78. Cooled Heels

Cooled Heels: May is peculiar in Bangkok. It should be the height of the dry season, suffocatingly hot, wilting and crisping you like sidewalk baskets full of bright red peppers. Instead, it has been raining, it has been pouring, water evacuated from black smoke clouds that flash and clap and scatter street vendors. It’s happening every day since we arrived and it’s the best excuse for staying home with old books, new mangoes and two full bottles of duty free scotch.

Our guesthouse room is on the top corner of a tall, thin building. Creaky old wood boards cover the floor and creaky old wood windows cover two of the walls. The other two walls are made of thatched bamboo, too thick for peepholes, too thin for loud arguments and rowdy liasons. These walls are adorned with Thai knick knacks – purses, puppets, little hats, tapestries, necklaces, an old weaving loom. In one corner of the room, there is a fish tank filled with plants and rocks and very clean, still water. Above it is a handwritten sign that says “Please do not feeding the fish,” which we effortlessly obey because there are no fish. The bed is big and firm and surrounded by windows with views of modern bridge tops and ancient temple spires that are the most beautiful, gilded wedding cakes. The same windows – ten of them – swing wide open so that the sound of the rain on banana leaves and tin roofs fills this room like the beginning of a Swedish rock song. Slow, rhythmic, pounding, drowning out conversation, closing my eyes. If we tire of the room, there’s an open air café downstairs that plays international music and serves organic greens fused with the best red curry. Down here, the rain sounds just as marvelous when it pounds the street. Up there, down here, “same same but different.” Same same, but different. That’s the SE Asian way of saying that something is of similar quality to something else, especially in matters of fake handbags and watches.

When the rain slows, the rumble of falling water is replaced by the rumble of old engines, tuk tuks, three-wheeled auto rickshaws that backfire like cannons and accelerate with the subtlety of a chainsaw held to a bullhorn. The drivers of these garish chrome chariots are sociable scoundrels who never sleep, subsisting on cheap street foods and energy drinks sold in this city’s one million 7-11 stores. Most of the drivers move here from small rural provinces where they still send back their wages and visit for long holidays. I hate them when they rev their engines at 4am, but I pity them when we ice their pleas the next morning. They’re just trying to get by. You need tuk tuk? Where you go? They’re slowly becoming obsolete in modern Bangkok, because the air-conditioned taxis have seatbelts for safety and meters for honesty that people are starting to get used to. Rickshaw drivers hustle their money with charm and guile, pursuit of the perfect haggle, but modern Thais are more interested in continuing their cell phone conversation than fighting for fair prices. Likewise, Amy and I are more interested in continuing our trip for 7 more months than we are in throwing away money on poorly negotiated rides to the mall. Self-preservation, natural selection, same same, but different.


  1. erin says:

    I love this…beautiful. I wish I were there with you!

  2. furey says:

    Tuk Tuk – I like saying that.

    what’s it like going through customs in these different countries? any strip searches?

  3. S says:

    It’s harder to get past movie theatre security than it is to get through customs in most SE Asian countries. My U.S. Passport is like a golden ticket and I’m very grateful.