Scene in Bangkok 2

Scene in Bangkok 2

      - Late at night in a taxi on a dimly-lit street I could see in the distance some red reflectors moving from side to side rather curiously. Three drunks on bicycles was it? As we got closer the huge, black mass of an elephant reared up in front of us with these reflectors strapped to his flapping tail and two back legs. He and his mahout were placidly plodding home. (I learned later these reflectors are absolutely essential. Because their colour makes elephants scarcely visible at night, trucks and cars frequently run into the back of them) 

      - In a bus on my way to Anusawareechaisomomphoom (Victory Monument) the bus driver had 'individualised' his cab by festooning it with pink furry bunnies, cuddly Pooh Bears, velvet penguins and other delights. They were all round the dash board, attached to the windscreen, hanging by strings from the ceiling, on the back of his seat and covering the glass partition which separated him from his passengers. We stopped at some traffic lights and another bus drew alongside us. The two drivers shouted across at one another and laughed uproariously. As the lights turned green and we drew away, our driver blew the other one a kiss


- At another set of traffic lights, an elephant is refuelling from the branches of an overhanging tree whilst he patiently waited for the lights to turn green.


- A khatoey no more than 20 years old with his/her mother on the Sky Train. They were surrounded by parcels and shopping bags and were prattling away like two sisters on an outing. I was pleased to see that the khatoey's mother had accepted her son's idiosyncrasy with equanimity. When they got up to leave, the mother's legs and huge feet revealed she wasn't his mother at all; possibly his father, or uncle or just another 50 year old man dressed as a woman out shopping. No-one, of course, on the Sky Train - this being Thailand - batted an eyelid.

     - On buses home from Anusawareechaisomomphoom we pass the King's palace. There is a bus stop outside the King's residence but few people generally use it. Today a large gathering of naval officers in their brilliant white and gold full-dress uniforms were milling around the gates of the palace, on the bridge which crosses the moat and onto the road outside. They were each carrying an identical, quite large, blue velvet box. They had been to an investiture and - quite naturally - did what anyone would do having received an honour from His Majesty the King of Thailand; in their brilliant, starched white and carrying their latest insignia under their arm, they waited for, and got on the first public bus to take them home.


- In Siraraj Hospital grounds, a hunched monk sitting covertly by himself behind some sheds having a quiet, greatly-longed-for cigarette.

     - On the Chao Prya river tiny tugs haul on very long ropes as many as eight huge barges in pairs carrying sand, or cement or other bulk products. The distance from the prow of the tug to the stern of the last barges may be as much as half a mile, and they move very slowly. On one of my journeys down to Sathorn, the river-bus driver wanted to cross the river to the next landing stage but a convoy of these black barges was crawling past and getting in the way. The river-bus driver impatiently hooted, and the tug obligingly slowed down. This allowed the barges to drift freely onwards, thus in turn allowing the hawsers to slacken between them and the tug. Our river-bus driver pulled on full throttle, the prow went up, we hung on and a boat loaded with maybe 100 passengers (not a few standing) skimmed over the top of the ropes at full speed. Even the placid Thai passengers expressed some mild concern, but we made it...


- Much like Hyde Park Corner, Columbus Circle or Etoile, traffic is constantly circling Victory Monument and it is impossible for pedestrians to cross. But unlike London, New York or Paris, Bangkok is in many places at or below high tide level; the obvious solution of pedestrian subways would flood at the first light shower. So Bangkok has overhead pedestrian walk-ways (superways?) instead. A boy of about six or seven years old with a very deformed spine is often to be seen begging on one of these walk-ways. For some reason I feel more concern about this pitiable boy than most other beggars around the city, and if I pass him I often give him something. One day I happened to glance back as I dropped a few Baht into his cup. Another boy of about 12 had swooped down on the cup and snatched the money out of it before the little boy had time to lean painfully forward to retrieve his booty. Knowing the deformed boy could not move, the 12 year old just stood there gloating. Dog eat dog...