(This is Part II
of my Around the World in 7 Days series)
“CONSTANT GARDENER.” You know who you are.
I was the first person to deplane when we arrived at Bangkok’s Don Meung Airport. The January weather wasn’t so humid but I could feel the vibes, a quick membrane of tropical weather wrapping my body. And I knew at that precise second, right there and right then, that I was home. I mean you can grow orchids in pots, and they will sit there looking out onto Central Park or perching on a windowsill of a Parisian Haussmannien for years and years, growing a bud or two every once in a while. I mean they’ll survive alright. But as soon as you plant them back on their native soil? While they might be a dime a dozen, not so cherished, or even die, they know that this
, right here, is where they belong. Elsewhere they simply bloom. But, here, though, they blossom—they grow like weeds.
So yes, there I was, a plant in-exile who’s come back to reclaim his soil. My voyage from Paris to Bangkok was ever so smooth in the new l’Espace Affaires. That’s when you could really use the word “voyage.” In Economy, this trip would have simply been a “trip”—just that.
The flight was COMPLETELY full in both classes. There were quite a few AF
personnel traveling stand-by. Two of them were seated in Business and the rest were in Economy. It must be so cool to be able to escape the Parisian winter just like that. Now let’s do a little flashback.
Where did I leave off? Oh yes my seat 1E, the #1 seat of this AF
A340. It was niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice. This A340 has neither 1A nor 1B because that’s where they have the brain of the plane’s IFE and a stowage area for administrative stuffs. It was interesting because I got to see the purser inputting the language commands, turning on the IFE system, and making announcements to all the passengers. I think the A340 is so intelligent that it’s programmed to speak and display all of the world’s major languages. I saw the purser punching in the language code 166 or something like that and the aircraft just spoke Thai! This A340 was a flying C-3P0 (the multilingual robot from Star Wars)!
The purser noticed that I was Thai and asked me to teach him how to pronounce the word “DON MEUNG”, which is extremely difficult for any non-native. He almost got it right but then gave up. I consoled him “C’est pas grave.
The new Bangkok Airport will open soon so you won’t have to pronounce Don Meung anymore.” The new Airport, Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Su-wa-na-poom), isn’t as phonetically tricky as Don Meung. You just have to learn to mute the “I” in the end. In Thai there are many word parts that are written out but are not pronounced. It’s done this way to denote the Pali-Sanskrit root. This is why Singha beer is pronounced “Sing” and not “Sing-ha”; and the current Thai Prime Minister’s last name, Shinawatra, is pronounced “Shi-na-wat” and not “Shi-na-wa-tra” like I hear sometimes on CNN and BBC and it drives me NUTS. So next time you go to your local Thai restaurant, don’t say “Sing-ha beer,” say “Sing beer.” Got it? Who knows? You might get a free beer for being Thai-savvy.
I got side-tracked again. Sorry. Here, though, are some pictures that testify the degree of comfort and technology of the new l’Espace Affaires of Air France. IT
WAS SO SPACIOUS AND
COMFORTABLE I WAS TRYING OUT EVERY POSITION THAT WAS HUMANLY POSSIBLE—prone, on my back, on the right side, on the left side; sitting cross-legged, akimbo, with legs stretched out, etc. I mean you name it, I tried it all out in that seat.
Man! I WAS HAVING MY INFIGHT-SUTRA SESSIONS UP THERE.
The seat also had a massage function with a bag that inflates and deflates. That was a fake massage. But still, it was better than nothing. And I was rubbing my skin all over that seat so that my DNA would stay on that seat and fly all over the world in-style.
THE seat 1E:
The magical touchpad: one interesting feature about these seats is that there are several lie-flat positions before they go down completely to 180 º. I personally found the ultimate 180º uncomfortable:
Les doigts de pieds en éventail
—literally “fanning (spreading out like a fan) one’s toes” which, in French, implies the most relaxed state of mind and body:
Shrimp supper and light desserts. The shrimps’ texture sucks for our Mexican standards. They’re not succulent like the shrimps we have in Mexico:
Lounging around. There was this French kid from Economy who jutted out her face through the curtains and asked me for some dates and cookies. She was so adorable no one would be able to say no to her. I gave her a whole bunch of stuff. The FA
’s didn’t care because she was a cute little girl:
Cranking out my college papers at 37000 feet as the plane zigzags over India. Thank Goodness these new seats have in-seat power supply to plug in laptops. If this “ain’t” Higher Education then I don’t know what is:
Taking a break. I don’t know what animal I was making. More like a monster:
Crêpes Suzette with tea for breakfast:
The Tails of Two Cities—London and Paris—so I guess it was here in Bangkok that Charles Dickens came up with the title of his book A Tale of Two Cities
We landed in Bangkok at the same time as the TG
flight from JFK
. So there were all these New Yorkers queuing in front of immigration. In front of me was a group of Manhattan women—a bunch of housewives whose husbands probably make obscene money not really doing anything or doing so much they don’t have the time to spend their money and give that job to their beloved wives: “Honey please fly Royal Silk class on TG
to Bangkok with all your friends and stay at the Oriental (So I can bring that NYU 20-year-old babe over).” Pigs.
But those Manhattan housewives were classy. They didn’t display brand names. They wore regular clothes but then they had one beautiful thing on their persons like an Hermès scarf, a Longchamps bag, a Cartier watch. That was what I called class and elegance—discreet and down-to-earth. No brand-name excesses. No big “DIOR” or “VERSACE” that are visible from a mile away.
Then I realized I was in Thailand when I overheard two female immigration officers not too far away talking about food. Thai people always talk about food. There’s always something for them to talk about: “Oh this noodle place in that Soi is so good,” “The curry that person’s mother cooked and brought for us all to taste was the best,” “Oh, I bought some mangoes on my way to work,” blah blah blah. Then the officer whose line I was waiting in mumbled to her friend “Yak kin farang jung loei ah.”
Which is typically Thai. She wasn’t really hungry but she just craved for some guavas just for the sensation and taste that it would give to her mouth. WHAT A MUNCHING NATION. The crazy thing is they don’t really get fat the way Westerners do. They’ll be eating 10 times per day and they just stay in that same shape. It’s crazy. I, however, have been out of Thailand for too long. If I eat the Thai way in Mexico?, I’d be a tummy on legs by now.
I offer you some glimpses of Thailand.
A near-miss incident that my Tuk-Tuk ran into in downtown Bangkok. It was nothing major. They both were wrong and the damage was marginal. That’s why I love Bangkok senseless. Like Mexico City, Bangkok is rude, raunchy, polluted, bustling—in one word? It’s just indestructible.
There’s nothing better than sipping Singapore Sling in an afternoon like this:
THE FOOD GALORE? BOY. I don’t say this just because I’m Thai, but Thailand is just THE food paradise. Oh my God I ate soooooooooooooooooo much. There are always new things to try out every year. And I NEVER get sick eating street-side food in Thailand. May be I’m immune because I was born here. Here’s a sample meal. This meal for 4 persons cost 10USD. What can you get in the US of A at that price? 2 Big Mac Combo Meals?
My grandmother in a park:
Our girls’ night out (my grandma and I) at the Oriental. In Thailand you get good hotels for scandalously cheap rate. Especially when you speak perfect Thai like I do? You call in and you ask “Koh Thot Krup, Mai Saab Wa Mee Rate Kohn Thai Mai Krup? (Do you have Thai people’s rate?),” and you can get up to 80% discount at Bangkok’s best hotels, especially on the weekend. But you must also look and act Thai because if you let your Thai friend reserve and show up as a foreigner then they make you pay regular rates. It sounds like discrimination but it’s not because people earn much much much less in Thailand compared to Westerners, unless you’re a Thai professional working for a foreign company in Thailand, of course. I’ll be discreet and not downgrade the Oriental by saying the price I paid out loud. But I’ll give you all a hint: I’ll be paying the same thing for a sh-tty Holiday Inn (Express) outside Washington DC.
A boat ride along the Chao Phraya:
Visiting Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace.
A train ride to Kanchanaburi along the River Kwai. It was a LONG FALL from l’Espace Affaires to Third Class of the State Railway of Thailand. I’ve been dethroned. But who cares. It was so much fun. At each station, vendors will come up and sell all kinds of foods. And I got to listen to ordinary Thai people talking. I was eavesdropping on everybody’s conversation. I am so thankful I still understand Thai.
YEP, there I was sitting in Third Class with my brothers and sisters from another planet.
Or, rather, brothers and sisters on the same planet but who live in another world, one so different from mine. But still, I couldn’t disown the fact that, inside, I’m just the same: same skin color, same hair color, same eye-color. A swift turn of luck and I’d be just like them.
A hammock at the end of the world (in Kanchanaburi, an area bordering Burma). It was the most memorable catnap in my entire life. It only cost me a little more than a buck for this temporary escape.
Back to Bangkok. Watching “Kohn” or Thai dramatic art.
Thailand is so dynamic. It changes too quickly that it’s hard for an outsider like me to follow. But as a Thai-American who’s seen and been to many places, I say that the Thais are doing quite well. They, like the Argentine, have learned to cherish their identity since the Asian economic crisis in 1997. Back then, when I was growing up in Thailand, no one knew what it meant to be Thai. We took everything for granted. My family, for example, never took me to Wat Phra Kaew. Today, while there are still rooms for improvements, I think they’ve more or less come to terms with their Thai identity. Knowing your potentials and who you are is half of every success, I think.
I hope that, as Thailand develops further and further, it would never abandon all its ethnic charms. This picture taken from Terminal 2 at Don Meung, as I’m leaving Bangkok on a China Airlines flight to Taipei and Los Angeles, is what I imagine Thailand should aim at becoming within the next 20 years: technologically advanced like Japan but with Thai joie de vivre.
A China Airlines 747 that just came from Rome and will now take me to Taipei.
I hate to be promoting MasterCard on A.net but there’s just no other ways to say this.
Plane rides from Mexico City to Bangkok on AF
: 130 Euros + 60,000 miles.
Miscellaneous spending in Thailand: 180 USD.
Weight gained from 5 days of gastronomic adventure in Thailand: 3 kilograms.
Flying back to Los Angeles on China Airlines: 350 USD
to Guadalajara using my Mexicana Frecuenta miles: 60 USD + 15,000 miles.
Total money spent: (about) 700 USD.
KNOWING WHERE I CAME FROM …………………………………………………………………