There is so much I still need to write about this process of opening. The feelings of despair and exhaustion and pride and frustration and anger and joy from circumstances expected and absurd. But I'll save that for later because I am really, unbelievably tired. And in my narrative's place I'll share with you two pictures: One, of a rotting concrete box just three months ago, and another, of a bar that last night, for the first time, sprung to life.
(We're not open yet. I am still dealing with licensing and legal issues, but when we are open -- in a little more than a week, after more practice -- I'll share that here. Last night was a test run. And all things considered, it went pretty well.)
It's been quiet here for a few days as my Dad and I battled some food poisoning we got during a short stopover in Cambodia. Long story, but things are fine and the restaurant has progressed as Pops recovered in a nice little room at the Sukhamvit Hospital. In the meantime, I've been working with my cooks on simple recipes like marinated pork jowl that's slow-grilled, wrapped in leaves, and stuffed with ginger, lime, peanuts, chilies, tamarind, fried garlic and other delicious bits (forgive the plastic plates, it's an under-construction thang). I'll pop up a drink list soon too, as my friend and favorite bartender Markus Bernthaler has been in town whipping up drinks sour, spicy, sweet and strong. Just the sort of thing to go with food like this:
BTW: To all those that have asked, the restaurant will be at 56/10, Sukhamvit Soi 55, just 100 meters up Thong Lor on the right side of the street. Thanks for stopping by. Jarrett.
In the midst of all this business in Bangkok, I had to escape to Phnom Penh for 24 hours, so that I could change my visa status from an M (Media) visa to a B (Business) one. In between trips to the crowded, miserable consulate there, we strolled around Phnom Penh and admired its temples and beautifully rugged old French buildings.
We also visited Toul Sleng, the Cambodian Genocide Museum, which is a sombre but necessary thing to do when you're there. The mug-shot style portraits of inmates there, most of whom never made it out, are so deeply affecting. This particular inmate's photo shook me to the core. The proud ferocity of that stare. I'll never forget it.
(The kid that sleeps on the stuff that's being built behind him)
Two days ago, I woke up and headed across town to my restaurant. In front of the shop sat my father, who is a general contractor in the US. I flew him over here to oversee the final weeks of the construction, to take advantage of his expertise and to put him to work. But we couldn't work.
And that was because the space had been flooded by water. Someone had left the tap on in the kitchen all night. Water flowed out from the third floor, down the stairs in little rivulets, and mixed with the sawdust and end cuts and cigarette butts that the local crew have flat-out refused to clean up for the past month. We walked into a very expensive pile of wet and festering garbage. And goddamn, was I mad.
But things improved yesterday. My father and I finished the woodwork on the second floor. The kitchen is complete, and little by little my space is being transformed. Yesterday was a good day, and today, I bring my cooks into the kitchen to test recipes in our restaurant for the first time. This morning I got my completed logo, which I'll paste below. Now I'm off to work. Have a good day.
Time is whizzing by. Progress now happening fast. And in the meantime, I walk, run, ride taxis, and hop on the back of buzzing motorbikes. This city is a maze, and I'm trying to get to the end of it, in this race to open. Sometimes I do. Usually not. But we're certainly getting to know each other. More pics later of the space.
A quick, serious question: Do any vegetarians who live in Bangkok read this blog? How and where do you eat?
Right now, I'm trying to pull together a few vegetarian dishes and wondering how flexible one must be when they don't eat meat and live or travel in Southeast Asia. Do vegetarians eat food knowing there may be shrimp paste or fish sauce in an otherwise meat-free meal? Or do they avoid this sort of thing entirely?
Because not eating fish sauce and shrimp paste is sort of like swearing off olive oil in the Mediterranean and trying to get fed. It must be difficult.
(I know everybody is different. So consider this a survey of sorts. Write what you like. I am interested.)
This note is for readers of this blog who might visit Bangkok someday, and might be tempted to indulge in that strange ritual that is the Patpong ping-pong show. It has become part of the Thailand tourism 'experience,' so much so that almost every friend that swings through town believes they ought to see this bizarre sexual theatre. I try to talk them out of it, and if that doesn't work they end up going on their own. But last night I went with guests. And it was the worst 15 minutes I have ever spent in Thailand. Period.
In a dingy, blacklit room that smelled of piss and cigarettes, we watched 5 disinterested women well into middle age do strange things with eggs and needles and glow-in-the-dark rings. It's boring and rather sad, but that's not the worst part.
The place that we happened upon was not a safe place to be, evidenced by the shouting matches between clients (usually foreign tourist couples, sometimes with kids) who were getting ripped off to the tune of $250 (Yes, that is 8000 baht) for a couple beers. If you don't pay, you're surrounded by shouting women who don't let you out, as well as a few thick-armed thugs who glower and guard the door. It's pure intimidation and extortion, in a dark, strange, disorienting room. Police are not allowed in (they carded my Thai friend to make sure he wasn't police) and you really have no legal or personal protection once you're inside. I assume most people pay and get the hell out.
After about 10 minutes of watching this, and getting dripped on by a leaky air-conditioner (liquid in a run-down strip club ain't cool) we decided to leave. There was a glass on our table of orange soda with a straw in it. It wasn't ours and I moved it to an empty table. In that glass was the scam -- that orange soda cost 3200 Baht, or about $98. After arguing with a Thai woman who spoke to me with a ferocity that gave me goosebumps, we paid for what we drank (400 baht for 4 beers) and left. A bouncer shoved me around a little bit on the way out for good measure, and that woman told me to 'shut my mouth' about her scam. They attempted to charge us eight times our bar tab for that single orange soda. I was sober throughout, which made the visit even less pleasant.
To all who think this is 'part of the Bangkok experience' I assure you it's not. There's nothing Thai about it, actually: Thais don't scream at guests, they don't intimidate tourists, and they certainly don't pull sharp things out of their private parts. The only thing that's Thai about it are your own preconceived notions (which some unsavory characters will happily indulge for financial gain). It's also disgusting, and can be dangerous.
If you want to experience the rougher side of Thai culture, go to a kickboxing fight and sit high in the stands at Lumphini Stadium. Place a bet or two with the bookies if you want, drink some cold Chang from plastic cups, dig the old music and watch the rats scurry beneath rickety stands. You'll lose a lot less money, and have a lot more fun.