It’s not unusual when I arrive in Bangkok to find that Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, has some Grand Purpose in mind, some overarching need to be filled that requires my involvement. I don’t find out immediately that he has some weighty desire that needs addressing, it’s usually a day or two into the trip before he can no longer contain himself and clues me in that a Grand Purpose lurks. I do know when that day arrives because instead of his usual morning query of “What we do today?” soon after breakfast he’ll announce, “Come. We go.” And off we go for god knows where.
When Noom has a Grand Purpose in mind, it usually involves my wallet. It is often a major purchase that needs to be made. Not always, but most times. Often enough that when I hear that “Come. We go,” I make sure my wallet is overflowing with baht. It would be easier if he’d tell me in advance where we were going, what it is he needs so badly, and what that will cost me, but tradition does not allow for divulging that info in advance. Part of that may be he feels he’ll jinx the outcome. But more so I think he does not trust himself to make clear whatever it is, and instead relies on my understanding everything it encompasses once I see it. I think he trusts me more than he trusts himself.
A Grand Purpose is something not treated lightly, it is never a spur of the moment craving and Noom is judicial in picking them. Every trip does not involve a Grand Purpose, sometime two or three trips pass before the next one comes up. And he’s careful to exercise due diligence, conduct any necessary research, and then present his Grand Purpose, factum est.
On one trip his Grand Purpose involved a large electronics store in Central World. He wanted an air conditioner for his room. He’d been to the store several times before I arrived, had weighed the pros and cons of each model they stocked, and selected the best of the lot to present to me and to my wallet. Unfortunately his experience with air conditioners was minimal. I’ve been to his room several times and the unit he’d picked out was overkill. It could have supplied cool air to half the rooms in his building. His assumption was the size of the air conditioner should match the size of the space being cooled. Close, but no cigar.
I tried explaining BTUs to him, failed miserably, and turned to the store clerk to educate him. He listened carefully, understood, nodded his head, and led us out of the store. I hadn’t said no to the idea, and could have easily picked out an appropriate sized unit, but Noom felt that research and selection was his duty, so he went without. I love how serious he is about these things and that he has very strict, rigid, self-imposed rules when it comes to a Grand Purpose.
I seldom turn him down when he has a Grand Purpose in mind. I’m not a fool, or at least not much of one, and it is not like he just finds things to get me to buy for him. But I have so much, he has so little; it’s difficult for me to refuse him when it is something important to him. If he was just after booty, he’d be begging for a new cell phone on every trip. Instead, it is always a real need and he always has a list of reasons, justification for the purchase. Though we normally do not get into those details. When we get to wherever it is that a Grand Purpose waits, he’ll start explaining but I quickly wave his explanation off. His need is enough of a reason for me.
On one trip he deviated from his normal, “Come. We go.” Instead, loading a photo from his thumb drive onto my computer, he showed it to me and announced, “We go today.”
Strange, or at least different that he was giving me advance notice about a Grand Purpose. But I was game, nodded my head, and said, “Okay.”
Ah. Noom has lived in Bangkok for more than ten years but hasn’t a clue to all the treasurers the city holds. I’ve shown Noom more of Bangkok than he’s shown me. But he had somehow come across a photo of a large statute of Ganesha that was somewhere in Bangkok and he needed to see it. Noom is a Buddhist, but now claims to be a Hindu because Ganesha and he have a mutually beneficial arrangement: He prays to Ganesha and Ganesha brings him all the things he wants in life. That includes me. I, evidently, was one of the first promises Ganesha made good on. I’ve always been tempted to tell Noom that it wasn’t Ganesha answering his prayers but rather my gods answering mine that led us to each other. But Noom takes his religion seriously, even though he makes a lot of it up as he goes along. So I allow him to devoutly thank his god daily for what I’m sure was some other god’s hard work.
Evidently Noom had been showing that photo to people he knew and no one knew where the statue was. Google, one of my gods, however, did. It only took me a couple of minutes on-line to discover its location. So for a change I got to make the “Come. We go” pronouncement and off we went on Noom’s Grand Purpose. With me leading the way.
The statue is in Little India, which kinda makes sense. Little India, or Pahurat, or more importantly the Pahurat textile market, is located on the fringes of Chinatown. An ethnic neighborhood of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs – a microcosm of India’s diversity – the tiny neighborhood’s original claim to fame was its textile market, still a main source of business for many of the area’s Sikh merchants.
Down chaotic, noisy, cramped alleyways that slice through the narrow streets surrounding the India Emporium mall, stalls crammed with goods spill over with fabrics and dress materials, Indian ethnic outfits and souvenirs, an incredible assortment of jewelry, cosmetics, shoes, and other knickknacks – all at unbelievably cheap prices – and mouth watering Indian food, filled with pungent herbs and spices. None of which Noom noticed. Because Ganesha was everywhere. Even the tiniest stall had an altar for the elephant god; every merchant in Little India vies for his attention and blessings. And every storefront of any size offered an array of Ganesha statutes, wall hangings, posters, and decals, as well as all the accruements a good Hindu would need to pay proper reverence to the big trunked guy. Disney’s merchandising folk would be jealous. Noom was in Hindu heaven.
We found the large Ganesha statue easy enough, it is a little difficult to miss towering over the surrounding buildings where it perches alongside one of the wider streets in Little India. Noom paid his respects then supervised my photo taking efforts before we headed into the labyrinth of narrow lanes filled with tiny teahouses and cramped shophouses. The dark and dank alleys of Little India are barely wide enough for a single person to make their way through It was a good thing that Thais, even of the Indian variety, shuffle along so slowly because Noom made minimal progress his head swiveling back and forth taking in the entire scene. We stopped for lunch, and then for some Indian sweets before calling it a day and heading back to the hotel, Noom’s Grand Purpose of the day being a pilgrimage to the Ganesha statue, not buying tons of Ganesha related merchandise.
On the third morning of my next visit to Bangkok, Noom made the existence of a Grand Purpose known with his familiar refrain, “Come. We go.” I had a pretty good idea of where we were going. Back to Little India. I know my boy well. There was just too much Hindu paraphernalia there and I was sure it had been calling to him. When we hopped into the taxi I was tempted to tell the driver where to take us, but instead behaved and let Noom do his thing. A Grand Purpose, like religion, requires strict adherence to rules, and I didn’t want to jinx it for him.
Sure enough Little India was our destination and Noom immediately headed to a specific shop just outside of the India Emporium. The shopkeeper’s friendly greeting and wide smile tipped me off to what I was in for. Yup, Noom had made several pilgrimages to the area during my absence and had picked out an array of paraphernalia he needed to make proper observance to Ganesha back in his room. He pulled out a large brass tray beautifully worked with red and blue enamel from a tall pile to show me and got the nod of understanding he was after. Looking at the tons of merchandise the store offered, I wondered how much of it we would be carrying away that day. The shopkeeper gave me a big smile, the same thought running through his mind.
Noom spent an inordinate amount of time arranging groupings of various bowls on the tray while busily chatting away with the shopkeeper, discussing all the necessary offerings a true devotee would ensure to include. With each new layout he’d try he’d stop and ask for my opinion, a polite way of getting an okay as each new set of bowls went up in price. I gave him a final nod at the set I felt most aesthetically pleasing, stopping him from moving onto those made of sterling silver. Then he loaded up on all the stuff he’d need to fill the bowls, incense, canned coconut milk, and a dozen other offering materials I couldn’t begin to identify.
The last purchase was a rolled up paper wall calendar, with a large picture of Ganesha on it, which Noom proudly displayed for me with an excited exclamation, “Free!” That free calendar ended up adding another 240 baht to the bill as it quickly became two – because I obviously needed one in my home too – then quickly became a dozen, because Noom loves to share the wealth, or at least wealth to come. Those ended up being judiciously handed out at his bar on my next trip, New Year presents for his bar mates from the both of us.
Finished, my wallet lighter and Noom laden with bags stuffed full of Ganesha merchandise, we left the happy shopkeeper behind and made a beeline for the India Emporium. They had a special Ganesha altar temporarily displayed on the ground floor I had to see. There was a little gay Indian boy manning the altar who Noom immediately became fast friends with. Even though he identifies as being straight, Noom has an affinity with gay boys and lesbians. And this one knew everything Noom needed to know about Ganesha. We spent a long time discussing the finer points of Ganesha worship with him. Noom began pulling all of his purchases out of the bags to show his new buddy and get his opinion. The largest bowl, for some reason, now needed red and yellow twine wrapped around it, which for a mere 20 baht his new friend accomplished, his hands hennaed in intricate designs quickly flying about to properly decorate the bowl.
On my last trip I wasn’t in town for long before I once again heard, “Come. We go.” And off we headed, once again to god knows where. This time it was a small street market buried somewhere over by the Grand Palace, so local and tiny it probably doesn’t even have a name. At least not one for toui to use. Noom led me down a cramped alley to our destination, a tiny stall manned by an old woman whose face lit up upon seeing Noom, a purchase to be finally made.
Stepping into the shop I couldn’t figure out what he had in mind. Normally by the time we get to the locale of a Grand Purpose, I’ve got a good idea of what it involves as it’s never out of the blue; a Grand Purpose always has to do with something he has made mention of before, even if only in passing. But this shop’s merchandise didn’t strike a bell. In fact, it looked more like stuff I’d be interested in than Noom would be.
The old lady dug around under her counter, finally pulling out a bulky newspaper wrapped package to hand to Noom. With a big smile on his face he unwrapped the treasure, a beautiful carved wood picture frame highlighted with gold leaf in which he’d had a picture mounted of the two of us together taken the previous year in Phuket. Still grinning he waited for the nod he knew he was sure to get and then carefully wrapped the picture again while I paid the old woman before handing the wrapped package back to me with a deep wai. A Grand Purpose is not so much about material things but rather often a need of the soul. And Noom had done an excellent job in fulfilling one of mine.