17 Aug

Bangkok, Travels With Pancha & Rosalie

From Our Roving Correspondents

Oh, man, pressure from the news desk!
We’ve been in Bangkok for a week. I injured my knee just before we left the States. It could have happened when I was clowning around for daughter Shara in the supermarket. I tend to forget the age of this body which, as the years roll by, resembles more and more a Rube Goldberg machine with faulty parts.

Many years ago, while distributing religious literature (sorry, Dad, broke your rule) at Detroit Metro Airport, I was attacked by a man with a heavy briefcase who strode up to me and swung it against my right knee with great force. You don’t expect to be assaulted in a public place like that, and I was caught completely off guard.

I fell to the terminal floor in agony, yelling in pain as the man walked briskly away.

There were two airport policemen who witnessed the whole incident. They did nothing to apprehend the man, and didn’t even bother to help me to my feet.

After that, the knee remained a problem. A couple years later, my right leg would sometimes ‘lock’ and not straighten. This could happen at any time – walking, swimming, etc. Feeling a lump of partly loose material under the skin on the inner side of my right knee, I decided to do some research. I concluded that I had a torn medial meniscus of the right knee.

When I went to the doctor (in those days, I had health insurance) and told him my self-diagnosis, he laughed and said, “Well, we’ll see.” After x-rays, he said that I was right.

The knee was operated on using arthroscopy, and afterward the doctor told me that I could expect arthritic troubles later in life.

I don’t know if this is arthritis or not, but it hurts. At least after a few days’ rest, it’s feeling a little better.

Bangkok is boiling. The temperature is always 90-plus degrees, unless a downpour comes and pushes down the temperature for an hour or so. August is squarely in the monsoon season, and it rains hard enough to force the most inebriated Western tourists off the streets.

After following the tumultuous Red Shirt protests in the news a few months ago, I was expecting to find a city scarred by damaged buildings and the remnants of street barricades. The only stark evidence of this I saw was the fire-damaged hulk of the Central World Mall, once billed as the largest shopping mall in all of Asia, with a million square meters of retail space. Windows are still broken out on the upper floors, and the smoke damage is evident on the outside of the building.

I’m told that for weeks after the fire, many despondent merchants were selling their smoke-damaged merchandise in front of the building. They had taken huge losses and were trying to get some money for what was left.

The Thai shopping mall is a different entity than what we find in America. Although there are chain stores doing business here, most of the mall stores are run by small businesses. So it’s not like, by burning Center World, the proletariat was striking a blow against the corporate bourgeousie. Thailand is full of people who are just making enough money to get by. And, unlike the United States, they’re all working. You want a job, you’ve got a job. The unemployment rate is something like 1.5 percent, and street beggars, ubiquitous in India, are a rare presence here.

In fact, sprawling Bangkok resembles a hundred markets piled together with ill-defined boundaries. Every street is thick with merchants selling everything imaginable, from furniture and clothing right down to used cell phone chargers.

The meat and produce markets spill out onto the streets. Walking through the narrow aisles, you have to be careful not to brush up against the bloody flesh of slaughtered pigs and birds, some raw, some cooked to various degrees. Piles of fried fish and insects await your indulgence. A man is chopping the heads off wriggling eels in front of you. Beside you, still-living fish gasp and flap weakly beneath the hard gaze of a fishmonger.

The people of Bangkok have all kinds of opinions of the Red Shirt movement. Some hate or fear them, some feel they are heroes. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Red Shirts have been rounded up by the military, and we’re told that no one knows what has happened to them. They’ve disappeared. The rest melted back into the countryside.

I’m told the deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, an inspiration to the Red Shirt movement, owns all kinds of property in Bangkok. None of his properties were damaged. Central World, however, was built on land owned by the King of Thailand. It seems the Red Shirts were sending a message.

Next post: Mom’s Day – The Queen of Thailand Gets Her Adulation

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Your mother

You are still a rascal, continuing to break your Dad’s rules.


I felt like I was there with you. Thanks for the travelogue. Maybe there’s a book in there somewhere from all your travels.
Love ya.

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