Bleeding Gums
January 23, 2009

At times, it does occur to me that possibly, hidden deep beneath the trenches of the International Dental Association’s Manual for Prosthodontists of the World, rests the following statement...

"Even if the procedure is as painful as an immense kick in the nuts, always tell the patient that it would hurt no more than an ant bite."

Which leads to the question, unless you’re an anteater, when was the last time you had a living ant in your mouth? Let alone one that’s munching away your gums.

My own childhood encounters with dentists had thought me a valuable lesson; they are only second to politicians when it comes to mastering the art of lying. They furnish you with pleasant, reassuring stories or more accurately, fairytales as you’re adjusted on the reclining chair (Satan’s Lay-Z-Boy to you and me). To divert your anxious mind, they ask questions about things that remotely have anything to do with your teeth such as school, work, the weather and of course, the size of your cavity.

Perhaps for no other reason than just to rub it in, these questions are asked while your mouth is opened, thus allowing minimal articulation on your part. As demonstrated by the following example of a dentist-patient conversation:

"So, how’s work? Still busy like the last time around?"

"Riuey, fopeuir jreu irfrrrt reosk fkoe treou feas pofe juteor fek sokefs fe fi fo fum..."

(Translated: Just kill me already.)

Miles from the treatment room, sounds of the different dental tools can be heard. The cacophony of it all -- to illustrate its magnitude -- would make William Hung sound like Josh Groban. The dentist’s irrelevant questions fade away as the sound of the tool shrieks its way into your eardrums, stabbing it mercilessly. You sweat as your heart beats faster by the second with your hands grasping everything within reach. In dreadful anticipation, you squirm for a good 10 – 15 minutes of the procedure, which seemed more like 10 – 15 aeons.

Times have changed, thankfully. Dental treatments are much less scarier nowadays. Specialists across the country are boasting and offering non-painful methods at their center. Walk into any clinic and you’ll see huge posters of new, modern technology of dental treatments. None of which, ever managed to spark even an iota of confidence in me. I was disheartened, to say the least, when my 10 year old sister came home from the dentist with a huge glee on her face, unscathed; only a few days after a part of me died during a visit to the same dentist.

Misleading one to believe that the agony of dental treatment is at par with an insect bite is just outright blasphemous. Then again, I should’ve known better.

I wonder if they say the same thing in the International Circumcision Association’s Manual for Circumcision Practitioners of the World.



Sawadee Pi Mai Ka 2009!
January 05, 2009

"So would it be funny if I mark 'Male' in the Arrival Card and 'Female' in the Departure Card?"

"Uh, oh... yeah man, sure..." was my delayed reply to Ali's usual sharing of thought on a joke.

On the plane, my mind was somewhere else. While Ali was still laughing at his own gag, Ikram busy chatting with Tina Turner -- I mean -- our stewardess, and Pipi trying to catch up with some beautiful sleep, I was rather preoccupied. A bit anxious, maybe, of how the trip would roll out.


It was only less than a month ago, about a day after we'd purchased the tickets to Bangkok, that I was left dumbfounded in front of the TV as I witnessed the images of Suvarnabhumi Airport turning into a sea of yellow men and women, after being flooded by anti-government protesters. The Land of a Thousand Smiles, it seemed, was about to turn into The Land of a Thousand Riles.

We were positive nevertheless. In other words, we were quite certain that the problem would be fixed as it was hurting the economy and tourism industry badly. Walking through the arrival gate of the airport, at least my own optimism was duly justified. Only a few steps into the country, I was immediately astounded by the stunning smile of a local girl; to which I returned, naturally... before I realized that I'd just smiled back, to a life-sized Amazing Thailand cutout ad. Surely, I wasn't the first one to do so.


Right after checking-in at the Ramada, we took the BTS SkyTrain straight to the famous Chatuchak weekend market. Known as the largest market in the world, covering 35 acres, 'JJ' (Jatujak) as it is also known contains around 15,000 stalls and attracts up to 300,000 visitors each day; which could be inaccurate as far as statistics go. Judging by the amount of room that I had to breathe, I could roughly estimate that the size of the crowd was close the population of a sizeable country, such as China.

Alas, as the old saying goes, build a river full of Piranhas around a shopping mall, and women will still swim across it. Encountering the amount of items up on sale, most of them for quite a bargain, I looked up to the blue sky, and thanked God for landing me at the market with three guys instead of a girl. For I couldn't even begin to imagine the horror of stopping by a stall to look at items as important as scented candles for a good hour before deciding to not buy it because "they wouldn't match the curtain" only go to back to the stall a few miles later after purchasing a very crucial curtain that would "most definitely match the candles."


I was introduced to another landmark of the metropolitan on the way back because overlooking the train, was their infamous traffic jam. All these while, I've been led to believe that my hometown of Subang Jaya was the traffic jam capital of the world. Seeing the roads of Bangkok resembling the parking lot of a car dealer, proved otherwise. Amazingly enough, traffic congestion doesn't really infuse anger in the people. Car honks were rarely blared while the faces in the vehicles seemed calm enough. Worlds apart, if you will, from the howling of curses and flipping of fingers that are apparent in our lovable city of Kuala Lumpur.

No trip to Bangkok is complete without a visit to the iconic Grand Palace and nearby Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Pho, home of the world's largest reclining Buddha. I have to be honest though. Not being a big fan of monuments and historical sites, I wasn't all that excited on the way there. At least barely half as I was on the way to Disney World a few years back; when I had to resort to Ritalin. Nevertheless, a few minutes into the area, the place lives up to its stature. Intricately designed structures made of marbles and the likes flourish the area with figures in various colors and shapes, stretching a few dozen football fields. This is the point where I end this paragraph, realizing that I'll never make it in the brochure-writing industry.


Our short stint at the Grand Palace area will certainly be a memorable one nonetheless. As it was there that we made friends with Jessie and Puny, perhaps the sweetest souls to ever come out of the country, as we would later learn. Ikram thought it was his dimple while Ali his biceps and Pipi his sexy fedora... that opened up their hearts to become friends with us; something that very, very rarely happens at home. Collectively though, we all do have to agree that it was my sense of humor that warmed up to them; though I couldn't really tell if they got most of my jokes. Well, at least they were kind enough to laugh at them.


Most possibly, the combined grumbling of our stomachs was audible enough to attain sympathy from the girls to join us for dinner. I could still recall the nod of approval on our faces, not without confidence, as the waiter pointed to the three chillies on the menu, signalling 'very hot' -- which we would later understand, during the meal, actually means -- 'suicide'. Even so, hats off to the chef for preparing a generous meal, blending in the freshest ingredients from his kitchen; allowing us to enjoy them in the company of our newly made Thai friends over good laughs thanks to Pipi's jokes, as everyone started to grow tired of mine.

Noticing that there's no chance in hell that their new Malaysian friends will ever survive nightlife in Bangkok, the girls took us to Royal City Avenue (RCA) where arguably, the hippest clubs in town are located. A district comparable to the Jalan P. Ramlee or Bangsar vicinity, somewhat. It was a rather peculiar scene though, seeing ourselves walking along the row of luxury cars parked at the valet area; acting unfazed by the sudden introduction to the loud booming music as trendy, fashionable men walk pass by, mostly escorted by their scantily clad partners. I, for one, felt out of place. How could I not? Having spent no more than an hour max probably at a nightclub in my entire life, I felt as weird as a Teletubby at a Death Metal concert.


Plus, the way I dressed wasn't tasteful enough to enter any of the clubs; to the amusement of the girls, who then brought us to the Gateway to Southeast Asia, Khao San Road. Within seconds, I fell in love; possibly no less than the love between the sexpats and bargirls seen walking happily in 'financial symbiosis' (as Wikitravel calls it) along the corridors. It's hard to spot a thing to not like about the place. A glance from above and you'll see a huge Benetton ad as people from around the globe are seen having a good time at the eateries and pubs. Zoom in closer and prepare yourself to be dazzled by the sights and sounds that could possibly define Bangkok. The street food, the various faces (and genders), the great music, the neverending rows of stalls selling t-shirts in any design imaginable... words couldn't do justice. You'll love the place.

After a rather long night at the brilliant Susie Pub, where our network of friends extended from Thai, to Sri Lankan, Swedish, Japanese, Italian and many more, we decided to take a breather the next day and made our way to King's Tailor, not too far from the hotel. A lot have been said about the tailors in Bangkok. Friends from the office have been telling us how much cheaper and better it is to get your suits and office attires tailored there. After a decent amount of scouting, I thought we made a rather good deal with the guys at King's and got ourselves some nice suits and such. At any rate, I won't have to borrow my friends' suits for future functions any more. To think that I wore a Salvation Army suit during my graduation.


As the sun sets for the penultimate time in the year, we made our way to Lumpinee Stadium to catch the long-awaited, live Muay Thai. It's one of those things where you don't really pay attention much when it's on TV but go all crazy about it when it's live. The authority's regulation in not allowing foreigners to be seated with the chaotic betting stands (where we initially wanted so badly to be a part of) resulted in us getting ringside seat for the events; where things were a bit sober. Not too long into the second bout however, I was a bit concerned after noticing that most of the boxers are probably 15 years of age, on average. A part of me was on the lookout for UNICEF officers. After crossing paths with one of them on the way to the loo nearby the dressing room however, I could ironically breathe a sigh of relief. While they look smaller in the ring, any one of the 'kids' could easily send me to the ICU with a quick jab.


Just to illustrate the magnitude of Muay Thai's influence on us, it is suffice to say that instead of walking, the bulk of us danced the pre-fighting dance into the entrance, lift, and room of our hotel. I'm pretty sure Ali still does it in the shower these days.


The New Year awaits as Bangkok welcomes the dusk of December 31st. After a few good laps in the pool and some time in the sauna, we got ourselves ready for the final night of the year. Which felt pretty odd given that this time around last year, and the previous years, I was either lazing around the house doing nothing or out for a drink with my friends before hitting the sack way before midnight.

Then again, "Why not?" was the question playing in our minds. We're in Bangkok, it's the New Year, and we'll be spending it with our Thai friends. Puny and Jessie brought us to a restaurant on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. With the Tom Yum still boiling in the pot, we exchanged stories about the year and listened to more of Ikram's jokes as everyone started to grow tired of Pipi's, after mine. The live band was gracious enough to have us joining them on stage, where Ali and I had the honor of serenading Wonderful Tonight to our wonderful hosts. Luckily, Ali was the one holding the microphone as otherwise, I could've easily put the restaurant's business in jeopardy.

After a crash course in counting in Thai, we managed to do the countdown in the language, albeit almost certainly having the numbers jumbled up. Fireworks filled the skies above the King Rama VIIII Bridge crossing the river. It couldn't have been any better. Away from the chaotic party over at Central, the serenity of the river was all to mesmerizing, and contagious in a way given the moment of silent that we had, allowing only the blasting of the fireworks and horns from the pub next door to fill the air.


Well, who were we kidding anyway? We went straight to Susie for a second visit soon thereafter to join in the fun.

Singling out one highlight for the trip would be a daunting task. Frank the cabby's lewd jokes, the bugs we ate off the street hawker, the guy who spoke Kelantanese at the t-shirt stall, Puny and Jessie's camaraderie, Ikram's atrocious dance moves, the unisex restroom, blistering hot ladies whose actual gender left us in a bewildered heap, cramping six passengers in a tuk tuk before racing on the empty streets until the break of dawn... I'm spoiled for choice.

Thanks Bangkok. 2009 here we come baby! Here's Pipi smiling his way into the new year already...


More pictures here.



Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

About
  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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