It was cold in Paris; all hunched shoulders and hard faces. Europe is turning in on itself closing the borders and putting up fences.
Bangkok is open, hot, wet humid and frenetic. Greenery that emanates from cracks in the footpath and pours over the walls, then brushes across your face. I could imagine triffids might take a stranglehold quite easily.
I’m comfortable here, it’s Asia. I know the faces, smells and sounds. The food’s fresh plentiful and varied while people give you more smiles than frowns, not everybody’s working an angle.
We have been transformed from travellers to tourists. I feel a little like a fraud without my bicycle, underdressed somehow. It’s shanks pony and the impressive rail system instead.
“There be bad people” said the head with razor slashed face, pointing in the direction of the run down looking area we were heading. He had seen us bent over our map, then looking up at street signs as if seeking divine confirmation. Getting lost in a new city is fun, only temporary and despite what scare face says rarely terminal.
So we took in the official tourist attractions. Along the fetid Chao Prayer River, The Emerald Buddha Grand Palace, Wat Arun, The Democracy Monument, the City Parapet Phrakan Fortress (oddly a roost for hundreds of crows) and the Golden Mountain amongst others. The smell of incense, burnt offerings and flowers hang heavy, hard to see them rising up to a Buddhist heaven.
Bangkok is famous for its more earthly pursuits. In Soi Rambuttri and along Khao San Road western tourists and touts cruise the marketplaces and guest houses. I was offered a fine suit of clothes made, I was assured, by a reputable Indian tailor. I was asked by another if I was looking for a good time “know what I mean?” I did, but had fun suggesting a torrid game of backgammon. I graciously declined the offer of a new tattoo. I don’t even have an old one and said I was far too old to be smoking marijuana, although, I succumbed to a lurid red pair of happy pants for 200 Baht. I’m getting my hippie on!
Patpong Road can be quite confronting; bar girls, drunks, drugs and more. The world doesn’t necessarily conform to my moral standard- I’ve gotta watch that white male privilege. Speaking of morals, I blame television for turning me into a voyeur. People watching is a fun sport. I wonder if the outlandish scenarios I imagine about lives of the passing parade of characters is half as exotic or perverted as I suppose. Let’s hope not.
I’m reflecting on a few notions: Heat, geography and religion and wondering how much or how little theses three subjects intersect in Bangkok to shape the collective consciousness of its citizens. It’s said that eight to ten million people live in the greater area of Bangkok but nobody’s really sure. A swirling heaving throb of humanity. It’s like an Asian version of New York City, intoxicating with a take me as I am, I don’t care what you think attitude.
In short Bangkok’s a giddy blast to the senses.