Friday, June 4, 2010

Candide in Bangkok

Motion is the underpinning of travel and a moment or two spent without observation and note-taking seems completely wrong. Even in places as somnolent as Vientiane or Kratie, there's a constant drive to be out in the world, watching it wake up--or, in the case of Vientiane, not.

After three months of being away, I've discovered one of the true pleasures of being at home is staying in it. I'm lapsing into my slattern habit of making coffee while unshowered and still in my night clothes, after 90 days of leaping into presentability and then smiling at the outside world before getting my caffeine. I'm profoundly grateful for the lady who makes simple food with dazzling flavors only steps away from my house--and who will deliver it. And when the afternoon blazes into heat, I take a nap. If this is aging, I'm all for it. When it loses its charm, there's always a bus or a train to shake up my domestic tranquility a trifle.

Outside my door is a new world from the one I left. I have never been here after a political disturbance of major proportions before and the stillness of Bangkok at the moment is a surprise.

A small cluster of taxi drivers waited at the airport where usually the entire population of Buri Ram gathers to transport the hordes of arriving travelers. The night I came back, I was one of three people who put their baggage in a cab and headed into the city.

You could have held a square dance in the echoing corridors of the Sukhumvit market that stretches from Asoke to Nana--vendors slept and ate and chatted together as a very few pedestrians walked briskly down a sidewalk that is usually choked with people. The extravagant shopping center, Paragon,which reopened after a two-month closure only four days ago, was like a luxurious ghost town--I kept looking for tumbleweeds on my way to Kinokuniya where the booksellers looked shell-shocked and the customers were scanty. Even the night market that sprouts up twice a week in my neighborhood looked under-populated as I went past last night; it's usually full of people buying food and cheap plastic items and very basic clothing.

I've met friends for dinner at three different places this week--each restaurant was almost a private dining experience, and I was one of two people at my favorite grilled chicken place yesterday afternoon. Suddenly 199 baht is seen again at street stalls and little shops--I haven't seen that price posted since I came back in 2008, and a woman on deepest Sukhumvit sold me a Zara blouse for 50 baht--the price she quoted without haggling. I'm feeling a certain degree of culture shock.

A burned-out shell dominates the curve that the Skytrain takes as it approaches Victory Monument. I used to like that view because as the train went past, I could see a bookstore front and center in the building. Now only the sign is left.

Thai Knowledge Park on the eighth floor of Central World Plaza was hit by water, not fire. The structure is still intact; the books are gone.

These are the losses that haunt me--along with the six people who were shot on the grounds of a temple. Today I'm going to buy flowering plants for my balcony view--somehow watering my own garden seems like an appropriate response to what has been lost and what seems to be broken.




Karen said...

I'm not sure what's worse - the thunder of bombs or the silence afterward. But thank you for capturing the reality as it is right now.

ThatCase said...

Were you nosed by the purrer?

janet brown said...

Karen, if I'd been here for the M47s and the smell of burning rubber, I'd be very quiet at this point too.

janet brown said...

I was resoundingly ignored by the small cat whose world I share--he's just beginning to acknowledge that I'm back--helluva guy that Smeegle.

ThatCase said...

Hmmm ... the nerve! But, it could be much worse. His punishing you for leaving will end. I feared your telling us he was now a daring young man on a ...

Welcome back ... you were missed from afar. Vicariousness suffered a bit, but feels much better after this very good reading.

Kim said...

As terrible as the cause, the city sounds peaceful (almost idyllic) from your descriptions. Strange how peace is so often more chaotic than the aftermath of violence. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking post. Thank you.