Travels with John Smith
Chapter 55 year 8 (2019)
Bangkok, Beijing and Warsaw
(Food and Fun in 3 places)
-School ends and a surprise trip
-jamming in Bangkok
-shopping at Chatuchak weekend market
-Being a tourist with Jeanine
-Beijing Duck with Mizar
-Warsaw airport bus
-Hard Rock Cafe Warsaw
-Tallest Building in Poland
-Freeloading on the bus
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 55 Summer, year 8 (2019)
Bangkok, Beijing and Warsaw
(Food and Fun in 3 places)
We are sitting in an empty apartment. We sent our stuff to Canada 2 months ago and slowly got rid of everything else, except the clothes that fit into one medium sized suitcase and a carry on bag each.
We watched the Grade 12 students throw their hats into the air, took pictures with them, hugged the people we worked with and exchanged ‘Wechat’(China’s Instagram) addresses. The school is emptying, the students are streaming out of the side and front doors laden with suitcases and belongings from their dorms.
Some of the teachers have already left in taxis but the majority will leave, mostly for the countries they come from, where their families and other lives are, in the morning. The school usually provides a bus to the airport for those who do not want to take a taxi on their own. We booked our trip back to Canada going through Europe but we aren’t leaving for a week. John surprises me with tickets to Bangkok one last time. We will leave day after tomorrow and come back in time to do some last minute cleaning before we leave.
We find out another teacher named Jeanine, is leaving China later as well, so we ask her if she wants to come with us to Bangkok since she has never been there and we can show her around. We have worked with her for years and she has become a friend over that time. She is a very giving person who is always helping others and is very popular with the students. She is staying a little longer to do some volunteer work in a school outside of Wuhan so we are happy she says yes. Since this is a spontaneous decision, she needs to book a ticket so she says she will meet us there.
We are sitting under a tin roof on an outdoor patio, waiting for the house band to come on stage. The rain is coming down so hard, it sounds like a waterfall. The restaurant is one we’ve been to before, on the same street as the hotel we always stay in. We arrived about 3am this morning from Wuhan, had a couple hours sleep and spent the day by the pool. We order some of our fav Thai dishes; chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, green mango salad, lemon grass chicken on sticks, etc.
One by one, the tables fill up, even though the rain is not showing any sign of slowing. There are parts of the outdoor terrace where the water is rising so fast, it looks like it might start leaking into the kitchen. We watch as the kitchen staff carry big logs to block the doorways for temporary relief. Our food arrives, complete with beautifully carved vegetables as decoration on the side of the plates and is delicious.
The band starts to arrive. A drummer, bass and guitar players and 2 vocalists. They start to play and I know a lot of their songs. They are pretty good, tight musicians and the singers are full of energy with great stage presence. They flirt with the audience in-between songs and start asking if anyone wants to come up and sing a song. The singer standing closest to us zeros in on John and starts to tease him, almost goading him to come up and sing a song. I am guessing this is a routine and it is intended to playfully embarrass people. John looks over at me and says, “How about her? She can sing something”. Her attention switches to me and she says, “Come on”, waving me up to the stage. I say “Ok” and she looks surprised.
She shows me the set list, I see a few songs I know pretty well and choose one. The band starts to play and as soon as I start to sing, everyone in the place stops and listens. Everyone that is talking behind the bar, or the people at the tables, or the ones standing off to the side look in my direction. I am having a lot of fun now and am feeling comfortable being up here so now so I start really belting it out. The crowd cheers when I finish and the singer who invited me up here looks delighted. She says, “That was fantastic! I didn’t know you were a pro. Will you do another one?” I say ok and sing another one. She asks me to do another again and now I’ve done 5 songs and she asks me again. I decide to take a break and sit a few out, since I don’t want to take over their gig , but also, I’m not being paid to perform! In-between each song they play, she asks again and I say no until they do a Tracy Chapman song I know so I get up and do a duo with her and then another song I know with the other singer. I’m having lots of fun but we are starting to feel the lack of sleep so it’s time to leave.
We are eating coconut ice cream from a coconut shell in front of a stall in my favourite place in Bangkok, the Chatuchak weekend market. Silver and gold seated Buddha statues of varying sizes, are crowded into the stall. Beside that, there is a stall with metal sheets and posters of popular culture. I am waiting for a text with directions from my favourite clothing stall, because they have moved to a new location. This market is the biggest market in Thailand, and meant to be the most diverse in the world. There are more than 200,000 visitors here every weekend. It is divided into 27 sections with over 15,000 stalls and over 12, 000 vendors so finding it on my own will be very difficult.
I am chatting with the lady who owns my favourite stall and there is a pile of outfits beside me, that I would like to buy. This is what I do when I come here. I go through the closets and folded fabric and try everything on, then do a little wheeling and dealing until we get down to the ones I really love for a price that is good for both of us. This will be the last time I come here, possibly for ever.
We are eating breakfast and Jeanine comes to join us. The cook always remembers us and even how we like our eggs cooked. We tell her this might be the last time we see her and say our goodbyes after a wonderful healthy breakfast of poached eggs, roasted vegetables and fresh tropical fruit. We take a subway to the river, then a long boat down the tumultuous, churned up brown waters of the Chao Phraya river. We are taking Jeanine to Wat Pho to see the Reclining Buddha and we pass other long boats, bigger tourist boats, hotels and houses on stilts on our way.
We get out of the boat and walk to the temple to find it has closed for the day. We walk around the area, and find out there is another Big Buddha we can go see, called Wat Indra Viharn, the 32 metre tall standing Buddha that weighs 5 and 1/2 tons, and it’s only a tuk tuk ride away.
The guy who tells us all this is selling beautiful hand painted umbrellas made from bamboo and a tough cardboard like paper. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to buy one as we will have to drag it through Europe with us but John says he’ll carry it.
We make our way to the tall Buddha, take lots of pictures and now we are sitting in front of a delightful Thai dinner of green curry, giant garlic prawns, morning glory and pad Thai.
Tomorrow morning, we will take a flight back to Wuhan, then a couple days later we will take a fast train to Beijing on our long way home, through Europe. It has been a quick trip but always worth it!
We are strolling down the walking street where we found the famous Beijing duck restaurant when we were here with Pat and Lyle. I send a text to Mizar, to ask if he wants to meet up for a Beijing duck lunch. He is a former student, musician and former member of ‘No Pop’, which I spoke of before. After living in the US for a few years, he is now living and working as a music producer in Beijing. We told him we were coming to Beijing on our way back to Canada and planned to meet up.
My phone rings and it’s Mizar. He tells me the Beijing duck restaurant I am in front of is too expensive and is for tourists. He will meet us and take us to a really good one, that is popular with Chinese people in the know. The restaurant Mizar takes us to is on a busy food street with lots of restaurants and is packed with locals. It is lower key and simple but beautifully presented and the Beijing duck is delicious. He orders for us and some of the speciality dishes are interesting, like the dish with 3 spiral mounds of mashed potato with a kind of fruit jam and sprigs of mint on top.
We are walking through what I call real Beijing, deeper into a maze of tall walls made from grey bricks on our way to Mizar’s Grandmother’s flat which is inside a traditional Hutong. I have mentioned them before. They are traditional homes that are built with a courtyard in the middle. We come to a large red door and pass through it to a large courtyard with several apartments looking on to it. There is a goldfish pond on one side, a rabbit cage on another, two turtles in a large clay flower pot, leafy trees and potted plants in the middle with small tables and chairs and other paraphernalia under a blue tarp. We walk past some children and an older guy all smiling and welcoming. Clearly this is like a micro-community.
His Grandmother’s apartment is a lovely flat on 2 floors, small but very nice. He makes us some Chinese tea and we listen to some of the music he has been creating and producing. We talk about another guy who was one of the ‘No Pop’ music guys who is now a famous singer, in China, named Barry He. A few months ago, he sent me some of the music he was putting out in English, and asked me to check it over to see if the English was correct. They are still working together on various projects and Mizar has made lots of contacts both in America and here in China. It’s so good to see how he has grown into such a lovely young man. His music is very cool, quite funky and very professional. We say our goodbyes and John and I make our way back to the walking street. Mizar told us about a soup noodle place where all the hip people eat so we will have dinner there.
We are greeted by blue dragon heads with water pouring from their mouths into tall elegant blue vases at the bottom of the stairs and in the main room, thick blonde wooden tables and benches with people eating soups with different bases and noodles with whatever meats, vegetables and fresh herbs they want inside. Like a healthy soup version of a subway sandwich, you can choose whatever combination you want and they’ll make it for you. So good!
We have just arrived in Poland at the Warsaw airport. We have a whole day here so we have decided to go into town and check it out. We ask some people who work in the airport about the best way to get into the centre and they say there is a bus that leaves from the airport, and we can pay with our credit cards to use it.
We are standing at the bus stop, ready to catch the bus and see a machine we can use to get the tickets. We are trying to figure out how to use it, when the long bend in the middle bus pulls up. We get in with other people on to the back of the bus and look for a place to buy the ticket. There are card machines to scan transport cards or tickets but nothing to use a credit with. We sit down, thinking maybe someone will come with a hand held machine but no one comes. The bus is quite full of people coming from the airport and it isn’t clear whether everyone on here has paid or not but I feel the shame of us being once again in the position of having not paid for transportation.
There are people getting off the bus every time it stops and I am praying no one comes to call us out each time. John is calm and does not look worried. Not sure where to get off, we overhear someone saying they are getting off in the centre. We follow them and jump out on to a lovely street that has a mixture of European architecture, representing every historical period in history.
In front of us is a beautiful high rise building with what looks like a rounded concert hall with pillars in front and a clock tower at the top of it. We both want to see if it’s possible to get to the top of it but decide we are hungry right now. There is a giant guitar in front us and we decide to check out the Hard Rock Cafe here in Warsaw. I don’t know if I mentioned it before but John has a thing about going to every one in every city we visit that has one. We sit at a window in the cafe, people watching, talking to our server about rock n roll and life in Poland.
We walk past a row of some of the small square yellow taxis that are scattered around the centre of the city. We get into a small, crowded, older elevator and travel to the top of what is the tallest building in Poland. We are in the Palace of Culture and Science. At the top, we are able to look out on different views of Warsaw. On one side, there is a large square with a fountain in the middle of it and the rooftops of the older part of the city beyond that. On another side are the high rises. Inside this building there are cinemas, theatres, libraries etc.
We have to head back to the airport but we would love to come back to this pretty city some day for longer than a day. We get to the bus stop where we need to catch the bus to go back to the airport. There are lots of people waiting for different buses and we watch some of them using the machine there to buy tickets so we give it a try. 4 or 5 times. The line up behind us starts to grow so we give up while those people buy tickets and then we try again a few times but for some reason it will not accept our credit card. We paid for our lunch with it. There is no reason for it not to work. We did not even think about changing money for Warsaw as coming into the city was a last minute decision so we have no cash that we can use.
The bus arrives and we get on to the bus from the back, carried by the crowd of people around us. I see them tapping the machine as they enter and again feel so embarrassed that the hard working people of this city are paying for their ride and we are freeloading our ride. I avoid eye contact and we make it back to the airport. Next stop, Berlin.