Familiar places gone but not forgotten
Last week I was walking along upper Sukhumvit after an excursion to the somewhat inappropriately-named Trendy building on Soi 13. I decided to drop in on my long-time travel agent nearby who I hadn't seen for a while, just to say hello. The lady in charge has an appealing personality and always cheers me up.
Approaching the shophouse I noticed several women in shorts standing outside the door. I entered to discover even more women in shorts sitting inside. "You want massage?" they asked in a friendly chorus. I explained I was looking for the travel agent. "Close down -- Covid," came the reply. I was quite saddened knowing the travel agency was a family business and they had always been so helpful.
So the reality in these Covid times is that my travel agent has been transformed into a massage parlour. Some might call that progress of course.
It is always sad when a business you have frequented for years bites the dust. For more than two decades I was a regular at a drug store at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 49. It was run by a lovely old lady who was very polite and appeared genuinely delighted when I entered the shop. She once said I was her best customer, which admittedly was a worry. It was not a very efficient business and for some medicine she would even ask me if I knew the price, because she had no idea.
One day in early 2010, I arrived to find the place shuttered up. I inquired at the neighbouring shops but no one knew why it had closed. I think it had simply gone out of business. If I was their best customer then they were in deep trouble.
As in the case of the travel agent, it felt like losing an old friend.
Another establishment where I was a regular customer back in the 1970s was a Danish bakery run by a husband and wife on Sukhumvit near the Asok intersection. I loved the sublime smell of baking bread and could not resist entering the shop if I was passing by. In addition to the delicious bread, which was a rarity in Thailand, they also served magnificent doughnuts, "donuts" to our American friends. (The English seem to take a particular joy out of making what should be easy spellings so complicated.)
I lived nearby and a mid-morning repast of coffee and two freshly baked strawberry jam doughnuts became quite a regular indulgence. But it wasn't exactly healthy food and it was probably just as well that, to my dismay, the bakery closed down. I have never tasted better doughnuts in my life and even writing about them today I can sniff those wonderful aromas wafting through from the past.
Another shop I remember fondly from the 1970s was a precious oasis of music, Rex Records, on Phetchaburi Road. When I first arrived this little shophouse was one of the few places with vinyl albums, which were soon to give way to cassette tapes. The shop became my main source of music for the next decade. The Thai manager was very helpful and would put together cassette compilations of whatever albums you requested.
Although they were cheap, cassettes did not evoke any sentimental attachment, unlike the old vinyl albums. They also tended to have a short lifespan, frequently ending up in a mangled mess. I had built up quite a healthy collection until my ghetto-blaster started chewing up the tapes on a regular basis. No one was spared -- Elton John, Earth, Wind & Fire, Neil Young, Sly and the Family Stone and Marvin Gaye all succumbed.
In the 1990s, after witnessing a Pink Floyd tape being gobbled up, I made the bold decision to go the CD route. It was bold because it was quite an inflationary step. However as one cupboard resembled a morgue for deceased tapes, CDs were the only option.
Weasels, ferrets and goats
During the 1990s I spent hours browsing in the Tower Records outlets in Bangkok. There were rows upon rows of seductive CDs sitting there, although the prices were anything but seductive. I was like a kid in a candy store, albeit a rather ancient kid.
It was also a reminder of how out of touch I had become. I hadn't heard of half of the groups and some of them sounded quite scary. Among those that caught the eye were Electric Ferrets, a dubious outfit called Screeching Weasel and a band by the name of Lubricated Goat.
It will come as no surprise that I usually ended up buying old stuff. In fact most of the performers I liked were either dead or not far off permanent residency at the Big Trumpet in the Sky.
But as the downloading revolution took over everyone apart from myself stopped buying CDs. So I was left mourning the passing of another favourite shop.
Lest we forget
So over the years I have bidden farewell to a favourite bakery, drug store, record shop and travel agent. Hardly exotic places admittedly, but the characters who worked in them made them special. One wonders what will be the next to fall victim to Covid and modern times. I suspect it won't be long before I start wondering where all the bookshops have gone.
Contact PostScript via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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