Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Bangkok Past and Present



I’ve been visiting Bangkok regularly since the late 90’s.  Whether it was for business or leisure, Bangkok always conjures up images of shopping, eating, street food, inexpensive local snacks and night markets.  

For me – it was more than that. It was images of mercenary and dishonest taxi drivers.  Taxi drivers who demand fares at least four times the metered fare.  Taxi drivers who claim they do not have change.  

My latest trip last week, I noticed: many things have changed, and some things never change.

Bangkok is getting more and more prosperous.  And expensive.  Gleaming skyscraper malls and offices buildings outshine those in Singapore.  Banks are bolder and doing a roaring trade.  Modern eateries and restaurant chains give traditional Thai food a new twist.  The hormuk I used to love do not look nor taste like hormuk.  Desserts are served in unusual receptacles.  The lunch time crowd in these stores are filled with loud, young, trendy executives.  (whatever happened to soft spoken, gentle Thai folks?)

At the airport, all Thai snacks look the same – same packaging, same food, same variety.  Same, same, even the price, which is ridiculously expensive.  But different – they were sold at ‘’different’’ souvenir shops, which all look like they belong to the same clan or cartel anyway.  

Other differences: The airport and the malls are swarming with mainland Chinese.  (In fact, Naraya, the store I used to frequent to get cute, inexpensive fabric gifts, are packed with mainland Chinese who mobbed the store like there was no tomorrow.)  At the airport, I used to be spoken to in Thai (given my tan).  These days, they speak to me in Mandarin.  The Chinese are ruling the world.

And the Africans are making their presence felt.  The hotel at I stayed was full of them – monopolising the receptionists and not understanding anything the receptionist tried to explain, including check out time, payment, reservation...

Sometimes amidst all the differences, one looks for the familiarity for consolation.  Not so in my case, when the only familiarity is about mercenary taxi drivers.  

After dinner at CentralWorld, I tried to take a cab back to the hotel.  All the cabs lined outside the mall demanded a flat 150 baht for a 10 minute ride round the corner.  I tried to get them to use the metre, or to reduce the price, but they would not budge, but smirked instead.  ‘’I have to pay parking here,’’ they lied. 
Disgusted, I walked to a nearby hotel hoping the bellboy would help hail a cab.  There was a group before me, and many cabs dropped in and went away.  They all demanded 200 baht, despite the intervention of the bellboy.  The cab drivers here all have ‘’the same face’’, he explained.  Finally he managed to get one who would take the group for 120 baht.

Next came my turn.  The driver who came by agreed to go by the metre, said the bellboy.  I hopped into the car thinking it was too good to be true.  And I was right.  My ex dean used to say, ‘’if something is too good to be true, then it is too good to be true!’’.  After driving off the hotel porch, the driver switched off his metre and said, ‘’200 baht’’.  I told him to switch the metre on, and he said, ‘’150 baht’’.  I barked, ‘’STOP; I get off NOW.’’  And he switched his metre back on.  

After that I almost regretted being so aggressive.  What if he drove me to some deserted place and dumped me off?  Working for my current company has made me rather paranoid.  

Well, he did not, and delivered me safely back to my hotel.  

Back in my hotel, I decided Bangkok is no longer the fun, shopping and food paradise it used to be.  True, I’ve had great memories of hanging out with friends and colleagues there, and true, I’ve been there on gleeful shopping spree.  

But that was the Bangkok I knew.  The Bangkok I know today is the city I would grudgingly go for a night on a hurried business trip to meet and handle my scheming colleagues. 

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