There are two kinds of people in this world and I'm one of them.

Friday, March 06, 2009

'Kok of the north

One night in Bangkok: makes the tough guys crumble, apparently. Lucky, then, that I was there for two nights, where after an admittedly crumbly start I could slowly reassemble yourself. Around 25 journalists were flown out by the tourist board to witness the fact that Bangkok is back to normal after its bi-annual bloodless military coup.

I used to go all the time, but I hadn’t been to Thailand for three years. Within minutes of leaving the airport, though, it felt pretty normal – i.e. you sit in traffic for about half a day while moving three blocks.

I like Bangkok a lot. Despite the horrendous traffic, there’s an energy and a buzz about the place and it’s a cliché, but the people that live there (that would be the Thai people) DO seem genuinely happy. I figure it’s the Buddhism, one of the few religions where you don’t need to fear fundamentalists (What would they do? Excessive meditation? Force you to go meat free?), and where serenity and peace are promoted rather than guilt, judgment and killing people who disagree with you.

The first night we were taken out to a fashionable but gimmicky restaurant, Long Table, which is the kind of place where people wear sunglasses indoors and has the spurious boast of “what is thought to be one of the longest tables in the world”.

Hell, my bedroom desk could be “thought to be” one of the longest tables in the world – let’s have some official documentation, or at least lie to us – who’s going to check? (It reminded me of when I was being driven through Poland and my guide pointed out excitedly – “Look! It’s our country’s fourth largest Police Museum!” Like, thanks.)

The next day, half of us – the misguided half – went for Thai boxing classes, which was essentially a remedial workout in a sweaty gym full of hard looking Thais and slightly less hard looking, though certainly harder looking than me, Europeans. After being taught the basic stance and a couple of kicks and punches, we sparred with our trainers in the blistering heat and humidity. Luckily, my trainer was about a hundred years old, and thanks to his slow reactions, I didn’t look like the complete physical wreck that I coincidentally am.

The afternoon was slightly less hard work, but in some ways more painful. We were hosted at a Thai Massage school, and given a demonstration and then complete massage. I like Thai massage a lot, but I always forget how much they worm into your joints and cartilage – as trained fingers poked at some of the more inaccessible knots, I thought that this is how crabmeat must feel when diners stick their tiny forks in to get those last few atoms of meat.

We all had dinner at the rooftop restaurant of our hotel, the biggest excitement coming when we found out that the philandering Crown Prince (kind of like the Thai Prince Andrew) was there as well. Well, it was exciting until we found out we couldn’t go anywhere near him or take photos or trade bawdy tales over a couple of tequila shots or anything.

Then it was into Pat Pong for a highly cultural evening, or at least that was the plan until we found out that the city’s best bar – Radio City (daily bill of Thai Tom Jones, Thai Elvis and Thai Tina Turner) – was closed for a refurb. Then it just turned into trying to find way to drink without getting coerced into bars called things like “Pussy Connection”, which is exhausting in that part of town. I stayed out too late considering my 4am start the next day. Bad me with my stupid staying out.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mardi Bum

I’ve been so many times now that I didn’t think I needed any more reasons to love New Orleans. Well, whoa Nelly, was I wrong.

I’ve been for the 4th July and Halloween and surprise house parties and food and drink festivals and nondescript weeks in May that turned magical, but never for Mardi Gras. If I’m honest, parades and dressing up and enforced jollity (like New Years Eve) have never really bloated my float, but spending a week in a city dedicating itself to enjoyment with so much energy and conviction was something I won’t ever forget.

Random moments:

Arriving at midnight after a hellish flight delay, only to remember that it’s actually the perfect time to arrive in this city, and still very much a civilised hour to hit the local Irish pub with a bunch of people you’d really missed. As the cab driver pulled up to my friends’ perfectly Mardi Gras-decorated house, I’d forgotten the number, and he was asking if I’d recognise it. “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll recognise it,” I told him.

Waking up late morning and wandering into the French Quarter with the sun beaming down and finding a short but chatty queue at the best breakfast joint in the neighbourhood. Not only that, but the breakfast in question involves Mimosas (Buck’s Fizz, but stronger), Eggs Jonathan (Eggs Benedict, but better) and Brandy Milk Punch (a milkshake, but, er, brandier). Every day should start like this. You’d only live about a year, obviously, but what a year.

My friend Jean flew in from Chicago, and we overlapped for one stolen day, which is way too rare for us.

The first parade uptown on St Charles Avenue. Mine was Krewe D’Etat (Krewes are the mysterious societies that organise the various parades), and nothing can really prepare you for the crowds, colours, noises and the clamour for the essentially worthless cheap plastic beads that the floats dispense as they pass by. They become the most precious things in the world, even though you can buy them for pennies in the local gift shops. Best float: An Amy Winehouse-fronted behemoth, complete with mechanised arm bringing fag up to mouth.

With so many people, getting uptown and back without massive preparation can be a pain, I guess – who wants to plan where they'll get a last minute cocktail? Luckily, our super kind friend Jean had opened up her nearby house for a few select people, and so not only could we step back from the parade for food and drinks, but we could also meet a constant stream of great people.

Joining the semi-anarchist sound terrorists of the Noisition Coalition for two guerrilla parades. You have to dress in red, black and white and carry a home-made instrument, in my case home made by our amazing friend Angie – the megarocker, a four foot high maraca made of fibreglass. The first was a daytime parade down the official carnival route, the second an improvised romp down the French Quarter, cutting into bars to acoustically turf the place up for a few minutes (there are maybe 30 of us), dispersing when the police arrived and regrouping somewhere else to go to the next joint. The finale in the backroom of
Flannagan’s Irish pub was unbelievable, and I think we’d still be going if we hadn’t needed a drink so much.

Spending an entire night sat around in a fabulous bar where the only seven customers all night are friends of the bartender, our friend Rhiannon, who just happens to be one of the city’s most amazing cocktail makers. The drinks came, and we chased the conversation around the bar.

Walking around the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day itself with people in three of the best costumes I saw that day, an opinion repeatedly backed up by countless bypassers. My friends Todd, Ben and Chris going as Jackie Onassis post-motorcade, a candy store and a golden duck named (what else?) Foie Gras respectively.

Hanging out at a post-Mardi Gras party at my friends Todd and Ben’s incredible house, where lots of people you really like drop in, just as they would if there was a takeaway service that delivered your friends to your door.

Even though I was a little too spaced out to fully appreciate it, going out on the hide-under-a-duvet day of Ash Wednesday to one of the city’s best restaurants and eating turtle soup and red snapper with great company.

Too many other things to even list, new bars, new friends, familiar hangovers, but coming away with the feeling of a week lived to the full, a smile on my face as wide as a house that this place can still surprise me, and the memory of more “you should move here” conversations than the cocktails will let me remember.