A deceased train station cat becomes a Goddess…
A deceased train station cat becomes a Goddess…
…although not everybody thought so. In Japan, the Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women Consider Sexually Unattractive held an anti-Valentine march through Shibuya to protest against “oppressive chocolate capitalism”.
And in China, the single had already celebrated with their January 11 “Bare Stick” day, a cyber-rite which appeared out of the blue in 1993 and rapidly spread across China via the internet, whereby loveless men celebrate their singledom and buy themselves presents (a practice hastily commodified by online shopping portal Ali Baba, which has turned the bachelor ritual into the busiest day for online sales globally.)
A tale of mystery, wonder, corpse-thievery, supernatural powers and Buddhist redemption – the full story at the Independent here.
Coconuts Bangkok reports on the tragic fate in store for hundreds of stray cats who have Murakami-esquely taken over an empty apartment block in Bangkok.
A few days into my trip, the surprises kept coming. I saw a white-haired white man stroking a white-haired cat at 2am at a table of hookers in sparkly minidresses, surrounded by the the sprawling bodies of sleeping kids and adults. I saw a man passed out in a Santa hat outside a temple on New Years Eve, with a pack of wild street dogs sleeping around him – one under his head like a pillow. A tut-tutting passerby snatched the few banknotes out of his begging tin and tucked them in to the sleeping man’s belt as he lay lost to the world.
I saw a homeless woman with four cats on plastic strings. I went to internet cafes in the middle of the night filled with Middle Eastern tourists yelling down the phonelines to Cairo and Morocco, where the keyboard default language was Arabic and my browsing was interrupted by an amplified call to prayer.
I saw dwarf monks, and stumbled on to a huge kerbside statue of a gorilla. I found a coffee shop next to a mosque with an inflatable Darth Vader peering out of a top floor window. I saw a flock of pigeons roosting in the glittering eaves of a riverside temple and stumbled across an altar of offerings book-ended by enormous cigarette-like bundles of incense, each a metre tall, in the middle of an alleyway in Chinatown. I saw a clown in a blonde wig dancing in a vegetable market. And a Japanese porn star. And a friend’s ex.
And I discovered more and more of the strange and unexpected sights with which the city is so richly endowed.
This year, my home city of Melbourne opened its first cat cafe, a place based on the Japanese model where patrons can sip a coffee and stroke a selection of cats. It was lauded as a hot new thing. Pfffft. Bangkok is so far beyond that it is not even funny. The Thai capital is doing karaoke with alpacas. “Alpaca View” is a restaurant, bar and “karaoke farm” in Lad Phrao where the main attraction (obviously) is singing in a barnyard-like environment complete with pigs, and dining next to a herd of alpacas. The alpacas have been conditioned to come right up to the fence of their enclosure to be fed, and sometimes poke their heads over inquisitively at the nearest tables. But I did wonder: how do the poor creatures deal with the city’s heat and humidity?
There is also a flock of free-ranging, unrestrained rabbits who roam the premises and – what the hell? – a white picket Eiffel Tower in which sits an effigy of Spiderman.
The restaurant is part of a wider trend in Thailand towards camelid-related attractions. There is also a new alpaca farm in Ratchaburi and a camel theme-park in Hua Hin.
Bangkok represents, in many ways, sensory overload: the sounds of jackhammers and traffic, the heat, the colours, the smells of exhaust fumes, jasmine and incense, the taste of meat grilled over charcoal… In fact this aural, olfactory and visual onslaught is a big part of its appeal. But when it all gets too much, and it can turn quite suddenly, the city can start to feel overwhelming. A favourite strategy is to hail a random cab and enjoy a few minutes (or longer,depending on the notorious traffic) of calm and cool ( the airconditioning!) for a pretty nominal fee.
But if that just doesn’t cut it, the city is now home to two “sensory deprivation” centres for a more complete experience. One is located in suburban Bangna and the other, where I went, in the far Sukhumvit hinterland of Soi 24, right at its Rama IV end. Here, for the rather steep price of 2000 baht, I enjoyed my first experience in a flotation tank, a gleaming white plastic womb in a darkened room where you can relax in body temperature water five times saltier than the ocean (allowing you to float effortlessly.)
I had wanted to try it for some time. The idea is that without any sensory information to process – no sound, no sight in the pitch black, no discernable smell and only the feel of water the same temperature as your own body, the brain can relax and recalibrate. I did find it deeply relaxing although towards the end, if I’m honest, I got restless, tossing and turning in my pod as my brain, starved for stimulation, sought to create some for itself.
This, I was told afterwards, is typical.
My brain, clamouring for sights,sounds and smells, must have been excited when I stepped out onto the Bangkok streets again.