I’ve been to Bangkok twice on this trip. The first visit was an off kilter race through the city shrouded in the haze of jet lag. The second, slower-paced visit, lasted about five days. I spent the first half of that time in bed, Sonya did the same with the latter half. Between the jet lag and our collective infirmities, there was a single day of clarity in Bangkok. A day when we got out, saw the sights, ate the food, and managed to remember what we were doing.
Seeing the city that way seemed almost appropriate — maybe even metaphorical. Bangkok is a place blanketed in haze, darkened by the shadows of tall buildings, and obscured by the blue smoke of the motorized masses. The maze of roads, alleys, and canals is disorienting. Here, getting lost in the crowd isn’t an existential worry but a very practical one. When the moments of clarity do arrive, it’s like wiping away a fine layer of soot from a wall, what’s buried beneath seems all the brighter.
When I try to wipe the soot from my own memories, they come back in short vignettes. Grey buildings pass by train windows. Tuk-tuk drivers shout over the roar of busy streets. Gleaming temples reach to the sky while piles of flood debris are strewn around their white walls. Pop music thumps from smokey bars where tourists gather to look at other tourists. Everything moves fast, everything is loud, everything is intoxicating.
I remember riding on the skytrain, looking out the windows while grasping yellow handrails. Below me a war raged on the streets. Taxis, buses, motorbikes, pedestrians, and bicycles scrambled forward, jostling for every inch of pavement and sidewalk.
I remember stepping out of the skytrain into oppressive heat. I remember the smell of food, smoke, and still water rising from the streets. It’s daytime and the sun scorches the pavement in front of me. I wait for someone, anyone to cross the road, thinking it suicide to go alone. A monk in saffron robes steps into the street, I follow him. I reach the other side alive. Continue reading