The neighbours are having a party – not that I’ve been invited. How do I know? Well, the first clue was last night with a motley group of labourers erecting a canopy in the front garden and tying swags of blue and gold cloth to the front railings. And now the whole house is shaking to the heavy thump of over-amplified music – and I use the term “music” only loosely. If I didn’t know about the party I’d be tempted to call the RSPCA suspecting gross cruelty to cats – or even cruelty to a gross of cats. It’s only midday, so I can look forward to several more hours with the doors and windows clamped shut, stifling in the heat, and struggling to hear the TV.


At one o’clock I headed out to lunch at a riverside restaurant. I see that a giant bank of loudspeakers has been erected not in the garden of the party family, but on the opposite side of the street in the road. In the garden there are three middle-aged women lounging around. All this racket is, so far, solely for their benefit.


At the restaurant I see a floating platform, the sort used to ferry cars across rivers, accompanied by four barges, one to each side, one in front and one bringing up the rear heading up the river. The vessels are packed with party goers. Then I remembered, we’re just about to enter the rainy season retreat when young men traditionally enter the monkhood for three months to make merit, often for their mother or grandmothers. It’s a source of great pride for each family concerned and is often marked by an extravagant party. On the way back home I spy a number of other parties in progress.


7 p.m. the party next door is still in full swing. The street is clogged with parked cars. The first couple of restaurants I visit are packed with groups celebrating. I head elsewhere.


Midnight. The music has stopped.

Under other circumstances I might feel a little miffed by the intrusive noise, but I understand that this is a very special day for the young men and the families concerned. Let them have their fun.


Sunday, 5 a.m.. They’re back to strangling cats. I’m woken abruptly by a song calling on all to wake up and start working. I resist that siren call and struggle to regain oblivion.


11 a.m.. Now someone is reciting the life story of the young man concerned. After an hour they’ve only reached the day of his birth. It’s going to be a long, long tale. I also now understand that they will be partying until he goes to the temple tomorrow (Monday) morning, in time for lunch (the last meal of the day for monks) which is taken before midday.


4 p.m. and the music throbs on. In fact, the volume’s so loud that it’s taken to setting off the alarms of the cars in the vicinity. I’m just glad that I’m now returning to Bangkok and will flee the ongoing cacophony. The other neighbours have to put up with this until some time tomorrow.


As the years pass my forehead expands relentlessly to claim space previously occupied by my flowing locks. It seems I am genetically predisposed to join the ranks of the follicularly challenged. Not for me the strong heads of hair, long, thick, jet black and straight, that are the preserve of the people around me.

Not that Thai people are oblivious to the beauty of their hair: many has been the time that I’ve visited a public restroom and had to wait whilst all the basins are occupied by young men preening their hair, teasing each strand until it’s just so.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
– Ecclesiastes 1:2, Authorised King James Version (1611)

In search of individuality, some young men dye their hair – usually to a dark chestnut colour, though some go further and reach for the Clorox.

These same young men weren’t allowed to display their crowning glories when they were at school; the Thai educational system demands that all boys have closely cut crops. If a teacher thinks a student’s hair is too long she (for it almost always is a she) will grab a clump of hair and cut it off with a pair of scissors, so forcing the student to make an unscheduled trip to the barber.


In searching for the quote from King Solomon I came across this optical illusion, which is apparently quite famous, but I hadn’t come across before and think is worth duplicating here, even though it has nothing to do with Thailand:

All is Vanity, C. Allan Gilbert (1892)– All is Vanity, C. Allan Gilbert (1892)

Incidentally, Gilbert, an American, was only 18 years old when he created this image.


Despite the tropical climate, fruit in Thailand is highly seasonal. Earlier this year the cost of limes sky-rocketed from the usual one or two Baht a piece (according to size and juiciness) to 60 Baht for a pack of five in the supermarket. This was quite a headache for the restaurant trade since lime juice is very widely used as a souring agent in Thai dishes, balancing the sweetness of added sugar (usually palm sugar), which in turn is there to balance the fieriness of the chillies; the high cost of limes was definitely eating into profits. (The common souring alternative, tamarind, is only used in a relatively small number of dishes, mostly from the South.) Anyway, the rains broke about a month ago and the price of limes is back to normal and I can enjoy a slice with my sundowner gin and tonic once more.

This is probably the best time of year for Thai fruits, with both durian and mangosteen in season. These fruits are known by the Thais as respectively the king and queen of fruit. And rambutan, the spicy, pink and green alien testicles are still around and very cheap (about 25 pence per kilo).

Durian, with its custardy flesh and overpowering smell of rank sewage, is definitely an acquired taste. And the best thing about acquired tastes is that one doesn’t have to acquire them.

Rambutan, Mangosteen, Durian

Mangosteen is something that I hadn’t got around to trying, until today. The purple skin, which is soft when freshly picked, quickly hardens until it needs to be cut with a knife to reveal the soft white flesh within. To be honest, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the taste. The flesh is soft and a balance of sweet and sour, but without any particularly aromatic notes. Still, until they breed mangosteens which taste like foie gras or belly pork, I guess I’m going to remain unimpressed.