Sunday, April 09, 2006


Just about every building on a main thoroughfare in the city has a shop of some kind on the ground floor. It seems to me that most private residences, such as mine, are built with a gated patio in front. These patios, large enough for two cars, are easily converted to a place of business also. That often happens on streets with moderate traffic.

In addition there are street vendors everywhere. They sell many small items but most commonly they sell food. Most specialize in a single item such as a particular sandwich or a waffle or fried chicken. Some set up a sidewalk restaurant with small tables and plastic stools. There are different kinds of mobile kitchens for each specialty.

A restaurant suddenly materialized at the entrance to my soi (lane) last week. There was a mobile kitchen, two card tables and plastic stools all set up on the pavement because there is no sidewalk. And, surprise, there were customers. It was a going concern in an instant. These are things I like about Bangkok.

I like that there are storefront restaurants everywhere. Some, granted, you might call a hole in the wall. Some with little more capacity than the sidewalk variety. But there is one thing every storefront restaurant will have. They will have a refrigerator or ice chest with cold beer.

I was reminded of this when I was wandering through Bangkok’s Chinatown a little while ago with a Chinese-Thai friend. Bangkok was once a predominately Chinese city. It is no longer but there is a large Chinese section.

The buildings on main streets in Chinatown also have storefronts on the ground floor. We had been walking a while on a hot sticky day when I noticed an important difference. We hadn’t passed any storefront restaurants.

“Where can we get a beer?” I asked my friend. He had been born and raised in this area. (I thought it interesting that he did not speak Chinese.)

“We’ll find a place,” he assured me.

We walked on, and on, and on. There was no place of business that sold beer.

What a curious culture, I thought. Who would want to live like that?

We finally came to a large first class hotel. Inside was my salvation, a cold bottle of 6% alcohol, Thai beer. That stuff will knock you on your ass if you’re not prepared.

But, I thought, where is the salvation for the local Chinese working man? He is unlikely to go into a fancy hotel for a casual beer. Is there nothing for him?

Apparently not.

Perhaps that is the Chinese culture. I know that Singapore, a predominately Chinese city, was one of the most boring cities I have ever been in. So perhaps that is the Chinese culture.

Or perhaps all the fun is kept out of sight of my round eyes.


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