I head to Wat Po – the holy area I went to with Tom during my first days here – and get the pictures of the Reclining Buddha which I failed to get first time. The immense golden statue loses none of its impact on a second visit and I’m as in awe as I was before.
Wat Po is also where they do the best massages in Bangkok, apparently. The two parlours here are staffed by students of the Wat Po Thai Traditional Massage School, which has an excellent and much-talked about reputation. I decide to have a massage but first I go and have a look at the Grand Palace at Wat Phra Kaew down the road, which, for some reason, shuts at 3.30.
It’s easy to forget that these beautiful sights around the city, which are always crawling with be-shorted Westerners with their flashing cameras (that’ll be me, then), are still very important and very used places of worship. But you are quickly reminded on entering Wat Phra Kaew, as, to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, you are asked to don trousers to cover up your offensive legs, or a top if you have your offensive shoulders out. Luckily the Thais have realised that Westerners never consider such things as religious morals and flash their flesh at the sun at every opportunity, and so they thoughtfully provide trousers and tops for visitors to the Wat. Mine are massive. I look like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters once I’ve put them on. But it means I get to go in what is probably the most impressive temple in the city.
Even if the day wasn’t sunny these gleaming buildings would no doubt be beautiful, but the rays add plenty of sparkle to the glittering and colourful décor. The Emerald Buddha itself is housed in a huge temple that gives no clue to the statue’s diminutive size (75 cm tall), nor does the highly decorated tall altar on which it sits, barely visible amongst all the gold. It’s not actually made of emerald, but probably jasper quartz or nephrite jade. Either way, it’s still very pretty, but I fail to understand why countries have fought over it in the past, nor why the Thais felt the need to give it such an impressive monument as Wat Phra Kaew. It’s so bloody tiny!
I move on to have a look at the Grand Palace, a building that, these days, is only used by the Royal family for ceremonial occasions. It just looks like a fancy big house to me, like something you might see in Dynasty, although it does have a rather cool gun museum which has some guns with ridiculously long barrels. (Does this make the bullet go further? How does that work? Physics experts please get in touch.) I don’t seem to be able to get into the Grand Palace itself (although a herd of student nurses in blindingly white uniforms are ushered into the building, so maybe come kind of graduation ceremony is taking place), but I’m not too bothered. My headache is in full throttle now and I need to escape it.
I head back to Wat Po, sneaking back in on the ticket I bought earlier. I’m sure this is bad, but no one seems bothered. I have to wait 20 minutes for a massage and while I do I watch a little French girl run rings around her parents demanding all kinds of things from ice cream to going off for a walk. What a brat.
I’m taken to a massage bed by a boar of a man – a short, fat ugly Thai with a disarming grin on his face and unexpected power in his fingers. Any worries I might have had about getting accidentally turned on during the session go out the window. But I’ve never found massages done by a professional that sensual anyway, they’re always more excruciating because of the knots I develop from doing kickboxing or sitting at a desk all day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a massage so the knots are everywhere, and I’m in agony from the word go. It’s a satisfying agony, though, cos I can feel the good it’s doing at the same time. He starts on my legs, where there are plenty of knots from kickboxing, and does this thing where he slowly presses down on my inner thigh by my groin. As he slowly releases his hand I feel the blood rush back into the muscle and it feels really hot. It’s a really strange experience and I look forward to and dread when he’s going to do it on the other leg.
The bit I just dread is when he pulls on my fingers and toes until they crack. I hate it. I hate hearing people do it, and having it done to me is even worse - though I couldn’t tell you why. It just seems a bit wrong somehow.
My back, also, is very knotted. At one point I notice the women next to me looking a bit concerned and I realise I’m grimacing. I laugh to show I’m okay and they laugh back. Then I return to my grimacing.
The massage lasts an hour and is painful, uncomfortable and unpleasant. But it’s amazing – probably the best massage I’ve ever had – and I feel loose and limber afterwards, and much better. Plus my headache’s gone.
I meet Ting later. He asks why I didn’t call him to go to the Grand Palace. I wonder how I can explain I wanted the day to myself. I can’t really, so I just say I forgot. He seems all right with that. After eating on the soi, we sit in the park just outside his apartment building and smoke cigarettes. We chat about each other’s families and I tell him about my many half-sisters. He’s quite taken aback by the set-up. It’s good to chat to him properly, get to know him a bit better without anyone else around. At one point he says, “Sorry Will, but I think you gay.” I tell him not to apologise and that he’s right. I thought Mengly had told him but it seems he’s worked it out all by himself. He tells me he wants to take me out to gay bars – he really does love being the guide. He says he has a gay friend who liked him but he said no, it wasn’t for him. But he goes out with him to bars and chats up men for him. “Sounds a bit like fishing,” I say. Ting reels them in and hands them over to his mate. He likes the analogy. I like the idea. I shall definitely have to test Ting’s man-pulling skills at some point.
We watch some shit films, which are actually quite good. You, Me and Dupree is much funnier and less annoying than I expected it to be. Resident Evil I have seen before but is good fun. And Milla Jovovich is the most beautiful woman in the world, in my opinion. If I was to fancy any woman it would be her. Her and Samaire Armstrong, who used to be in The OC. They’re my top two.
I stay at Ting’s cos it’s late by the time Milla’s finished kicking zombie arse. I sleep on the floor and get bitten relentlessly by mossies. God, I hate them. Still I manage to sleep til 11, and have to wake Ting up as well. I reckon he could sleep all day.
The rest of the week sees my last lessons with shy boy Tong. I’m not sure if he’s gained anything from the lessons, or if he has it’s certainly not the confidence to speak to people in English. I worry about him going to Australia to study, but Binnie tells me his sister will be there so that makes me feel a bit better.
I have text conversations with Mickey which mostly involve him inviting me to his room for booze and sex, and me saying, no, let’s just meet for a drink.
I have my first adult class which is a bit nerve-wracking. At first I feel very self-conscious stood up there in front of a group of my peers (they’re all in their 20s and early 30s) but I get over it quickly as they are great to teach – very interested to learn and willing to get on board with the exercises we do together. They only question it if they don’t quite understand what I’m getting at. So I just slow down my usual rapid-fire English and all becomes clear. I’m getting used to talking slower but occasionally I forget myself and just jabber at their blank-looking faces. Teaching adults, I find, is a whole different experience, but an enjoyable one.
Eventually, after much toing and froing, I arrange to meet Mickey on the Tuesday night. At least I think I do. I arrange to meet him at a gay bar in Silom, but when I get there I call him and he claims not to have got my last text message, and that it will take him an hour to get ready and get there. I smell bullshit. He blatantly can’t be arsed meeting me and just wants me to come over. Seeing as I’ve met him once and can barely remember what he looks like, I’m not sure this is a good idea so I’ve been declining.
I tell him we can meet again another time, all the while never intending to bother trying to meet him again, and find myself alone on the other side of town with no company to explore with. Having come all this way I don’t want to waste the trip so decide to have a look at some of the gay places I’ve not yet been to. I go into a place called Richard’s and get something to eat. It’s an airy, sleek bar and restaurant, full of old gay farang and their young Thai boyfriends. I eat and ponder what to do, eventually grabbing a load of leaflets and gay guides I spot on the wall. Turns out that the gay scene in Bangkok is MUCH larger than the one my Lonely Planet guide hints at. Now I’m overwhelmed with info and still don’t know what to do.
An oldish guy comes over and speaks to me. His name’s Richard and he’s the owner of the bar (what are the chances of both him and the bar being called Richard??). He says I look new and asks if I need a little help. I explain I’ve been stood up and need some ideas as to where to go. He sits down and we have a chat. He’s a nice guy – a French-Canadian who has been here 19 years and last year set up the bar, which he says has been doing well. He sends me a beer and grabs me a bit of birthday cake from a group of people sat a couple tables down. I feel better.
And then, with the help of Richard’s tips, I go out and am a Very Naughty Boy for the rest of the night. I’d write what happened but this blog is family viewing and so I shall refrain. I’ll just say I discovered the following things:
1) Having your cigarette lit by a half-naked fire-eater is quite cool.
2) It’s easier to get (free) sex in this city than anywhere else in the world.
3) I should give a false phone number to gay Thai boys in future.
The day after I have a new private lesson - with a 27-year-old guy at his house. I have no idea what to expect or what he’ll want to do so I prepare lots of stuff. I get taken to the house, which is just over the river from Pinklao, by one of the ECC girls. We get the bus, which is again an awful experience cos it’s rush hour and we have to squeeze on. In this heat, it’s an even worse experience than rush hour in London.
Getting to see Bangkok people’s houses is one aspect of this job I like. I had something similar with my old job – I would go for interviews with people and work dos at some of the nicest hotels and venues in London, and got to see a side of London that maybe my friends didn’t so much. Here I get to see the homes of people in Bangkok – something that most tourists never see.
The guy’s name is Nop, and he’s in marketing, working for a swanky kitchen company. His house is in a busy shopping area of Bangkok – he lives above a shop that sells various items – flowers, ornaments etc – that the Thais use in worship, which I later find out is run by his Mum. He lives there with her and his Dad, and there’s a cute as a button baby knocking about when I arrive, which I find out is his niece.
He arrives about the same time as me – all floppy hair and youthful-looking. He looks a lot like the Thai boy band members I’ve seen in magazines here – pretty verging on girlish. Upstairs is much like you’d imagine the top of a shop to be – tiled floors, stock dotted about the place. I’m led to an office where, weirdly, there are pictures of Nop EVERYWHERE. Three big (A3 size, easily) framed graduation pics along one wall, pics under the plastic on the desk, more big pics of the family at his graduation along another wall, smaller framed pics of him on the shelves – one of him when he did his Buddhist monkhood. It’s overwhelming and slightly odd. I’m not sure at first whether it’s just parental pride or their son’s ego. I figure the latter until I go into his room to use his toilet, where I find smaller framed pics of him dotted about the place. Parental pride feeding the son’s ego then.
The first half of the lesson goes well – we play a conversation game to break the ice and he gets to practice his speaking English. All good. The second half is a disaster. I pull out an activity I think might be relevant cos he’s in marketing, something which will help him get his head around the concept of qualities – the quality of being red can be ascribed to a tomato, a strawberry, or anger, or danger. You get the idea. He suddenly stops me half way through: “Why are you teaching me this?” I’m thrown by that. Erm, cos it’s English?? And I’m here to teach you English??
I draw a breath and explain how I thought it relevant to his job and grab one of the kitchen brochures he gave me and show him how they talk about the good qualities of the kitchens in the copy. He’s not happy. Turns out he’s used to far more experienced teachers teaching him lots of intricate grammar stuff (he sings the praises of one teacher, basically implying I don’t stand up in comparison). I realise that earlier he seemed quite shocked when I told him I’d only been teaching for three weeks. I thought he was just surprised, turns out it pissed him off a bit.
We have a long conversation about what he wants from the lessons, what he’s been doing and what he wants to do with me in the future. It helps for then but this lesson has died. I have nothing suitable prepared and my ability to wing it has been killed by the full exposure of my lack of experience. I feel a bit shit afterwards, like I’ve been found out, and I dwell on it for ages, lacking anyone around to sound off to about it. I fully expect a phone call to be made to ECC complaining but none is forthcoming. I take this as a good sign and start thinking of it as a challenge instead of a failure. By the end of the week I’m determined to win the fucker over and teach him how to speak English properly, goddammit.
Mengly calls on my way home, she’s on her way back from Cambodia. She’s being driven – the family is loaded. I arrange to meet with her tomorrow; it’ll be interesting to hear what Cambodia was like. It is. Amazingly, it’s an even cheaper country to be in than Thailand, not that Mengly saw much of it – her family is loaded and she spent most of her time with them, finding out details about her family history she never knew, and despairing at the lack of ambition amongst her cousins. While Mengly very much seems to resist leaning on her family’s wealth, her cousins don’t share her attitude, and don’t even seem to have much interest in a career for themselves.
Throughout the week I fully intend to go and train and do some Muay Thai but I never do. I think I’m a bit nervous about it. Partly cos I’ve not trained for a few months, partly cos it’ll be a new style of martial art, and partly cos the gym seems to get a bit of an audience of tourists wandering past from Khao San Road. But I really want to do it, so I promise myself I’ll head over there as soon as possible.
Now that Mengly’s back we can go and see King Naresuan 2. I’m actually very excited; I’m well into this franchise. Sure, the first one was a bit dull in places, but in this one the kids have grown up and are exercising their political muscle in all kinds of battles, so I figure it should be good.
We go with Aom, Sai and Aor, which is all good apart form the fact that Aor seems to feel the need to babysit us a bit. I try and get my ticket off her so I can go and get a coffee and meet them in the cinema. She won’t give it to me, and insists on coming with me to help me buy it. I appreciate her wanting to help me, but bloody hell, I can go and buy a cup of coffee on my own.
She invites us down to where her family live in southern Thailand, near Samui, during April. Mengly, it seems, will be gone by then. The longer she stays here, the sooner her leaving date is brought forward. As much as she seems to enjoy spending time with us all, she’s not having a good time here, thanks to the Thai people’s constant treatment of her as something unusual.
I tell Aor I’ll get back to her about visiting southern Thailand with her. For a start I think my friend Paul will be over at the time she is suggesting, and secondly I’m not sure I could handle being babysat, like she has been doing, for any length of time.
But anyway. Naresuan 2 is ace. Lots of stunningly coordinated fights, epic battle scenes, romance, political intrigue, tragedy, and, most importantly, a really cool as fuck hero. Again, the editing leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s so much better than the first one and, although it’s a bum-aching two and three-quarter hours, it gets me excited about the third one – which I’m dismayed to discover isn’t out until December, when I’ll be long gone. Gutted.
The weekend sees me take Jess to the apartment block where most of the other teachers live, with its nearby restaurant, shop and pool. “We was robbed,’ were, I think, her exact words. She’s right, but we do pay a lot less.
Jess meets Mengly and they swap notes as Jess has taken on a lot of Mengly’s classes after her sudden departure. Mengly gives me a present from Cambodia – a decorated wooden box with some pot pourri made from flowers from ??? But I can’t open the bloody thing for some reason so the nice wooden box remains unopened on my dresser.
I decide to go to Kanchanaburi on Monday, make use of a sudden Sunday afternoon off thanks to some lesson cancellations and head out of Bangkok for a couple of nights. I’m desperate to get out of Bangkok, do a bit of travelling, even if it’s only a few hours away. Plus I’m fed up of Bangkok and need a break from it.
In Kanchanaburi I will find the bridge over the river Kwai, as made famous by the film of the same name. But I will also see the grave of my great uncle Ron, a soldier who was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War; I’m pleased the trip will have a personal interest as well as a historical one, and as such I’m keen to do this one on my own. So I’m a bit gutted when Mengly tells me she’d like to come along. Not only do I want to have a break from Bangkok completely, but I figure this is a family thing and better done without mates around. But hey, it’ll be all right. I feel for Mengly cos she’s done very little travelling in Thailand and it’ll be good for her to see another bit of it apart from Bangers. Plus she seems to want to do very different stuff to me. So it’ll be good, I’m excited.