Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the sixteenth in a series of articles about a visit to the fascinating country of Thailand.


By Charles N. Stevens

With a sharp tweet from the boatman’s whistle, we are off with a roar down the river. We stand

on the stern where we grasp polished metal handrails, the engine revving, the boat splitting the river. This is the way the Thais travel along the river in Bangkok, and we, by riding the local boat, understand just a little more about them. The boat seems able to float as many people as can be packed into it. A young woman comes by to take our ticket. It’s fun. We enjoy doing things our own way, the way real travelers do it, even if we are jammed in with a compressed crowd of Bangkok citizens.

At our stop we jump off the water taxi. We walk up another floating dock into a waiting area that smells like rotting shrimp. We walk down the street, looking for the museums, asking for directions twice.

Finally locating the Bangkok National Museum, we pay 20 bahts for an admission ticket, about 80 cents. We wander through the halls, looking at the exhibits, reading as much about them as we can. I pause at a case displaying bronze drums made between 700 BC and 300 AD then another with a skeleton from 1500 BC to 1800 BC, the skull nearly collapsed, a bronze pot placed between his lower legs, stone scrapers by his head. Every time I see a skeleton, I try to imagine what the person’s life was like. I look along time at the artifacts from the hunting and gathering societies, mostly crude stone tools from 5000 to10,000 years old when the life of the most sophisticated person was primitive. I gaze on polished tools from 2000 BC, crude pottery, bronze tools, and strings of beads fashioned from agate, crystal, and jade.

I stroll into a room full of royal howdahs, a wide ornamented seat used for riding elephants, one of which is made completely of ivory. I look at musical instruments including the gamelan instruments from Java. I’m amazed at the royal barge, the Sprisupanahong, that carried 42 oarsmen, 3 polemen, 1 umbrella man at the throne, 2 fan men and 7 sets of royal umbrellas. A golden throne rests in the center, the sides of the boat intricately carved, a “garuda” head on the front. I finish with masks and puppets.

Outside on the side streets the sidewalks are crowded with vendors of all kinds selling stone amulets of the Buddha, lottery tickets and racks of dried squid. Meatballs deep-fry in cauldrons of floating green and red-hot peppers. Cut fruit lies in a pastel array of all colors. Red crab and shrimp boil. A woman sells small greenish oranges as red barbequed chicken and pork wait in cases. Piles of stiff fried noodles and sweets of all colors are offered, as well as pomelos, split and skinned, fish, dried and split, eggs, flower garlands and fish on a stick.

One man is busy making keys, another barbeques small bananas, still another tends a great spiral of sausages on his grill. A man sells something wrapped in banana leaves, a “tamale” of sorts, another pushes large bags of shrimp chips. Deep-fried fish, golden and bubbling, appears out of oil, and squid cooks on a barbeque grill. Some sell coins, stone Buddhas or dry goods.

We finally find our dock again then wait a spell for the shuttle boat to arrive. A woman sitting next to us pulls out lumpy bean pods from a sack, splits them then eats the beans raw. She chews the bean then spits out a hard black seed on the dock. Our boat eventually arriving, we spring on to the stern, and away we go. Below deck, we stand inside, watching the shoreline pass through a grating of bars.

At 7 pm we leave for a restaurant and cultural center on the other side of Bangkok. As the king’s birthday is to be celebrated tomorrow, decorations and tributes are everywhere. Any building of any size has erected lighted decorations as well as a shrine-like display picturing a large portrait or a full-length rendition of the bespeckled king whom every Thai seems to adore. Around or at the base of the portrait is a Buddhist temple-like structure where people can place offerings. Each is adorned with the red, white, and blue flag of Thailand and the yellow flag of the king. Lights are everywhere, hanging from buildings, strung in trees, or draped along fences.

The palace is lavishly decorated with several billboards of the king prominently displayed. All the mahogany trees on the palace grounds are alight. Festoons and draperies of lights hang along the grated wall of the grounds, reflecting off the water in the moat. We are also mired in almost impossible traffic as every Thai in Bangkok with a car seems to want to drive by the palace. The freeways had been decorated with Thai and royal flags as well as taxis, dump trucks and boats on the river.

At last, we arrive at the Piman Restaurant (a Thai word meaning paradise). We must remove our shoes, and sit on the floor at low tables, our legs hanging down in a shallow pit beneath the tables. Waitresses serve us soup with tofu and pork, rice, chicken curry, stir-fried cabbage, Thai stiff noodles, tempura-like shrimp, and vegetables to dip in a sweet and sour sauce, fresh pineapple, and watermelon.

We enjoy the Thai dancing very much, better than the last dancing we had seen, these dancers being more mature and accomplished. We loved the subtle movement of the hands, fingers, neck, head and even eyes. The last dance is from Ramayana.

On our way back to the hotel we are entangled in a traffic jam to end all traffic jams, essentially gridlock with every vehicle looking for any advantage, even if it makes the situation worse. But we enjoy the city lights rising out of the stream of red taillights and oncoming headlights. We arrive at our hotel at 11 pm.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 49 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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