Thursday, 10 March 2011

7. From dry to steamy

At home with the family
A/C Chair class on the Tippu Express
Bangalore Club 'Chambers'
Thai Airways Airbus A330-300 Business Class
Sofitel Silom 28th floor Luxury Club Room
Bangkok Street Market
Blogging with a view
View from my room at the Sofitel Silom
Breakfasting with an Indian family in their house is a real privilege. Vasan’s wife, mother, elder son and daughter are present for their visitor, with another son at school. I am allowed to eat my vegetarian breakfast with a spoon; everyone else eats the traditional way, with their hand.
The family is devout Hindi and I must confess that some of their beliefs, while I totally respect their right to hold them, are rather difficult for a journalist to accept. It’s by no means the first time during my week in India that I have heard talk about eating certain things as part of a healthy life balance.
But the food and a couple of specially formulated powders, is very tasty indeed.
By the time I leave, I have persuaded Vasan’s 3-year old daughter to participate in a session of ‘Round and Round the Garden like a Teddy Bear.’ She speaks no English at all, but is certainly getting the rhythm of it by the sixth attempt!

The family insists on driving me to Mysore Station and it’s rather nice to be seen off by a jeep full of smiling local faces. Interestingly, descending from a non-rental vehicle, I am not bothered at all by either hawkers or porters.
The ‘Tippu Express’ is a much more basic concept than the smart train on the outbound journey. But it does have air-conditioning. The 2 ½ hour journey in an ‘A/C Chair Car’ costs just 225 Indian Rupees, about £3.
Ashok Shetty has kindly arranged for me to have a room in the ‘chambers’ at the Bangalore Club. The room is a bit like my sub-Lieutenant’s cabin at Dartmouth Royal Naval College. A bit tired round the edges, with battered furniture from a distant age. But it’s cool, has tea-making facilities and is perfect to repack luggage for the next leg of my journey and also to have a nice swim in the Club pool.

I do notice that Texas Instruments and Nokia Siemens are two corporate members of the Bangalore Club who have been named and shamed on the Club notice board as being nearly 30,000 Indian rupees behind with their payments and thus have had their credit limit frozen. No doubt someone in accounts hasn’t send the cheque.

Yeshvanth has kindly invited me to spend my final evening at the Press Club of Bangalore in Cubbon Park. It’s quite delightful, sharing a couple of beers and some tasty south-Indian dishes with a fellow journalist who has very much become a friend. The atmosphere is perfect, outdoors, surrounded by palm trees in a park in the centre of one of India’s most important (and certainly one of the noisiest) major cities.

Yeshvanth is very interested about what I perceive to have been the successes of the first leg of my trip. For sure, discovering that my grandfather was not M A Azeez and also that he had been decorated for his services to the Maharajah of Mysore.
Yeshvanth kindly drives me back to the Bangalore Club, to make sure that the cab turns up on time. In fact the departure from Bangalore is as smooth as I could wish for, with all the formalities completed with unbelievable speed.
There’s a lovely girl on duty at the Business Class lounge with the most charming smile. I have given her my business card but there’s no mail from her today. With her personality, I am sure she gets lots!

The Thai Airways A330-300 leaves on time with the delightful cabin crew more than capable of dealing with a loud-mouthed American businessman who isehaving like a spoilt brat and complaining about something that is not the cabin crew’s fault. The exit from the aircraft in Bangkok at 6am is so swift that I am unable to read him his fortune as I have planned. Perhaps just as well.
Arrival at Bangkok’s new airport is unbelievably slick and efficient and I am through immigration, customs and have both of my checked in bags within twenty minutes of landing and, forty minutes later I am in the Sofitel Silom.
There’s a huge group checking out, but on reaching check-in, a charming young man takes me away from the melee to another desk, discovers I have been upgraded to the club floor and I am led into an oasis of calm on the 27th floor where the formalities of arrival are dealt with over a refreshing fruit drink and a lovely cool towel.
It’s just past 7am, but have a splendid breakfast and then go to bed in my 28th floor room with an absolutely stunning view of the city far below.
A couple of hours later, I am in the 5th floor pool, part of the Sofitel’s health and
fitness area. I think it highly inappropriate that smoking is allowed, but I discover later that it’s one of the very few outdoor spaces in the hotel.
Knowing that sending washing to any international-standard hotel is often prohibitively expensive, I seek direction to a local laundry. Four hours later I have it back, beautifully pressed and on hangers. Out of interest, I do a comparison. I have paid around £6 for three kilos and just £1 extra for seven items to be ironed. I do the adding up and even I am somewhat staggered to discover that the hotel’s charges would have been ten times as much.
I take a little tour round the block. I’ve travelled only three hours and about fifteen hundred miles from Bangalore, but I’ve gone from dry heat to very sticky heat. Even the locals have soaking wet shirts. It’s literally like being fully clothed inside a sauna.

Back at the hotel, I am starting to run out of energy, while enjoying an excellent afternoon tea in the Club lounge, when three delightful Thai ladies descend upon my little oasis of calm.
This is the hotel’s marketing team. The introductions and handing out of business cards is so rapid and my brain so in the middle of the Bay of Bengal that there is great hilarity when I try to work out who is who. Luckily I get it right.

Another quick tour of the local streets as night falls, with the myriad of food and market stalls that are very much the character of Bangkok. My Duracells just about finished, I repair to my room to write my blog and upload today’s photos.
The views over the city are stunning, complemented by the very tasteful and subdued lighting in the room.

It’s nine o’clock in Thailand and this boy is more than ready to go horizontal for the second time in twelve hours.

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