A City of Wires

Sometimes it is said that Bangkok is a city of canals, which isn’t really true any more. There are still plenty of khlongs, but the vast majority of them aren’t navigable by boats and you wouldn’t want to go in them, as many are filled with thick black sludge. Rather, Bangkok should more accurately be thought of as a vast knot of numberless black wires which happen to have accreted a city around them:








As you may know, we are not actually in Bangkok right now. Presently we’re in Los Angeles, having traveled through Seoul and Idaho. None of things have very much to do with our being in Bangkok which is why you haven’t heard about any of them, except for the cat cafés.

But! Just before we left, Wat Yannawa had a temple fair. Wat Yannawa is just south of Saphan Taksin, the local transportation hub; we visit it semi-regularly to feed the catfish there. Wat Yannawa is mostly notable for having an enormous shrine shaped like a boat, which Rama III had constructed because he didn’t want the local population to forget that the Chinese had settled much of this part of Bangkok with their junks. Wat Yannawa also seems to be a fairly wealthy wat: they own the parking lot right behind the boat dock we use much of the time (maybe they own the boat dock as well), which used to be a block of shophouses they owned called Soi Wanglee. About ten years ago they decided they wanted to go into real estate development and bulldozed the shops; the development deal fell through and now there’s a parking lot which is mostly empty. It used to have a hipster coffee stand, but they left. Right now it has a little funfair. Probably it’s gone by now? Who knows, we are no longer in Bangkok.

But here are some of the highlights, at least those that we remembered to video. There is one of these things that you expect to see that has a name I don’t remember – is this a Tilt-a-Whirl?

Also trampolines, which at first lead to disaster:

But then everything is of course fine:

Also goats:

That’s what happened. More when we return to Bangkok, around the end of August.

Advanced Communication Methods

As you may know, Harriet has a nanny who speaks very little English – the theory is that she teaches Harriet Thai and Harriet teaches her English, but what’s ended up happening is effectively a Poto and Cabengo-type situation, so we use a message board to explain things that need to be explained. Here is how we explained that Harriet had to go to the doctor’s office at school this afternoon for some vaccinations:


Despite the fact that these pictures would appear to be impossible to decipher – for the record, they are meant to be a caduceus, a doctor, and a red cross – this worked & everyone successfully made it to the doctor’s. A triumph.

Out of the Past

Just north of Saphan Put is the flower market, and just north of that is the electronics district, and just north of that is the Nightingale-Olympic:


The Nightingale-Olympic was founded in 1930 as Bangkok’s first department store. The current building dates from 1966, as does almost everything in it. It’s still very much open, and staffed by a number of ladies in pink polo shirts, but store appears to be frozen in amber.


Aside from the employees, there were no other customers. That’s fine, because there are plenty of mannequins.



Almost &nbasp; but not quite – everything is ancient. Here, for example, are some ancient games in glass cabinets:



It’s worth noting that this isn’t a museum: everything appears to be for sale, it’s just selling very slowly.


The prices, it’s worth noting, haven’t been frozen. These five-piece practice putting sets are going for 1750 baht, which is US$54. Vintage sets of golf clubs are going for 25,000 baht.

Upstairs is a wonderland of ancient musical instruments and exercise machinery:


“If you try one machine for five minutes,” the owner of the store explained to the Bangkok Post. “it is equal to riding a horse for five laps.”

The third floor, the stairway of which is seen below, is closed to the public, but you can see photos of the beauty salon here, and it features prominently in this music video. The owner again: “Any woman who stepped inside the Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio would turn out to be a beautiful lady.”


If you need a vibraphone in Bangkok, this is a fine place to buy one.

The good ladies running the store thought that my picture-taking was detracting from their retail efforts, and I was told not to take any more. I don’t think that was actually true, but I didn’t take any more pictures.

Riding the Rides in Bandar Seri Begawan

The other thing there is to do in Brunei is to go on all the rides that they have at the mall. I don’t know if this is the country’s only mall – it’s possible, it’s the only mall we saw, but who knows. But they have a lot of rides. Here are some of them, again in a numbered list. Brunei is an orderly place.

  1. Massage-chairs. One thing about Brunei is that it is absolutely full of massage-chairs. You put in a dollar and they massage you. They do howl unmercifully if you attempt to sit in them without giving them a dollar. This kind of ride is also available in the Kuala Lampur airport, which is crazy enough to deserve its own post which I will not write yet.
  2. Some kind of car in front of a shoe store. The poor child has clearly inherited my lack of interest in driving.
  3. A horse. Maybe a little gaudy, but decent enough. Note the air of resignation in the poor horse’s eyes.
  4. Some kind of train. The trend in rides seems to be to put a screen in the front of them, which is basically just admitting that the ride isn’t very good in its own right. Clearly not as good as the horse.
  5. A rocking bowl. I can’t actually tell what this one is supposed to be. It doesn’t seem like a car should rock from side to side. A car should go up and down or forward and backwards. Side to side is unnatural. Obviously this is a terrible ride.
  6. A Santa Claus. I think the Santa Claus is pushing his sleigh? Good enough. I do wonder what will happen to Santa Claus under Sharia law. Maybe he can be re-painted so that he isn’t so obviously an infidel.
  7. A Happy Deer. Harriet systematically went through all of the deer on this thing. It was far and away her favorite. Because she was riding this over and over again, I did not get a video of her riding it when it decided to start playing “Yankee Doodle,” so you will have to imagine that for yourself.

And those are the rides that you can ride on in Brunei. They kept us busy for a while.

Fireworks, More

We weren’t kidding about the frequency of fireworks here. Here are some of last night’s, the occasion of which was uncertain: maybe they were because no alcohol can be sold this weekend because there’s (ostensibly) an election next weekend and people need something to do; or maybe because Chinese New Year is at the end of the month. Either is a good enough excuse.

Light, Fireworks

One of the saddest of American assumptions is that fireworks are for once a year, the Fourth of July. This is a terrible mistake. Everybody could really be having fantastic fireworks every single night. These ones, as far as we can tell, seem to be celebrating the fact that it’s Sunday night.

(One might imagine that in a city full of protests, some of which have been attracting thrown grenades lately, there might be some hesitation about setting off loud explosions. No.)