(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, July 2014)


Kerala - Hua Hin

1 June 2014: The 30 Elephant Thrissur Pooram, Kerala, India
Sometimes, like every day or so, India really delivers, big-time, in the extravaganza stakes, but usually one has to travel far and wide, and be prepared to die in a stampede.
Yesterday, after trekking through the monsoonal rain of a cordoned-off central Thrissur, I arrived at a Rolling Stones concert-sized crowd in a muddy park. After some negotiating, I was lead up a flight of make-shift stairs — all spiffy-like in my gold and white sari — into the Lady Edwina Mountbatten Memorial palefaces and chubby servicemen-only grandstand which sits hard on the great Thrissur temple’s south gate.


Mahouts on their elephants at the giant Thrissur Pooram.

Row of Elephants at the Thrissur Pooram.

See video ‘THRISSUR POORAM’ at http://youtu.be/nXCoXnyu1j0.

At 5 p.m., the Jericho’s wall boy band came out — all glittering torsos and white mendu lunghi — and the first elephant emerged from the gate’s mouth. Now, fully-dressed male Indian elephants don't really emerge, they make an entrance, like Michael Jackson, with four or five lithe mahouts on their backs, and flanked by wildly-coloured temple parasols.
When the number had reached fifteen and the perfect line halted in front of our grandstand of desiccated yoginis and their ‘Om’ singlet-clad consorts, my knees went weak. When the prettiest of the mahouts then stood up on the elephants’backs and started waving giant white pompoms like cheerleaders at the Queen of Sheba’s wedding — synchronized to the beating drums and thrusting parasols — I swooned backwards into the arms of a brace of Kerala's cutest cops and stayed swooned, clutching khaki tetoron, way beyond the time allotted for swooning normally [back to the pachyderms, Gloria — ed.].


Drummers in a Christian procession in Thrissur

Lady with parasol in a Christian Procession, Thrissur.

•    •    •

10 June 2014: Thailand adventure
I have always wanted to visit the Victorian-Thai style palace in Hua Hin, Southern Thailand. There is a matching railway station and Railway Hotel as well so I was thrilled, last month, when business took me to Hua Hin to the quite splendid Dusit Thani hotel nearby.
I flew Thai Airways to Bangkok and then motored for two and half hours down Rama II highway Hua Hin. It is gruesome by night, as the only sign of life amidst the indiscriminate urban sprawl are the McD cafés every 38 kilometres.
Rather than bang on, below are my Facebook postings from my two-day love affair.


(Top left & Above) Railway station Hua Hin.

The fabulous Railway Hotel (now Centera) in Hua Hin.

11 June 2014: 7 a.m. Hua Hin Dusit Thani, Thailand, on the coast facing the Andaman Sea
A chorus of birds woke me at 6 a.m. and I looked about my luxurious seventh floor suite and felt that I must have died on Rama II highway last night and gone to gay republican Dallas nursing home heaven. I mean why is Thailand so locked into the Hawaian aunty look?
I am now sitting on the balcony dripping sweat into my perfect Chicken Congee as five Buddhist monks chant below. It is very soothing; it takes the edge off the guest wing architecture at three o'clock even. The monks are draped in saffron robes in a pretty Thai pavilion perched on the edge of a man-made lake while rows of rich business people watch from rows of banquet hall chairs. It must be a blessing ceremony for an extension of Rama II. I am still traumatized by my three-hour drive from the hideous new airport last night, maybe tomorrow, in the daylight, there'll be some sign of pastoral Asia — like a water buffalo or a pretty temple — but I doubt it.

The Dusit Thani Hotel gardens by night.

Arriving at the very Cedric Gibbons does King Kong and I lobby — more soft grey silk draping than Rudolph Valentino's funeral — was a relief, of sorts. The royal family's summer palace is in Hua Hin and the present King plays jazz so there's lots of ormolu and giant photos of Fred Astaire in the lobby loos. It's more Betsy Bloomingdale does Doris Duke than anything else.

12 June 2014: The first morning.
CORRECTION: HUA HIN UPDATE
It’s actually quite nice here if one ignores the urban sprawl and ribbon development of Sinensis, and just concentrates on the giant floral and gold lame rosette tributes to His Majesty the King and his Queen which come every few metres (Their Majesties stay here in his very Pollyanna summer palace every second week), the Railway Hotel and the AFN factory outlet.

•    •    •

The impeccable friendly service in Hua Hin and at the Dusit Thani is incredible. One is reminded about the charm and grace for which the country is famous.
Yesterday, I saw the brand new spanking Bangkok Hospital downtown, so, when I woke up this morning  — with my usual swimmer’s ear and peripheral neuropathy and nascent tropical ulcer on skin — I rang reception and within minutes Nurse Sentana appeared in a bright, white, figure-hugging Star Trek pant-suit complete with badge and with an ear-periscope gadget.
She had one look and immediately arranged for me to see a specialist at the smart hospital (I have been putting off going to a neurologist and an E.N.T specialist in Bali for months as it’s always so grim an experience, so I just hobble around the world dripping light flow ear wax like a human Vesuvius).


Waitress at the legendary Elephants Bar, Centera Hotel, Hua Hin.

The consultancy over, Nurse Sentana bolted off to the hotel’s lobby to instruct my driver. I raced out after her to show her the wound that won't heal on my skin and the door slammed shut. So she raced down the corridor and appeared two minutes later, with such a handsome spunk bellboy, oh Mama, with a new key. Together we took the lift to the lobby level where, just as we opened the lobby zone doors, Deitlief, the German General Manager appeared so I pointed animatedly at Nurse Sentana shouting that she was a superwoman and deserved a medal.
Only it wasn't Deitlief.
All Germans look the same to me: you know that October-Fest look and the angry gait.
Anyway, minutes later I was at Bangkok Hospital’s reception which was like a Four Seasons Resort. They had Town and Country U.K. magazines and free water in wicker baskets and garden views galore ....... and lots of old Germans being wheeled out after successful gender re-assignment, surgery.

Royal Aunty tribute at the Mrigadayavan Palace gift ship, Hua Hin, Thailand

I made sure every nurse knew that I was in there for an ear complaint.
Which was dealt with swiftly by a specialist and minutes later an orthopaedic surgeon down the hall who gave me a bag of pills and then they milked me of $200 and I bought a Greek style yogurt muesli which I couldn't open so the driver helped.
I love Hua Hin and the Dusit Thani.

Images of the Mrigadayavan Palace

See video ‘Mrigadayavan Palace, Hua Hin, Thailand’ at http://youtu.be/2uHSHM0R27Q.

25 June 2013: To Makassar, to supervise a project, the new BONCAFE on Jalan A.P. Pettarani, Panakukkang
Well, it's official: Makassar is the new Bandung. Bugis stud-muffins are dripping hot chicks left right and centre (not the girls in kerudung, mind you). I just emerged from Century XXI Panakukkang Mall to find the corridor lined with people making out while they worked mini iPads. I saw 'Edge of Tomorrow 3D' which was mind-blowing. The cineplex is way smarter than Jakarta or Surabaya XXIs but be prepared for soviet-era usheretting. A friend had bought my ticket so when I was ushered in late to a 500-seat cinema with only 25 people in it I naturally sat in a fairly empty era on the aisle. The warden said that I had to sit in my allotted seat. I threw a huge hissy fit and she skulked away. When the lights came up I saw that the carpet had those random mini spiral decorative motifs ever so popular in Planet Seahorse venues like Beachwalk and any Lippo Plaza and am beginning to suspect some social engineering going on.
The Swiss Bell-In is quite pleasant and has easy access (in-house) to the fabulous mall.


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