Dashing Through Asia

Letter From Asia

        "Down to Gehenna and up to the throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone."

—Rudyard Kipling

Not as horrible as Calcutta or as ugly as Seoul, Bangkok, spreading along the flat flanks of the Chao Phraya river, is the whorehouse of Asia. Berth girls and boys will do anything you like with a Coke bottle or Ping-Pong ball. The prostitution reflects the contrast between monks and catamites, luxury and squalor; between the graceful old temples and the hideous modern buildings. The overwhelming noise and pollution from the heavy traffic extend to the very edge of the sprawling city, and the lack of stoplights makes crossing the street a dicey and dangerous business.

On a three-hour walk from a luxurious riverside hotel to the National Museum, I passed scores of food shops—some with a single charcoal brazier, others cramped in a tiny alcove—as well as sections of town jammed with gem dealers, rice merchants, metal workers, and street traders operating on the most slender of margins. There were no solicitors or beggars (a great contrast to 20 years ago) and many spontaneous smiles. A slow boat, cruising from bank to bank, brought me back to the hotel and gave some sense of the atmosphere the city once possessed.

One Chinese restaurant had more staff than patrons: parking man, door boy, two cashiers (with abacus), headwaiter, three...

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