It's Thailand Open week and that can only mean one thing for you and me.
For you, it's a week of exciting tennis. In fact today at 1pm the finals are on so after you've read this please make your way out to Impact Arena to enjoy the tennis and my announcements, featuring the very best in dual-language mutations.
That's you. For me, Thailand Open week is my annual trip to the big smoke.
For 10 consecutive nights I am holed up in my favourite hotel in Bangkok, the Intercontinental, right in the heart of the city.
I rub shoulders with all my best friends in the tennis world; you know, Roger, Raffy, Andy and Novak _ not that any of them bothered to show up this year.
Besides this it's a trip into town, and a reminder of the huge gap between Thais where I live, and those Thais who come into contact with Westerners on a daily basis.
I live in Samut Prakan, a leafy outer-lying suburb of Bangkok. OK, so there are no leaves; we chopped down the trees and filled in the canals decades ago. Downtown Samut Prakan is a bit like downtown Min Buri is a bit like downtown Nonthaburi. The only difference? There's no ''buri'' at the end of Samut Prakan. Everything else _ the concrete, the dangling live electricity lines, the broken footpaths _ is identical.
Samut Prakan has the greatest proliferation of sweatshops and automobile garages crammed into one province. We've had every ecological and industrial disaster known to mankind.
Once a scrap metal beggar rummaging through a trash heap found a cobalt-60 radioactive container. In the ensuing months of the controversy his hands slowly melted. He was one of three who died; another 2,000 were exposed to the radiation.
Oh heck, but the people are nice. This is true of all rural Thailand where the people are genuinely more polite and friendlier than the rest of the human race.
It is a stretch of the imagination to include Samut Prakan in ''rural Thailand'' but the people around where I live are the salt of the Earth, albeit earth tingling with radiation.
Every year, I must bid them adieu as I drag out my Pratunam Fendi suitcase, pack my sarongs and move over to the glittering Intercontinental Hotel.
What a change! From dusty Samut Prakan to the sparkling towers of Ratchaprasong. This is a part of town that has so many shopping malls and hotels they have literally fused into one.
Despite the glamour of residing in a hotel room where maids come every morning to change your sheets _ even on nights you don't stain them _ I see stark differences in the Thai people around here.
Upon check-in I decided I needed an evening stroll to get my bearings. Within one minute of being outside I am accosted by a tuk-tuk driver, parked in a no parking zone along Phloenchit Road.
''Fifty baht! I take you around the city one hour!'' he calls out.
Cheap! An hour in a tuk-tuk in Samut Prakan would set you back at least 300 baht. Mind you we don't stop at fake jewellers, silk shops, brothels and hideous snake farms.
I say no and wander a little further down past more friendly Thais languishing on street corners and under the BTS escalators, desperate to learn where I come from.
''Samut Prakan,'' I answer at first, and suddenly his TAT Land Of Smiles demeanour turns sour.
When I lie and say Australia these guys are a mine of information. For example, all the tourist destinations are closed for three days since it's a national holiday.
I enquire as to which holiday it is. A man with a Tom Selleck moustache answers vaguely it is a vague ''Buddha'' holiday. I am curious as to whether he is referring to Khao Phansa or Mahka Buja or any of the others, but I suspect if I ask him that, he, too, will quickly dispense with his TAT Land of Smiles visage, so I keep my mouth shut.
''You go to jewellery shop instead,'' Tom instructs me, bringing out a map and pointing at Top Jewel Plaza. ''I take you there!''
''But I just want to stroll,'' I say.
''You can't have everything, you know,'' he answers.
Where did he learn that line from?!? That's clearly from a dialogue he's learned by heart at Fleece Tourist Academy. Anyway I've had enough of Tom _ I was never into Magnum PI _ and say goodbye. He wants to come too, but I tell him no.
''You want lady?'' he asks. So jewellery shops are now branching into that kind of business? He leans forward and makes clenching movements with his fists. ''You want massage?''
''With you? No thanks,'' I answer. I want to add: ''You're not my type'' as a joke but I know it'll go over his head so I don't.
I say goodbye _ he shouts out ''You want man?'' as a last-ditch attempt _ and I cross Phloenchit and enter clunky Amarin Plaza.
I am plunged into an abyss of friendly tailors. The first one greets me as if we were of the same ovum but separated at birth. He steps forward into my path and shakes my hand. And doesn't let go.
''How are you my friend are you enjoying yourself in Bangkok welcome to our fair city please step inside may I interest you in a suit?''
He has my hand in his grip and starts guiding me into the jaws that constitute his store entrance.
A suit? Why would I need a suit? I live in Samut Prakan! We only wear suits inside coffins. I practise a technique learned from Miss Manners many decades ago; a silent smile accompanied by a frown and a refusal to stop my leisurely amble.
The other ubiquitous stores in Amarin Plaza are foot massage parlours. In each of them, a dozen girls in identical uniforms squeal with delight as I walk past, but not because of my good looks or Olympian physique.
''Mass-sar! Mass-sar!'' they cry.
Wow. What a change. In my moo bahn in Samut Prakan we have Pa Oan, or ''Aunty Fat'', an old lady who'll come to your house and massage your feet if you give her 24 hours notice. She brings her own betel nut, too, though you have to provide the spittoon.
Two floors of Amarin Plaza is enough. Friendly tailors and squealing masseuses are taking their toll. I need the peace of prayer.
I make my way down to Erawan Shrine, but more ladies are shrieking at me. They wave wooden cages with birds inside in my face.
''Buddha tradition!'' one shouts. I wonder where in the Tripitaka the Lord Buddha said it was good to capture a bird and then make money from its release. Maybe it's just a Ratchaprasong tradition.
My leisurely amble drives home to me the gap between what a tourist sees in inner city Bangkok and the reality of Thai life.
I kind of like both, actually. If you're here for a short time, 50 baht is indeed cheap for a tour. That guy's suits are still probably half what I would pay in Australia, and is there anything better than a foot massage after a busy walking day?
Tonight, after the Thailand Open final, I will pack my valise and catch a cab back to Samut Prakan.
Back to my house where the sheets don't change on a daily basis. Back to my two gorgeous dogs that will jump all over me, having not seen me for 10 days. Back to my spirit house with no caged birds.
Happiness in the midst of industrial despair? Well you can't have everything, you know.
About the author
- Writer: Andrew Biggs