August 22, 2020

THAILAND UNABRIDGED

By admin

Life is a bit of this, a bit of that, and a bit of nothing. Sums it up, doesn’t it .Yet, we love to expound and extrapolate. We love to observe and interpret. All we seek in life is within ourselves, wise men tell us, yet we love to travel.

Tonight is my turn to narrate and pontificate. You may choose to stay with the overarching existential summary in the first line. Or you may walk along, listening and laughing, loving and hating.

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Wandering and wondering with me.
Reader’s discretion advised: I tell it as it is. Be prepared for some mature content. If you aren’t, the first line could really be all that you need. Also, this travelogue is a booklet, quite long.

So here I am, sprawled on my soft white hotel bed on day two in Bangkok, eager to know if my Indian repellant will work on that solitary high-flying Thai mosquito that has hummed its way into my 11th-floor room. I can bear a lot of heat and some humidity, but I can’t tolerate mosquitoes. They make me feel that God doesn’t like me.

I am delighted to report that the jasmine-scented repellant – which brings back Chennai – has kept the pesky bugger at bay. I wish it well, but not in my room.

My room is littered with my things – my camera, my new iPad bag which I keep admiring, a few bottles of water, and a basket of bread. I hoarded that, and a bit of butter, from the sandwich-soup dinner I had ordered in. I am glad I did, I always get hungry after midnight.

A friend’s friend had said he’d come by at 9:30 so I didn’t step out for dinner. I wanted to go for a walk after all the hours sitting in the car listening to Thai music and trying to comprehend my genial but crazy cabbie.

Mr Risto, his tourist-friendly moniker – would play a song and then give me a brief explanation. ‘Go college, but no job’ was one. A trifle poignant because he was connecting it to his own life. Like many workers in Bangkok, Risto moved from the north to earn a living. He ended up becoming the best he could – a cabbie. He is making sure his daughter, now 19, is in college. Pharmaceutical is what I understood but I might be wrong.

It generally takes three iterations before I can figure out the first syllable. The rest of the syllables are all about how quickly you can do vocabulary permutations. In a way, it’s almost like mental math, advanced level. The last consonants are frequently dropped.

“See,” he pointed to a white building. “Government building, like the why-how.”

Like what?

“The famous why-how in America, you don’t know?” He sounded exasperated by my ignorance.

Oh ok, the White House.

Risto proceeded to tell me his song-inspired story with some resignation, and I was duly sombre, mulling over the human condition.

The poignancy and the profundity didn’t last. He turned to his favourite topic: ‘sek’. He’s been after me since he intercepted me yesterday morning. ‘You want sek, good sek?’ he’d asked.

‘Sorry?’

‘Bang bang,’ he had said, and illustrated it with that globally recognized obscene gesture.

‘Not interested,’ I had muttered and walked on. He had intercepted me again. ‘Why not?’ I turned with great annoyance, and said a loud ‘no’.

‘Ok, ok, no worry. Me show you all city’, and whisked out a map and drew the route and named four famous places. All in a minute and a half.

I had paused, bargained, and submitted. I am so glad I had. In a few hours of landing in Bangkok, I’d been on the picturesque Chao Phraya river ride; seen the little Buddhist monks skitter about at the tranquil Golden Buddha; stood agape at the massive Reclining Buddha; seen a Chinese Buddha and smelt all that incense and dragon-painted candle; had great cappuccino in a roadside café; and yielded to his offer to drive me the next day too.

Thailand, a constitutional monarchy where the King is a revered figurehead, is more than 90% Buddhist – most of them devout and carnivorous. It is difficult to find cooked vegetarian food, and there were a couple of restaurants where they had no idea what I was asking for.

There were too many motorized boats on the river, and too many tourists at the ‘wats’, or temples, disturbing Buddha’s peace, but I was impressed by the order and awed by the architecture. The statutes were fabulous, the ornate spires and gables coruscated with coloured glass, and there was gold everywhere. It was the same at the Grand Palace which I had visited on my way back to the airport the last day. Not surprising that the Bangkok airport is called Suvarnabhoomi.

What had also struck me was the attire: almost every woman wore a short skirt or short shorts. And almost everyone had lovely legs. This was the land of the Buddha and the babes.

Whatever the time, the attire, or the profession, it seemed that everyone felt safe.I never saw anyone leering or jeering, and women took cabs with abandon late into the night.

We took off at 9 today. We were supposed to leave at 7:30 and I had planned it such. But I had forgotten to set my watch to Thailand time. I realized only when the restless Risto called to ask. ‘You ledy?’ In 45 minutes, I told him, and rushed to the lavish breakfast at my hotel: eggs and breads and fruits and rice and pancakes, and a lot of meat. Duck, pork, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, squid.

We were on our way to the Floating Market. ‘Sek today? I take you.’ I couldn’t believe it. The man refused to give up. ‘No Mr Risto, no sek. Not today, not tomorrow’. He was hugely amused, he guffawed.

We reached the Floating Market in about an hour, minus the 10-minute cappuccino stop at a gas station. As always, the coffee was great. They grow it in the north, which I intend to visit next time. Chiang Mai is top on my list, but not the touristy trail.

I asked the cafe ladies if I could take their picture and they were delighted.

As soon as I stepped out of the car at the Floating Market, a young lady bowed, sang that one-word song they all greet you with – ‘Swadikhaab’ – hands perfectly folded, head bowed, a huge smile spread all over. You simply have to smile back. I must admit though, now that I think about it, I do remember seeing many Indians who stayed resolutely unshaken in their inability to smile at a stranger. It’s like a congenital infirmity.

I figured out later that the word is Sawasadee, a word I had seen as a kid on a magazine. This was from my Australian uncle who would hop in Bangkok on way to India. I used to devour the in-flight Thai airways glossy, for that was when Delhi felt like another planet to me. I was in Patna and the closest I had been anywhere else was the Patna airport.

Sawasadee-kha for women and -khaab for men. Always sounds like Swadikhaab.

I was offered sweet but mildly fermented coconut water, and then shown to the manager, who turned out to be a crusty Swiss. I managed to bring him down by 10% but I still knew I was getting fleeced – part of being a tourist in shorts carrying a big camera.

I was quickly nudged into a motorized canoe. I was given no time to realize that my canoe didn’t have a canopy. I sensed that only a few minutes later when the mid-day sun bore into my skin. Anyway, I was determined to enjoy the ride, and I did. The canoe wended through a canal lined with small homes that stood in dark brown water. I saw a dog waddle across to the other side, a man wash clothes, a child walk in her porch, and mailboxes hanging on posts.

My boatman slowed down after a few minutes and parked at the kerb. I was helped out by two kids, a plump boy and a thin girl. She ushered me into a cane sugar shop. A family showed me how they made sugar, and gave me a hot brown drink topped with ice. The mom pointed to the souvenirs.

It was one eclectic collection! There were small hammocks, framed insects, photos of Ayutthaya, Buddha statues, coconut lamps, miniature elephants, and a whole cluster of black phalluses made of fishbone. Mom watched me peacefully, not commenting. I took pictures, and she let me. I zoomed in on ashtrays with explicit carvings. She waited patiently for me to finish.

I ended up buying a bagful of cane-sugar coated popcorn, though I wish I had got one of those ashtrays if only to shock my friends.
And then arrived the first floating shop – a strikingly beautiful lady on a small canoe selling mangoes. I said I didn’t want any but asked if I could take her picture. She let me, and then once again offered me the mangoes. I smiled at her silently, and she smiled back stoically. I signaled to my boatman to purr on.

Then came boat after boat laden with all sorts of things – trinkets, fried pork, mangoes, clothes, hats, and more trinkets. At one point, there was a traffic jam and we had to wait for a few minutes for it to clear. Glad there was no honking, that favourite Indian pastime, neither here nor on the roads. I guess we had reached the hub – a string of trinket shops on the sides, most salespersons being young women in short skirts and long boots. There was an art gallery too. We floated like this for about an hour before we headed back.

The moment I alighted, tanned and sweaty, from my roofless canoe, a young woman waved a little coloured plate at me. It had my picture in the middle. I remembered someone pointing a camera at me when I was starting. ‘Fitty Bahts’. The picture wasn’t flattering, and I said no. The lady wasn’t pleased.

I had coffee, Risto had a vitamin drink and offered me a sip. It tasted like cough syrup. Every shop sells these little vitamin bottles, and for cabbies it is perhaps part of their daily diet. ‘Goo for you,’ I was told.

Off to the Tiger Temple, made famous by Animal Planet a couple of years ago. I had discovered it accidentally on the net, and coaxed my friends to go there if they were visiting Bangkok. They had, and come back with photos. I kind of had the picture, but I wanted to be there myself anyway.

It turned out to be what I had imagined it to be – not my kind of place. The tigers were groggy and they were chained – both very un-tiger like. The abbot, an old monk said to have started the place, looked worried. He kept a watchful eye as tourists posed with the sleepyheads, each one surrounded by four or five staff wearing green jackets. Some volunteers, mostly foreigners, wore blue.

Before you entered the small sunk area, you were given the dos and don’ts – no showing disrespect to monks, ladies no touching the monks, no petting the tiger on the head, and nothing dangling so all bags on the bench please. Dangling things are a tiger’s toy. Sure, only if the tigers could keep their eyes open for five seconds at a stretch, let alone play with anything.

I walked towards where they had the cubs. I did enjoy watching a monk who was watching over one. It was different here – this monk smiled, and this tiger stirred. I started off with my camera. A lady in blue came up to me and asked me not to crouch. That was a don’t I had forgotten.

We struck up a conversation and she said she was volunteering for a month before she went back to Australia. I must remember to send her some photos, and to not share my perspective of the temple. She was obviously enjoying herself in this ‘temple’ of more than 90 tigers. That should come to about one tiger every 40 touchy-feely tourists every day. It just might be that the tigers are so bored of the human circus, they pretend to be asleep.

A lone traveller can create many theories, and not all are facetious.

Risto looked troubled when I came out of the temple. He interrupted my conversation with a stranger I had met, asked me to get back in the car. What happened, I asked. “It is laning, floods in the north, you never know.” He was right, it had been raining off and on and the papers were flooded with stories about the threat to Bangkok. I had known about the floods before I had left Chennai, but I had come anyway.

Back in my room, I ordered a club sandwich and a wild mushroom soup. It wasn’t easy. It took me a while to explain vegetarian. Finally, eureka moment. The lady beamed and said, ‘Oh veli-lalian. Musloom?’

Yes, ma’m. And in my loom, please.

Now, I forgot to tell you that most people here substitute ‘l’ for ‘r’.

I was anxious for the next few minutes. I thought the lady had understood, but I wasn’t too sure, it didn’t sound conclusive. I wondered what would arrive or who would arrive. My fear and hunger were allayed when the steward came with mushroom soup and vegetarian sandwich.

Late evening I went for an aimless walk along Sukhumvit Road where I am staying, from Soi 5 till Soi 15, Soi being a tributary street. The pavement reminded me of Pondy Bazaar and Sarojini Market – tens of sheds and hundreds of heads. The one big difference was that several shops openly sold dildos and Viagra and KY jelly, and at almost every street corner I was approached by a tuk-tuk driver who wanted to take me to a show. I refused, walked on, went to a mall close by, and returned after a couple of hours, and a new iPad bag.

Tired with all that walking, I decided to ask for a massage in the room. It was delightful, though I had to fend off three polite offers for a ‘full’ body massage after the sudden dimming of lights. She said she was 31, had a seven- year-old son who stayed with her mother in the north. Her husband and her father had both found themselves second wives.

Day three, I decided, would be a Risto-free day. He had offered to take me around in his weather-beaten Volvo but I wanted to explore other means of transportation. So, I walked. I stopped at roadside shops and took pictures. Some people smiled back, some grinned and giggled when I showed them their photos on the camera screen, and some turned their faces. A lady selling lottery tickets warmed up when I showed interest in her spaniel.

I would have walked for about 15 minutes when a man in a pink jacket stopped me and offered a bike ride. ‘MBK Centre’, I told him. ‘Fitty Bahts’, he said. I hopped on.

He deftly weaved through thick traffic, at times almost touching other vehicles, and got me there in 10 minutes. Apart from the fumes, it was a good ride.

Once I entered MBK Centre, I didn’t know what to do, where to turn. The place was a labyrinth, more intricate than any mall I have been to. I assume some US malls will be bigger, but then they might not have so many shops. There was gold, shoes, food, bags, perfumes, cameras, tee shirts, bikinis, trinkets, furniture, and then more tees and more gold.

I paused, decided I would do some targeted shopping, and headed for the tee shops. After that, a backpack shop, and then an Apple store so that I could connect my camera to my Pad. Once done, without pausing once, I headed out. I stopped briefly at Auntie Anne’s for a pretzel and a lemonade. I remembered my US years. Of all the fast-food chains, Auntie Anne’s used to be my biggest weakness.

I wanted to try the tuk-tuk, that large Thai three-wheeler, but they were trying to rip me off. They wouldn’t come down from 150B. I decided to do the bike again. The agent, this one in a blue jacket, of course first asked me if I wanted bang-bang. I said I wanted his photo, with that accordion postcard of semi-clad girls they love to flash. He obliged.

I am now a happy owner of a canary yellow backpack, a camera-Pod connector, and two touristy Thailand tees.

After some rest at the hotel, I stepped out again, and stepped into Dan, Risto’s friend. ‘How are you, my friend? he asked, and then immediately, ‘Would you like a lovely lady with you tonight?’ I said I wouldn’t, but would he like to take me on a night photography trip?

And what a trip it proved to be! He took me to the wholesale flower market which opens only at night. Then he took me to the road leading to the reception area of the royal palace. I saw several people praying to and for the king, who they adore. ‘He’s a great king, and the longest reigning at 64 years’, Dan told me. ‘We love the king’. The king is old, about 84, and is in hospital. Dan speaks impeccable English and drives a spotless aromatic Camry. He comes for a price.

Next stop was Khao San, a neighbourhood which bubbles at night. A backpacker’s paradise, it reminded me a little of Kathmandu’s Thamel – shops and people and lights and pubs. I loved it there, the energy and the warmth. And the mass foot massage happening on the streetside.

What does Khao San mean?

‘Rice’, Dan alias Boonplook Charoensook, replied. Why is it called rice, I asked.

‘It’s just a name, that’s it.’

I agree, sometimes that’s just it. I felt wiser. I felt ready for my road trip to Pattaya the next day.

Pattaya Unabridged

Three days in Pattaya later, it was a calm two-hour drive today from Pattaya to Bangkok. The sky was overcast in patches, but it was uneventful. In fact, I never once had to use my umbrella during my eight days in Thailand.

The driver, Mr Moo, didn’t speak a word of English. When I’d asked him, he had said ‘Nit noi’, which is Thai for ‘little’. He had been sent by my Risto, who has been taking care of me all through.

Thankfully, Mr Moo’s English did include the words ‘coffee’ and ‘toilet’, both of which I needed after an hour of driving. We stopped at a gas station, emptied and refilled, and headed on. The sky looked grey as we approached Bangkok, and I told myself I wouldn’t step out today. I put it on rain, but the truth is that I was tired. It didn’t rain. I needed to process the sensory jumble in my head before I could take in any more of this beautiful, colourful country.

I relived my three blurry days in Pattaya, a beautiful beach town which is also a throbbing playground of middle-aged and old European men. It is common to see an old white man walk hand in hand with a 30-ish Thai woman. Works for either party, I was told. ‘They are both adults.’ That statement challenged my perspective on what qualified as perversity.

Perversity, like beauty, perhaps lies in the beholder’s eyes. Our values are informed by our conditioning and our circumstance.

Some things though, like torturing animals and manipulating children, are outright perverse. Or that live show I had been to, out of curiosity.

That was Bangkok Underground: unlit, unmarked, unsettling. Peddled profusely overground, it was to me a perverse parade of morose naked humans. To the many clumps of men and women there – some European, some Middle-eastern, and a few Asians – it was great entertainment. They clapped spiritedly after every bizarre act. As I walked out, I saw the old wolf whistling to himself at the sparse table counter. The wolf, who had taken the 500 B and given the ticket – a yellow stub with only a number – looked completely in control of his little dark world of decadence. I was repulsed by his happiness.

Enough of my pontification. Let’s go back to the streets of Pattaya.

The roads are littered with carts and pubs, and outside almost each one of them is a gaggle of young women watching and beckoning – mostly gently. I did see one young woman pounce on a young man who shrugged and walked on. Then she brushed past me, and smiled. I smiled back and walked on.

Some of the signs are brazen, with large neon silhouettes of naked women. Viagra is prominently advertised. There is this popular Walking Street where you can gaze at everything – or participate.

I chose only to gaze. At the pink and purple neon haze.

If you observe, you shouldn’t participate. You get involved then, you get mixed up.

Then again, if you don’t participate, you don’t really know. The picture is incomplete. You are an unfinished observer. Well, either way, I chose the ringside. I am not sure why.

I was eager to see everything, and I think I did, the most outlandish and outstanding of which was the Tiffany’s Show. If they hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known that these were transvestites. They were pretty as hell, had gorgeous legs, wore extravagant costumes, and pouted and seduced with élan. They danced beautifully too, to Italian and English songs. When they danced to Russian songs, the two portly Russian ladies I was wedged between started swaying and chuckling.

There are a whole lot of Russians and Germans in Pattaya. Such a whole lot that my hotel had organized Oktoberfest. Beer was everywhere.

And then suddenly it was me swaying and smiling – the ladies had decided to dance to Dola of Devdas. I loved it!

I should have gotten a photo with one of these women. It was time to board my minivan when I realized that they had come out for photo ops. Paid, of course.

Day two and three at Pattaya were mostly about walking. First, it was the popular Nongnooch Village for tourists. On the outskirts, it is a huge area where they put up all kinds of shows, some fabulous, some gimmicky.

First were the exquisitely manicured topiary of elephants and other creatures. There was also this area where you could pet tigers – yes, very groggy ones – and put macaws on your head with the hope that they don’t shit on you. I didn’t want to take the chance, I’d been running out on tees. The two I had valiantly washed in Bangkok were yet to dry.

The cultural show was enchanting. They had vignettes of rural and royal Thai life, Muay Thai (kickboxing), each piece done to great percussion and lovely lighting.

I didn’t like what I saw next – the elephant circus. They were made to bow and wiggle, ride a tricycle and shoot hoops, play soccer and wiggle some more. Unable to take it after a point, wondering at what men are capable of doing to animals, I wandered off to the side. In the pen were several elephants, and in one small space was a mother with a restless calf. It wasn’t happy to be here. I watched them for a while, took pictures, and waited to board the bus.

Once home, I ran into Ms Thom, that matronly lady who had sold me the Tiffany tickets. She too had asked if I’d like a ‘thekthy show’? When I refused, she said, ‘All Indians like thekthy show. You are India, na?’

I felt like telling her that I was yet to discover who I was. Perhaps the Thailand trip would help a little.

I told her I’d like to go to the Siriporn orchid farm and the bottle museum. She looked lost.

‘Sillyporn?

I looked for help. The lovely little Ms Nuttaramon of the front desk got hold of all the Pattaya brochures she could, fingered her way along many roads, but we couldn’t locate Sillyporn. I then brought out my iPad, connected to the WiFi – free in this hotel’s lobby – located Sillyporn on the map, and showed it to her. She was impressed. ‘Veli goo’, she smiled.

Ms Thom made a couple of calls, found a cabbie who was willing to go by my rate – 1000B for three hours as against the usual 1500 – and my day two was planned.

Mac the cabbie spoke good English, drove a new Altis, and proved to be an expert in jewellery for women. He first took me to Siriporn, but after several few wrong turns and two loops. ‘My first time, boss’.

I met the mother and daughter who ran the farm. They didn’t have too many orchids in bloom this season, but the few they had bloomed brightly. They charged me a meagre 40B for entry, and that too only when I asked. They also let me feed the fish in the pond.

Mac and I conferred about the rest of the trip and decided we wouldn’t go to the elephant camp. I didn’t want to spend 1500B to feel sad.

He took me to the bottle museum, his first time. It was an interesting place, good enough for 200B. The visit lasted about half an hour. We had more than an hour to kill, and I chose to kill it the way Mac would have liked me to. We stopped for bananas – my everyday lunch – and he took me to the World Gems Collection ‘museum’. I was reluctant, but then I had decided to go with Mac, also known as Natthapong Kaewpingmuang.

After Tiffany’s, or as good, I soon concluded. You get welcomed by nattily dressed women with walkie-talkies. No entry fee. You get handed over to another lady, a guide who shows you the marvelous collection of uncut precious stones, and finely cut jewellery. My guide proved to be a smart salesperson, selling subtly, nudging gently. Mac looked excited, prodding me to buy. I preferred trinkets, as I always do, stationery and stuffed animals. If the guide was disappointed, she didn’t show it.

The place was large, sparkling, and meticulously organized. I was told that the bill would take three minutes – and that’s what it took. Once my guide was convinced I couldn’t be nudged any more, she took me to the coffee shop. ‘Enjoy your coffee sir. It’s free.’ She spoke good English.

Mac suddenly got very excited when he saw one particular salesperson, a friend. She had several pens in her jacket pocket and when I’d pointed, she’d pouted and said, ‘I am colourful, you know’. In an androgynous voice. I suspected that she was what the Thai call a ‘ladyboy’. Charming. Reminded me of Tiffany’s.

Mac asked me not to tell Ms Thom about this visit since it was not in the 1000B package. ‘Our secret’, he’d whispered, and made sure that I’d kept the shopping bag inside my backpack. He dropped me back, where we ran into Ms Thom. I told her that Mac was a very good driver. She giggled naughtily and said, ‘Mac is my sister.’ I wasn’t surprised.

Ms Thom asked me if I was ready for the massage, ‘Two hours and 600 Bahts, sepalet looms, car pick up and drop’. My limbs were aching, and I nodded. She dropped the price to 500B on her own, made her calls, and we fixed at 8 pm. Since she left work every day at 7, she told me to be at the lobby at 8 and perhaps gave the mini van driver my description.

In between, I went for a walk, was beckoned by a scooter taxi guy, said no to bang-bang before he could offer it, and asked him if he could take me somewhere new. He did, to a hilltop from where you get a panoramic view of the splendid shoreline peppered with speedboats and dinghies and of the city dense with houses and shops.

On the way I saw several Indian restaurants, one even offering mujra. And then there was Punjabi Tadka. There always is a tandoori or a tadka, just as there always is a Chinese takeaway and a McDonald’s.

If I had to rate my Pattaya experiences, there would be a close fight between Tiffany’s, World Gems, the shoreline, and this massage. But if you forced me to pick one, I’d pick the massage.

Our minivan, which carried three Russian ladies from another hotel, reached a little after 8. We were guided in without ceremony, and ushered into one of the many small ‘rooms’, each room really a mattress with curtains on three sides. The masseuses wore jeans and collared tees, and kept the curtains open most of the time as they chatted with their colleagues.

Miss O – which is all I could gather of her name – led me into my room and drew the curtains and left me alone. I had no idea what to do. She came after a minute, saw me and started giggling. She pointed to the blue pyjamas and kurta on the mattress and, silently and elaborately, explained the pyjama strings. I understood. I changed.

She returned after a minute, and began what could be one of the most memorable two hours of my life. It was like nothing I’ve experienced before.

They use their entire body to massage your entire body – deftly keeping away from some areas. They sit on you, walk on you, entangle their limbs in yours and stretch in different directions. Every few minutes, you discover a new muscle and a new pain – and then a completely new pleasure. Fingers, fingertips, calves, thighs, shoulders, neck, back, butt, knuckles, heels, every part gets stretched and tweaked and pampered. First the pain shoots, it makes you wince and groan, and then it suddenly subsides. You levitate.

She left after close to an hour and a half, returned with hot unsweetened tea, left again. I thought the ritual was over. She came back after about seven minutes with a towel, sat cross-legged, put a pillow on her lap, and asked me to lie down, my head on the pillow. She wiped my face and neck, even the inside of my ears. I hoped it was not just mine, that everyone’s ears got cleaned.

She tousled my hair, massaged my forehead, massaged my eyes, and then boxed my back. We were finally done.

To me, Miss O was the Mother Teresa of massage. She made me feel soothed, she made me feel beautiful.

As intimate as the ritual was, it wasn’t for a moment sexual. If anything, it was metaphysical, spiritual. I know I am prone to exaggeration and drama, so I waited for a day before I decided to write about it, to let my emotions settle. They didn’t. This moment, I am as profoundly moved by that experience. I felt like Buddha – awake and calm.

I wish I had taken her photo. I did take their visiting card, this Blue Beach Physical Massage place in Moo 9, moo being a village or hamlet – in a city, a neighbourhood. Nit noi Thai, remember?

I woke up this morning feeling good, and decided to go for a walk by the beach. I watched the bright orange and blue chairs unfold, rows after rows of them, I watched the hat-sellers aim for the Japanese throng, the speedboats being fed gallons of gas, and the food carts begin to roll. I stopped at one to have coffee, it tasted quaint. I saw a monk in bright ochre, and asked if I could take his picture. When I showed him his close-up, he asked for a full-body shot. I found that adorable, and so also a kid who shuffled about as his father or uncle strummed the guitar.

Life was unfurling quickly and colourfully this bright Pattaya morning, just like the beach umbrellas. Hundreds of them.

It was getting hot, I was sweating, so I came back. I stopped at the lobby for a free drink. Today’s special was chilled tamarind drink. Yesterday was saffron drink, and before that butterfly pea. They were all very different in colour, aroma and taste, and equally refreshing.

Back in Bangkok

Once again, the sky was overcast as we drove back, but we stayed intact. I tried spotting the ‘Simply Coffee’ café where I had had cappuccino when driving to Pattaya. I had found the plump young lady striking to look at, and was amused by the salt-pepper cruets in the shape of fat seductive women in bikinis. The three ladies remained elusive, so we stopped at another gas-station coffee cart where the lady allowed me to crouch behind the cart for a smoke. We were back in Bangkok in less than two hours, we had dodged rush hour.

As I entered, at the far corner I saw someone waving to me frantically. It was Pornthip, the young lady who took great care of me at the restaurant, getting me coffee and offering me good seating. I smiled back, waved and went up to her. She hid her name tag, asked me if I remembered her name. ‘Pornthip, and it means scenes from paradise.’ She was thrilled.

Many names here begin or end with ‘porn’ which could mean a lot of things: powder, fruit, to mix. In this instance, since ‘thip’ means celestial, I guess porn means scenes.

I took Pornthip’s photo with her colleagues and with me – something I do very rarely – and promised to send them a mail. I finally bowed and sang the Swaadikhaa.

I remembered Pornthip next evening at the airport when a security officer had walked up to me and offered to take my picture against the luxurious rendition of sagar-manthan (churning of the sea). Such friendly people, I had said to myself, and thanked the official.

At the hotel, post Pornthip, I proceeded to check in at the reception and to tell them I’d be leaving the next day. ‘Hello Mr Khuma,’ she greeted me. I am either Khuma or Ahmed or Am-It.

Who knows, I might just be it.

After all, while massaging my palm, Ms O had stopped, looked at my fate line, and given a big thumbs-up. When I had caught her a few minutes later comparing her lines to mine, she had giggled.

May she continue to giggle, and may I continue to get wiser.

Thank you for listening, and Swadikhaa!