Saturday, December 5, 2015

Profile in Squeamishness

It is still there, waiting for the Rat Pack to fill its torn white naugahyde banquettes, pull the potted plants from the stage, and croon into a microphone.

In 1968 you could get an ultra-modern room there for 16.00. It had a swimming pool and a tourist shopping arcade. At 13.26 meters, the pool was the largest in Bangkok then. In 2006 it was photographed, still elegant, as is the hotel, although it needs a lot of TLC at this point as it approaches its half-century mark.

Lady Liberty still lifts her lamp by the golden door (okay it's not golden but oh well). The lobby is big enough to double as a ballroom with gigantic portholes in the wall that separates the restrooms from the reception area. The staircase is early industrial chic, imposing and metal among the profusion of wood that trims its surroundings.

The coffee shop/dining room is cavernous and the tables and chairs are solid hardwood, weighty in classic 1960s style. Banquettes large enough to hold a dozen people easily sweep in horseshoe shapes against the wall. It's the sort of room that makes you want to order a martini and a pack of Lucky Strikes. Rumor has it that the Khmer Rouge filled it during the 80s when they came to do business in Bangkok. It seems as though that was probably true as I sit there now with a good friend, drinking Heineken that has a faint aftertaste of Scotch. We both can taste it, a ghostly flavor but very distinct.

The waiter shoos us off before 10 pm in a kindly fashion and I approach the reception clerk, asking how much it would be to stay here. A room is over 20 USD a night and hovers around 540 US for a month. I say that's too much and she asks me if I would like to look at one of the rooms.

My friend and I crowd into the world's tiniest elevator with a staff member who might have been a bellboy in former times. The elevator just barely contains the three of us but manages to take us to the fifth floor.

The room we are shown is huge--quite possibly the size of the condo I'm staying in now. There is a deep bathtub and a lot of wooden drawers and doors on one wall. They look fragile and I gasp when my friend tries to open one, without success but also without breaking it. A big window looks out toward the lights of Pradiphat Road and a bottle of Mekong waits with two glasses beside the double bed.

It is a room with history and I want to stay there when I return to Bangkok. Actually I wish I could stay there right this minute. It's in one of my favorite parts of the city, a place where a shop still sells both the NYT and the Bangkok Post, where Abu Ibrahim still flourishes under the hospitable ownership of a man from Bombay, and food and fresh flowers are always for sale on the street. Next year...if I can wait that long.

I don't know why I have to set up little dares for myself, but I always have. "Dare you to walk on the underpinninngs of that bridge." "Dare you to have that extra shot of Scotch." "Dare you to live in Thailand." For a girl/woman/old broad who is bookish and unathletic to the extreme, this weird penchant for self-challenges seems completely out of character, even to me.

The Liberty Garden Hotel became one of those little dares this week. I'd been there a couple of times for post-dinner beer with my friend Don and we both were intrigued by its aura of decay and past elegance. It's in a neighborhood that is vibrant and unchanged over the past twenty years, which is unusual in present-day, rapidly transforming Bangkok, and that's why I decided I needed a night at the Liberty.

I had looked at one of the rooms, which at night after two beers, seemed romantically decrepit. Don pointed out the wifi password painted on the wall of the hallway---Ninja1234. It was all very noir and charming so I went back a couple of days later to reserve and prepay for a room.

I should have asked to look at it in daylight. Certainly the outer courtyard and the hotel lobby both looked vastly different when not softened by nightfall and a little tinge of disquiet began to color thoughts of this excursion. But I had dared myself, with a small caveat--"If there are bedbugs, you can always get a taxi back to the condo by the river."

Yesterday I was in the Liberty's miniscule elevator with the bellboy. The gaping hole in the wood veneer of its wall seemed less atmospheric and more creepy than it had when I had been in the elevator with both the bellboy and Don a week earlier. I entered a room and immediately smelled the odor of very old bedding. The window was large and overlooked the swimming pool. As I walked over and looked at it, I wished immediately for another view. The pool was lacking many tiles that gave it a diseased and blackened appearance in the spots where it wasn't blue. It was completely vacant and that wasn't surprising at all.

When the bellboy left, I peeled back the bottom sheet to examine the mattress. It was so mottled with spots that it was impossible to see if any of them had been left by bedbugs. The pillows were similarly ancient in appearance, but the bed linens looked fine. I went to the windows; both were old casement windows that opened outward and both were open. I could only close one of them.

"The window in my room won't close. I want another room," I told the desk clerk. She looked at me blankly. "The window won't close. There will be mosquitoes."

"We have no mosquitoes," she said and I tried not to snort. "My room is right above the swimming pool. Of course there will be mosquitoes."

She shrugged and beckoned for the bellboy. Together we went back up to the sixth floor where he tugged the window shut. He left in an eloquent silence and I sat on one of the heavy wooden chairs, looking at where I would spend the night. The floor was clean, when I went into the bathroom, it was clean. I'd stayed in places before that were as old as this room. But only in this room did I feel that it was very hard to breathe.

I picked up the bag I'd filled with everything I needed for a night away from Ratburana and walked into the hall. I left the key at the reception desk, saying, "I'm going out." Then I walked back to the skytrain and began my trip back to the world of Chapter One, Modern Dutch.

Sometimes dares aren't going to be taken. There was something in that room, in that hotel that wasn't for me. I'm going to chalk it up to the stale odor that greeted me when I walked in and the knowledge that the glow of the swimming pool at night would be much more Blue Velvet than I care to look at.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Good. Instinct will tell you when it's wrong.