Monday, October 6, 2008
Back in Bangkok
It's been seven years since I last lived in Bangkok, with a couple of two-week vacation stays tossed into that time period. Now that I've come back, in some ways it feels as though I had never left and in some ways as though I have never been here before.
When you live far from a place that once was your home, it freezes into place in your memory, and brief holidays don't give you enough time to revise that template.
Now that I'm back in my old neighborhood of Chokchai Ruammit, some things remain unchanged. The pick-up trucks that serve as local transportation still travel back and forth on the soi between the main roads of Ratchadapisek and Vibhawadee Rangsit. The food vendors still line the Vibhawadee end of the soi and are sparsely sprinkled on the more "rural" Ratchada end, which is where I live. Walking the soi is still a small adventure, with my rural portion being unadorned by any sort of sidewalk, only a narrow footpath. There are of course still soi dogs, although fewer than I remember, all of them friendly and afflicted with skin diseases, which keeps me from reciprocating their friendliness.
There is however a subway entrance a short distance from my apartment, which takes me to the cleanest, prettiest, most efficient underground transit that I've ever traveled and makes it easier for me to go to the central business district than it is to go to the more developed Vibhawadee end of my soi. I have wifi in my apartment and cable TV and my friend Nick's extra mobile phone which she has very generously lent to me in this period of transition. None of these things were part of my life in Seattle, which makes me wonder whether I've traveled to or from a developing country.
The other night while I waited to meet Nick at MBK Center, I was drenched in culture shock that was completely unexpected. In Seattle I lived in Chinatown and the streets of my neighborhood contained a diversity not easily found in the rest of that city. But at MBK I was surrounded by a crowd of people who represented the United Nations and enough languages to fill the Tower of Babel. Within a matter of minutes, I was so overwhelmed that I had to go home, take a shower, and go to bed. This is not the (largely homogeneous) city that I lived in seven years ago.
The differences between what I clung to in my memory and what is here in real life are invigorating ones and I'm happy to discover them--or will be as soon as I get up to full speed. As the catchphrase of the 90's used to say, "Amazing Thailand," and I rub my eyes and look again, trying not to gape, truly amazed.