Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's It Like to Live Here?

It took a trip to Hong Kong to make me understand how much Bangkok, in spite of its international-urban veneer, is like living in a gigantic village. I can zip into the central business area in minutes on the Skytrain or subway, but it can take half of that time to get to the end of my neighborhood street in a covered pickup truck with two long padded seats in the truck bed for passengers.

I can eat at any number of dazzling restaurants serving international cuisine, but I don't--my food is strictly Thai and comes often from open food stalls lining the end of a street or little dineresque cafes that offer noodles or rice dishes--or papaya salad and grilled chicken (which is the national dish that foreigners expect phad Thai to be.)

There are designer boutiques in palatial shopping centers (but not Jimmy Choo! which stopped me dead in my tracks in a Hong Kong shopping palazzo) but even if I could afford Gucci, Armani et al, it woud still be more fun to buy something cheap and disposable and derivative on the street and pitch it after it showed signs of wear and buy something else. I know I could buy a "good" handbag for what I've spent on cheap ones in the last six months, but I love the whole hunting and gathering process of street shopping too much to commit to one "good" piece.

More than anything, living in Bangkok is this: Coming home from an afternoon in the highrise section of the city on the subway, feeling dashingly urban, climbing up into a pickup truck to go home and then having the heel of my cheap but pretty street shoe get stuck between some projecting chrome pipes when getting out of the truck. Traffic stopped behind us, I tugged at my shoe, there were no horns honking because that's not polite in Thailand but I could feel the fumes of irritation issuing from the driver's seat. Suddenly a motorcycle appeared from the crowd of blocked traffic, the driver stopped and extricated my shoe. It was intact but would never be the same--which afforded the perfect excuse to go to the shoes spread out on the sidewalk at the end of my street the following day.

So after being born in Manhattan and growing up in Alaska, I've found the perfect synthesis of those two extremes in Bangkok.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Plurk, Twitter or Blog?

If a blog falls by the wayside, will anybody hear? What does it mean that of all the blogs that I follow, only Ernie in Tokyo is still keeping up his usual good work? What does it mean that I have been silent for over a month and so have many of my friends who blog?

An article reprinted in a Bangkok newspaper from the Straits Times in Singapore offers an answer with "Blogging is so last year." What's replacing them are micro-blogs Twitter and Plurk, which can be sent from a mobile phone as well as a computer, and are limited to no more than 140 characters in length. And says one Twitter/Plurk devotee, "Blogging is getting to be a hassle. I think about and write a lengthy post, and then only get three comments."

Well.  140 characters is less content than my average facebook status update--that's not a thought, that's a hiccup.  And blogs are micro-essays--from micro-essays to micro-blogs is a rather terrifying leap to a writer. And if a blog post gets three comments, and none of those are responses from the writer of the blog, it is doing damned well.

I have no illusions about a blog--at best it's a conversation with the world, at worst it's a lonely little writer's notebook. It's what I--and I'm not alone in this--do instead of mailing letters. It's a quick and superficial way to communicate--and there is the rub.

If I have to go to statcounter to see which of my friends and relatives are reading this blog, that is simply wrong.  Conversations need a response, letters require an answer--and writer's notebooks are more easily kept in conventional fashion, on the pages of a spiral-bound tablet that fits in a handbag and goes with me everywhere.

So I'm not going to be one of those who Twitter and Plurk. I will take a stab at resuming this blog, if only to keep Tokyo Ern company--at least for a while, to see if anybody wants to respond to it. Yoohoo, shy little people, come out, come out, wherever you are...