"So," you may ask (and if you don't, you should) "what's it like to live in Bangkok these days?"
The short answer is that these days I live mainly in Phnom Penh, which is as much like Bangkok as Lodi is like Los Angeles. It's an interesting town, even if many of the ways it's interesting take some getting used to.
Let's start with my apartment.
This is the alley one walks down to get to my apartment.
What you don't see any of is lights. It took me some time to learn to enter it around 11 PM without my pulse rate tripling. Now, however, I know every family in the place, and it's no longer an ordeal that produces interesting adrenaline spikes. After you feel your way all the way down the alley in the dark, you reach:
Note the curb appeal. Yes, it's solid steel and yes, it triple-locks. The door has a message, directed to anyone who might decide to try to get through it to relieve me of any of my possessions, and the message can be summarized in five words: Don't even think about it. Inside the door, a flight of stairs leads to my apartment itself, which has a door just like this one except that there's steel mesh behind the bars and glass behind the steel mesh and a hideous, vaguely African, fabric behind the glass. The door leads directly into:
I think "functional" is the best word, although you might modify it by preceding it with "more or less." The little refrigerator comes up to my elbows and holds less than the average body pore, and freezes most of that solid. The most important thing in the kitchen is the coffee maker on top of the refrigerator. It's almost the only thing I use. The little two-burner gas hotplate is hooked up to a bright red propane tank out of sight behind the refrigerator, which I think of as my personal bomb. The gas cooker has a wonderful brand name:
You're right, that says "Endurable Collection." I think it's perfect. They could have said "durable" or "enduring," or even "endearing," but they chose "Endurable," which is exactly accurate. It's an appliance you can learn to endure, at least on a good day. The kitchen is at the back of the apartment (or the front, since it's where the door is) and outside of the air conditioned area because Southeast Asians can't think of any good reason to have an air conditioner and a stove running in the same room, which I think is quite sane.
As dire as these pictures are, the apartment is actually quite nice -- a balcony overlooking the river, a big living room with the bookcases and work area, a bedroom with its own separate air conditioner, and two big bathrooms that work just fine, thanks. When I get tired of the apartment, I can always visit:
The house next door.
Honest. This wonderful, if derelict, colonial mansion, built around 1910, is widely believed to be haunted (no kidding) and has been empty, off and on, since the Khmer Rouge were in power. Its most famous ghost is a soldier who's always encountered on the stairs, whereupon he reaches up and pulls his hair, which hinges his head back to reveal a deeply slashed throat. Surely, a simple "Hello" would suffice. When I first moved here, I could have bought it for $240,000 and didn't. A month ago, the Fpreign Correspondents Club, which is right behind it, bought it for US $2.2 million and plan to put another $2 million into renovating it into a very exclusive small hotel. Don't know what they're going to do about the ghosts.
In case all this looks too grim, we're directly across the street from:
The National Museum.
And right down the street (actually, next door to the Museum) is the Royal Palace, where King Norodom Sihomoni lives. So it's a tony area, actually. And it's full of:
Monks with Umbrellas.