Bangkok Journal Chapter 3 - Basic Floor Plan

Today’s entry inspired by Rob Kaarto, who wants to visit (soon, I hope) and asked about the layout of the apartment and its potential comfort for guests.

It’s not so warm in the apartment today. There’s a nice, strong breeze that began after yesterday evening’s humid downpour. The apartment was not as stuffy as we’d expected when we walked in the door after our long, gruelling day away. (I get the feeling most normal Bangkok days are long and spent away from home. It’s easier after working – or, for us, going out to interviews or meetings – to go find a place to eat (or shop!) for a few hours rather than sit in rush-hour traffic.) Our apartment can be VERY stuffy after being shut tight and locked up all day. We’re on the 7th floor, directly under the roof on the east, usually windless, side of the building. But last night we were so comfortable with the front and balcony doors open – and a stiff breeze blowing through – that we didn’t even turn on the fan in the living room. Even in the bedroom, which has its own balcony with sliding door but no door leading to the building’s hallway, we were able to leave the fan off until we went to bed. Air-conditioning doesn’t exist for us unless we’re forced to endure it – like we were in the car of one of Noraseth’s friends last night as she gave us a ride home from Chulalongkorn University. (I’d had my first job interview there in the morning and Noraseth had spent the afternoon in a German seminar while I read my current book on a veranda full of college students so young and small that I even had to ask if there was a grade school nearby or did these students really belong to the university?).

The car was so cold that I thought I was back in Kassel. And this woman’s running shoes, which had been baking in the closed-in heat all afternoon, stunk worse than any I’ve ever encountered before. How can I describe the smell? Imagine: you’re on vacation in Florida, in summer, driving a rental car. It’s early morning. You’re following a friend, who drops their own car at the repair shop and you give the friend and the friend’s cat a ride home before heading off on your own to Sea World or Ocean World or Disney Sea or Penguin Land or whatever the hell they name those parks. Unbeknownst to you, the cat, which hates your driving and hates your friend for having submitted it to your driving, pukes and poops under the passenger seat. You arrive alone at your destination, park and spend the entire, hot, humid day fighting small children for your rightful place on the roller coaster while the car is cooking quietly in the parking lot. After 8 hours you’ve had your fill of sea creatures and log flumes and you return to your parked car, almost burning your hand as you put the key in the door lock. Somehow you manage to open the door and you can feel the blast furnace level of heat pouring out the open door and you’re wondering why someone hasn’t invented an automatic a/c remote control so you could have turned it on already while you were still on the tram riding out here to section 487-C. You sigh, dive into the seat (and the heat), start the car and the a/c as fast as possible while closing the door. Suddenly … well, you get the picture. I hardly had an appetite for dinner after sharing the back seat with those shoes for the 90 minutes it took us to drive the 8-9 miles back to the apartment.

The apartment is also surprisingly quiet, especially considering the fact that there’s not too much inside of it to absorb sound. Aside from the clothes, lap-tops and personal belongings (yes, including about a dozen books), that we brought with us on the plane, there’s only what the place was furnished with: a white love-seat sofa and two white easy chairs, a small dining table with two wooden-framed white-upholstered dining chairs, a sideboard and, in the bedroom, a double bed and built in desk unit. There’s also a few ends tables and coffee table in the living room and a built-in closet in the bedroom. Everything is in dark or light teakwood – the dark teakwood floor is especially nice – and makes a slight, soft contrast against the bare off-white walls. The balconies have blue ceramic floor tiles, the bathroom white tiles, the kitchen tan tiles. There’s no shower curtain in the bathroom yet (we’re waiting for the maintenance guy to get around to putting in a rod) so it’s a real water world within whenever we shower (which is often – usually a warm shower in the a.m. and a few quick, cool rinses later. That’s pretty standard here.) Last one done has to squeegee the floor! The tiny kitchen has the usual brown cabinets and a sink. That’s it. We have to get our own small fridge (ordered to be delivered Saturday), which we’ll take with us to our more permanent digs later and Noraseth’s caged his old rice cooker and microwave from the family. I detest microwaves, but they’re essential here for reheating. We buy fresh prepared food at the market and it sits around a few hours before we eat it, which is usually not a problem but it’s safer to reheat (and makes it warm again, as well). That’s pretty standard behaviour here too, from what Nori tells me.

We’ve also added, during our evening shopping marathons, a few fans, a clothes-drying rack for the bedroom balcony (everyone dries clothes on their balconies here), a small metal shoe rack (shoes are never worn inside here – more for hygienic rather than religious reasons). We have more to add: a desk! a television! a stereo! But those things are not essential and we’d have to move them again anyway, so we’ll wait until we find a more permanent place. It will be no problem when we decide to get them, though. Stores are open every day until 10 or 11. It’s like I’ve died and gone to shopping heaven after the hell of the German system, in which it seemed like the shops were never open or, at the least, where you had to carefully plan when to shop and forget about Sundays (when ES IST VERBOTEN). Mostly we shop for work clothes. I’m buying a lot of neckties. Imagine that!

Overall the apartment is a bit hotel-y or condo-y and remains impersonal, not organized in our own personal style. I keep putting things down or away and then can’t find them again because they don’t have a normal or regular place. It should be hard to lose things, though, in a place so small and minimally furnished.

So it’s quiet as I sit typing and waiting for Noraseth to call me so I can walk over to meet him at his university. Then we’ll go off to the area where my business school interview – my second job interview – is, in order to arrive early and eat lunch in the neighbourhood. I’m sitting at the teak dining table in my tee-shirt and shorts, my big butt on the bottom of one of the upholstered dining chairs (and I’m wondering which bottom has the bigger cushion) with the balcony doors open and the blue living room floor fan lazily oscillating on setting #1. I hear the hum of the factory next door. It’s a large, sprawling area of low, metal-roofed buildings, but there doesn’t seem to be much activity or noise. Sometimes there’s some Thai folk/country music wafting up from a parked pick-up truck with the door open and the radio up loud. And four or five times a day they open the pipe and drain water (or worse) into the canal next to our building. We call it the “waterfall” since it sounds very prettily like one. I hear a disembodied Thai voice speaking now and then but don’t see the person it belongs to when I look down. (Maybe it’s really one of the threshold ghosts!) Every five minutes or so, I hear the languid and irregular and unmotivated tap-tapping of a hammer, which does not sound urgent in any way. Nothing outside seems urgent this morning.

The main streets, that’s where the urgency and noise is. The malls and large, open verandas, like at the universities, are also loud. Anyplace where there’s a lot of people (i.e., any open, public space) is bound to be crowded and loud. But there’s an acceptance about it. No one is surly. It’s like the hub-bub in any large city, but amplified somehow and without much bass. I’ve never heard a wailing siren like in NYC or the “ta too tat a” of the European siren like in Kassel. Noraseth says they exist, but that I just haven’t heard them yet. I never hear my cell phone when it rings (and it does ring with calls from Noraseth’s sister or other friends from Kassel, who’ve returned to Bangkok before us. These calls are mostly for Noraseth since it took him longer to get his own phone in order). If I do hear the phone, I can’t hear a word anyone is saying since the background noise is so loud. But it’s quiet at home, and relaxed, not urgent. The urgency is out there in the traffic, which is far away enough from the apartment that I can’t hear it lurching and chugging along. The traffic, while snarled, is always urgent. It may move like blood through cholesterol-clogged arteries, but it is always serious. That topic, with a specific focus on buses, is for the next chapter.

Bangkok, 30 August 2007