Entry 4

Entry 4

Entry 4
A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 1 2002 12:59 PM

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Traffic turned motocross race
Traffic turned motocross race
A night bazaar—need a cheap watch?
A night bazaar—need a cheap watch?
The view of Big Box Karaoke
The view of Big Box Karaoke

Let me say a word about Bangkok street life. Craaaaazy. That is the word. Everything is multilevel, with sky-train overpasses and pedestrian bridges rising over teeming sidewalks, and giant malls and office buildings looming higher still. Down on the ground, the traffic is brutal and never-ending. At red lights, all the motorbikes filter through the cars up to the front, making every change to green look like the start of a motocross race. And the smells are incredible. Delicious food smells; rotten food smells; food smells that are awkwardly in between. Motorbike exhaust. Sewage. Fumes from the chemicals a man is using to resole shoes—fumes that no doubt will cause me a delayed seizure and mild brain damage. Plus, there's the musk of the thousands of unowned, untamed, extremely uncastrated dogs that wander the city. But the overwhelming impression you get from Bangkok streets is that every square inch is filled with someone selling you something. I've never seen this kind of retail density—not in New York, not in Tokyo. (I've never been to Hong Kong, but perhaps it is a competitor.) Every alley we duck into is filled with another bazaar of pushcarts selling knock-off clothing. (I must admit I bought a $5 knock-off Lacoste shirt—there's just something about that alligator. But not all knock-offs are made equal. I don't think I'm familiar with a brand called Beebok.) Behind the street vendors are the malls, on every block. Massive nine-story affairs, five football fields long. One after another. It is to one of these malls, the Emporium, that we set out today—in search of lunch, provisions for our beach trip this weekend, and haircuts. In my life, I have had haircuts at many price points. From the $6 butchering I'd endure from my Polish barber in Brookline, Mass., up to a $70 styling at the salon of the St. Regis in Midtown Manhattan. (I wasn't paying for it.) Never have I been as pampered as today. Apparently, a basic haircut in Bangkok involves four separate steps, and at least three separate people. It begins with a long, massage-laden shampooing. I won't be going to a massage parlor in Bangkok, and certainly not to a "massage parlor," but judging by the ecstasy this Thai woman gives my scalp, I'd guess that any kind of personal service here would be more than satisfactory. Next comes the hair trimming. My stylist is a hip, 94-pound Thai man. He asks in broken English what kind of cut I want, and I point at his hair, which is really good. You see, secretly I have always wanted Asian hair. So sleek, so spiky, so cool. But the barber looks doubtful. You don't have Asian hair, he is thinking, and sadly he is correct. So he pulls out a book of magazine photos and asks me to point to a few. But all these haircuts are way too fancy. At one point, shocking and horrifying myself, I point to a photo of Al Gore. At least he has a fairly simple haircut, which is really all I'm looking for. Eventually, the barber drops the book of photos and says, "Short side, long top?" and this seems close enough to me. Better than the opposite, anyway. After the cutting comes another round of washing and massage (ahhhhhhh), followed by a second round of careful styling with a comb, blow dryer, and gel, which lasts another 20 minutes. In the end, well over an hour of personal attention. Total price, 600 baht—$15. I've had $15 haircuts in the States, and let me tell you they were nothing like this. At night we head to dinner in the sex district. This is misleading—almost every district is the sex district. Lots of streets cater to sex tourists. But we've found a very nice little restaurant (not a sex restaurant, if there is such a thing) on the street that caters specifically to Japanese sex tourists. We are not Japanese, nor are we sex tourists, yet nonetheless solicitations are many as we amble along. "See sexy show! Looky looky! Pingpong show, banana show!" We smile and shake our heads no. "Pingpong! Banana!" they shout with more urgency. ("Pingpong, banana" is a disturbingly familiar refrain on Bangkok streets.) From our table, we have an excellent view of the goings-on outside. Across the street is Big Box Karaoke, filled with women in sexy red dresses. They stand in their doorway to lure inside each Japanese man who passes, by bowing and smiling and generally looking hot. But for some reason, the men aren't interested. The sketchy place next door, which has no sign but does have girls in French maid outfits, is clearly doing brisk business, but Big Box Karaoke can't buy a customer. We find ourselves rooting for the plucky Big Box girls. A word of advice: Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a bar is a sex bar or just a regular bar. So here's a tip. If the girls have numbers taped to their backs, you can be fairly sure that it's a sex bar. We look for a tuk-tuk home, but the drivers are all demanding wildly inflated sex tourist rates, so we just catch a metered taxi. The end of another lovely Bangkok day.

Seth Stevenson, often found shopping for Slate, is currently following his girlfriend around Southeast Asia.