Bangkok was recently named, in a New York Times list, the 33rd of 46 places people should visit. I got the impression that Bangkok has become ‘must see’ because it has modernized.
I don’t know. I’ve been coming to Bangkok for 11 years now. Compared to other places like Vientiane and Nong Khai, it hasn’t changed that drastically. On the other hand, it’s really a world class city in many ways and anyone who things coming to Bangkok will prove difficult for the Western mind and lifestyle would be surprised by how easy it is – to say nothing of how fun it is – to be here.
My favourite part of Bangkok is something you find all over Thailand: its openness. Of course there are secret things, hidden things. Books have been written about how cryptic and arcane Thailand and its ways are, and my experience is in accordance with this. For everything you see there are hundreds of things you can’t, acres of spaces and goings on the other side of fancy iron fences and through the deepest alleyways. I don’t know this Bangkok, though I’ve seen glimpses, so I can’t really talk about it.
But I can talk about the women I can see sitting on their lounge chairs talking on their cell phones while the huge flatscreen TV blares, and how you pause for a second because it seems so normal to be watching this pedestrian scene until you realize that you have someone’s living room – entire ground floor, really – in plain view even though you’re on a public street. And this woman doesn’t care that hundreds of people walk by each day with full access to her private home. She obviously doesn’t care, or she would take measures to cover it up. I’ve seen this too. She must like it this way.
She remembers a time, maybe, when there were few foreigners and the neighbourhood was a family. I grew up in a situation utterly unlike this. And nothing I come from could prepare me for the delight I found at Chatuchak Market, or JJ’s, this morning. It’s the biggest market in Thailand and it’s configured like a chaotic city: endless alleyways, sections selling everything under the sun loosely according to theme, food stalls and foodcourts, buskers.
We were walking around, lost in a throng of souvenirs, looking for the Buddha section. A quick snap of the head and there he was, sitting on the floor behind a counter, meditating. He looked so serene, so oblivious to the noise around him. The real gem of JJ, he made me want to retreat to a forest and find my peace in the delicious urban madness all at once.