I’ve Been to the Future (And there’s Panda TV!)

Baby Muay Thai

It’s the year 2555. People travel high above the ground. The human form has evolved from two distinct sexes into one seamless hodgepodge of androgyny. People no longer cook. You simply imagine what you want to eat and it is instantly available. Yes, I’ve been to the future, people, and it ain’t pretty.

Of course, I’m not really time traveling. It’s much worse… I’m in Bangkok.

The year is 2555 (in the Buddhist Era), with Year 0 being the year Gautama Buddha is believed to have died. Skytrains zip people around this sprawling metropolis. Ladyboys with flawless skin and ever-so-slightly-too-large-hands and their opposites, Tomboys, are firmly in the mainstream, so much so that Ensogo, the Thai version of Groupon, ran this deal the other day…

When I lived in Cambodia, I couldn’t wait to spend long weekends in Bangkok. But now that I’m here on a brief 2.5 month contract, something feels different. The first Saturday afternoon I had free, I merrily made my way to Chatuchak Market – 15,000 glorious stalls selling everything from home decor to pets to fake designer iphone cases to up-and-coming designer one-of-a-kinds. I had barely gotten off the skytrain when a feeling of claustrophobia overwhelmed me. Hordes of people, unbearably hot weather, narrow alleyways. Not even the cutest rabbits wearing gaudy sweaters could appease me. Or the relative oasis of a foot massage. What was WRONG with me?

You KNOW there's a problem when even a foot massage can't cheer me up!

I used to love coming over for the movie theaters (in the days before Cambodia got its own). New English movies in plush cinemas for less than USD 5? What’s not to love? Now, I can barely manage the wherewithal  to brave the public transit system. For every 5 people who get off, 50 more squeeze on. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m based in Silom, the Wall Street of Bangkok. Tall buildings surrounded by soulless concrete spaces. Stalls that pop up every morning on the already too narrow sidewalks, forcing me to choose between inching along behind people gawking at cheap audio equipment and the latest in housewife fashions or walking in the street, taxis careening by much too closely…

It’s just so weird that all the stuff that I used to love about Bangkok now just gets on my nerves. I’ve lived near big cities my whole life, growing up in Virginia, just outside of Washington DC, and in my 20s, working in the suburbs of Toronto. But this is my first real experience of living in The Big City. Be careful what you wish for…

But now that I’ve settled in more, I’m finding the silver lining in the serendipity of everyday life here. Like meeting Tom Cruise at the local mall.

Never the same after that Oprah appearance

Or finding beauty in the raucously colored flower wreaths sold along the street.

Or dodging alligator-sized monitor lizards eating equally monstrous fish heads at the local park.

The stuff of nightmares

Or the soulful sounds of a blind saxophonist amidst the morning’s rush hour.

Or learning Thai bathroom etiquette.

No translation needed

Or the creative use of leftover sandbags from the flooding a few months’ back.

Hello, are you Form? Meet Function.

Or a strangely out-of-place Muay Thai performance at an educational expo I attended.

Even though I’m only here a short time, I’ve tried to make it feel as homey as possible. By the end of my first week, I had already taken out a membership at a nearby gym with a gorgeous rooftop pool. “January is very cold”, the receptionist warned as I asked about the pool membership. “Ha!”, I laughed, feeling the sweat rolling down my back just from walking a few blocks in the afternoon heat. But after a week of swimming at the pool, I came down with a wicked cold that lasted over a week.

The Pool of Death

Luckily, that same week, I also arranged for cable TV to be installed. Interestingly, a month of cable costs exactly the same as a month of gym membership. Guess which one I’m keeping?

The choice was made even easier when I discovered the Panda Channel, a channel that shows a live feed from a panda enclosure. I’m talking 24/7. What could possibly be more riveting than watching a panda nap, I ask you? Did I mention that pandas sleep 12 hours a day?

Quality programming

Oh, there’s also the censoring. Anytime someone is smoking or holding a weapon, the image gets censored. Actually, let me clarify. The image is only blurred out the precise moment the cigarette is up to a person’s mouth or if the weapon is actually pointed at someone. Even in cartoons. I’m no sociologist but I’m pretty sure that’s not the deterrent it’s meant to be…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still making the most of my short stint here. I have friends and friends of friends here. The food is as great as ever. The weather is perpetually summer. The people are really nice and smiley. It’s just that maybe I’m not quite ready for the future. I want to go home. Just please let me keep my Panda TV…

Travel tip: Bangkok is connected by a dizzying array of buses, skytrains, underground trains, taxis and tuk-tuks. While the skytrain and the metro do have inter-connecting stops, they work on different fare systems. You’ll need to buy new tickets each time. If making multiple stops on the same system, check out the reasonably priced day pass. Otherwise, always have a pocketful of change to buy single-use tickets. You can always get change in the stations, but it may mean waiting in a long line.

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7 thoughts on “I’ve Been to the Future (And there’s Panda TV!)

  1. Mike Montross

    Wow – what a lifestyle change/shock. By chance are there any meetings amid the Panda lovers? I still can remember a few years ago waiting in long lines just to watch a few Pandas that were in captivity at the San Diego zoo (on loan from China). We saw just a very brief moment of the Panda…a mother and child. Baby was wanting to play but mother wanted to bask in the California sun I suppose. They too had a video feed that you could watch from the internet that was available 24X7 on the Panda cages…and even showed them while they were out in the grass playing. Definitely, keep the Panda Channel! No editing required (unless Pandas in Bankok smoke!) I shutter to think of such horror.

    Reply
  2. Maria

    Hi James! 🙂 Enjoy your stay there in Bangkok. How much longer will you be there? If you can’t take the Panda TV when you leave, maybe a stuffed panda will do. 🙂 Hope all’s well. Take care!

    Reply
    1. jt10s Post author

      Hi Maria!
      I’m here for another three weeks (working) and then one week at a tiny island which takes a plane, bus, ferry and small boat to get to! It’s supposed to be a slice of paradise. Keep on the watch for those blogs. The photos should be phenomenal… Disclaimer: I don’t actually watch the Panda channel. haha. I just thought it was a strange bit of programming… I’m too busy watching MasterChef, Top Chef, etc. Hence the fatness… Are you still thinking about visiting Asia?
      James

      Reply
      1. Maria

        Sawadee ka! Which tiny island are you going to? You may have the beach to yourself! We’ve been looking for good deals to Asia and Aus/NZ. We have relatives there in Bangkok, and they’ve been asking us when we’ll pay them a visit. Angkor Wat is also high on our bucket list. We’ll keep track of where you are, and would very much like to see you again!!

        Reply
        1. jt10s Post author

          Hi Maria:

          I’ve switched tiny, paradise islands! Originally, I was going to go to Koh Lipe, almost to Malaysia. The pictures of Koh Lipe look totally incredible. Electric blue waters. But the resort I wanted to stay at wasn’t available (there is a very limited selection other than lots of beach huts which I’m too much of a wuss to stay in), and then found an unbelievable deal to ANOTHER set of unbelievable islands and will now spend 8 nights in a mix of a 5-star resort on Phuket and rustic bungalow on the uninhabited Similan Islands. If it looks anything like the photos, I’m going to be a very happy boy… Stay tuned!

          James

          Reply

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