Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No bombs, not so far

Last time I was taking refuge from the heat, this time it is the rain. There was a crack of thunder, big spots of rain appeared out of a greying sky, and then down she came. I was going to have food, but the place I was standing outside only had remnants from the lunch rush, none appetising. In my search for something more appetising under the same verandah, I found an internet cafe. Although there is a typhoon or tropical storm heading for Southern Thailand, I don't think this marks its arrival - I checked a weather map this morning, and there is to be no serious disturbance to the weather for the next five days. This is the same typhoon that killed 50 or so people in Vietnam, after hitting the Phillipines, so I think I'm glad I won't be making its acquaintance.

Getting into Thailand yesterday was as easy as pie, and the time difference worked in my favour. I woke and was thinking I had slept half the day away. By the time I caught the bus to the Malaysian border town, walked from one country to the next (I kind of like that way of approaching a border crossing, even if in this case it only meant going over a small bridge), wandered the kilometre of the road up to the railway station, my watch was saying it was nearly noon. I had no desire to hang around Sungei Kolok, since this is where the bombs went off a couple of weeks ago (sure, I was going to be fine even if I did hang around, but still, I didn't want to stay there) and I knew that the first of the only two trains left before noon. But Thailand is an hour behind Malaysia, so my train was still in the station. The trip up was pretty uneventful - lots of scrubby regrowth, a few paddy fields, the occasional town, a wat or a mosque, soldiers on the train carrying handguns and most stations having a complement of soldiers with automatic weapons. All seemed very genial and relaxed, however.

The best thing about it was that I wandered down the train, as someone had said somethng about a dining car. A fatherly figure handed me a menu, the army brass smiled and asked after my travels. When my food arrived, the fellow said "I hope you like chilis", because here, basil chicken means some chicken pieces, a few shrivelled bits of basil, and lots of luscious thick slices of juicy chili, red and green. Yum. That, a beer, a smoke, and the world going by windows added up to bliss.

From Hat Yai, I caught the local bus out to my destination, Songkhla. Buses here look fairly normal on the outside, either green or red, but inside they're tricked out as kareoke lounges. My particular bus had red leatherette seats, a mirror finish stainless steel ceiling, and a regular size TV above the driver, playing a never repeating stream of Thai pop videos, with the lyrics presented kareoke style, so you could sing along if you really wanted to. The more passengers there were, the louder this was turned up. And for a normal size bus, the barker/conductor seemed to be able to stack a huge number of passengers in. Ah well, at least the videos weren't Linkin Park, which is what this morning's bus featured.

There is apparently a beach/port at Songkhla, which I think is why I chose it (I'm travelling without a guide book, just a few rough suggestions of suitable stopping points, which no mention made of why I thought I should stop there - it all adds to the adventure) - all I saw last night were a couple of fishing boats tied up at the bottom of the street I am staying on. Instead of checking that out, I looked around the town, found a very nice man with a coffee shop. I also decided to have a proper restaurant meal, but I think I must have missed a protocol lesson along the way. When I was finished, I caught the waitresses' eye to get the bill, but she just smiled at me - she was pretty, I smiled back. We went through this four times as she circulated, before I actually asked if I could pay.

This morning I geeked: in Malaysia, I was really impressed with their stationery shops. Not commercial - I mean stationery for personal or school use. Kota Bharu had several, they had pen displays at least a couple of metres long, one (I counted!) had 30 different erasors, they have pile after pile of various sizes, shapes and colours of exercise books. I think I visited three, wanting to take photos, but even I have limits to my geekery. But this morning, I was in a department store in Hat Yai, and I couldn't resist - I bought an entire collection of pens. By the time I get back to Singapore and pick up the things I have my eye on there, I should be able to start a small shop of my own.

One last comment about Kota Bharu: I was in the museum, and realised that I had inadvertently broken the law. There was a display showing how the supermarkets and other shops had, in accordance with KB's establishment as a city of Islam, started seperate check out counters for men and women. They used the particular supermarket I had been in to demonstrate, so I really do know I went through the wrong line. That's the second time so far I've broken the law: the first was when I entered Singapore. I kind of knew that they'd had some sort of clamp down on duty free tobacco products, and saw a small sign saying that they all had to be declared and have duty paid. This, I failed to do.

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Blogger OTT said...

Stationery is fabulous - sounds like Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand are great! When I was in Thailand (Bangkok only) I don't recall such stationery heaven. oh well.

Enjoying your journeys, only just de-lurking now.

3:25 PM  

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