I’m vaguely aware that there’s fun to be had in Bangkok. Red lights, cocktails, things in alleyways, things with ping pong balls.
Me, I choose markets.
The nice ladyboy at my hostel told me which markets I should go to. S/he got out a map and circled ‘Thailand Culture Centre”, “Chinatown”, and Asiatique”. There were photos on the hostel walls of stalls strung with fairy lights and vendors selling creatures on sticks and fat white people with laughing faces doing Traditional Thai Stuff.
I took the map and thanked him/her, and went the other way.
Bangkok, for the most part, stinks. The stench of cat piss is indistinguishable from human piss, though it’s the two-legged species I see relieving themselves most often. Tuktuk drivers swerve into the kerb, leap from the cab and scurry to the river edge, unzipping as they go, to stand nonchalantly emptying themselves into the foul grey torrent that is Bangkok’s main artery.
Bangkok is also hot. Too hot. It’s August and rainy season, but the rain is as warm as the aforementioned piss. It’s a warmth that’s all-consuming, nauseating; the very fibres of my being are fat with heat. It’s an ugly, demoralising feeling.
But, anyway. It was Saturday night. I bought a bottle of something called Spy wine cooler for 32 baht (about $1.50) and picked my way over broken pavement and water lizards and red-eyed Thai men to the market.
And I’m surprised. It’s not often I get something right. What a market! Two street corners jammed haphazardly with canvas and lean-tos and frying pork and dragonfruit and spring rolls and durian; smoking woks and sizzling barbeques and crunching ice cubes and pounding pestles. Everything, everything. Fresh and notsofresh and probablynothygienic but whatever! Let’s go!
I eat everything.
At least, I attempt everything. The spring roll is more batter than contents. The mysterious fat package of banana leaves is fish cake so ignited with chilli I nearly choke. The sushi is 5 baht a piece (about 15c) and tastes it. The shellfish – no. I cannot do shellfish. I’ve seen what goes in the water here.
At a table laden with dishes in various states of oiliness I gesture for a plate. No, no! shrieks the vendor, and fairly hiffs a plastic bag of curry at me. Twen-tee! Twenty baht!
I buy two bloated bags of stuff: about $US1.20. One is coconut curry chicken, I think; the other is bean sprouts and tofu. Both are shiny with canola oil and pungent with MSG. I sit on a step and eat my bagged dinner and calculate I’ve spent about four dollars so far.
Better amp it up.
Sliced pineapple. Mini pancakes stuffed with something vaguely resembling cream. A stale doughnut. Papaya salad laced with garlic so raw I’m breathing fumes for days. Rambutans, just because.
I’m achingly, dizzingly full. I walk the three or so kilometres back to my hostel, gnawing on green papaya, and it’s a good walk.
Who needs ping pong, anyway.