Friday, July 23, 2010

Reading Light

Yesterday in a remarkable burst of cooperation, both my bathroom and bedroom overhead lights expired in some sort of electrical suicide pact. I thought briefly of buying replacement bulbs and then remembered what I had seen when I removed the bottom of the light fixture in my bedroom to clean it. Beneath the bumpy protuberances of the frosted glass cover was a contorted ganglia of wiring that would have had Thomas Alva Edison reaching for a stiff drink while considering a career change. It was, I decided, time to investigate other lighting options, perhaps something with more candle-power than your average dining room taper, something under which I wouldn't find myself wishing that I could read Braille.

It wasn't until I left my house that I remembered that I don't know how to say "lamp" in Thai, but I consoled myself, I don't know how to say "sofa" in Thai either and I pulled off that purchase in my first week back in the Kingdom. Then I remembered that even in the states, it's difficult for me to find a lamp that I can bear the sight of and realized this could be a long afternoon.

Walking down the main road of my neighborhood, I passed stores selling food, cameras, auto parts, hardware, liquor, and beauty supplies but it was a long trudge before I saw lighting fixtures. They were all mounted on a wall of the shop, but there were dusty glass display cases and I went in to investigate what was inside them. A man came over to see what I wanted and gesturing eloquently in what I hoped was the shape of a reading lamp, I told him I wanted electricity for reading. He shook his head and went back to his dimly lit corner; for the sake of his eyesight I hoped he didn't intend to read.

The next spot was the British gift to Thailand, Tesco Lotus, a rather dreary version of Target. Up in the top floor, I found millions of rice cookers, big-screen TVs, refrigerators, and blenders. Off in a section that contained office supplies were desperately ugly desk lamps that looked like spiders that had most of their legs amputated. I moved on.

Central is Bangkok's leading department store chain, where over-priced merchandise of every description is purchased by people who are eager to show that they can afford to shop there. It has the pretensions of Nordstrom, the ambience of Macy's and the over-all warmth and customer service skills of a K-mart. There I found a small section of table lamps of different contorted shapes and sizes, none of which took a more powerful bulb than 40 watts.

At this point I began to think quite seriously of putting an armchair beside the open door of my refrigerator and reading under the illumination of its light, which had to be at least 40 watts. Trying not to sob audibly and cursing under my breath, realizing why the literacy rate in Thailand is reputed to be low, I walked through crowds of uniformed school children thronging the shopping mall where Central is enshrined. Every last one of them was enthusiastically buying mobile phones, pocket handkerchiefs,forged replicas of Hello Kitty and Doraemon. I was the only person for miles around who wasn't a happy shopper. Struggling to contain what threatened to become an attack of apoplexy, I fled to my last resort, Home Pro.

Yes, it is a clone of Home Depot. Yes, it is choking off the mom and pop neighborhood stores. And yes, here is where I found a multiplicity of table lamps, and although none seemed to have a wattage above the magic number of 40, I bought two. They look like the creatures in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and I have had to restrain myself from giving them names. They on the other hand provide enough light in tandem that last night for the first time in ages I read without pain.

If you want a dictatorship of the proletariat, I've decided, it's easy. Just make sure your country manufactures no bulb brighter than 40 watts.


2 comments:

Susan Blumberg-Kason said...

I love these photos! Many are probably now gone.

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