Saturday 26 November 2022

We've seen better days (part 3, final)

Street food in Talad Phlu market, or should that be track food?

Curiosity drove me out to the wilds of Pin Khlao, which I rarely visit, and Talad Phlu

Scouring Pin Khlao on Google Street View, as I have done previously, I realised how much of it seemed familiar, even the nooks and crannies far from Mum's shop. I must have made a hundred visits out there; so many it was really like a second home.

I didn't bother walking around on the day of my visit, as thanks to my digital foraging previously, I felt I had already seen it. Oh, there's the spot I once taught uni students; oh, over there is the spot I once hung around with insurance agents (of all things). The list of faltering memories never ends, and did any of it amount to anything?

As for the feeling that I am really making my farewells to my former life in Bangkok as I head towards retirement, in a more optimistic sense I could also regard these odd visits as new starts. I have neglected these places for years and am now showing interest in getting to know old friends again.

However, I doubt that's it. The relationships I am rekindling on my ocasional sorties to playgrounds past have no future, and having said that I can only hope retirement holds out better.

I will have to invest time and energy into getting to know people and places in Chon Buri, where we hope to settle eventually, just as I did once when I was new to the Thon Buri side, and spent so much time rattling about Talad Phlu and Pin Khlao.

In the intervening years during my absence, both have reshaped themselves, particularly Talad Phlu, parts of which I barely recognise any more. I am sure the soul of these places remains the same, but does mine?

We've seen better days (part 2)

Pin Khlao bridge
After chatting to Bom, I walked down to the river and watched tourists pile into a Chao Phraya River ferry boat.

From Pin Khlao I took a taxi to my next stop, Talad Phlu, the market where we lived before our move into town 13 years ago, and where I still have a few friends. That took another 20min and cost 100 baht.

The driver, aged in his 60s, was one of those crafty, silent ones who engages in cursory conversation but turns a deaf ear to anything he doesn't want to hear.

As we were heading to the market I saw the turnoff to Pran Nok Road, the quick way back which I would take to get home in years past. However, I failed to alert him in time.

I am sure he would have refused anyway, as it's cheaper than the long way back via Thoet Thai Road, at the rear of the market, which his scheming type will always take if given a choice.

I spent the next few hours at the market, with a former masseur friend who now sells fried food out the front of her shop with her sister-in-law.

We watched TV and sat about as customers dribbled past. It was a fun way to spend an idle afternoon.

Talad Phlu itself is lively, especially in the evening when office workers and students come out for a bite. The market is full of streetside food places, and even some franchise eateries. Several jostle for space under overhead bridges where traffic does a U-turn before heading back into town.

The shops along the main road look modern, not out of keeping with a stroll through Silom or Siam. And of course Talad Phlu now has its own skytrain link, which it did not have in my day.

But some parts of the market have barely improved: the canal, which long-tailed tourist boats still ply, is the market's teen zone. I sat next to a basketball court under an overhead bridge.

On one side is an old wooden restaurant perched over the canal bank. Many years ago I had a meal there with my ruthless young friend Kew, who fended off a hostile diner wielding a paper-cutter.
The eatery, and concrete structure
A small wooden pier used to sit on this side of the bridge, but it is now gone. Another one sits on the other side of the bridge.

A glimpse inside the eatery
It serves diners who arrive by boat for a meal at a Thai restaurant on that side.  A bunch of school kids had gathered there but I could see few adults around.

A strange concrete structure like a pillbox still sits on my side. I suspect it was built there for the old pier, now gone.

Teens have defaced it with graffiti. While I was there, one lad in school uniform greeted me. A secondary school is about 50m down the way. He clambered on top to smoke a cigarette and call out to his friends on the other side of the bridge.

"Hey, bring over the bag of glue!" he shouted to his mates. They ignored him, so he climbed down again, muttering to himself.

On a previous trip to Talad Phlu, I took the skytrain and walked from the station on Ratchapruek Road.
The Ratchadapisek Rd entrance, and First One market

First One market
On my left, I noticed someone had bowled a block of old houses close to my old apartment on Ratchadaphisek Road, just before the overpass at the entrance of the township.

In its place is the First One night market with an enormous concreted car park area, and barely a shrub or tree in sight. It sits almost empty during the day, as its name suggests, and reminds me of a dusty cattleyard.

Signs of progress, perhaps, though I could think of sweeter, more intimate spots to visit at night.

The trip from Talad Phlu back into town on the 205-route bus cost less than 20 baht and took another half an hour. I left before peak hour traffic set in. And yes, dear reader, I have taken a motorsai, subway and skytrain out there as an alternative means of transport, but it takes just as long. 

now, see here

Friday 25 November 2022

We've seen better days (part 1)

Down by the pier in Pin Khlao
A trip to my old drinking haunt in Pin Khlao, my first in 11 years, was a little sad.

Mum's shop as I knew it looks just as it did in the updated Google street view pics I posted here about six months ago, only more rundown, if that's possible. Out of deference to fonder memories of times past, I did not take any new pics. Too depressing; locals would wonder why I bothered.

I appear to be bidding farewell to my Bangkok life, perhaps in anticipation of retiring to the provinces, which we hope to do when I come of age in the next three years or so. But I know the move won't be that tidy; nothing ever is.

I took a motorcycle taxi from our place in Yannawa, which cost 160 baht and took 20 minutes.

I went to Mum's little shop in Pin Khlao, at the turnoff to Wat Daowadueng, as I wanted to see what had happened to it since I saw it last.

I did not expect to meet Mum, as the last time we spoke many years ago, she had parted ways with her husband. She ran a food card in the area, and he was running their shop during the day.

Now Mum's shop itself, as I knew it, only opens now at night. When I dropped by, it was closed.

I chatted to a couple of staff from the eatery next door to Mum's old shop, which Mum and her husband also once owned, in fact, but which presumably is now in someone else's hands.

I remember Bom, one of the staff there, from my old days in Pin Khlao. He brought me up to date with Mum's news.

Mum herself has moved back to Kalasin, and her husband now works in the Phra Ram 8 area along with their son, he said.

Mum's shop, where I spent many hours at the peak of my nighttime frolics in Thon Buri some 15 years ago, was shuttered, with no signs of life. It is run in the evenings by Mum's younger sister, who in this blog I called Isra.

Isra, at the shop (LINE)
Back in those days she was going out with a foreigner, a young painter from the north of England whom I knew and called in this blog farang J. 

He visited Thailand every few months when he would spent a few weeks with Isra's family in Kalasin and the rest of his time in Pin Khlao (for a selection of our tales together, see here, herehere and here).

Mum and her husband, a former army man, settled in Bangkok years before to run the shop and raise their son, whom I once taught English but has now left school.

Isra helped them run the shop when they were still together, and occasionally, during school breaks, bring her kids with her to Bangkok (her son has since left us, sadly: see here).

Today, she is still there, Mum and her husband having moved on to other things. However, farang J is out of the picture, and Isra, once so keen on foreigners, is now seeing a Thai.

"She and her partner sell food, though the place only opens after 5.30pm," Bom said.

I left my phone number with Bom. He offered to pass it on to Isra, whom I did not get a chance to meet as I had come too early in the day.

Isra and I chatted on Line later that night, and I have since found her on FB, along with the shop itself, which now has a name (เคาร์เตอร์บาร์ ปิ่นเกล้า), and admittedly looks better after dark:
New look for Mum's shop (FB)
now, see here

Monday 2 May 2022

Dream spell breaks (5, final)

Reprise: Teenage Dream left, and Lek, far right

Finally, more than four weeks later, I biked down Dream's soi on my way home. Since our bizarre conversation that night, I had chosen to avoid them by taking the long way back via the main road skirting their soi.

Dream was setting up a drinks table to welcome friends to another gathering. The ever-present Lek, sitting nearby, called me over. I dutifully stopped for a chat, and she immediately called out: "Dream, Mali's here!"

If the script played out correctly, he would come over and greet me before returning to his friends, and I would sit down with Lek and shout her a beer.

Lek was making explicit the link between her opening the door to Dream's renewed friendship, and my need to pay for her booze habit by way of thanks.

"I need a drink. Shout me a beer," she said.

Once happy to shell out for alcohol or even help the regulars there with various expenses (including Dream's tuition costs, unbeknown to him), I recoiled inwardly as I contemplated helping such a hard-boiled user.

Not content with the misery our first manufactured coupling caused, when she paired us as "father and son", more than eight years later she was trying to reboot it, in "estranged friends reunite" mode, again to her cynical advantage. 

Dream was party to this arrangement on both occasions, though first time round, I suspect, he was too young to understand. And where was his mother? As ever, a mute witness.

"No thanks, I am heading home," I said.

With that I peddled off and left her, before she or Dream could say another word.

She wore a sickly, disbelieving smile as this old bird perhaps realised that I am no longer in thrall to her cynical manipulations, or bewitched by the Dream spell.

He failed to deliver on his sales pitch, despite his marketing smarts, as she was left with nothing but her empty plastic drinking cup.

Lek was indeed a good friend to me in reuniting Dream and me for our first heart-to-heart. Our conversation showed me that I was foolish to spend so much time worrying about the friendship which could have been, and which in the heat of the moment, many years ago, I had destroyed. 

He's just a lad; an unusual one, granted, but no one I need to know.

He's also happy to be used by this old boozer Lek, even if it means conning this farang. I wonder what hold she has over him. 

Regardless, to the extent he really did want to be friends, he left his run too late. While I am relieved we were finally able to bury the hatchet, and grateful he gave me the chance to talk, I lack the energy to get to know him or his friends again.

Dream gave me a steely-eyed look as I arrived as he, too, perhaps realised that the game was over. I have not been back.

Rock on!

Dream spell breaks (4)

Dream, left, and some of his mates

A few minutes later I made my own excuses and left. As I hopped on my bike, Lek made sure that I knew that she was responsible for Dream approaching me that night: "I am such a  good friend to you," she said unconvincingly.


The next day, I met Dream briefly as I was heading home. Now we had moved our relationship into "friends" mode, I felt relaxed when I stopped my bike and exchanged a few words of greeting.

If he was embarrassed about his drunken magnanimity the night before, he didn't show it.

Over the next few weeks, as I tried to absorb what happened, I avoided Dream's place. He had invited me to celebrate his birthday during the Songkran festival, to seal our rebooted friendship, but I did not go. I felt annoyed that Dream was so happy to monetise our friendship at Aunty Lek's urging.

What if I was to take advantage of my new status as his "friend" and turn up at odd hours asking to see him, or crash his drinking circle? Before long we would argue and go back to where we started. 

As always, my access to him would be under the controlled conditions of his choosing, and presumably conditional on my playing the game: if Lek is there, I can stop for a chat with Dream, but only if I help pay for her booze.

The drinking circle outside Orng's house as I once knew it more than eight years ago is a shadow of its old self, beaten about by the passage of time, Covid, and the sad state of the economy.

His mother, who previously sold noodles in the market but now works as a cleaner on Rama IX Road, goes through moody phases when she won't talk; nor does she drink outside her place much any more, but keeps to herself indoors.

Some of the regulars who gathered there back in 2014 have moved away (Pee Mee, a fabulous cook), fallen ill (a practical joker known as Pooh), or died (Orng's younger brother, Tong, who beat her up in my presence one night).

Lek is one of the few stalwarts left, turning up faithfully day after day and rattling about in search of paying friends. 

I have seen her pick through plates of old food left on a table in the fetid darkness of a typical Bangkok night after almost everyone had left for home. Why does she do it?

Aunty Lek tells me she lives with five relatives, including a young nephew of whom she is fond. Why not spend her nights with them?

now, see part 5