Markus arrived from Sydney Saturday morning on a 6:45 am flight and, itching to go back out to the new airport – Suvanrabhumi, the “i” is silent – I offered to pick him up. Figuring I’d have a good hour to look around and see what’s changed since I participated in a test flight at the end of July, I timed it so I arrived at the airport just about 6:30.
As I drove the three kilometers from the expressway to the terminal, I saw a THAI Airways B747-400 in Star Alliance colors touching down. “I wonder if…” crossed my mind. Sure enough, two minutes later I receive a text message: “Just touched down.”
Pulling into the 5,000-space short term car park, I was shocked to discover that the fifth level, the one on which you enter, was packed with cars. In familiar Thai fashion, a la the dearly departed Don Mueang Airport, cars were double parked, parking breaks disengaged for easy rolling. “This can’t be,” I thought to myself.
So I wound through the maze and located the descent ramp. As I arrived at the fourth level, my suspicions were confirmed: the Thais are really just creatures of habit. Bangkokians have so long associated airport car parks with the overcrowded ones at the old airport, that none of them could bring themselves to consider looking at the other levels of the car park. Which were nearly empty, I might add.
The airport is showing many signs of still not quite being ready for prime time yet. The stairs, glass, pedestrian walkways, and elevators in the car park are filthy. Halfway across the bridge to the terminal, some mysterious line of demarcation is crossed and suddenly the spotlessness, or near-spotlessness, that one can enjoy with abundant supplies of hideously inexpensive labor, reappeared.
There are still a shortage of shops and places to eat. Many storefronts are still closed; many floors tiles are still cracked; many needed signs are missing; many restrooms are still too-small, poorly finished, and dirty; and as I discovered Sunday afternoon when dropping Tawn off for his flight to India, the air conditioning towers are inadequate to the task. But the real affront is the arrivals area where bleary-eyed travellers exit from the teens of hours on a jet, having just made their way first through passport control and then through customs, push their heavily-laden luggage trolleys out the frosted glass doors and into a sea of chaos.
The room is insufficient in front of this exit. Touts, tour guides, hoteliers, chauffeurs and the general public are crowded into two small areas with a lack of physical depth. The idea of meeting anybody is laughable and I’m thinking very carefully about how I’ll handle this with my upcoming guests.
It is always a bit unnerving when you arrive in another country and you can’t find the face you’re looking for in the crowd. This will be that much worse, thanks to the poor design of Airports of Thailand and some renowned German architectural firm.
Returning Sunday afternoon, the better part of the three kilometers from the expressway had cars stopped along it. Sightseeers from the suburbs and nearby provinces, stopped to watch the planes. This access road is an expressway in its own right, four lanes in each direction, speeds in exces of 80 kmph. No place for traffic to be stopped with the kids out watching the planes.
Taking the turnoff toward the car park, traffic came to a halt, three rows of cars across in a ramp striped for two. To cover just a few hundred meters took twenty minutes. No clear idea of what the problem was – the exit from one of the two halves of the garage feeds directly into the entry lane for the other half, forcing traffic to cross. Looking at the sandblasted arrows on the ramps this was not the original arrangement: these ramps used to be exclusively entry ramps with all exits on the ground level, a much better arrangement.
So what was the holdup? Well, of course it was the traffic on level five, everyone circling waiting for a space or trying to squeeze into one of the parallel double-parking spaces. So when I finally made it through that mess to the ramp I once again descended and once again found many available spaces on level four, many more spaces on level three, and only about three dozen cars on level two.
Where were the traffic guards, directing traffic. There were only three, two of them standing by the elevators to make sure that the luggage trolleys were returned to their designated holding areas. Nobody was actually directing traffic. It seems to me that the first answer would be to restrict double-parking on level five. The next answer would be to re-stripe so you can make an immediate right-hand turn after entering and get to the ramps.
Inside the building, there were scads too many people. Too many large families without baggage. Too many old couples toddling along, not destined to meet anybody arriving today. Too many tourists. People camped out on the floor by the air conditioning towers, picnicing. I kid you not.
As we ate a sandwich (sit-down restaurants were overflowing), Tawn said, “The question is, are Thais ready for a building like this?”
West Side Story
Saturday afternoon, Markus and Tam joined us for a matinee of Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Soundheim’s West Side Story. This has been billed as the first-ever Broadway musical with a New York cast in Thailand. Not sure what that really means.
Only here for eight performances, it is a pretty lightweight (physically lightweight, in terms of sets) touring company, although it was supplemented by a very good orchestra. Looks like many of the members may be locals with only a select number of musicians actually sent on with the tour.
The performance was good, really solid dancing. Tawn didn’t realize at first West Side Story’s history as one of the first modern American musicals to have extensive ballet sequences. Midway through the first act he said to me, “it needs more singing.” The singing itself was good although the miking and sound system lent it a hollowness that was not enjoyable.
It was a fun time, all in all, and of course we always enjoy our time spent with Markus and Tam.
That evening we met up with them and Pune and drove to the Great American Rib Company on Sukhumvit 36 for some barbeque. I ate only enough to be satisfied, nothing more.
Monday I’m heading with Tod to Samut Songkhram for a teacher in-service / team-building day. Field trip to Petchaburi province with the teachers. Have to pick Tod up at 5:30. egads.