SOUNDS OF BANGKOK

Bangkok, 19 September 2014

Well, we’ve finally moved to Bangkok. We’ve found ourselves a place on the Chao Phraya river, literally overlooking it. The open water gives rise to constant breeze which we can channel through the apartment by a judicious opening of various windows, obviating the need for air-conditioning – a minor miracle in this heavily air-conditioned city. When, as now, the evening’s storm clouds come rolling in, that breeze will rise to a stiff sou’-wester’ threatening to blow every light object into the river below and sends us scurrying around the apartment closing windows and doors. At these moments, I find myself back on my grandmother’s sailing boat, with her at the tiller imperiously ordering me and any other grandchild around to lash down everything movable as the summer storm rips over us and the boat starts to lean over at a precipitous angle.

During the day, that same breeze wafts into our living room all the noises of the river and its banks: the deep grumble of the tug boats slowly pulling the heavily laden barges upriver, the growl of the water-buses as they tack back and forth across the river from stop to stop, the creaking and groaning from the landing piers lining the bank as the wash of passing ships sends their platforms oscillating, the slightly atonal call to prayer from a mosque somewhere on the far bank, the more profane call to evening aerobics in a small park just downriver, the occasional siren from a police car racing over one of the nearby bridges, and just the ordinary household noises rising out of the houses below our balcony.

But for me, two sounds stand out from this medley. One is the piercing whistling used by the water bus conductors to guide the drivers when they berth at stops. I haven’t yet understood the signaling, but somehow the conductor makes the driver understand when to reverse the engine to slow down, then idle it, then start it again to move off from the stop. As I listen and watch, fascinated, I am suddenly back in Hyde Park looking on at a competition of Welsh shepherds using whistling to guide their sheep dogs into driving a flock of sheep from one place to another (I’m not sure the drivers of the water buses would appreciate being compared to sheep dogs).

The other sound is the cry of a bird. It is very distinctive. It starts with a low cry, which is followed in rapid succession by a series of ever higher and more piercing cries, finally reaching a crescendo and dying out. I have asked my Thai staff what the bird is called. They are still wrestling with the Thai name, let alone the English name. In the meantime, I am calling it the Fake Orgasm Bird. It reminds me every time of a night I spent in a cheap hotel in Geneva (cheap for Geneva, expensive for anywhere else), where I was woken up in the early hours by a Lady of the Night who was pleasing her customer by oohing and aahing at the top of her lungs. She sounded exactly like my Bangkok bird.

Postscript 22 November 2014:

I have finally identified my mystery bird! It is the Asian koel. For those who might be interested in its call, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU3T6jikQqg.

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Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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