Sunday, February 28, 2010

Connected kicks off

Connected kicked off tonight with a welcome party on the 25th floor of a hotel in Ikebukuro. 18 artists from the UK, 50+ delegates from 10 countries in East Asia and a smattering of BC arts managers. Everyone getting to know each other from the off, nice friendly atmosphere, an inquisitive, up-for-it crowd. Great start.

Friends, food and gadgets

The past couple of days has been trying to balance family, friends and work. Friday was work. I'm here for Connected - a 4-day showcase of interactive performing arts from the UK within a bigger festival called Tokyo Performing Arts Market, which kicks off on Monday. My wonderful Japanese colleagues, Manami, Chika and Shihoko, have been working ridiculous hours pulling it all together.

The last time I was in the BC Tokyo office was two and a half years ago; then it felt very strange, sitting in my old desk, surrounded by familiar colleagues. But everything's changed now: we've shrunk to one floor, people have moved on, everyone hot-desks and it really is a paperless office. Emails, quick meetings, a long phone call to London, a welcome to Connected's vivacious curator, Deborah, just arrived... Everything going OK.

Meet Liz, Motoko and Ray for dinner in Shinjuku. It's drizzling and hard to find Ray amongst the neon-backlit, umbrella-carrying, Friday evening commuter-throng. Soooo Bladerunner. But finally we spot him and head up to the 3rd floor of a typically non-descript modern building. Inside it's beautifully designed and buzzing with salarymen and a smattering of gaijin. It's so full that we could only get a table in the smoking section (I'm surprised this is still allowed) but it doesn't bother us. We have a fabulous dinner. We get a taxi home but before we've gone 100m I realise I've left my camera in the restaurant. I rush back and of course it's still there. The taxi driver has been waiting patiently and apologises for the fact that I nearly lost my camera.

Today was family. Lunch with Simon, Pippa and family at their home in the British Embassy compound in central Tokyo, joined by Stan who's over for the Tokyo marathon. The girls play wii and watch Up with the three boys. They get on really well. Nice relaxing time catching up. Then off to Ogikubo in the western suburbs to visit Ken, Mayumi and family. We are plied with more food, watch Chihiro ride her unicycle (she's 7), more wii - this time figure skating - and Ken shows me around his iPhone. His train timetable app is brilliant. Japan is living up to its gadget-mecca status.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Arrive in Tokyo after two hours sleep – one on the plane, one on the bus into town. The city reveals itself gradually, morning mist through blurred eyes giving way to one of those gloriously crisp, sunny Tokyo winter days. It seems like I can remember every street and building as the bus takes us through the centre of town, past the Imperial Gardens, Akasaka Mitsuke, Roppongi and finally Shibuya where we’re met by Motoko (who’s only just got back from staying with us in Bangkok). The GPS on the dashboard takes us back to her home in Yoyogi Uehara through those wonderful, narrow lanes that Tokyo makes its own – sort of chaotic yet neat & tidy at the same time.

Lunch then Motoko drives us to Ichigaya to see our friends Kazu, Koko and their daughter Yumi. But not before on impulse I ask if we can detour via our old neighbourhood in Wakaba-cho, Yotsuya. It hasn’t changed a bit. I feel a surge of nostalgia as we tour slowly past where we lived from 1999-2005, the old supermarket, the lovely tree in the tiny park that I passed every day on the way to the station, the bench where the bag lady used to live. Liz and Koko had met changing nappies in Isetan department store; it turned out A and Yumi were born on the same day and the two became good friends as toddlers.

Unfortunately I have to leave them and jump in a taxi to the British Council. I’m quite surprised at how much Japanese I remember. The office has shrunk from three floors to one; everyone hot-desks; there’s very little paper around. It feels good, fresh ‘though rather quiet. I work for a few hours while catching up with a few old colleagues. A day of quiet, blissful nostalgia.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

International Day at Topsy Turvy

Today was International Day at A & N’s school. It has around 250 children from about 20 countries so there were 20 stalls representing each nationality, all organized by the parents. For New Zealand you could find out about sheep shearing; Austria went gastronomic with apfelstruddel and katenshinken. At Australia’s stall, you had to separate the fluffy kangaroo, platypus, wombat and koala from the lion, elephant, tiger and bear. For UK we themed it around football and rain. Within the stall you could watch a DVD of England’s Greatest Goals, while outside you could try your luck and score a real goal past me. Or if you didn’t fancy that, you could stand under an umbrella while a mum showered you with ‘rain’ from a watering can.

The children dressed in ‘national’ costume, but what does that mean if you’re a Brit? Beefeater? Morris Dancer? In our case A dressed up as an English Rose Fairy and N went as Alice in Wonderland.

It will be strange moving on from the lovely and endearingly-named Topsy Turvy. It started off as a kindergarten and grew into a proper primary school; its official name is the British School in Bangkok, but they’ve never shaken off Topsy Turvy. The girls will have been there four years come the big move, and they’ve loved it. I actually had a lump in my throat thinking ahead to the day when they’ll have to say goodbye to their teachers and friends. Sad, but the next chapter beckons.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A month on

A month into the blog. How’s it going? Why am I doing it? Who’s it for? Well, I’m enjoying it. I like writing and I like the discipline of writing something each day. It’s funny because, apart from sporadic attempts during my teens, I’ve not kept a diary for 30 years. Is this a diary? No. Clearly I’m not doing it just for myself, otherwise it would be off-line, secreted away somewhere. But I am keeping some things private.

The fact that it’s out there in ‘public’ means that I’m obviously happy for people to know what I’m up to and what I’m thinking. Of course half the world’s now on Facebook so everyone knows what everyone’s doing & thinking. For me, though, Facebook is mostly short, fairly inconsequential chat. My blog is a monologue (a line from a John Foxx song if ever there was one). People can comment, which would be fun to see, and could perhaps lead to a conversation of sorts. But I’m easy either way.

So why am I doing it? I don’t know really. A friend suggested I should. Perhaps it’s simply curiosity, or self-indulgence. I like documenting things. I liked the fact that it was really easy to set up. As the instructions said: "5 minutes. Seriously". And I liked it’s candour: "People can comment. Or not. What will happen then? Who knows. It might be fun, though". It is actually.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Top 10 Albums 1979

Interesting. This blog is turning into a request spot. Following my Top 10 Albums of 2009 (see 27 Jan post), my good friend Simon, whom I’ve known since schooldays, has requested a Top 10 of ‘79, ‘89 and ‘99. 1979 was our last year at Chi High. I was 17/18 and heavily into Euro-rock, the weirder end of new wave, the beginnings of industrial, minimalism, and possibly a little jazz-rock. This was reflected in the concerts I went to that year: Mike Oldfield, Camel, Steve Hillage, Hawkwind, This Heat and Throbbing Gristle.

The question is, should the list be of its time (including albums which might have dated somewhat) or in retrospect (including albums released that year but bought much later)? I’ve largely gone for the former:

- Hans-Joachim Roedelius Jardin au Fou
- Peter Baumann Trans Harmonic Nights
- Popol Vuh Nosferatu (soundtrack)

- Heldon Stand By
- Wire 154
- Steve Reich Octet / Music for a Large Ensemble / Violin Phase
- Gunter Schickert Überfällig
- Cluster Grosses Wasser
- Michael Rother Katzenmusik
- Steve Hillage Rainbow Dome Musik

I’m aware that this lot sounds pretty pretentious! Six Germans, one French, two Brits and a solitary Yank (and he from the classical world). Why no Joy Division Unknown Pleasures? Truth is I didn’t get into them until Closer. Throbbing Gristle 20 Jazz Funk Greats? No Bowie? Well, Lodger was the weakest of the so-called Berlin/Eno trilogy. (And while we're about it, oddly there was nothing from Eno in 79). It’s true that there was a lot of great pop that year: two Gary Numan albums, Roxy Music Manifesto, Jam Setting Sons, Blondie Parallel Lines, Talking Heads Fear of Music, Elvis Costello Armed Forces, XTC Drums & Wires, Human League Reproduction, even ABBA Voulez Vous. I liked all that stuff but my head was in post-Krautrock Europe. That said, a lot of that was on the wane: Tangerine Dream Force Majeure, Ashra Correlations, the ‘last’ Can album, Klaus Schulze Dune etc. Finally, mention should be made of Nurse With Wound Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella, which I didn’t like it – and still don’t – but it was highly influential in terms of opening up a world of experimental music.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Beijing bound

This morning, over breakfast, we found out where our next posting will be. China. My application for the Director Arts job was several weeks ago, but finally we got the email from London which confirmed what we'd been hoping for. I feel relieved, slightly nervous, excited... and a bit sad for our respective mums. We've got around 4 months before the big move.

China is quite daunting. Big and bureacratic; grey, polluted, 'unlovely' cities; tough language; hard, hussling people (apparently); extreme winters, in Beijing at least; getting settled... But on the other hand, it will be a teriffic adventure. It's got an amazing history and incredibly rich culture. Beijing has boomed courtesy of the Olympics and should be 'easier' than when we briefly visited in 2002. Very excited about the possibility of travelling to places like Guilin, Yunnan, Tibet, maybe even Sinkiang and Mongolia. I'll be interested in learning more about Confucianism and Taoism. The job should be really interesting with lots of arts exchange on the cards. We have friends, mostly in Shanghai, but shouldn't take long to make more in Beijing.

Now begins the process of looking for a school for A & N, finding somewhere to live, visas, briefings, language training, removals and all the endless admin that goes with an international move. Ah well, we're up for it. China... who would have thought?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Soaps: UK v Thailand

It's Friday, so trivia time again, courtesy Wikipedia’s home page. 25 years ago today, the first episode of EastEnders was broadcast on BBC1. I am not a fan of soaps. I think I saw one episode of EE which involved a lot of shouting in a pub. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Coronation Street, or Crossroads, or Neighbours… although I did see one or two episodes of Brookside on Channel 4 in the 80s. Actually I’d quite like to see an early episode of ‘Coro’ now. Must be a fantastic slice of social history. It’s been going since before I was born – apparently it’s up to episode 7,274. And one of the original actors, Ken Barlow, is still in it!

Thai TV seems to be non-stop soap operas, full of bitchy hi-so (high society) women, swaggering playboys and neverending, tear-jerking suspense. "But Thais likes it that way", says director Kasidin Saengwong. "They want to be able to cry. That's why we spend 30 minutes on a farewell scene". One soap, The Air Hostess Wars, created an uproar when it depicted short-skirted air stewardesses brawling in the aisles over the affections of the pilot. Real stewardesses launched a petition saying it was demeaning and tried to get it pulled. Then the Ministry of Culture stepped in. Finally the producers promised to tone it down and lower the hemlines. All good fun.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Re-united (2)

Not to be outdone by her sister (see Re-united 15 Feb), A's soul-mate from Japan, Remi, has come to visit. They were best friends in Tokyo, since babydom. The family were our neighbours and we've kept in touch since leaving Japan in 2005. Remi and her mum, Motoko, visit twice a year. It's funny how the girls can just pick up from where they left off. A big hug on arrival this evening, and then straight into the bedroom to catch up on toys, N in hot pursuit. Lovely.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I’m reading Patrick French’s Tibet Tibet having started it a year ago and then got sidetracked. Now seems a good time to pick it up again having recently finished Rob Lilwall’s Cycling Home from Siberia (in which he passed through Tibet) and James Hilton’s Lost Horizon – the classic (and surprisingly short) story of Shangri-la which was supposed to be somewhere in Tibet. Interestingly, the Chinese town of Zhongdian in Yunnan province near the Tibetan border has claimed that it is the fabled city and has formally changed its name to Shangri-la. How can a real place also be a fictitious place? Anyway, I’m planning on going there in April; very excited about that. Have just ordered the 1937 film version directed by Frank Capra. Liz and I recently watched Scorsese’s 1997 film, Kundun, about the young Dalai Lama, which we actually found a bit dull. And today, the real Dalai Lama starts his US visit and will meet Obama tomorrow. And that's enough about Tibet for one day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A is for...

Tired and empty-headed, so let's be frivolous. Here are my Top 20 groups & solo artists beginning with A...
  • Ash Ra Tempel / Ashra

  • ABBA

  • ABC

  • Virginia Astley

  • Isabelle Antena

  • Art of Noise

  • The Associates

  • Laurie Anderson

  • Robert Ashley

  • John Adams

  • Air

  • Aphex Twin (but only the early stuff)

  • Autechre (ditto)

  • Amorphous Androgynous

  • Craig Armstrong

  • Kevin Ayers

  • Art Zoyd

  • A R Kane

  • King Sunny Ade

  • Asian Dub Foundation

No room for Agitation Free, Amon Duul II, Barry Adamson, Marc Almond, The Au Pairs, Aztec Camera, Archive, Atomic Rooster, The Animals, America, Tori Amos, Alter Ego, Appliance...

Monday, February 15, 2010


One of the constants in being an ex-pat is that everyone sooner or later moves on. It's been on my mind this week as I wait to hear where we're going to next, come this summer. It's hard saying goodbye, for both adults and children. I remember A being a brave girl saying goodbye to her best friend Rhian, then weeping buckets at bedtime. On the other hand we've now got all these friends dotted around the world, particularly still in Japan and increasingly China. This afternoon, N was re-united with her one-time best friend, Alex, over here on a visit. They were inseperable at school in pre-years, always laughing and holding hands. Then, as is our lot, the family moved to Shanghai. It was interesting to see if they'd hit it off again, him being a boy and all... and they did, as if they'd never been apart. A lovely sight.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gong xi fa cai

It’s Chinese New Year. Has been for a few days and will be for a few more. Bangkok’s Chinatown will be humming but we’re not partaking. We can hear firecrackers go off occasionally. In fact, N and I were 50 yards from a cacophony of them yesterday as we were walking to get the Skytrain. Both girls made Chinese lanterns at school which are now hanging in our kitchen. There’s red everywhere, augmented by the fact that it’s also Valentine’s today. Much food is being eaten, particularly pork and duck; dragons processioned; red packets with money given to children; homes cleaned. Out with any bad spirits left over from last year. Meanwhile, for Christians, Lent kicks off this week. 40 days of prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial. Still, there’s the pancakes to look forward to on Tuesday.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tina Charles?

This afternoon, some Japanese friends of ours, Takashi & Kyoko Nakauchi and their 9-year-old daughter Misa, came round for tea. We haven't known them for long. He's Deputy General Manager of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in Bangkok and has been posted around the world, including London and New York; she spent her youth in London and Germany. So they're well travelled and speak good English. Takashi spent ages pouring over my record collection. We put on some Ryuichi Sakamoto and it turned out they knew him slightly from their time in New York where he often ate at the same soba restaurant they went to. Misa played with our girls and showed them how to do some nifty origami. Nice, interesting family.

But here's a teaser. Kyoko's father worked at Mitsubishi in London in the early 80s and she told a funny story about how he'd hired a woman who'd been a pop singer and who'd had a no.1 hit in the70s. I'm trying to think who this could have been. Tina Charles?!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Office

Back in Bangkok. I don't think of myself as an office worker or chained to a desk, but increasingly I am. The last three days in KL was very interactive, talking with real people, very little time looking at screens. Today it's back to the desk, PC and phone. It used to be that I had plenty of meetings, many of them outside the office. But this has diminished as I spend more and more of my time dealing with colleagues in the UK and 10 East Asian countries and less in Thailand. In some ways that got me off the hook - some meetings go on and on - and I've been able to get on with The Work. But at the expense of variety. The important thing is to to look away from the screen, stretch my legs, get a drink from the water dispenser, chat with colleagues, and get out of the office. I value my lunchbreaks and always make a point of getting out. Once mid-afternoon too, just to walk round the block. But I should vary my day more really. One thing I try to avoid is using the PC at home, but ultimately there's always a reason to do it - like this blog for one thing. It can't be good for eyes or posture. Maybe I should switch career and become a farmer?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Not spoken with mum for ages. She's got an ear infection and has basically been deaf for the last 3-4 weeks. First heard about it when Liz received a phone call which went something like this: "Hello, this is David's mother. I've got an ear infection so I can't hear what you're saying but this is just to say that I'm alright. Bye." And since then total silence. It's frustrating not being able to ring her so we've written a couple of letters. Andrew's been down to check she's OK and arrange an appointment with the doctor. And in the first two weeks he had mum phone him every evening just to say "I'm fine". She's taken the antibiotics so it should be getting better, but at 82 and hard-of-hearing anyway, I wonder how 'back to normal' it will be. This is one of the frustrating things about being overseas. Powerless to help.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


All day in a conference room discussing programme plans, followed by an hour-long teleconf with six countries, followed by a pecha kucha presentation in a bar to the BC's Acting Chair, Gerard Lemos, who happens to be in KL. All went well and nice to see colleagues who are usually just on the end of an email. A good bunch.

Dan, Gareth and I walked back to the hotel which meant skirting the Petronas Towers, which are even more impressive at night. Beautiful really. Nice to tread the pavements and feel connected to the city, albeit on a very superficial level. Whenever I'm in London, I love to walk. Soho, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury, the side streets... So much quicker and much more pleasurable. But before we know it, we're back. And just in time too, judging from the thunderclaps. Though 15 mins later, there's still no rain.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Big building in Kuala Lumpur

I’m in KL. The taxi in from the airport is 30 mins countryside and then, seemingly all of a sudden, 15 mins city. It’s much smaller than Bangkok, traffic not too bad, even their skytrain is a stumpy little thing with only two carriages.

However, the Petronas Towers are still pretty big. Up until a month ago, it was the world’s tallest building at 452m. Taipei 101 is taller in one of the categories that people measure these things by, but both were eclipsed by the just-opened Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 828m. The Petronas building(s) were designed by Cesar Peli, with the towers built by two separate contractors: Korean and Japanese. The Koreans won. I like its twin-symmetry, the steel facade based on Islamic art and the bridge half-way up. Is there anything more I need to say about it? Nope. Aside from the fact that the hotel I'm staying in is opposite, but my view is of a cemetery.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


On occasional Sundays, I take one of the girls on the bike to a little French bakery: the ‘croissant run’. I have a Granny bike, bought in Muji in Japan ten years ago. It’s got a basket at the back, a child’s seat in front and is covered in dust from being left outside, but I love it. Today it’s A’s turn. She’s 7 now and way too big for it but we somehow squeeze her in and off we go.

I’ve cycled for as long as I can remember. Trips with mum - Patrick and I on tiny bikes - into the countryside round Chichester. Inevitably there was a Chopper: cool then, even cooler now. Cycling to school. Patrick and I messing around in a great wood off Brandy Hole Lane. Longer trips over the South Downs. At univ I had a second-hand racing bike and used to cycle the 5 miles into Brighton to do the food shopping and carry it back in panniers. I even took it to Strasbourg on my year abroad and would cycle across the Rhine to do my food shopping in Germany. But on moving to London I gave it up. Patrick had had a bad accident on his, so I took to public transport.

In Tokyo, though, I took it up again. The roads seem to be safer and people are a lot more tolerant; you can even cycle on the pavements. Bangkok, however, is tough: lethal traffic fumes, potholed roads, too hot. But I still like to go on errands and the occasional longer foray.

Now it’s trying to get A & N interested. Lumphini Park’s great for learning, but we don’t do it enough for them to be super-confident and A’s more interested in roller-blades right now. Is it a boy thing?

Saturday, February 6, 2010


In a taxi this morning...

Me: I'm thinking of a person.
N: Real?
Me: No.
N: Pretend?
Me: Yes.
N: Give me a clue.
Me: He's got a long name and can make gold out of straw.
N: Rumpelstiltskin.
Me: Yes!... Your turn.

N: I'm thinking of a person.
Me: Fictitious?
N: What does fictitious mean?
Me: Pretend.
N: Yes, pretend.
Me: Rumpelstiltskin?
N: Yes!... Your turn.

Me: I'm thinking of a person.
N: Rumpelstiltskin?
Me: Yes.... Shall we play a different game now?
N: No, I like this. It's easy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Post of no particular consequence

Listened to Heldon's fifth album, Un Reve Sans Consequence Speciale, on the way to work this morning. An apt choice. Its incessant, grinding ambience stayed with me throughout the day as I battled with an incessant, grinding workload. The result is Un Post Sans Consequence Speciale.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kids today

Today I interviewed 10 young Thais. Not for a job. They were the finalists of a Young Journalists competition run by TV network True Visions and BBC World with some support from British Council (that’s me). The prize is a month’s internship at BBC HQ in London. ‘All’ they had to do was send in an essay about why they should be chosen, with these whittled down to 30 who attended a 3-day series of workshops & tests, whittled down again to the 10 who sat in front of me today. I say me; I was joined by five others, including Alastair Leithhead, BBC’s Asia Correspondent.

These were Mass Communication undergrads, all undergoing a grilling in English, and expected to answer questions like: You have been asked to produce a half hour programme on a news story in Thailand that would appeal to an international audience – what would it be and how would you put it together? I’d find this difficult enough as a native English-speaker with 30 years more life experience to call upon. But they gave it their best as they proposed balanced documentaries on Thailand’s polarized politics or the GT200 bomb detector bought from Britain. Impressive.

Of course these youngsters (nine female, only one male) are offspring of the Thai elite: rich, highly educated, pushy parents who pay for the extra tuition that will get their kids into the best universities. Often they’ll have an exchange year in a US or Australian school along the way. I want the best for my children of course, but do I want them studying every hour available? Should I be taking their education more seriously than I think I am?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Just started reading Rob Lilwall’s Cycling Home from Siberia. I’ve always been fascinated by this immense expanse of land east of the Urals. It probably started in Geography lessons at school - and maybe Siberian Khatru by Yes. What was it about the place? The mysterious ‘glamour’ of the Trans Siberian Railway on its southern edge, the dismal gulags of the Stalin era, the fact that it takes up three-quarters of Russia's land area but only a quarter of its population. It has the world’s deepest lake (Baikal), fifth longest river (Yenisey) and coldest temperature ever recorded (−71.2°C). I think it's all of these but really it's the emptiness and remoteness that fascinate me. Take the state of Chukotka. It’s bigger than France but only has 50,000 inhabitants. I’m also really interested in the explorers who mapped it. But ultimately I’m not sure I want to go there. I think I’d prefer to experience it through others’ eyes rather than its grim, mundane reality first hand.

Top 10 books (an esoteric list if ever there was one)

- Dervla Murphy Siberia by Accident
- Dervla Murphy Silverland: Journey Beyond the Urals (another cyclist, written in her 70s)
- Colin Thubron In Siberia (a classic)
- Jeffrey Tayler River of White Nights: a Siberian River Odyssey (like Thubron, a Russian
- Colin Angus Lost in Mongolia (it starts there but mostly takes place in Siberia)
- Piers Vitebsky Reindeer People (British anthropologist’s extended studies of the Eveny people)
- Andy Home Siberian Dreams (about Norilsk, one of the grimmest, remotest, coldest, most
polluted cities on earth).
- Anton Chekhov A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire (a trip he made to Sakhalin in the 1890s)
- Vladimir Arseniev Dersu the Trapper (from the early 1900s, later made into a film by Kurosawa)
- Joanna Kavenna’s Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule (not so much about Siberia as the Far North)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Passwords and PINs

I have usernames and passwords for getting onto my PC at work, the office financial and hotel booking system; Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, Flickr, LinkIn and a smattering of sharepoint sites; my on-line bank, PayPal, Thai Rentacar, three airlines, Amazon and a cheap phone service; sites I barely use like Facebook and Friends Reunited; and of course this blog. I have PINs to access my UK debit card & credit card, my Thai debit card and corporate credit card. I even have a PIN to get into the office.

We are encouraged to vary them and never write them down. Do you think I can remember them all?

Monday, February 1, 2010


Monday morning. My commute takes me 30 minutes. Lift down from 4th floor, minibus picks up the girls, Sawatdi Krap to the guards, on with the iPod (today it’s Reload) and turn right onto Soi Ngamduplee. This is fairly authentic Thailand as opposed to downtown where I’m heading. Walk 200m along narrow, broken, occasionally non-existent pavement. I’m faster than the gridlocked cars. Cut through the Chinese restaurant’s car park and onto the wider, though no less disintegrating, pavement of Thanon Rama IV. Another 200m and I reach Lumphini MRT underground station. The MRT is amazing. It opened in 2004 and currently only has 18 stations, but is well-designed, well-used, clean, safe, cheap and efficient.

One stop and 30p later I resurface in Silom outside the Dusit Thani hotel and then up and onto a pedestrian footbridge which runs above the busy Thanon Silom. Here I change to the Skytrain (BTS) which has been going a bit longer (1999). Annoyingly you still need two separate tickets. The Silom line was extended recently so the trains are more crowded. I squeeze in and turn the volume down a tad. The train runs high above a broad avenue alongside Lumphini Park before pulling into Ratchadamri station. On the left is the exclusive 100-year-old Royal Bangkok Sports Club with its racecourse and golf course – bizarrely right smack in the middle of the city.

The train then takes a sharp left along and above Thanon Rama I between the modern mega shopping malls on the right and the low-level warren of arcades that is Siam ‘Square’ on the left. It’s a lively, studenty place, home to hundreds of small, independent boutiques and cafes, plus three old cinemas. The British Council is on the edge of this next to Chulalongkorn University. But before work, I have my daily caffe latte at Starbucks while reading the Bangkok Post or, if I’m particularly early, a few pages of my book. It’s perhaps unfashionable to like Starbucks but I like its atmosphere, the friendly staff who all know me by name, the armchairs, even (currently) the music. Caffeine downed, I'm ready for the office…