July and August is summer in Omaha. Just the other day the temperature was pushing into the nineties and the humidity was matching the air temperature. The air conditioner was cranked to seventy-five and it was straining to empty the air inside the house of its moisture. Some now say that corn sweat is contributing to the extreme humidity that wallops the midwest. Similar to all growing plants corn pulls moisture from the soil. The corn plant doesn’t use all of the water it sucks from the soil and some of it evaporates from the leaves into the air.
It is estimated that during the growing season an acre of corn sweats off about 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water each day and it is guessed that Iowa corn pumps between 49 to 56 billion gallons of water into the atmosphere each day. Nebraska also grows a huge amount of corn and it’s corn pumps out about the same amount of water. And if you add the corn from Kansas: That’s a lot of corn sweat. It was around mid-afternoon when I ventured outside to feel the best corn sweat that a Midwest summer brings; you could cut through the air with a knife. I sat languidly with a can of foco thai tea from the fridge and let the humid air surround and blanket me, and I softly intoned the words of the Noel Coward song Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
In tropical climes, there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire
To tear their clothes off and perspire
It’s one of those rules that the greatest fools obey
Because the sun is much too sultry
And one must avoid its ultraviolet ray
The natives grieve when the white
Men leave their huts, because
They’re obviously definitely nuts!
Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun
I closed my eyes and through a misty haze saw a young john mcadam walking out the doors of Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport and being wrapped in the dense, humid, thick, warm air; it was mid-afternoon so the rains would have just happened. The tuk-tuk took us to Hua Lamphong Railway Station. I don’t remember there being any buses from the airport to the city.
And we soon found the backpackers hotel chosen from Lonely Planet. My second-floor room was a small cement box with a bed: And I think the shared shower and the ubiquitous squat toilet was at the end of the hallway. At the foot of the stairs on the main floor was a lounging area with a television providing an endless parade of American late sixties early seventies westerns with a Thai soundtrack. A collection of energetic, collegial, friendly Thai males manned the front desk. The always opened front doorway allowed the sounds and some of the sights of Bangkok to filter into the main floor. It was a Bangkok unwrapping itself from being an R&R escape during the Vietnam War; a Bangkok before the mid-eighties building boom. It was a Bangkok with a flat cityscape and streets clogged with people, motorcycles, tut-tuts, and buses. And it was still the Venice of the East; it was a Bangkok before most of the khlongs were filled in and made into streets. The Thailand I remember was a county sandwiched between the end of being a rest and recreational retreat and the beginning of the tourist boom.
The first couple of weeks in Bangkok were spent absorbing the east. Eating in street-side cafes; the shimmering wok was always partially visible from the pavement through the smokey haze, and as soon as you sat at a small table a bottle of Mekong whiskey would always appear. And it seemed to rain every day around mid-afternoon. The air temperature pushed into the nineties and the humidity matched the air temperature. At first, we walked everywhere; a Datsun Bluebird taxi, tuk-tuk, back of a motorcycle, water taxi, or a shared communal minibus fare had to be negotiated. Traffic was horrendous and crossing any major streets was to invite injury. We walked over the bridges that spanned khlongs filled with rubbish and sewage, and floating markets. Walking the narrow crowded side streets of Bangkok searching for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and the Emerald Buddha caused us to come across and mingle with groups of monks dressed in saffron robes as they collected food and other necessities from ordinary people on the streets. It was an exotic Venice of the East.
It was the mid-seventies and Patpong ruled supreme as Bangkok’s most popular entertainment district; the area was crammed with cheap restaurants, go-go bars, nightclubs, and hotels. During the Vietnam war, the streets and venues would have been overflowing with journalists and photographers between assignments, soldiers and airmen on R&R, diplomats, and hippie tourists. It was still seedy and oozed provocative charm and had yet to be lined with tourist shops selling cheap souvenirs, fake Rolexes and Diesel T-shirts, night markets, tourist police, bistros, or CCTV cameras. The room was dimly lit and women dressed in smart casual clothes lined two of the walls; it was before the era of sequined bikinis and cheap, showy, gaudy costumes. Round tables faced a small stage. And an energetic, collegial, friendly Thai male engaged you as soon as you sat down. The introductions went quickly and the conversation started with; which girl would you like. The night was made up of an array of stage performances that included; striptease, a young lady executing a ping pong show, and another young lady demonstrating soft drink bottle manipulations.
Between acts, there were engaging conversations with young, personable Thai gentlemen as to which girl would you like, simulated police raids complete with flashing lights, and whistles and sirens, and shouting from the darkened entrance but without police ever coming inside, and drinking encouraged by energetic, collegial, friendly Thai females. I don’t remember how many baht I gave the energetic, collegial, friendly Thai male; I also outlaid for a hotel room and an authentic Thai supper. It had to be early morning when I felt duty-bound to turn over additional baht to my companion; she had a sad but compelling story. She lived with her family in a village outside of Bangkok; a poor but close family, and with a brother who would break the family free from their web of misery if only he had a guitar and could play in a rock and roll band. She was living this life of whoredom to get enough money to buy her little brother a guitar. I asked if we could meet early afternoon the next day outside the Hua Lamphong Railway Station. I waited until dusk. I never saw her again.
It seems that we took the overnight train to Chiang Mai; a railway journey north from Bangkok across flat rice planted plains, and through dense jungle and mountains. We would have travelled third class and have sat on wooden or padded seats for thirty plus hours. Chiang Mai is now the second-largest city in Thailand and its metropolitan area has a population of nearly one million people. My Chiang Mai from the mid-seventies is now known as historic Old Town Chiang Mai and is advertised to tourists as; it will give you a feel for the real Thailand: Old Town is gritty, it is rough around the edges, it is enchanting, and it is absolutely beautiful. The old walls are still mostly intact.
Our hangout in historic Chiang Mai was a backpackers hostel; a collection of buildings surrounding by trees and foliage and a small delightful courtyard. There is now an estimated 202 hotels in Old City Chiang Mai. We shared the temples of Chiang Mia with the Buddhist monks and the streets and surrounds with affable Thais. And our lungs were renewed by the clean crisp air; the intense pollution and choking carbon monoxide and other gases left behind in the traffic chaotic streets of urban Bangkok. Word of mouth encouraged us to trek the close by mountains. And so five of us travellers set off on a two-day hike into the mountains and villages of the Golden Triangle; guided by a local we dragged ourselves through and along mud trails, opium fields, small villages, and into and out of Laos. We slept overnight in a small wooden hut on a raised platform in a jungle village; washing the mud and sweat from us by getting naked in the stream that I think also served as a fresh water supply to the village. The potbelly pigs and dogs slept under the huts or in any shaded spot they could find. I would imagine the area to be a national park nowadays; the villagers displaced and relocated to government housing and the forest sliced into many uneven parts by roads and tourist highways.
We trekked our way down through southern Thailand; arriving at our beach by bouncing along two dirt tire tracks in a tuk-tuk or maybe sitting on one of the narrow benches in the back of a local pick up truck. A paradise beach. White sand backed onto a dense collection of trees and shrubs. It was one of the Phuket beaches; maybe Patong. The white sand formed a small arc and at one end of the arc, there was a small tree-lined bluff on which sat a wooden hut. We slept in the hut or on the beach for several days. Fisherman from a nearby village beached their boats every day and you could buy fresh fish from their catch; they were cooked by a woman in a wooden lean-to on the beach. We never wondered where she came from because we were in Shangri-la. It was before Patong became a serious tourist resort. Patong today is described as a haven for scam artists, stand over touts, drunk hipsters, drink spikers, pickpockets, biker gangs, and a great place for a selfie with a beautifully festooned ladyboy. Expedia has a Best Price Guarantee on 558 Patong hotels.
It was two months in a wondrous kingdom discovering tropical beaches, royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate temples, shrines and spirit houses, statues of Bua wondrous kingdomddha, floating villages, and friendly people; leaving once on a train to Malaysia to renew our visa on entry back into Thailand. The places I remember no longer exist. Bangkok is an ultramodern city of skyscrapers, sky trains and rapid transit system, ultra-modern multi-storey malls, luxury and boutique hotels, and a tourist paradise of beach resorts. Thailand has been transformed by modernization. Before summer’s end and the drop in corn sweat, I should stage a The King and I themed soiree in the backyard. It shouldn’t take much to recreate the 1860s Royal Palace in Bangkok.