Scrap-pad tales from the gap-yaar archives
There was a boy who went to Bangkok,
In a scrawl the events he would jot,
He squirrelled away,
Drank Chang everyday,
And these are the tales he’s got.
Everything was different. I got off the subway to be greeted by a huge intersection with heaving traffic. Massive road, massive noise, massive pollution… little me. I tentatively stepped out onto the dark sprawling street, body aching from the weight of my rucksack, brain sluggish and nicotine starved. I stared intently at a faded, badly printed map, as if glaring at it would suddenly make the thing make sense. I tried to get my bearings by looking for non-existent road signs, but all I could see were dark alleys, sinister-looking folk, and a sea of bright lights spinning round my thumping head.
I was out of my depth. I looked like the dictionary definition of a lost, muggable tourist. I may as well have had ‘rob-me’ sprayed on the back of my bulging over-sized gap-yaar pack. After walking a while in what I thought was the right direction, I plucked up enough courage to hail a tuk-tuk. The driver fleeced me for the ride. (I had no grounds to barter; he only had to take one look at me to know I had no idea what I was doing.) I got to the poxy shit-heap of a hotel, dumped my bags and pegged it for the nearest 7/11. The smokes I bought were plastered with ambiguously vile images, of what looked like a rotten oyster and a pensioner’s sweaty arsehole. But, undeterred, I smashed two of the shit-sticks in one mighty breath.
Days pass. I sleep erratically and rarely. The pixelated breezeblock of a television is my only companion and best friend in this hazy, nicotine-clouded shoebox. I stare for hours at the thing, eyes wide, brain rotting and numb. I listen to the pulsing hisses and crackles from that glowing, chattering apparition; and the ancient air-con units pathetic, spluttering wheezing. This is the soundtrack to my new hellish existence. Soon there would be little else. Time meant nothing here. Everything that had come before, and any future plans or intentions would soon be lost to the void. I leave irregularly, braving the thick hot air of the city in search of cigarettes, beer, and other essentials; then rush back to the sanctuary of my tomb.
It’s 4am on one of these weird, timeless mornings. I catch myself furiously gobbling Shreddies and UHT milk out of a small glass tumbler with a desperately concocted shovel contraption, crafted from the top of a Tupperware container. I realise that I am not coping. I decide to venture out, leaving my self-polluted fog den in favour of the smoky streets of Bangkok to go… sightseeing.
Predictably the taxi driver massively overcharges me. Then, to rub salt in the wound, he spends the whole journey trying to sell me some sort of river tour by pointing madly at a battered pamphlet. All the while miraculously continuing to navigate in the chaos that are the roads of Bangkok. Motorbikes cough through the stop-start traffic veering millimetres in front of fluorescent pink taxis, while we carve blindly through multiple lanes of traffic in this cutthroat game of motor bullying.
The palace was impressive. Big. Shiny. Gold. I sat in the temple of the Emerald Buddha for a while. Meditating on how such an unmaterialistic philosophy would be interpreted in such a way that would warrant the statues of its founder to be made of precious stone, and for it to sit on a huge pyramid of gold and material wealth. I thought these thoughts for a moment or two. Then I left. Stopping only to pick up more beer, and hurried back to my pitiful lair.