Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Super Awkward Superheros

Sitting at work on Friday, I was feeling more than ready for the weekend. I had had an insanely busy week, with several late nights at the office doing mundane but necessary work for an upcoming project (I’m talking about twelve straight hours of formatting CVs and that sort of jazz), complete with two nights in a row in extreme insomnia. I was excited, however, for the few upcoming, fun-filled days I had planned. That evening I was going to see date night with my boyfriend, Robo, and three girls I had met briefly during Songkran in Chiang-Mai, and Saturday night we were all going to attend one of my friend’s superhero/villain dress-up birthday party. Due to the craziness that is Bangkok right now, with all the political unrest and red-shirt protests, a bomb had exploded the night before at a popular skytrain stop in a scuffle between pro- and anti-government protestors, causing all public transport to close down by 6pm Friday evening- a very unfortunate event, the only plus side of which allowed me to skip out of work 40 minutes early so I could make it home before my means of doing so shut. I met up with my girlfriends on the way back to my house, jetting home to take a quick shower and change before heading out to see “Date Night” with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey. One of the things I love about Thailand is that, while their movie cinemas are equally as nice if not more so than those in America, the staff could care less what you bring into them. Normally I have to hide the gummy bears and Pringles I brought from Walgreens at the bottom on my purse so I can sneak my cheaper version of movie treats into the film with me – not the case here. I ran to the salad bar at the food court while Robo hit up the burger joint, and we both strolled into the movie openly carrying our non-theater bought goods without someone giving us a second glance. The movie, while not as funny as I had hoped with two such hilarious leads, was very entertaining and funny, and I felt relaxed and ready to take on the weekend full force after it ended.

Since it wasn’t even 9:30 by the time the movie got out, we decided to head to a local joint called “Cheap Charlie’s”. Featured in literally every travel guide about Bangkok or Thailand, Cheap Charlie’s lives up to its name and is probably my favorite watering hole in town. The entire bar is outside, wrapping around the corner of some other building and covered with the most random paraphernalia you could imagine, ranging from a fake boob to a boomerang, with a few tables set up, and a white chain indicating where you are allowed to stand on the sidewalk and drink. Almost every single drink is 70 baht, or two dollars, and the bar tenders are not shy about pouring you an overflowing shot of alcohol. Although we headed to Cheap Charlie’s for just a drink or two, we ended up staying till close (midnight) and getting relatively smashed. As last call was announced, two large Swedish girls approached us and in an incredibly strong, slightly slurred accent, asked if we wanted to go dancing with them. What the hell, why not, so we got up from our table and hopped in a cab with our new Scandinavian friends. Arriving at a place called Titanium, a bar relatively close to my house, we went inside to listen to the live band, where I rocked out to Lady Gaga like a moron, getting way too excited for the live version of Pokerface, and watching the giant Swedish girls get jiggy with the Thai bar girls, whom they dwarfed in both height and width, and trying to unsuccessfully hit on expat men whose eyes were glued on the locals. Feeling sufficiently drunk and danced out, we headed home about 1am to drop into a very nice, non-insomniac sleep.

The next morning, I was definitely feeling a bit seedy, but not as bad as I expected to feel after our unexpected big night. I called the girls to see how they pulled up, and everyone was in the same boat- definitely felt as though we’d been out, but we were ready to spend the day preparing for that evening’s costume party. We had decided to make our costumes, as I am a bit of a costume party connoisseur, meaning I wish every single day was a costume party, and I try my hardest to make this a reality. In London, we got pretty darn close, dressing up almost every weekend just to go out to the local pub and dance. I’m talking full on angel, devil, cop, and unidentifiable party regalia for completely non-themed nights out on the town. For this particular costume party, I had decided to be Wonder Woman. Almost peeing my pants with excitement for my first Bangkok fancy-dress experience, we hit up a local fabric store and loaded up on cheap, bright fabrics, elastic, and hemming tape. The hemming tape was key, as we didn’t actually have a sewing machine, we had decided just to stick everything together with this magical stuff, that when ironed, will adhere two pieces of fabric together. Not very well, however, as I was to find out.

Back at my house, I spread my fabric out on my floor, ready to put my craftiness to the test and create a masterful costume design, equipped with only an internet picture, some cheap lining fabric, hemming tape, incredibly dull scissors and my own initiative. The funniest part is that I actually expected to be able to pull together a professional looking costume, which might not last long due to the lack of using any thread at all, but which I could simply reinforce with a sewing machine later and wear time and time again. In hindsight, I was a complete moron. The very first problem I encountered was that the scissors, in fact, did not want to cut any of the fabrics I had. Any attempt to do so ended up taking an extraordinarily long time, as only the very inside of the scissors was sharp enough to make the smallest cut, and the edges turned out incredibly ragged and worst than something a four year old could do. At first, the hemming tape seemed to work great, as I was using it to create a tunnel to run my elastic through to make my skirt. The problem there was that my Wonder Woman skirt, once complete, was looking less than wonderful. The fabric I had bought was cheap lining fabric, a decision I based on the fact that it was only 34 baht a meter, and the results definitely reflected my stinginess. I sort of looked like I was wearing a blue diaper, the fabric not at all falling in the graceful manner I had anticipated. Oh well, I decided to return to the skirt later, and make my top first. This turned into an even bigger disaster. Somehow my measuring skills were way off, because the first red “tube top” I made could have fit a Barbie doll, but not a human being, and certainly not me. Shit, ok, well I had already cut my fabric so I was just going to have to have the less than perfect version and add another piece into the back. Back to the iron with the hemming tape, I pulled apart my original tube top and added in another section of fabric to the back. When I went to try it on, somehow I had gone from doll-size to a muumuu. Frustrated, I pulled my red tube top off, just to find the hemming tape was already beginning to un-stick. By this point, it was hours later, and my costume was definitely NOT coming together, and I was starting to be an outright bitch to anyone who talked to me. I had promised Robo I would cut out his bat symbol to tack to a black shirt, but when he brought it up I nearly started crying, so the result was he decided to do this himself. Let’s just say while the bat symbol was somewhat recognizable (again, trying to cut cloth with dull scissors didn’t end up so well), it was sewn on to the shirt so crooked you almost had to look at it sideways. I tried to calm down by cutting out my head band and belt from this really cool gold fabric I bought, just to find that even the slightest pull pretty much pulled the fabric apart, causing weird looking lines to run through everything, to say nothing of the fact that the scissors seemed to work even worst on this fabric. Freaking out because I wasn’t going to have a costume for the party, I rummaged through my closet to see if I had any saving graces. Turns out I forgot about my blue American Apparel dress, which I decided I was just going to wear as a skit. I also pulled out my tried and true black Primark corset, which I bought on a whim and seems to literally come into handy for every single costume party, and decided to just tuck and pin the red fabric around this. By this time it had been over four hours, and it was time to meet up with the girls from last night again to go out to dinner.

We decided to go to our local Mexican restaurant, where the food is delicious and the service is absolutely the most atrocious thing imaginable. Not that the servers aren’t friendly, but I seriously think they must have some sort of amnesia or other mental defect. While our waiter took our order, and we watched as we pointed out what we wanted on the menu and he wrote it down, even asking the girl behind the bar to help him understand if we asked for something he couldn’t understand (like extra tortillas for me and Robo’s fajitas), the results were shocking. Despite the fact that Mexican food is normally the quickest food in the world to make, and we watched as every table around us was served, it took almost an hour for us to get our food. And this restaurant is tiny, so it isn’t that the chef is just very busy. What goes on in the kitchen is a mystery. While waiting, we literally asked for chips at least 10 times. Pointing to the chip bowl and going “Can we please have some more chips?” and the waiter going “More chips?” and us replying “Yes” every single time, nothing would happen. Surprisingly, once our meals came, they were actually the correct order, which is sort of an achievement in and of itself at this place, as I’ve gotten completely different dishes from what I asked for in the past. However, as always, the dishes were not all delivered together, as you would expect in a restaurant so that everyone can begin their mains at once, but spaced apart by almost by fifteen minutes. While Robo and I got our fajitas first, there were only two super small tortillas, for a giant plate of veggies and chicken. Despite watching our waiter write down our order for extra tortillas, and then asking him three times, the tortillas didn’t arrive for another half hour. I’m not sure why, since all they had to do was pull them out of the tortilla bag and put them on a place. My friend Holly had ordered rice and beans, which hadn’t arrived by the end of our meal despite her very polite request for them every ten minutes or so. Finally, we decided to skip the rice and beans and just get the check, which was a mission all in itself. It took about 20 minutes to receive, perhaps because only one person in the entire restaurant actually speaks English and she has to re-write almost every check they give out in English instead of Thai. Once we had it, we began to look over it, and realized some of the items were things we hadn’t ordered, and others were missing. I went to speak with the bartender/English speaker, and she fixed the incorrect items. Around this time, Holly’s rice and beans came as well, and even though we had canceled the order and they weren’t on the check, we figured she deserved them after waiting for nearly two hours to get them. To pay, we each added up our individual meals, and put in exact cash. Which kept coming up over 200 baht over the tab. Deciding NOT to try and fix this problem, as it worked out in our benefit and the experience had been one of the worst ever (despite the delicious food), we decided just to put it towards our bottle of Sam Sung, or Thai whiskey (or rum, not really sure) which is insanely cheap and palatable.

Back at the house with our bottle of Sam Sung, we spent the next hour getting ready for our party and drinking. It was already really late at this point, but we figured as I only knew the birthday boy and possibly one other person, and the girls and Robo didn’t know anyone, we would arrive fashionably late. At midnight, we hopped in a cab to head to the party. What we expected was a large group of people in costume (the online event had about 30 people registered as yes) socializing, drinking and dancing. What we walked into was a private upstairs party of about twelve people sitting around singing karaoke. As we walked in, the entire room went silent, looked up at us, stared as I gave James the most awkward hug ever, and then turned back to their karaoke without another glance. You could literally feel the awkwardness steaming off of us. There was no way we could even pull the excuse that we were just dropping in to say hi and wish James a happy birthday- we were 100% dressed up in super hero gear. Practically RUNNING downstairs to get a drink, the five of us gathered at the bar and just started laughing. Four unknowns and me, someone who sort of knew the birthday boy as an acquaintance, had shown up to a very imitate party dressed up in full costume. Oh well, we decided to drink as much as we could for the next hour and get the hell out of there. As we made our way back upstairs and awkwardly stood in the back of the group, a few girls came over to chat, but all in all, the next hour could not have gone faster, or been more awkward. At 1:30, we high tailed it out of there, more than ready to call it a night.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Night in Bangkok

It’s a well known fact that Bangkok has top of the line, outrageous nightlife for anyone willing to step out of their doors after dark, and I had been dying to get my first real taste. While going to go-go bars with my uncle and getting drunk off of incredibly strong margaritas at family dinner is all well and good, I knew I had yet to truly get a taste of the after-dark scene; probably because settings which either include my boss or my eight year old cousin don’t exactly scream, “let’s party!”. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to find out there was a fellow Yalie living in Bangkok, who, despite numerous shared friends and social scenes at school, I had never managed to meet, but according to my sources was a rip roaring good time. I facebooked Tan, my former classmate, immediately, trying to keep the desperation out of my message and I explained how I had been living in Thailand for over two months and somehow had managed to not to make any friends (minus Philippa, who is back home in England and very well may decide just to stay there) and could he please PLEASE take me out? Ok, so much for not sounding desperate, but I’m paraphrasing here, so really it sounded much better (I hope). Used to the immediate nature of facebook and the internet, I started to fret when I hadn’t heard back a day later, digging my ego into a deeper and deeper hole as I ran through the possibilities in my head: he’d heard I was a psycho from someone at Yale; I sounded like a psycho in my message; some time over the past four years I’d acted like a psycho and unwittingly insulted/maimed/ confessed deep embarrassing secrets to/ cried on him at some random Yale party and he’d remembered my name with a jolt of horror. Not that I have a tendency to insult, maim, confess deep embarrassing secrets to or cry on random people at parties, but you never know, maybe it was an incident I had long forgotten that remained clearly scarred into his mind. Let’s just say I was letting my imagination get ahead of itself, and was actually starting to mentally turn into the psycho I imagined him to think me, when I got a text from Tan asking if I wanted to join him and his friends that night at a beer garden then a club. Unfortunately, it was a Wednesday night, I had just gotten home from Bikram yoga (class at 40 degrees Celsius for an hour and a half) which had COMPLETELY kicked my butt, and it had poured out rain earlier in the evening, leaving my street a swampy, disgusting river of dirty rainwater that 1) did not flow down any of our broken street drains, 2) no motor scooter taxi driver willingly drove through to pick up passengers, 3) I had walked through once before and had been left with a highly disturbing itching sensation all down my legs which I had no desire to ever repeat again. After an intense internal debate over whether my health and job were more important than the potential to make friends, I regretfully declined the invitation, but made very clear I was interested in doing something over the weekend.

When Friday came along, my good man Tan didn't fail me- got a text around 4pm saying if I was in the mood to party, he was going to the bar at the Swiss Hotel and then a club with some friends that night, and I was welcomed to join. With not a cloud in the sky (just the normal layer of smoggy haze) and no work the next day, I skipped the gym and went straight home after work to get ready. Having recently returned from my Christmas and New Years escapades in New Zealand, I was able to bring another 30 or so kgs (I tried to bring more, but my normal airport luck seemed to have run out and my check in attendant was not letting me have an ounce over the weight limit) of my clothes back to Bangkok, and it feels like I have a whole new wardrobe (don't you love how leaving your clothes for a few months does that?!), so getting ready was actually quite fun. I pulled about 10 outfits into my bathroom, balancing precariously on the edge of my bathtub as I tried to turn the over sink mirror into a full length one, which is always fun considering my natural grace and agility (read: I trip over my own shadow... they don't call me baby giraffe for nothing). I decided to base my outfit around this ridiculous piece of jewelry I bought at one of the Bangkok markets- think 1920's meets punk rock, its a long piece of black flapper fringe attached to a chain necklace (yes Dani, I copied you, but you are just so damn stylish how could I not?), so I put on a cream colored tube dress and some black sandle heels, figuring it was an outfit that could work for somewhere fancy and casual, as I had no real previous going-out experience to base my look on. With that set, I wore my hair in a braid that wrapped around my head, since it had been drizzling out earlier and the thought of long hair sticking all over my back and neck in the disgusting humidity and heat which persisted even during a Bangkok winter night made my skin crawl. With my blonde hair and Swedish heritage I looked a little bit like a milk maid, but I just couldn't be bothered with trying to decide on another hairstyle- it was up and staying that way, and that was good enough for me. I had about 20 minutes till I was supposed to leave the house, so I poured myself a vodka redbull, rationalizing that it was economical to drink this at home since its always insanely expensive and I needed a little pick me up, plus, technically I wasn't drinking alone, as I went out to watch some TV and chat with Nicky, my best friend/ eight year old cousin (and in case you are wondering, i.e. Uncle Ron if you are reading this, of course I don't mean that Nicky was drinking as well, this is just another one of my rationalizing techniques, I wasn't alone if Nicky was sitting next to me). Twenty minutes turned into an hour, as Tan kept pushing back our meeting time since he was running late, giving me and Nicky plenty of time to get fully embroiled in our discussion about Star Wars, a shared obsession of ours. It always makes me happy when I think how living with Nicky when he is at such a young ages gives me the opportunity to shape him into a fellow sci fi/fantasy nerd, ensuring I will always have someone to discuss the newest and dorkiest literature with, because being family, he's stuck with me forever. I just hope I don't push him all the way over to the dark side and turn him into a roll-playing, medieval reenactment, LOTR (Lord of the Rings for all you non-believers) obsessed mega-nerd, but it's a sincere possibility as I know I, myself, was only a few steps away from such a fate.

I ended up meeting Tan around 9:30, he picked me up from the BTS (skytrain) station in his very nice SUV, and, as always, I was amazed at how he, or any driver, could mentally handle the stress of Bangkok traffic. As we drove towards the Swiss Hotel, I picked my new friend's brain a little, trying to figure out if I had a new and permanent friend here in Thailand. Lucky for me, Tan is here partying up a storm while trying to figure his life out (and being a 23 year-old recent college grad myself, I know that is no small or easy feat), so I'm guaranteed a friend her for a while.

Once we arrived at our destination, a swanky hotel with an equally swanky little bar, we headed inside where some of Tan's friends awaited us. While the individual drinks were somewhat expensive (compared to local prices, nothing in Bangkok is expensive compared to the US), a special open bar option was available for 700 baht. Obviously, we all went for this. We started out ordering individual cocktails, but realized quickly that this was not the best way forward as somehow it took twenty minutes to get a drink and we were the only people in the entire place. I was particularly put off on my second long island ice tea, which tasted remarkably like someone had just dumped a bottle of tequila and a bottle of coke together and mixed it around. Tan, using that Yale educucated brain of his, came up with a solution- along with ordering our drinks, why don't we just order trays of shots, 30 at a time, to compliment them? Since it was open bar, there was no reason the bar tenders could refuse us, so tray after tray of tequila, strawberry vodka, and some mysterious green drink came our way, getting every single one of us good and drunk.

After we were good and liquored up, we decided to go to a club and dance the rest of the night away. Tan couldn't join us, but I crammed into a cab with the rest of my new comrades to a near by club, which, although I have been to several times since then, can never remember the name of. Once inside, I realized I was drunk, tired, and with a bunch of people that I really didn't know, so I decided it was time to hit they hay and go home early. Or so I thought. On my way out the door, I was stopped by a young Italian guy who wore a look of recognition as he waved me over and said hi. I knew I had not met any young Italian men while in Bangkok, and I gave him a very "Stephanie" look which clearly says, "who the hell are you and how do I know you?" In response to my confusion, the Italian simply laughed and said he had seen me on my way out that night at the BTS station, and then it clicked. I had seen him on the platform, where he was still wearing his work gear, but since not too many young westerners live in my neighborhood, it was easy to recognize him once I had him placed. In case the enormity of how random this is, Bangkok has over 11 million people. I could tell my new friend wanted to chat and dance, but I had already made my decision to go home and now my bed was the only thing on my mind. So a half hour later I said my good bye, thinking I was still making it home relatively early. As I stumbled in my front door I looked at the clock, which read 4:45am and realized while I might have been going home early for the youth of Bangkok, I had definitely stayed out way later than I thought, especially considering I had promised to be somewhere at 8:30 am the next morning.

As my alarm went of way too few hours later, I actually managed to get up, shower, dress, put on my makeup and start for the front door when I realized that I absolutely could not go out because I was, in fact, still very drunk. Thankfully my engagement was nothing pressing, so I hopped right back into bed and spent the rest of the day sleeping off the strawberry vodka. All in all, my first real night out in Bangkok was definitely a success.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tis the Season

The holiday season has definitely come full force to Bangkok. It looks as though Christmas has exploded all over every available public space – the sky train is covered in tinsel and holiday cut outs, the metro blasts Christmas carols at all hours of the day, and there are enough Christmas lights to light up New York City.  To say nothing of the giant mall complexes, which far outstrip any holiday display I have seen in the states, where seven story tall Christmas trees are surrounded by a plaza full of larger than life decorations, ranging from giant snowmen to cups of instant noodles twice my height. If I thought Thailand would have a problem with shameless commercialism, the last month leading up the Christmas has dispelled any doubts. Despite being a mainly Buddhist country where the overwhelming majority of the population doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, holiday sales abound, at least half the Christmas decorations incorporate blatant sponsorship (to say nothing of the decorations completely devoid of any holiday spirit and simply coasting on the opportunity presented by all the Christmas cheer, i.e. giant cup of noodles mentioned above), and even the most minor shopping mall has a major section devoted to all that wonderful and useless Christmas crap people buy for ridiculous amounts of money to put out for one week every year- you know, $60 ornaments, $100 nutcrackers, that short of thing. Not that my family would actually know anything about that, seeing as my grandmother’s obsession with Christmas, which manifested itself in hundreds of holiday sweaters, enough Christmas bears to fill an entire stairwell (literally), and boxes and boxes of decorative knickknacks, completely turned my own mother away from such ridiculousness. We get the tree Christmas Eve, let all our young little Jewish friends decorate it, and get two days, max, before we chuck it out our window to the sidewalk below for the garbage man, remembering to look for passing pedestrians every three out of four years. It’s mostly picking out the tree that matters to us anyways, since we always try to find the tree no one else is going to love. We’ve had a tree with a total of four branches, another that didn’t come higher than my knees, and one that the ex-convicts who run the Christmas tree lot (the best part is they remember us every year… which I guess is a good thing as I’d be more worried about being on their “bad list” than Santa’s anyways) carved into a palm tree. However, I recognize that my family’s holiday traditions are just a tad bit unorthodox, and while I would expect other people in the States to swarm to these giant Christmas displays and ornament sales, it’s still a little shocking to see hundreds upon hundreds of Thais flocking to them. At night, trying to walk through the Central World plaza, one of the major shopping malls in Bangkok, one must maneuver through a sea of flashing cameras, attempting to avoid ruining someone’s picture, which is literally impossible as every single person is taking one. As I’ve said before, the stereotype of Asians with their cameras is dead on, but this is beyond ridiculous. People are dressed up in their number ones, girls with full hair and makeup, just to come and pose with some impossibly large Christmas decorations. Clearly, the most popular date option for the last few weeks has been taking your girlfriend to this plaza and telling her she looks like a super model all night while you take her picture. I might not speak Thai, but I could definitely tell all the boys were flattering the pants off (pun intended) the girls, and in some cases, lady boys.  I wasn’t really sure whether or not to giggle at or feel pity for the very burly looking (five o’clock shadow and all, although it was attempted to be covered up with about five pounds of foundation) lady boy I saw the other day hobbling along in his miniskirt and four inch heels, practically limping to get to the next decoration and pose for his picture. The only thing Bangkok seems to be missing in the way of holiday cheer is the mall Santa sitting child after child on his lap and asking what they want for Christmas. But seeing as most kids in Thailand don’t believe in Santa, and won’t be celebrating Christmas, let alone getting some presents under the tree, I can see why this isn’t included.

Perhaps the craziest thing about all these holiday decorations (and people, I keep referring to Christmas because as of yet, I haven’t seen a single menorah or dreidel, let alone a “Happy Hanukah”, in any of the displays) is that not only do Thai’s not celebrate Christmas, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either, so there isn’t that pre-determined date for the madness to start. For some reason, this means Thai’s start decorating in the beginning rather than the end of November, and this holiday hoopla goes on for a full two months before Christmas. Although I didn’t spend the holidays here in Thailand (instead of enjoying the beaches a few hours drive and a few hundred baht away, I flew for twelve hours and spent nearly two grand to go enjoy the beaches in New Zealand), I had to laugh when I heard jingle bells still ringing through the metro as I went to work one morning in early January. Christmas decoration are still bountiful all around the city more than a month after the holiday has passed, and I have a sneaking suspicion most of it will probably continue way into February as well. I mean, it is still winter then, at a whopping 35 degrees on a daily basis, so why the heck not.