Friday, June 1, 2012

One Night in Bangkok

Jesse Zimbauer, whom it's hard to believe I haven't seen in nearly 20 years since the Marines, floated into Thailand on his Navy ship this past week and had a spare day. Jesse made his way up to Bangkok so that we could get together and so he could meet Pae. This post includes photos (rounded edges) of us back in the day, probably 1990 and 1991, as well as photos of this past weekend.

I had spent almost a week suffering from some stomach bug and gut wrenching cramping, but I hit the hospital the morning Jesse arrived in Bangkok and got some meds so that I wasn't wincing in pain and discomfort while we visited. I'll spare you the details of my illness as it's pretty nasty and includes eating handfuls of charcoal capsules to try to flush out or absorb some of the culprit toxins in my intestines. (Instructions on back of OTC charcoal capsules: "For upset stomach take 4-16 capsules every X hours")

So, it turns out that Jesse's Navy issued Blackberry wasn't working in Thailand (surprise surprise) and once he got to Bangkok from Laem Chabong, he was kinda stuck going wifi hotspot to wifi hotspot and playing Facebook message tag with me trying to figure out where and when to meet. I had expected him to arrive around 2PM and figured I'd just go to the area of his hotel and wait for him to contact me, but I ended up at the hospital instead. Eventually, he found a Hard Rock Cafe and planted himself in front of a plate of Nachos and a tall one and waited for us to arrive.

We had an adventure finding him, even though I speak decent "taxi-Thai" and Pae was with me, a native speaker. We told the driver to take us to the Siam area and once we got in the area, we asked him if he knew where the Hard Rock Cafe was. Without much thought, he nodded and told us where it was and gave us the option to hop out and walk the kilometer or sit through some traffic with him, in the comfort of the taxi air conditioning...Hot day = final kilometer in the taxi.

Neither one of us had ever seen the Hard Rock in our wanderings in the area, but I knew it should be across from the big malls in Siam. Randomly, Pae and I were talking and I was looking out the window and saw the Hard Rock sign down a road where Pae used to get her hair done, but we were going the opposite direction. The taxi driver assured us that he thought that the Hard Rock had moved recently and he thought that the way he was going was the right way. Hey, you're the local expert, so we just went along for the ride. You can see where this is going...


Eventually we neared a Sky Train (BTS) station and he pointed off to the right to a small castle-shaped building and triumphantly chimed "Ah, the Hard Rock". Pae and I looked out the window, eyes wide and lips pulled back in that "it figures" way, and blinked a couple times to make sure we were seeing what we were seeing. We both looked at each other and just smiled and tried not too laugh to hard in front of the driver, who suddenly realized his mistake and apologized out of embarrasment...we were parked across from the little castle, with the name of the establishment chiseled in, well, rock...There we sat, snickering, looking at, perhaps a restaurant named "The Rock". Right. Not "Hard Rock" but "The Rock". Nice.

What's funnier than the bit of Lost in Translation, was the fact that this guy knew that there was a place there named something something Rock something something. We told him that it was okay, him still apologizing, and made our way to the BTS, one stop to where the real Hard Rock that we had passed earlier should be.


So we finally made it to the Hard Rock and saw Jesse sitting there in his green Manila shirt, sitting over a Singha and his MacBook. After twenty years he wasn't too hard to recognize, same barrel chest, same Jesse look as when we were trouble-making 19 and 20 year olds in Monterey and Kaneohe.

We sat and talked about family, old times a little, introduction pleasantries and then proceeded to pretty much not shut up for the next 10 or so hours.

Jesse had not even found a hotel yet, so after the Hard Rock, our meeting place, we went outside. In true Zimbauer fashion, Jess looked up to the skyline, picked out the nearest building that looked like a hotel, pointed to it and confidently stated that he was going to stay there. Using the bright Novotel sign as our guide in the night sky, we snaked our way through the backside of Siam Center and were suddenly in the lobby of the Novotel, Jesse harrassing the front desk kid.

Made it to the room, dropped off Jesse's bag and looked out the window at the fabulous view of...a construction site ;) Past the giant hole in the ground there were actual buildings. Pressing our finger on the glass window of Jesse's 12th floor home base, we did a life size "point and click" on a sign of Madam Tussauds" wax museum, which seemed just strange enough and totally random for us.


We did the wax figures, entertaining ourselves along the way and even holding back on the things we probably wouldn't have even given a second thought to doing 20 years ago, i.e. hanging upside down on the metal beam where Spiderman was in his famous spidey crouch position...The steel beam was made of lightweight fiber glass or something and probably wouldn't have supported my weight. It would have been classic though had I tried the gymnastic upside down pose and ended up in a heap with Spidey crouched on top of me. The wisdom of the elderly ;)


After messing around at the museum, we stopped for ice cream to plan our next move. I mention this little stop off because while Pae and Jesse were enjoying Häagen-Dazs, I had to sit and watch as my doctor had given me strict instructions to avoid dairy while taking the antibiotics he prescribed. Pure torture!

We tuk tuk'd to Huay Kwang after a while to get some food in our guts. **One thing of note about our tuk tuk ride was that Jesse, the about 90 kilograms of all man that he is, seriously set the center of gravity of that little three wheel death trap way off to the left...so cornering was a little concerning.**

Pae and I didn't want Jess to eat at a touristy Thai food place, so we took him to where we would normally eat. It wasn't late enough for the always entertaining hordes of Lady Boys to be out, but as we sat eating, a group of 5 trannies and one straight chick with a chihuahua sat beside us...so Jesse kinda got the full experience of Huay Kwang ;) Note: The larb that we had was no where near the alimentary canal destroying stuff we had in California 22 years ago.


After stuffing our faces we headed over to where the foreigners hang out and drink, Khao San road. We never go there but it was a place to sit, drink, talk and people watch for a few hours. We were actually lucky that our taxi driver dropped us off at the road next to Khao San, which had much better live music, bars and overall ambiance/atmosphere. We laughed at the farang couple who bought tattoo sleeves from a hawker milling about the area, and promptly took them off once they realized just how stupid they looked.

We clashed when trying to decide what a khaki-clad older dude was all about, Jesse couldn't get with my observation that he was probably a butterfly catcher/collector. I think we eventually agreed on Stanford professor or "naturalist" or something like that.

There was a little Thai B-Boy troupe that did some spinning and flipping and breaking on the asphalt in front of us, only stopping to let the mopeds, trucks and even the squid cart pass (several times for the squid man). The Thai cover bands covered many music bases, from Nirvana to CCR to Inner Circle and Marley. (of course Hotel California eventually rattled and echoed through the sidewalk bars and tables full of empties later in the night)
Overall it was a very quick hitter. One of these days I'll be healthy and we'll have much more time to hang out. It was great to see Jesse again after all these years. It was special to see the way he talked about his best friend, his wife Danya and his children. You always wish there were more great examples of husbands and parents who "get it right" and Jesse (with Danya as his partner in crime) is a breath of fresh air in that regard.

We've both changed over the years, or at least our lives have changed from the carefree, big headed, looking for trouble Marines we were in the early 90's. We weren't that bad back then, but we had much less responsibility or at least many of the decisions we were faced with seemed to carry less weight. Now, Jesse is nearing potential retirement and I've been adopted by Thailand. Without the technological advancements and changes over the decades, we probably would have had a much harder time getting together. Without the internet and social networking sites, many of my old buddies, and even distant relatives would be mere memories. But as it is these days, the internet provides a tiny window into each of their daily lives, and with blogs, into much more that they are willing to share with the world.

Pae had the thought of the night, a cultural comparison of sorts. We were on our way back home after dropping Jesse off at his hotel. She had enjoyed meeting Jesse, listening to our stories and engaging in the conversation as well. In the taxi she said (paraphrased), "Farang can talk, and never stop. You just keep talking about this and that and never stop. Over ten hours, there's just talking, no awkward silence, no feeling of when is this gonna be over." ("farang" is the word Thais call white foreigners) So yeah, even on the phone, people are straight to the point, no small talk and then just hang up. In the States we just talk and talk and talk. I guess it did help that we had 20 years of stuff to catch up on.
I assured Jesse that it would't be another 20 years and that we'd try to make it up to Japan and he insisted that Bangkok was a place he definitely wanted to bring Danya. We're moving into a bigger place closer to my school, so when they come, if they wanna slum it for a week, they are welcome to stay with us and the BunBun! p.s. Spell chack is not working. Deal with it!

1 comment:

mardenheyjude said...

What a beautiful story of friends getting together after not seeing one another for nearly 20 years. The pictures are awesome. I especially like the one with the two of you "back in the day" posing by the yellow checker cab. I must say, it looks like you painted your pants on. haha The styles have certainly changed for men since then. Thank you for sharing your reunion with your buddy Jesse. It is a beautiful story to read. Hi to Pae. Love always, Auntie

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