the fab­u­lous green sweet sticky rice(-ish) stuff. I was drawn back to that plat­ter twice more.

Then, it’s Thai­land  — the food is always at least ser­vice­ably good, right? Well not always around Silom, Khao San or Low­er Sukhumvit, but this was bet­ter than that. It even had above tourist lev­els of spice in a city where most West­ern vis­i­tors usu­al­ly order that dish called Pad Thai — with no spice — and think they’ve had Thai food.

Mean­while, we were on our way. We’d left the Riv­er City dock with­out me notic­ing but I did notice that the mid-west­ern evan­ge­lists had man­aged to score a cou­ple more pink wel­come drinks and were get­ting notice­ably loud­er as the sug­ar hit. The world over, Amer­i­can tourists, espe­cial­ly those from the vast bits between San Fran­cis­co and New York, always involve the whole room in their con­ver­sa­tions, whether inti­mate in detail or not.

Please, nobody feed these two Redbull.

The band, or at least I assumed it was a band — we only had a remote audio feed down in the bow­els of the boat — lurched from a creaky take of Feel­ings to the per­haps a lit­tle inap­pro­pri­ate Don’t Cry For Me Argenti­na, dur­ing which the singer paused and said, in a bro­ken mid-Pacif­ic accent:

On the left is a temple’

And indeed there was: a very bright big one. Lovely.

On the right is a church — it is very old.’

Yep — the Japan­ese and Kore­an mas­sive though, seemed more inter­est­ed in the numer­ous TVs, which had odd footage of peo­ple lev­i­tat­ing in India and flam­ing coffins being tossed into the sea in Taiwan.

We went upstairs.

There we found — on the roof deck — the folks who had obvi­ous­ly paid to be there, unlike us.

The slow­ly pass­ing shore scene was rather glo­ri­ous — this riv­er, night and day, is quite some­thing and the var­i­ous tem­ples, 19th-cen­tu­ry Por­tuguese church­es and more, were lit and very pho­to­genic. Then, day or night, they are always quite splen­did. I for­get just how much so until I see them again and am as sim­i­lar­ly awed as I was the pre­vi­ous 200 times I’ve done so.

That said, the light­ing at night adds anoth­er spec­tral dimension.

Some peo­ple took lots and lots of pho­tos for Face­book, and rotat­ed quick­ly back and forth with cam­corders pro­duc­ing — you just know —  mov­ing images that cause instant head twist­ing nau­sea as you try to fol­low them on the sin­gle occa­sion they’ll ever be looked at by anyone.

Most peo­ple — about 80% — just looked bored and gazed form­less­ly into the dark­ness or at the band. Aus­tralians do this a lot. I guess when you have Ayers Rock, The Syd­ney Opera House and that sub­ma­rine in a play­ground half way down the Hume High­way — sev­er­al hun­dred miles from the Ocean and in a town which also odd­ly calls itself the Jazz Cap­i­tal Of The World — it takes a lot to impress.

In New Zealand, we have a won­der­ful har­bour but no man-made con­structs at all to get excit­ing and breath­less about, so we tend to be more eas­i­ly awed by this sort of thing.

The band were perched in a tiny spot at the front of this deck, and were enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly fin­ish­ing their set with some­thing they said was from the ‘fab­u­lous Man­hat­tan Trans­fer’. Per­haps it was in anoth­er life.

The crowd, how­ev­er, were most­ly grim-faced – stony – and looked com­plete­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed in their sur­round­ings and the band.

At the front, a mid­dle-aged ock­er cou­ple with a teen son — who prob­a­bly was­n’t con­scious­ly try­ing to emu­late Kathy Burke’s Per­ry — were hav­ing a domes­tic tus­sle which had end­ed in a silent stand­off. It was obvi­ous that he — Per­ry’s dad — sim­ply did­n’t want to be there. A rea­son­able guess may be that he’d want­ed to go to Pat­pong and she’d insist­ed on the boat.

Or per­haps he came home late from Pat­pong the night before with lip­stick on his pri­vates and had no idea — he said — how it had arrived there.

He tried to hug her. She pushed him away and he skulked off.

The PA fart­ed a cou­ple of times and then burst into life, and the orig­i­nal record­ing of the always appro­pri­ate red­neck love song Achy Breaky Heart arrived loud­ly. Per­ry and his mum rose and began line danc­ing in front of us.

Tam­worth’? Brigid mused.

More tem­ples passed as — obliv­i­ous — they shook their butts and rotat­ed in per­fect tan­dem. They’d done this before.

The band returned and announced:

It’s time to rock’n’roll’

… and banged instant­ly into All Shook Up. Nobody on the deck moved. The singer, who seemed to be on the last gig of a dis­ap­point­ing career, looked ner­vous­ly at the crowd and then back at the band. They’d lost the moment. Elvis might sat­is­fy the Ger­man tour groups but this lot were hav­ing none of it. Killing the musi­cal faux pas with­out sen­ti­ment, she announced hap­pi­ly that the next tune was: Achy Breaky Heart.

Per­ry and mum were back up in a heartbeat.

As it fin­ished the singer asked, ‘Who likes Lady Gaga?’

Per­ry and mum did­n’t but were quick­ly replaced by a hot-blood­ed young Latin cou­ple  — doing some well-prac­tised moves they’d picked up from some old Enrique Igle­sias video.

The rest of the deck seemed unmoved by any of it. They sat.

Next to us stood a hap­py pow­er drinker. He was order­ing – and swift­ly sculling – Sing­has in lots of two.

Drown­ing his pack­age deal depres­sion maybe — or just a pisshead.…

As soon as we docked Brigid and I ran to get a cab. There were few — just the nor­mal smat­ter­ing of you’d-have-to-be-nuts tuk-tuks and the meter-is-bro­ken tourist touts — so we went into the Sher­a­ton, adja­cent to the dock, to try and find a kosher one out the front.

I’ve nev­er been to an Indi­an L’O­re­al con­ven­tion before.

I have now. Swarms of bejew­elled Indi­an hair­dressers and over­ly coif­fured sales peo­ple with that unique South Asian take on the 60s Roy Orbi­son cut wan­dered past.

Then through it came a note-per­fect cho­rus of Please Please Me and we saw, in, a most­ly-emp­ty bar, the fab four — or at least a Thai repli­ca of said band, knock­ing out Lennon-McCart­ney clas­sics (and a George tune or two).

They took a break and I took a snap­shot of John. He was cool. ‘We know all their songs’ he said. ‘Hang around — we do requests’.

We did.

We looked at the bar menu. 350B for a Stel­la. Fuck me. I decid­ed to order a Fer­der­brau, the Ger­man-styled weiss­bier made with mixed results — but almost drink­able — by Sing­ha. It was only 220B, which is only about 220% more than you’d pay for a pint in a non-hotel bar. It came. It was a 200 mil glass. One won­ders how The Sher­a­ton can jus­ti­fy a 1200% markup over whole­sale. That said, I’ve trav­elled long enough not to pon­der these things too much.

Who the hell drinks in hotel bars. We do I guess, and there was a smat­ter­ing of oth­er faux-Fab‑4 fans order­ing as well. One round prob­a­bly pays the whole band.

The band struck up and asked for requests — the words Rev­o­lu­tion Num­ber 9 almost left my lips but instead, they formed around Birth­day – since it was Brigid’s.

Second verse, same as the first — except it’s not.

Just under twen­ty hours lat­er we found our­selves walk­ing into Bed Supperclub.

Bed is very famous. With some justification.

There is one in, I think, Flori­da and, new­ly, one in Paris I under­stand. I’d been sev­er­al times before, the includ­ing once to see the for­mer lead singer of Cul­ture Club play a set of cheesy elec­tro-ish house, which, giv­en George’s his­to­ry, had evoked an inevitable feel­ing of pathos. Time (Clock of the Heart) indeed.

I loved Cul­ture Club and the way they slot­ted into both the pop charts and the alter­na­tive post-punk scenes cred­i­bly and so effort­less­ly. It was sad to see where he’d end­ed up.

That said, the night­club side is an amaz­ing venue to see a DJ — the best sight­lines on plan­et earth — from huge con­tin­u­ous wall sofas on a mez­za­nine — an incred­i­ble sound sys­tem and a large effi­cient bar. It works.

The Lau­rent Gar­nier gig was one of the best elec­tron­ic shows I’ve ever seen. Mind­blow­ing.

This, how­ev­er, was the first time we had eat­en in the oth­er half, the all-white restau­rant tube which looks like a set from some 60s spaghet­ti sci-fi movie or Woody Allen’s Sleepers.

As we were ush­ered to our ‘bed’, the pout­ing wait­er, who looked vague­ly ridicu­lous in his harem pants, as if he too had stolen some­thing from an old set, this time an MC Ham­mer video com­plete with one of those ridicu­lous Kid’n’­Play hair­cuts, said:

Tonight is Mod­el Night!’

Whoa — and as if on cue, a cou­ple of tow­er­ing, spindly legged, pic­ture per­fect, things saun­tered gor­geous­ly in and sat at the far end of the almost end­less bed which dou­bled as a place to eat — albeit at a spe­cial­ly placed table — no bed­ding down with the hoi pol­loi for these gals.

And lat­er — sal­sa danc­ing…’ Ham­mer con­tin­ued, albeit with a bored sneer obvi­ous­ly direct­ed our way. We rapid­ly removed the meal vouch­er from his view.

I ordered a beer, a Paulan­er. It was only twice the stan­dard beyond-Bed rate, and we sat down with the menu. Pre­dictably the DJ seemed to be lim­it­ed, as pol­i­cy I guess, to a selec­tion of tracks tak­en from the odi­ous Bud­dha Bar albums — awful, wispy col­lec­tions that plague almost all the more ‘fab­u­lous’ restau­rants in South East Asia.

Sound sophis­ti­ca­tion comes in an incred­i­bly over­priced box it seems.

A per­fect­ly formed Ger­man cou­ple 1 in pris­tine white flow­ing resort wear, as you do in Asia I under­stand, arrived with whom I assumed, from looks, to be the wom­an’s elder­ly moth­er in tow. They said — very, very loud­ly so we could all hear — that they were thrilled to be back. We were sup­posed to be impressed. They were regulars.

Arriv­ing with your bemused old mum may have trashed that.

Would you bring your ancient rel­a­tive — one who looks like she’d rather be in slip­pers with Coro Street (as I admit I would’ve been after a cou­ple of hours) —  to a very twee and pre­ten­tious joint where one is expect­ed to lounge fab­u­lous­ly on huge white beds and eat messy food bal­anced awk­ward­ly between your lap and the unsta­ble white thing they’ve des­ig­nat­ed as a table?

MC Ham­mer pursed his lips and told us firm­ly it was time to order. Now. Com­ply­ing with the instruc­tion and still a lit­tle in awe of his over­stat­ed and briefly fash­ion­able — about 22 years ago — pants, a look com­plet­ed this time by a pair of curled-toed Aladdin slip­pers, we both opt­ed for the three course set menu and took, as our main, the rec­om­mend­ed Waygu burg­er — medi­um rare.

With­out utter­ing a word, Ham­mer strut­ted back to the kitchen.

The dish­wash­er came on. Real­ly, real­ly loud­ly. It blend­ed bad­ly — nay, drowned out — the ambi­ence of the sub-Yoga beats of the Bud­dha Bar discs. The gag­gle of mod­els sat silent­ly rigid a few metres aware — blank-faced and utter­ly per­fect. The wait­er took them some­thing that looked like limp lettuce.

Mod­el food.

The food arrived. I have no idea what my starter was — it was that mem­o­rable. We ate it and for­got it the moment our plates were cleared.

The mains then appeared, about the same time as the first part of a floor show began.

Three guys dressed as some­thing — one was in a plas­tic bag — came out and the words pro­ject­ed on the screen behind informed us all that we were about to see an inter­pre­ta­tion of an ancient Brah­man leg­end. The guy in the plas­tic bag climbed out and hand­ed it to one of the oth­ers. He then peered know­ing­ly upwards, as the third picked up his pre-posi­tioned acoustic gui­tar and began to force­ful­ly strum with implied meaning.

What it implied I’m not sure.

Very slow­ly, stretch­ing out each syl­la­ble so we could savour its mean­ing, he began to sing:

Imag­ine there’s no heav­en, It’s easy if you try.….’

My gag reflex was auto­mat­ic. I tried to hide it but that sim­ply meant the reflex mutat­ed into a mut­ed guf­faw — and Brigid told me to behave.

He con­tin­ued at a pace obvi­ous­ly designed to give us the per­son­al men­tal space to reflect on the profundity:

No hell below us / above us only sky…’

I looked at the mod­els — they were still stony-faced but had shift­ed a lit­tle — I guessed they had found some mean­ing in the words, per­haps find­ing the link between the ancient Brah­man leg­end and Lennon’s turgid third form verse.

I took a bite from the Waygu burg­er and gagged a sec­ond time. As the song fad­ed and the three per­form­ers very, very slow­ly shuf­fled away, heads down — as the solem­ni­ty of their mes­sage demand­ed —  a lump formed in my throat.

It came from the sol­id con­gealed knob that was the medi­um rare Japan­ese-raised burg­er pat­tie, and it quick­ly became lodged in the back of my mouth and refused for a moment to move. Pan­ick­ing, I even­tu­al­ly forced it down with more of the expen­sive Ger­man lager.

The thought that the very last thing I was ever going to hear was a tune writ­ten by a wild­ly rich junkie in a man­sion in Sur­rey telling me to give away all my pos­ses­sions — sung by a man who had just climbed out of a plas­tic bag, choked fatal­ly by a burg­er served by a twat who looked like MC Ham­mer, crossed my mind briefly.

I looked at Brigid and she was hav­ing the same, pos­si­bly the worst high-end food in Bangkok, moment as I was and strug­gling to con­sume the flavour­less play-dough tex­tured lump.  And, worse, the pat­tie was an odd colour. What was it? Who knows? We gave up.

The Ger­mans next to us seemed all good, though. Hap­pi­ly, they’d found mean­ing in the show and were still clap­ping furi­ous­ly. Across the way anoth­er Euro­pean cou­ple — Eng­lish we thought — had set up a video cam­era on a stand and were cap­tur­ing the whole evening. I won­dered how the neigh­bours and fam­i­ly in Scun­thor­pe would deal with a two-hour movie that includ­ed two New Zealan­ders in the back­ground clasp­ing at their throats and throw­ing down Ger­man lager in an attempt to gath­er anoth­er breath.

Or would it, as with almost every video shot on hol­i­day any­where, sim­ply lan­guish in a box for a few years, or on a hard dri­ve, unwatched and for­got­ten until even­tu­al­ly dumped.

For­get was what I want­ed to do with the rest of the meal. How­ev­er, Ham­mer insist­ed we have the pud­ding. I opt­ed for one of those choco­late thingys with the hot melt­ed mid­dle bit that just about every­one every­where did in the mid ’00s. Brigid chose the sticky rice and man­go. This is Thai­land — even the soi dogs can knock up a pass­able ren­di­tion of the nation­al dessert if pushed.

Real­ly, we should have left when we could. The actors returned dressed as mon­keys and then began to belch squawky nois­es to sub-Hen­drix elec­tric gui­tar riffs — very Thai. Not.

You real­ly for­get what peo­ple will do to enter­tain tourists.

And the pud­ding arrived. My dry brown fur­ry lump had a slight­ly soft­er brown lump in the mid­dle and Brigid’s was an impreg­nable block of seem­ing­ly long-coag­u­lat­ed white and orange, parts of which per­haps used to be rice in a for­mer life.

MC Ham­mer tossed a cus­tomer com­ments ques­tion­naire onto our table. We real­ly could­n’t find words. ‘Unique’ was the only word we could find.

I looked — the mod­els seemed to be enjoy­ing the faux-Hen­drix. They were hot for the impend­ing salsa.

We left.

Briefly, we men­tioned to each oth­er that the food on the River­boat, which we had dread­ed, was in anoth­er league.

We worked hard to find words to best describe Bed and only came up with the obvi­ous ones: twee, facile, insub­stan­tial, over­priced, tacky and so on. Brigid per­haps caught it best when she said it felt like the sort of joint a hair­dress­er would open.

Then again, some of my best friends are hairdressers.…

Would I go again? Bed, uh, no. At least not to eat — it was awful beyond awful on every lev­el. The Love­boat, maybe not because I’ve done it now, but there are worst ways to spend $40 on fair­ly rea­son­able food, take in one of the world’s great rivers — quite gob-smack­ing at night — tem­pered by some voyeuris­tic humour.

And, hell, it was almost free. I am ungrateful.

Show 1 footnote

  1. OK, she was a lit­tle on the chub­by side but she thought she was per­fect­ly formed.

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

January 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

go the pis­shead wit 2 bottles…either an ock­er or a vis­i­tor from napier

Leave a reply