Day 20: Finding Hipster's Paradise in Bangkok
Nothing like some good pulled pork to make everything better. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THIS motorbike taxi is going to kill me. My laptop bag is going to clip something and we're going to go down hard. The laptop will bust, the camera will shatter, the climbing gear will bounce into on coming traffic and I'll crack my head open on the pavement.
I should have known better than to ride with a motorbike taxi driver who uses the same dinky vehicle that all the teenagers trickout to race: thin wheels, tilted seats, heavy throttle and sharp breaks.
My legs are tired from pressing against the pegs to stop me from slamming into the back of driver every time he hits the brakes.
“Fuck,” I mumble, among a number of other comments and prayers.
I just want to get off this death machine.
Back on the sidewalk, the driver honks his horn to clear a path as we slip by traffic. We wiggle between cars so close together that I need to tuck my elbows in to stop from bumping into windows.
The worst of it, however, is that he has no idea where we are going.
Before getting on I showed him exactly where on the map we needed to go. He said something to me, some question. I pointed at the map. I'm not about to agree to something I don't understand when it comes to this and end up in the wrong place. The whole reason I'm taking a taxi is to avoid running late and getting lost.
He pulls over and asks another motorbike taxi driver for directions.
We pass the turn off.
I show him the map again. It's like he doesn't understand what a map is. It's in Thai, the directions are in Thai! Literacy is a gift that most of us take for granted.
My abs dully ache from absorbing the braking along with my legs. I'm tired and not even to the climbing gym yet. It's easy to think of better ways to spend the first hours of a morning after having been out on the lash, downing the better part of 15 drinks in a couple hours the night before.
We stop for more directions. The motorbike taxi driver next to us points the the opposite way we need to be going. Before my driver and can make another attempt on my life, I re-direct him and get him going in the right direction. Eventually, we pull up next to some bushes outside of the posh Racquet Club, which provides “a variety of premier quality recreations and leisure programs...” It is also home to Urban Climbing, one of the two climbing gyms in Bangkok.
“How much?” I ask the driver.
Yes, rookie mistake. I've been dealing with such reasonable people up to this point that I've gotten lazy and let down my guard. This is exactly the sort of motorbike driver you need to establish a price with ahead of time.
“Three hundred,” he says.
I laugh in his face. I've lived in Thailand too long for this kind of bullshit to even phase me.
“One hundred,” I say.
He drops the price to 200, but I hold to my guns and start looking for 100 baht.
“140,” he says, almost as a plea. That's probably closer to a fair price, so I dig into a little coin bag and rustle up an extra 30 baht to give him. Disappointed, but not willing to argue further about it, he rolls away on the bike.
Rough start to the day.
The Racquet Club is an enormous unappealing, gray complex. I check in, pay my fee for the climbing and then make my way up the stairs and through a mostly empty badminton court. I pause for a moment to watch the ferocity and intensity of a young girl crushing shuttlecock after shuttlecock across the net at her coach.
For once, I arrive before Yok – a good climbing buddy of mine from Phuket, who happens to be in town. The man is perpetually early, as I am late.
Within a half hour, Yok arrives. He's a wide shouldered Thai guy, with a body built for the glossy pages of a fitness magazine – not a typical Thai build at all. Rocking a pink cut off muscle shirt and swim trunks, he's ready to get going.
The gym itself, which caught fire a couple years ago, is hot. An enormous industrial fan on the roof moves the hot air from one place to another without really cooling the high-ceiling facility.
By the third climb I'm feeling weak. We took the lead climbing test, both of us taking big falls near the top of the routes without notice, and are now working on some over hanging routes. But I don't have it in me.
Even with my entire hand wrapped around a handlebar hold, I'm mentally crashing. The unreasonable fear of pulling line and missing my clip only to slip from the wall and deck on the ground below is nearly paralyzing. There is just a pervading weakness: mentally and physically.
I give up.
“No more drinking before climbing,” Yok says, clearly disappointed. I give him a catch on a couple more routes. It's been about three hours. I'm wasted, and not in the lovely drunk sort of way.
With the vague disappointment of not having let the dice cause all the trouble the night before, but instigated it myself, I trudge toward the BTS Station, ignoring motorbike taxi drivers. I need food.
On the way to the gym I noticed a restaurant bragging about their “from the farm to your table” quality, which is appealing to my yuppy middle-class, econ-conscious self. The street I'm on is full of the sort of fooderies that are pushing their organic, vegan, fair trade products. It's that kind of neighborhood.
Unfortunately, I arrive at the BTS station without finding the restaurant. I drag myself up the stairs to the skyway.
Down below, on the opposite side, there appears to be a farmer's market taking place. Not a proper farmer's market, which would of course be like any fresh food market in Thailand, but a rendition of an American farmer's market: “The Garden of TFEST”, which is technically pop-up Urban Flea Market.
I don't want to go.
I want to go home.
I want to sleep.
But it's an opportunity. It's a chance for an experience. It's... I pull out my red die.
Evens: I go home; odds: I go back down the stairs and check it out.
The die falls from my hand and bounces loudly on the tiles: five.
With genuine disappointment in the dies lack of judgment, I turn around and grudgingly go back down the stairs to the other side of the street.
The market has a North American theme with a bounty of fresh ferns and other deciduous forest foliage stacked on fresh hay bales. A couple small white Native American teepees are scattered between the food stalls, which are all boasting their names on stretches of brown burlap sacks.
Passing under the festival's welcoming arch, I bee-line for the large white air conditioned tent, still not convinced the die made the right decision.
Inside, there are four rows of vendors selling an assortment of products from DIY glass painting to handcrafted silver jewelry. The stalls blend together with the same creamy, “all-natural” color scheme that is so popular with the packaging on organic food products.
One of the stalls, The Voice, is printing made-to-order shirts and hats for 250 baht.
“We can do logos too,” the pretty, middle-aged women explains to me when I pause to look at the shirts.
Dice Travels clothing line, here we come. I already have a hat lovingly embroidered by a dear friend of mine as a going away gift, so though the hats look pretty slick, it's going to have to be a t-shirt. I show them the logo, expecting the idea to get shot down and wondering if it was worth just getting “dice travels” printed on a black t-shirt.
“Yes, we can do that,” she says.
I email it to them: the logo will go on the back, “dice travels” on the front, two lines.
The success wipes the tiredness of my face like a wet towel at work on the face of a coal miner. So the dice were after a little more self promotion, I can live with that. I can definitely live with that.
The shirt will be ready in about 20 minutes.
Get yourself some Dice Travels wearables. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
In a much better condition, I begin to wander around the lovely little flea market. There is a stand dedicated to s'mores and several others several that promise to smother fries or crisps with cheese. At the far end of the market, there is a little a collection of food trucks – this place is a hipster's paradise: grab some funky food – maybe the softshell crab burger – and chill out on some hay bales.
After make a preliminary round to get a feel for my options, I take the die out – what's papa going to eat for lunch? Gourmet fries, pulled pork, shellfish or a wrap. Gourmet fries are without a doubt at the top of the range, but needed some justifying, while the wrap is at the bottom of the range.
In high spirits (What wholesome Indiana boy doesn't love some good pulled pork?), I meander back toward the food trucks to a couple guys rocking out on griddle: 12-hour slow cooked pulledpork, fried chicken cheese madness or fried soft-shell crab . If I wasn't allergic to shrimp and crab, I wouldn't have given the option to the die, as the entire soft-shell crab, legs and claws breaching the perimeter of the burger bun, looks far too amazing to pass on. However, I am – and the die has spoken.
Street Mad was supposed to have already opened their restaurant, says the tall, good-looking Thai who takes my order. He and his buddy quit their jobs at about the same time and decided to open the business together. However, their landlord was trying to screw them over, so they were just doing pop-ups and other festivals.
He hands me two plastic gloves, and then sticks a toothpick with a Street Mad flag at the top through my massive pulled pork sandwich. I settle onto an empty step next to an array of ferns and put my gloves on to get started on the sandwich. The dark yellow yoke of the egg splits open and oozes onto my gloves along with the orange, tangy BBQ sauce used for the pork.
This is heaven.
Savoring each bite, it becomes clear that any place that takes their burgers or pulled pork seriously should provide gloves, though it does make any finger licking at the end feel like sex with an over-sized condom.
I consider letting the die further splurge by giving it the option of a potted ice cream, garnished with crushed Oreos (top soil) and gummy worms. However, I'm blowing through money way to fast in Bangkok, I need to show some self discipline, without the dice dictating it.
Back at the hostel, I'm beaming with pride about my shirt and the dies flawless decision. Laura is still happily in bed. She's enjoyed every minute of her recovery day. However, she agrees to join me for a stroll and dinner.
A very long walk, sends us onto the back streets of Bangkok, then through a little neighborhood where residents are their belongs seem to be fully exposed to passersby, which by the looks of it is usually only their neighbors. The piles of stuff, old motorbike parts, worn laundry and broken toys, is quaint instead of chaotic. Over a wall and across an abandoned lot, one of Bangkok's many skyscrapers stretches up toward the clouds.
“Beautiful view,” Laura says. She had been hoping to go to the top of one of the towers and drink up the cityscape, but it hasn't been in the cards.
As we are about to turn around, the little path through the neighborhood seems to be on the verge of coming to an end, an elderly man sitting at a picnic table with friends asks us where we're headed. He points ahead and tells us that there are some restaurants not too far away.
We sit down at an Indian curry place on the corner of two small sois, in what seems to be pocket of the French community in Bangkok. The round table and metal chairs on the brick patio is reminiscent of Europe. Next to our street-side patio is another one, where proper French crepes are being served.
The dice quickly order for me, while Laura sifts through the menu. We're both tired. We don't talk much, just soak up the night in the warm glow of the restaurant. It would be so nice if I could speak French fluently. It seems to be such a burden to ask Laura to always speak in a foreign language.
Her friend is flying in tomorrow morning, and he's booked them a seaside bungalow, so fluent French is not too far off for her, which is good.
After dinner, we walk the three meters to the crepe place and order desert. Laura's dug her heels in about not letting the dice decided, so I order a coffee as we attempt to navigate the multi-layered decision of what crepe or ice cream with what toppings is to be had.
Five minutes later, she admits that she's not even really looking at the menu, just mindlessly flipping back and forth through the pages. I'm glad I have my coffee.
Spotting the iconic boarder of a copy of Le Paris Bangkok, which is a French-language magazine in Thailand, I pick up a copy from the counter and bring it back to her. (The same publishers also produce Le Paris Phuket, which a good friend of mine writes for from time to time.)
The timing is bad. Instead of reading the menu, she starts flipping through the magazine.
“Okay, give me that,” I say taking the magazine away with a smile. I attempt to read some of it out loud to here. The article is about how stylish and functional Italian Vespas are. With four abysmal years of French collage classes under my belt, I kind of get what I'm reading, but Laura can't understand a word of what I'm saying.
Eventually, we decided to split a crepe and ice cream. Our first option isn't available, so I quickly re-order.
Satisfied, we split the bill and start a slow stroll along an alternative route to the hostel.
As we pass the MTR station, the bright colorful lights of Ferris Wheel come into focus. We'd talked about riding the classic carnival ride on our very first day together.
Given that the first Ferris Wheel was built for the World Fair in Chicago by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, opening to the public in 1983 as the American response to the Eiffel Tower, there would be something poetic about stealing a few precious kisses from Laura high above Bangkok.
We cast the die. Pair we ride the Ferris Wheel; impair we go back and to the hostel and find a movie.
It's nice to know that the dice doesn't always force us out.
Back in our room, which we still have to ourselves, we cuddle up under a couple blankets and attempt to find a French movie with English subtitles. Unable to access her room mates Netflix account, we settle for something on YouTube.
The first movie ends up not having subtitles, so we switch to the French-Canadian comedy Sans Dessein (Lost Cause). Though a bit skeptical at first, the French-style comedic elements of the movie, about a deadbeat man living in Canada being haunted by his future loser self, wins us over.
A simple happiness settles in, as we laughing at Robert Roberts, the lead character's only friend, pompously lectures Paul, the lead, about how utterly worthless he is at life.
With the movie over, my lips find their way to Laura's and we turn off the lights to enjoy one last night together.