At about 7:00 a.m. on my seventh day in Bangkok I accidentally knocked my iPhone off the top bunk. It hit the floor, took one bounce, and disappeared under the bed. Being a rather ‘springy’ laminate floor, and with no obvious signs of shattered glass, I thought I might be in luck. I scrambled down the ladder and got down on my hands and knees to feel around under the bed for the lost phone. I had to be careful not to wake the big Latvian girl who was sawing logs on the bottom bunk. Ah, there it was. I grasped it with two fingers and gingerly pulled it out from under the bed. Unfortunately the screen had shattered into a hundred pieces. The good news was that ‘Miss McCulloch Chainsaw, 2006’ didn’t seem to notice me kneeling over her flared nostrils.
I checked with Trip Advisor and learned that a shop on the 4th floor of Bangkok’s MBK Center apparently does same-day repairs to iPhones. At least they did when the Trip Advisor thread was started in 2012. Would they have a screen in stock for the relatively new iPhone 6 Plus? There’s only only one way to find out.
Within the hour I was walking down the street toward the closest subway stop. I passed the 7-11, the Women’s Clinic, an ‘exclusive’ money changer, then McDonalds, and finally down four sets of stairs and escalators to the Sutthisan MRT (subway) station.
I took the MRT to Sala Daeng, transferred to the BTS (sky train), and got off at National Stadium. There was a massive shopping mall just ahead on the left so I headed directly towards it. It turned out that I had stumbled upon Siam Center, not MBK Center. Siam Center is larger than Toronto’s Eaton Centre and decidedly more upscale. There are flagships stores for hundreds of luxury brands. This is clearly the place to shop if you’re in the market for designer clothing, watches, shoes, fragrances, luggage, handbags, or electronics. Need a Lamborghini, Lotus, Aston Martin, Bentley, Porshe, Jaguar, Spyder, Maserati, or BMW? They’ve got dealerships for those, too. Siam Centre is actually just one of three connected towers – her sisters being Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon.
The term “great foodcourt” may be an oxymoron in North America but not here! I had skipped breakfast at the hostel so I took a few minutes to scarf down some Penang curry and three pieces of sushi. I couldn’t resist the smell of fresh-made waffles so I had one of those too. I didn’t realize that each fish-shaped waffle was filled with vanilla custard until someone pointed out that I had about 4 ounces of the stuff on my shirt. Why would they poke holes in BOTH ends of a goo-filled waffle?
After a five minute session of “bathroom sink laundry” I walked another five minutes down the street to find the MBK Center. Many of Bangkok’s largest malls and office buildings are connected by a pedestrian walkway that is sandwiched between vehicular traffic at ground level and the Sky Train above. Unlike other Asian cities where pedestrians dodge a never-ending stream of motorcycles, scooters and tuk-tuks, pedestrians in Bangkok can stroll from shop to office. And stroll they do. Man, do these people walk slowly!
The MBK Center might not be as exclusive as the Siam trio but it’s home to over 2000 businesses spread over eight levels. Many are admittedly just small kiosks or stalls but every entrepreneur fills every inch of his stall with product. As a rough estimate, I’d say that MBK Center might contain a trillion plastic cellphone cases and at least a billion digital watches, t-shirts, and pirated movies and games on DVD. Honestly, that’s only a slight exaggeration!
Investors might be interested to know that Starbucks gets a lot of free advertising in Thailand while McDonalds should probably hire a couple more trademark lawyers.
Once I made my way to the 4th floor it was clear that I’d be able find someone to fix my iPhone. The 4th floor is almost exclusively devoted to small electronics. Without exaggeration, there were at least 400 dealers and about half of them displayed an Apple or Samsung logo. They aren’t authorized dealers but they’ll sell you a Steve Jobs bobblehead or fix your screen while you wait. It takes longer to arrive at a price than it does to replace a cracked screen.
Fifteen minutes later I was on my way to the escalator when I noticed a poster advertising backup battery packs. I already have a decent Mophi Juice Pack, but if the price is right I’ll pick up one of these units too. You can never have too much “juice” when you’re about to spend four months on a truck, often far from a power outlet.
“What’s the price of these,” I asked.
“Two thousands Baht,” said the young Muslim woman behind the counter.
“I’ll give you 500. That’s it. Take it or leave it.”
After about 10 rounds of near hand-to-hand combat I had her down to 750 Baht, or about $28 CDN. I left with a smug grin on my face. These things are at least $125 at home.
Back at the hostel I plugged the battery unit into the wall outlet and let it charge for a few hours. No lights. No charge. Nothing. Zilch. I left it plugged in for another two hours. Same thing. It’s a brick! I slowly came to accept that I had been screwed. The woman ‘begrudgingly’ accepted $28 for one of two reasons: these packs are either defective or simply cement-filled plastic casings. It’s probably the latter.
Perhaps the last line in that advertising poster should have been my clue. Who mentions “soft breathing” and “romance gentleness” in an ad for a back up battery?
I was sitting on the edge of the upper bunk, fiddling with the connection and hoping it was just a dodgy cable (it wasn’t) when the door burst open and in lumbered my Latvian bunk-mate.
“Hi Olga,” I said in my sweetest voice. “What did you do today?”
“It’s Ilga. Like ‘Olga’ but with I.”
Then she took a step back, planted her hands squarely on her broad hips, and surveyed the situation for a good five seconds.
“You drop that on my head and I kill you.”