25 June 2011

Opposites

On Thursday night, after the secondary school musical production had finished, there were celebratory drinks to be guzzled at a local bar. As we climbed the mountainous pedestrian bridge over a never-ending stream of traffic, I noticed a young beggar huddled in the shadows, sitting cross-legged. Both of his hands were missing. I think he certainly was "livin' on a prayer"!

I am sure that when it comes to beggars, there are far worse Asian cities than Bangkok but there are enough here to notice. People from the shadows. Below the breadline over which the majority of Thailand's lowly paid workers hover. I shall return to that bridge to see if I can find that young man and I will give him all of the loose change I have amassed in the last five months - which probably amounts to three or four hundred baht.

Then on Friday night, two of my English "co-workers"- were summoned to a parent's house for drinks and dinner. They asked me to go too. Let me give her the pseudonym Khun Lik. She is fifty years old and has twin boys in the school. She is the self-appointed leader of parents - their voice. She sent her driver and we duly climbed in her shiny black people carrier. Clearly she is not "livin' on a prayer" but on a big fat bank account and "wise" investments.

Khun Lik's house was half an hour away on the northern edge of the city, in an exclusive gated neighbourhood. A button was pressed and the electric gates swished open. Three unlovable dogs greeted us threateningly and we were ushered into the house through a large stained glass double door entrance. Wow! The entrance hall! Its footprint was bigger than the entire downstairs of our house in Sheffield. An expanse of shiny cream-coloured marble, a large scale model galleon on a French-polished occasional table. The kind of house a Premiership football star might inhabit.

Sliding doors took us into the enormous family kitchen which had - attached to it - a second fully-equipped kitchen. I kid you not. No expense had been spared on the fitments but I noticed a familiarly unpleasant odour in the air - a faint whiff of stale cigarette smoke. Outside in the shady carport area was Khun Lik's other car - a brand new 4x4 BMW. "I like big cars but my husband he like small cars," she said, pointing at his banana coloured Porsche. "He also like motorbike" she said pointing at his two 500+cc motorbikes - a BMW and an equally shiny Harley Davidson.

"This my gym. It quite small, " she said but it was fully equipped and it overlooked the family's large oval-shaped saltwater swimming pool. "That my yard", said Khun Lik, pointing through her tropical shubbery to the lawn beyond. "Oh and that my mother's quarters when she come to stay," she said, pointing towards the luxury granny flat. "My servant come from Laos, Burma and northern Thailand", she said. Apparently she has ten "servants".

But I wasn't jealous - not one little bit - until I went to the downstairs lavatory or "rest room" (!). There I saw one of my lottery winning dreams - a men's porcelain urinal as well as the usual lavatory bowl. When peeing, I think it is much more natural for men to aim outwards rather than downwards. The things we do for women folk! To have your own urinal - why then you would know for sure that you had "made it".

At first we sat at the outside teak table and consumed three bottles of red wine. I never usually touch the stuff but we weren't asked what we would like and I could hardly say "No thanks! I want beer or sauvignon blanc love!" They must have thought their Chilean red was out of the ordinary but in England I used to often see that brand on the shelves at "Netto".

Our Thai meal was okay but I have had much better food in Thailand. Khun Lik seemed very opinionated and not very curious about me - somebody she had only been briefly introduced to once before. By ten thirty I was flagging. Her husband - a petrochemical engineer -plied us with the very best brand of Chinese rice wine -53% proof. He just disappeared - no cheery "good nights". And then we marched back across the marble acres to the front door.

I wonder what the man with no hands was doing as Khun Lik's chauffeur returned us to our rented rabbit hutch homes where we may or not have been livin' on our prayers as well as our pleasant monthly incomes. By the way "Khun" is not a swear word, it is a polite form of address reserved for women of status who are deserving of respect. It is most inadvisable to accidentally add a "t" to the appellation.

4 comments:

  1. On the one hand, you can be a very naughty boy, and on the other, you have these charitable urges to give all of your soon-to-be-souvenirs-only-and-not-spendable-back-home Thai coins to the poor fellow on the bridge. I don't know what to make of you.

    The only people I have ever heard of who have two kitchens are very wealthy, Kosher-observant Jews who do not want to mix the milk dishes and pots and pans and serving utensils and silverware with the meat dishes and pots and pans and serving utensils and silverware. You don't suppose your Thai lady K.L. is Jewish????

    The Jewish word that fits you, my dear Yorkshire Pudding is mensch (a real human being).

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  2. Two kitchens = one domestic goddess platform for show and a real one behind for the real cooking.

    Don't be taken in by beggars in BKK- many of the poorest are being manipulated for money and harmless/handless man won't see a penny of it- give it to the school/Frances and they'll give it to the registered charity for Jet Sip Rai. (the worst slum in BKK)

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  3. RHYMES... KL is certainly not Jewish. The only Jews in Thailand are tourists as far as I know - apart from an old Persian community in Bangkok - making up around 1,000 out of approximately eleven million Bangkokians.. I hope you have given me the correct definition of "mensch" because you too can be a very naughty boy as your blog keeps proving!

    BB I have also read that some beggars are used just as a few beggars in England are social security scroungers - seeking to top up their incomes. But in neither case are they the majority. Given Miss Frances's recent organisational history - i.e. the frustrating Ang Thong temple visit, I think I will risk my own beggar selection and keep my fingers crossed, happy that I at last have fingers to cross!

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  4. From the point of view of someone who needs to squat, the whole world is a man's urinal.

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