the heart thrills

there is beauty all around us

Month: October, 2014

PERAMBULATING PARQUETS

Bangkok, 26 October 2014

My wife has been busy getting to know Bangkok in her usual favorite way, taking the bus (with me joining her on the weekends). When she told the very nice Thai couple whom we have befriended in the building that she takes the bus to get around, they stared at her and finally managed to ask, “the aircon buses?” When she said no, no, the normal buses, they tittered nervously. When pressed, they confessed to have not taken a bus in twenty years. (This reminds me of a scene early in our marriage. It was downtown Baltimore, 1978 or 9. We wanted to get somewhere, I forget where, so we approached a nice young man sitting on a bench eating his lunch and asked him what bus we might take. He confessed that he had no idea, that he had never taken a city bus in his life. We stared at him: how could it be that someone had NEVER taken a bus? The difference between a European and an American, I suppose. But I digress.)

It is true to say that the (non-aircon) buses of Bangkok are not the most handsome of buses. In fact, they obviously have had a hard-scrabble life.
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And their technology looks – and sounds – very old-fashioned. For instance, whenever the drivers change gears (using a huge gear shift as big as the seated drivers themselves), it sounds distinctly like they are double-declutching (a term which I would imagine is meaningless to anyone below the age of 60). The drivers are always in a tearing hurry, no doubt due to being perennially bottled up in Bangkok’s terrible traffic, so getting on and off buses is an athletic accomplishment. To get on, wave down the bus, rush for the door, swing in as the bus already starts to move off. To get off, ring for the stop, balance yourself on the balls of your feet, hustle down the steps the moment the doors start clattering noisily open, and drop down into the street as the bus already moves off. And while inside, hang on for dear life as the bus barrels its way down the city’s streets, riding roughshod over every pothole and other imperfection in the road’s mantle.

But as I grimly hang on in the bus, bouncing up and down on the (really quite comfortable) seats, I cannot help but wonder at the beautiful parquet floor which the buses have. Look at that! Who has ever seen parquet floors in buses?
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Well, “parquet” may be pushing it a little, but this is really nice wood they’ve used. No trash soft wood here, being rubbed to pieces by passenger’s dirty shoes. This is close-grained hardwood. I would be proud to have a floor of that in our living room, sanded down and waxed into a rich red-brown color, instead of the fake plasticized “parquet” which our miserly landlord has laid down and which rings hollow every time we walk across it. I wince when I see how this beautiful wood has been mercilessly screwed down onto to the bus chassis, with big, gleaming, screws. Aie-aie-aie!

The only thing that worries me here is the wood’s provenance. This is not plantation wood, nor I’m sure is it certified wood from responsibly managed forests. I fear that this is just brutally logged wood from Myanmar or Laos or perhaps Indonesia (Thailand has already cut down much of its forests).
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Perhaps it would be better for Bangkok to shift to modern, gleaming, air-conditioned, buses with plasticized floors
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and leave this beautiful wood standing in its wilderness, soaring up towards the sky.
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Bangkok bus: http://www.langeasy.com/images2/bkk/bus2.jpg (in http://www.langeasy.com/cities/bangkok/bangkokpage1.html)

Bangkok bus floor: my photo

Illegal logging: http://www.globalpost.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/gp3_slideshow_large/illegal_logging_in_anlong_veng_ii.jpg ( in http://pixgood.com/illegal-loggers.html)

Modern city bus: http://i01.i.aliimg.com/photo/v2/280618923_1/SLK6111_Aluminum_Body_City_Bus.jpg (in http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1468014)
Mahogany tree soaring: http://treepicturesonline.com/tree-mahogany.jpg (in http://treepicturesonline.com/mahogany_tree_pictures.html)

TUGGING AT MY HEARTSTRINGS

Bangkok, 9 October 2014

Our living room is small, but it has a magic view on the Chao Phraya River. Two of the living room’s walls are all glass and allow us a wonderful view up and down the river.

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My wife and I maximize this view every morning by dragging our table out onto the narrow balcony which wraps around our living room and taking our breakfast – tea, cereal, and tropical fruit – all the while watching the parade of boats moving up and down the river.

Let’s be clear, the boats we see are not as handsome as these 1920s yachts.

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I suppose the most striking boat we see are the long-tailed boats which skim across the river’s surface, their huge roaring motors in the stern peremptorily signaling their presence to one and all

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The water buses that ply the river aren’t so showy, but their raked bow gives them a certain allure

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My heart, though, goes out to the lowly ugly tugs which rumble slowly up and down the river dragging trains of barges behind them – slowly, so very slowly when the barges are full, slightly more jauntily when they are empty.

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I sit there, watching them tug and strain, and will them on: “Go, little tug, go! You can do it! Attaboy!”

They may work hard, but these tugs are no shrinking violets. No drab work clothes for them. No siree, their owners paint them strong, happy colors, to signal how proud they are of their work partners. I mean, look at them!

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As these tugboats pass, flaunting their color schemes, I can’t help but think dreamily of the tugboats of my youth, like Theodore the Tugboat

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or Little Toot the Tugboat

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or even Scuffy the Tugboat

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Toot, toot!! Tug away, fellas! Job well done! I hope you get a rest and a good lube job in the evening. Toot, toot!!

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Views of Chao Phraya river: my photos

1920s yachts: http://abrushwithsail.blogspot.com/2012/06/grand-yachts-of-1920s.html

long-tailed boat: http://swissnomads.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/long-tail-boat.jpg

water bus: my wife’s photo

tub boat and barges: my photo and http://www.panoramio.com/m/photo/47654772

colourful tugboats: my wife’s photos

Theodore the Tugboat: http://www.mtcw.ca/theodoretugboat/Tours.php

Little Toot the Tugboat: http://blog.keloland.com/lund/blog/2010/12/20/aunt-leilas-records/

Scuffy the Tugboat: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/scuffy-the-tugboat-sail-away-id-0375826963.aspx.