Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy 2014!!

Our New Year's celebrations started on the evening of December 30th, when our friends Olga and Ron caught up with us in Bangkok. They had spent two weeks in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand, playing tennis with ladyboys at the resort next door to where Serena Williams was also practicing (they got a picture with her).

We share fun history with Olga and Ron. Olga is the baby sister of my classmate Lena; she'd moved to Helsinki, Finland for work about a decade ago. One summer she and her boyfriend Ron spent three weeks traveling in the US, and they stayed with Dave for a couple of days in San Francisco--I was visiting St. Petersburg then. Ron proposed to Olga during that trip, and a year later Dave and I partied at their wedding in St. Petersburg. Here's Dave's blog about that epic party. So we knew we were in for something special when we'd heard they'd be in Bangkok this New Years.

The morning of the 31st we shopped. We had to come up with "smart casual business" attire for the evening--not easy after packing to wear only bathing suits (us) and tennis clothing (them). Each of us except Dave needed extra items of clothing. Dave and I spent the day at the MBK mall, a mix between a department store and a crazy Shanghai-style knock off market; seven floors of big and little shops. We got lunch at the food court for something like $3 total.

In the afternoon, the four of us reunited and boarded a former rice barge redesigned as a dinner-cruise and circulating up and down Chao Phraya River, the major water artery in Bangkok. The dinner started with a round of Mai Tais and deteriorated from there. The embankment was a surreal combination of old-style wooden lean-tos, deteriorating European-style buildings from the end of the 19th century, and super-modern construction. As the sun set, all the Buddist Temples (and an occasional church) on the shores of the river lit up, and here and there people started setting off fireworks. Olga and Ron taught us Thai for "thank you," and we were all extremely thankful to everyone around.
Wat Arun

We returned to shore around eight o'clock and taxied back to Siam Center, the mall district. December 31st and January 1st, though not a part of Thai traditional calendar, were observed by the locals as the "Western" New Year--everyone on the streets and in the malls was wishing Happy New Year to everyone else. We were heading to Red Sky Bar at Centara tower, and the way there seemed to lie through floors and floors of the shopping mall. Dave photo-bombed a bunch of selfies. We shared a couple of Mrs. Fields cookies (also spotted in Bangkok: Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kremes, Starbucks, Coffee Bean, etc etc). We kept taking escalators up. At some point, we passed a multi-story movie theatre and a hotel, and kept climbing. Finally, we found the elevator and rode that the rest of the way to the top of the city.

Centara Mall

It was around nine when we finally made it up; we were among the first at the bar. We could see crowds starting to assemble below, a Times Square-like mess of people armed with glow sticks and noise makers--of which, by the way, we had our own, and we put them to good use. From another view, we could see into a courtyard of a giant Buddist temple--hundreds of people praying together. We'd heard from our cooking teacher May Kaidee that the local Buddhist temples scheduled extra sittings for the Western New Year.

Midnight praying
Little by little, the crowd around us gathered: a cosmopolitan crowd. There were some businessmen from Iran and India, and right next to us were three guys from Kuwait--Dave and Ron were fascinated, and made conversation. They came to Bangkok for one day only, to party and drink: they couldn't drink alcohol in Kuwait. At some point of the night, Dave said salam alaykum to them, and one of the guys responded with: "Can I take a guess about something? Can I wish you shalom?" Then everyone joined the conga line.

Panorama of Bangkok from 56th floor
After New Years and fireworks, the dancing started. It was easy to lose track of time. At some point after this, the bar was closing, and I lost my purse, and then my purse was found by the hotel's security; then we somehow ended up on Khao San road (which, my brother Kostya had warned us, was the most touristy place in the city), and Dave and Ron were ordering pad thai... And finally, Olga and Ron had to go to the airport and we all rode the taxi out to Suvarnabhumi Airport, where we put the two of them on the non-stop nine hour flight to Helsinki, with promises to see each other again soon.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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