Grab the support rope and swing my body onto a long wooden bench, careful not to lose my flip-flops in the black murk of the khlong, careful not to drop my cell phone or camera into the black murk of the khlong. (I once watched a Thai submerge himself in Saen Saab for about 20 or 25 seconds while, presumably, patching a hole on the bottom of one of the boats.) Squeeze in and fold my long legs up towards my chin to the good-hearted amusement of the Thais sitting everywhere but next to me; oh, the embarassment of sitting next to the farang.
Wait for the deafening motor to roar to life, put my sunglasses on and cover my mouth with the top of my shirt, and pull on the plastic-coated rope handle, raise the boat’s retractable wall of light-blue tarp and pray to fucking god I don’t get splashed in my eyes or my mouth or on my legs with the black murk of the khlong. Maybe chuckle to myself when an unknowing tourist, $3,000 camera slung around his or her neck, pulls the tarp back down to get a shot worthy of National Geographic (or at least their personal travel blog) and gets splashed with filthy murk.
Hand my 11-baht fare (or is it 12 baht?), to the boat attendant, twentysomething, dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeve blue shirt, wearing a helmet, hanging onto the side of the boat like a barnacle, nimbly navigating the ledge like a ballerina in boots.
Walk past a small colony of lazy cats huddled around piles of mildewy wood, past the basketball court. The palm trees, yoga class, balmy early evening humidity, runners, walkers, security guards on pink children’s bicycles, monitor lizards stalking river banks, I remember it so well, soothing, inviting, Lumpini.
Gravitate towards the thump, thump, thumping of Cascada’s “Miracle” remixed and reimagined as a techno workout anthem as sung by The Chipmunks. (“I need a miracle, I wanna be your girl, Give me a chance to see, That you are made for me…”) Fall in line into one of the rows of masses of Thais stepping and kicking and turning and punching in step with Cascada and the spandex-clad instructors leading the class, open to everybody, held most evenings, a classic Bangkok spectacle, I can picture it so well.
I’d put every last bite of it down, like Chet Ripley sweating and feverishly chewing through the gristle and fat of the Old ’96er in The Great Outdoors. And when I bumble out of Kuu like a cow fattened one last time before the slaughter, there on the seventh floor of the CentralWorld shopping complex, I promise to utter not a single peep about fat I am.
Get there in plenty of time to slowly browse the long line of food vendors camped out underneath the bleachers, fried fish cakes and miniature frosted donuts, coconuts and beer, expats and Thais. Pound a few beers. Smile a big smile shared with a Thai wearing the same jersey. Piss a few times and maybe pound another beer to keep up with everybody else before heading inside and finding a seat. The drums are beating, the sun is beating harder. Cheering. Chanting. Maybe a goal or two. The biggest roars from underneath the bleachers, more drums, Thais dancing, cigarettes dangling on lips, warm beer splashing over the sides of plastic two-liter bottles sliced in half, horns, whistles, oh how I remember it.
The buzz of a cricket symphony in a vacant lot dancing with the dim clash of luk thung from an old apartment building. Kids shouting over the screams of metal saws cutting through sheets of steel (my teeth throb), a white plastic chair and flip-flops, camoflauge shorts, black t-shirt, 33 years old, sweaty Chang in a Chang coozie, my beautiful wife.
There are so many things I would do and places I would go in Bangkok if I was in Bangkok right now, but there’s nowhere I’d rather be in Bangkok than on that balcony.
Photos copyright Brian Spencer