We are Bangkokians (at least for a little while). We are still in Bangkok and that is a very good thing, under the circumstances. Thailand has the virus under control and has not had any community spread (zero local cases) in the last 31+ days. While the government has lifted nearly all of the restrictions and life can resume with some basic precautions, a handful of restrictions remain that are related to international flights. Most foreigners are still not allowed into Thailand, with just a few exceptions, and we still can’t send postcards to the US yet.
Quarantine Life from May-July
In May, we were still primarily staying inside. That time was not particularly eventful, except for the Crew Dragon launch by SpaceX (more on that later). We were familiar with the evening schedules and locations of spiders in the house. Yes, plural, and large. We sort of rescued a brightly colored blue-winged pitta after it collided with a window. Occasionally, we spotted monitor lizards (about 3-4 feet long) walking along the river walls. We read or listened to a handful of books. I have been learning a little of the Thai language, but I routinely butcher the proper tones. Does this man want an old white glass turtle or nine stoves full of rice? Thank goodness Jyn speaks Thai better than I do.
Most afternoons, we would work out with the Nike Training Club App. In this climate, I am a very efficient puddle creator. The heat was paralyzing and smothering. Sweaty Magee. Almost every day was over 100 degrees F and did not drop below the upper 80s at night. We generally didn’t use the AC from about 11am-8pm, out of courtesy. For most of the day, we sat within a few feet of a fan on full blast. A couple nights a week, we would watch a movie, but sadly, much of the content on Netflix and Amazon that is available in the US, is NOT available here. Boo!
“I just want to knit like mad.” -Jyn
A knitting scene exists in Bangkok! When Jyn was here in the past, she was unable to find any knitting stores. Now, there are a few in the area and we have already given all of them our business (especially Big Knits with the Cafe). Jyn has been knitting up a storm. After ordering yarn from Japan and receiving her “emergency” yarn supply from the US, she has been able to make a few tops. She has been waiting on another yarn package for the last month. I think that she was a silk worm in her past life. A new style of knitting for me, called brioche (see Jyn’s green and white hat), has been kicking my butt. Fun fact: In Bangkok, the coldest temperature in the last 35 years was about 61 degrees F, which makes Bangkok an ideal place to knit… Knot!
The Human Body Does Crazy Things
Chatting with friends and research led to two facts that blew our minds. First, there are two types of ear wax (yellow ooze and crusty white!). Most people in Asia have crusty white while Africans and Europeans have the yellow ooze (technical term). Then, it turns out that the same gene mutation that is responsible for yellow gooey ear wax is also the same gene responsible for the substance that leads to armpit odor. So, if you have the crusty white ear wax, you probably don’t smell bad (especially South Koreans). That explains why I had so much difficulty finding deodorant in Seoul! I was the only one who smelled bad! Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but now you know 🙂
How Much did our Previous Month Cost? Some Fun Stats.
On June 4, we moved into a 35 sqm apartment adjacent to the metro train line (BTS). Since then, we have kept track of all of our expenses, not including our travel insurance, storage in the US, or the box of yarn we’re still waiting for. In total, without trying to live frugally, our month costed a grand total of $2020.16 (averaging $1010.08 each). Here is a quick breakdown of our monthly costs for June (costs are for two people).
When we were home, one AC was kept at 24-25C, we did laundry every 3-5 days, and went into the city about 3/4 days with most of the travel via BTS. We had a few significant one-time expenses (an internet router, pocket wifi, dental cleanings, a handful of fancy $10-$20 afternoon teas, ~$100 dinner at Jay Fai’s, $60 shorts, expensive face lotion, $88 dinner at Mahanakhon). Theoretically, the average monthly cost could be closer to $800 each, comfortably. Thailand still provides solid value for the dollar, even though the dollar has lost some of its power in recent years (downward trend since Dec 2016).
SpaceX Launched Astronauts!
SpaceX made history on May 30th by launching 2 astronauts to the International Space Station on a privately designed and built rocket and capsule from the US! Wow! I have goosebumps! My heart was beating and I was sweating for a reason other than the relentless Bangkok heat. That launch was the culmination of many years of innovation, sacrifice, and rigor from the talented people at/from SpaceX. It was thrilling to see my hardware and hard work carry people safely off the planet. The thrill and joy was amplified by sharing the experience with many of my SpaceX Alum friends via Zoom. We cheered and celebrated as we watched one of our longterm goals become reality. Those astronauts trusted our work with their lives. When I started at SpaceX in 2011, the first version of the capsule was just being qualified to take cargo to the Space Station, but even then, it had windows. It was already being designed to carry people. The mission of SpaceX is to make humans a multi planetary species, and they are getting closer to achieving that mission. See you soon, Mars! Well… soon-ish (current estimate is approximately 2024).
Our New Place and Living as a Local
Since we are temporarily living here, we rented an apartment (~$475 per month for a 1 bedroom) in a location that is conducive to having a life (previous location was a 20-30 minute drive outside of the city). Living here has been enjoyable and unique. Since the apartment is over 150 feet above the street level, I haven’t needed to swat hordes of mosquitos (apparently, they don’t fly usually much higher than tree tops). The main public transit system, the BTS, is directly outside of the front door. We purchased Rabbit Cards–rechargeable stored-vale smart cards used to pay for the train, amongst other things–to save money on the trips (depends on where you expect to go) and zip around town. Traffic here is dangerous and disorderly. Sometimes, you are not even safe on the sidewalk.
A grocery store, a small mall, and many street vendors are right next to our building. We frequently pick up 90¢ meals (rice and minced pork with a fried egg) or eat at the food court for ~$2 each (som tam, basil chicken, tom yum or curries). Boba tea from various places ranges from $1 to $5, usually at the lower end. Every couple of days, we buy fruit from a select group of vendors. One bunch of bananas took two weeks to ripen! Somehow, we are still using the same plastic bag obtained in Australia whenever we go grocery shopping. We cold brew six liters of tea at a time. We paid the electric bill at 7-eleven. We add a pleasant scent to the apartment and repel roaches with pandan leaves in a cup (bizarre, but works). We got our teeth cleaned in the mall next door and we were charged based on the amount of “calculus” they saw (costed us ~$39 each, the range was $25 to $52, sigh). Trash is separated into wet and dry, but we do not know where the recycling is located yet. The water is safe to use for showers, brushing your teeth, and washing items, but people do not drink from the faucets. Thanks to that fact, I know that we drink about 3 liters per day ($1 per 6 liter bottle of water). We have a washing machine in our unit and we hang dry the items afterwards. There is a pool and a small gym in the building, but I still prefer using my international gym membership to Anytime Fitness because I need heavier things to push and pull. Finally, none of the weather apps are very accurate. Relying on them to plan your day is nearly futile.
Have a Ball at the Mall
We have been going to many of the malls in the area because that’s what cool people do. Shopping and walking in cool air conditioning are desirable activities. Each mall seems to have main purpose and feel. For example, if you want a high-end mall experience, go to Siam Paragon (most popular), IconSiam (beautiful decorations), or Central World (very large). Mega Bang Na is another high-end mall, but it is far from most public transportation. The mall with the most personality is Terminal 21 where each floor’s theme is dedicated to a different country or city, especially the bathrooms. Emquartier (the glass quarter) is another fancy mall where the majority of the walkway is an ascending spiral to the top. If you want a local mall (few foreigners, less expensive, away from BTS), go to Seacon Square or Paradise. If you are looking for a deal, you can haggle with the vendors in the MBK mall or night markets. My favorite food court is inside Central World. Thong Lo Commons is a trendy spot to hangout (a bit out of the way and expensive for my taste). For boba tea, we have tried many places, but OneZo, Brix, Dakasi and Koi Thé are my current favorites (Coco receives honorable mention).
Recent Fun Shenanigans
Lately, we have been injecting some fun and unusual activities into our lives. We decided to revisit Jay Fai’s food stall (from NetFlix’s Street Food) for her Michelin starred crab omelette. In August, we had to make a reservation two months in advance. This time, we rolled up and sat down. No wait! The omelette is primarily flaky white crab held together by some eggs cooked to a light crispy exterior via a flaming hot wok. It is a pretty expensive omelette (~$33), but it’s incredible. Then, we followed the meal up with the best orange juice that I have ever had in the stall two doors down.
We tried a quirky restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. True to the name, it was decorated with condom art. Don’t let the odd decor fool you. The food is excellent. Plus, all of their profits support the Population and Community Development Association.
Continuing with the food theme, we went to the Train Market near the Esplanade Mall. This area has hundreds of vendor tents and roughly half of them sell food. This is where I found the best ice blended coconut that I have ever had. It’s the type of experience where your stomach will say “stop, you are out of room and will soon be in pain” but your brain and taste buds say “hurry up and send in three more!”. I had around 80 ounces before I decided to stop. I wanted to avoid being on the ground in the fetal position or hugging anything resembling a toilet. The rest of the market has delightful edible tidbits including satay, pizza, boba tea, fish balls, fried bananas, chicken basil, and numerous other dishes for cheap. We even bought shoes for $8 (gently used). This market is nearly the only place that I could find a size 13. Seriously, if you are over a size 12, your chances of finding shoes anywhere are slim. Meanwhile, Jyn has purchased multiple pairs of fun shoes for great prices (Geox for $1.50!). The search for matching socks is in progress.
Some days, we went out specifically to take a picture with something. We found a wall that matches Jyn’s elephant mug perfectly. Apparently, we enjoy taking pictures with walls.
Our Bangkok exploration led us to the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. It’s free! Unfortunately, due to COVID, many of the park’s entrances/exits were closed to regulate the flow of people. No map or sign showed the way to get there with the current restrictions. We walked a couple unnecessary miles in the heat to get there. However, once we were there, it was nice to see the butterflies.
Afterward, we went to a nearby mall for food. It is also where they have “traffic lights” for social distancing on the escalators. If you violate the light, a momentary alarm goes off. That friggin alarm was going off every few seconds.
One of the tallest and most iconic buildings in Bangkok is the King Power Mahanakhon, a retail space that also contains luxury residences and is home of the fastest elevator in Thailand. It looks pixelated and at 314 meters tall, it towers over the skyline. We went to have dinner and visit the glass skywalk on the roof. The restaurant is a classy lounge with a tremendous view where you can see the golden dome atop the State Tower building that is famous from The Hangover 2. I had a cheeseburger and Jyn had the wagyu steak. Both were exquisite. I will remember that burger. Totally worth the price. Since it is the rainy season, it rained and prevented us from being able to walk on the glass walkway. Perhaps another time.
“We’re Walking in Bangkok”
Bangkok is fantastic. We expect to be here another month or two, depending on my visa situation. Hopefully, we can stay through August and the COVID-19 situation and international travel restrictions improve. Until then, we will continue to have adventures around this lovely country. Dear world, we have had enough craziness in 2020 already. Thanks.