When I turned 30, I had an epiphany: I realised that this was it and going forward, it was to be downhill all the way. I suddenly understood that I would never have more energy, or enthusiasm, hair, or brain cells than I had at the time. It was a sobering thought and enough to drive a man to drink.
You can imagine what the thought does to said person now, 36 years later. But one cheers up any which way one can, and George Burns is generally recommended: “It’s good to be here….but at 98, it’s good to be anywhere.”
In my late 40s, Rebecca was promoted to a senior government position and began travelling the world as the country’s trade negotiator. As was my wont then, I thought it would look unseemly if I accompanied her. Indeed, I never, even once went to her office. Happily, Raisa had no such compunctions and accompanied my wife on numerous overseas trips.
In 2013, Becca’s alma mater in the US announced that it would present her a “Professional Achievement” award and she asked me to accompany her. But she had to stop by Japan first for some work and she decided that we’d fly to Atlanta from Tokyo.
And so I accompanied my wife on an official trip for the first, and last, time.
For some reason, it was on SQ and I remember being seated in F99, in the middle of a 5-seat aisle row, flanked by two Filipino gentlemen who looked as perplexed as Little Bo-Peep. Becca was, of course, in B1 or some such, but the good news was that we were near the toilets.
I’m sure of it because there was, shall we say, the whiff.
To compound matters, the Filipinos’ perplexity vanished after lunch only to be replaced by an extreme drowsiness and both ended up sleeping on my shoulders until Narita.
There are some experiences in life that should not be demanded twice from any man and one of them is, definitely, F99.
Time marches on and I retired followed by my wife, two years later. But a stint as executive director of APEC drew her back to work and subsequent travel, after nearly two years of Covid-induced lockdown.
And that was how I came to accompany her to Bangkok three weeks ago.
It takes slightly under two hours to fly from Singapore to Bangkok and the Thai capital felt warm and muggy when we stepped out of its airport.
Our hotel was located by the river and the wind lifting off the brown, and indolent, Chao Phraya felt cool and comfortable against our skin. Unlike the last time I’d been in Bangkok – over 20 years ago – the river didn’t smell at all.
It seemed the Thais had cleaned it up. Indeed, everything about the capital appeared clean with little evidence of paper or plastic trash. We later learnt that single-use plastic bags had long been banned.
Even so, there is little “green” to be had in the city of 10.7 million spreading out all about us in a vast concrete and glass jungle. There are attempts at greening everywhere but it still falls far short of Singapore or, for that matter, Kuala Lumpur.
Unlike KL, however, there is little trace of migrant labour about although our friend Kavi, a Bangkok Post columnist, told us over lunch that there were at least 5 million people from Myanmar seeking refuge here.
We found the food great and relatively inexpensive; and learnt that places like Phuket are easily 30% cheaper. And coups or not, the government does not impede the private sector at all – an exhibition in our hotel, featuring agricultural innovation, part of the APEC meet, showed clearly that the Thai sector was not just flourishing but streets ahead of its Malaysian competition.
Apart from being polite, the Thais are extremely patriotic. They are very proud of their singularity (never having been colonised, for example), their food and culture, even their royalty. Deep down, they think they are the best in ASEAN.
Who’s to say they’re wrong? As Kavi might have said, I think therefore I Siam.