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.

7 comments:

Alison said...

I love your photographs, but I love your word pictures more. You have such a way of "showing" me your day or where you go - that I feel as if I, too, have been there. I will be this year, but until them, I am content to travel through your essays.

Janet Brown said...

I often think about having you here and what we will do and see--by the time you come I'll be very settled in Rod's house and garden--you will love it.

Tokyo Ern said...

Oh yeah, where do I go to check out your latest photos? I love street food. Someday soon I will have to Mikako to Bangkok and introduce her. She can speak some English and has never been to Southeast Asia. We love Thai food! I especially love Thai street food. Can't wait to see you in Bangkok again. Tokyo is a little too urban but you know I manage to find some great cafes and eateries.

Janet Brown said...

Ernie--and Alison--try this link
http://cid-6ee62f281cd1a5e2.photos.live.com/summary.aspx?sa=143556723

Janet Brown said...

Hooray it works! I just cut and pasted it into my browser and it took me right to my photos...there may be an easier way but damned if I know what it might be.

Kim said...

You've captured the experience so completely. Ah, I miss it over there!

Janet Brown said...

Thank you, Kim! I cannot wait for you to be here.