Saturday, January 22, 2011

Catching Up

I realize I'm getting old when I return from a long trip, never when I'm on one. It's when I return to Bangkok that I fall into the lassitude I refuse to succumb to when I'm exploring a city that I don't know. In the same way that a bad break-up is supposed to take a month for every year that you were immersed in the relationship--or is the reverse true?-- it takes me a week for every month I've been away to bounce back into my life as I once knew it.

Part of this is a sort of mental digestion process. I take photos and keep a wretched set of notes when I travel but mostly I wander around in silence and look and observe and feel as hard as I can. I try to encode what I experience in my cells, release it all when I begin to remember, and then select what's useful to me as a writer. This process all takes longer than it sounds and makes me a hell of a dull traveling companion--a lot like a python in human form--as well as someone who needs lots of silence and solitude when I get home.

Another factor in my slow reassimilation process is Bangkok does not stand still when I'm gone--and an absence of three months guarantees I'm going to find a lot of changes when I return. People leave, buildings dissolve, foodstalls disappear, new houses emerge like frogs after a rainstorm--and that's just in my neighborhood. It's what makes this city an exciting and vibrant and frequently unsettling place to live--and for me, a woman who thinks of routine in the same way that the devil regards holy water, it's what makes it a place I always am glad to come back to.

A few days ago, I went out into a street that has always bored me senseless and found a one-storey deep purple building with no windows and stylized, twisted trees embellishing its metal exterior, sprawled along the sidewalk. It looked like the sort of rock and roll club where hair metal used to flourish in this city a decade or so before.

I walked in to a cavern, a space that was dark and surprisingly, in this land of perpetually frigid air-conditioning, not cool. Little shops dotted the center like mushrooms on a tree trunk, selling the sort of thing that upscale teenage girls love: ballet slippers, short and skimpy dresses, costume jewelry, slouchy handbags in primary colors, ice cream. Taking up almost as much space as the shops were tables and chairs scattered about, festooned with stylized spiderwebs and overturned wine goblets, as though wedding guests had suddenly realized that Miss Havisham wasn’t going to be married after all.

Small enclosed restaurants of the bistro variety lined the inner perimeter of the building and running the full length of the back wall was a Goreyesque exterior of a Victorian mansion, complete with baroque and mythical history on a bilingual sign. For around six dollars, mall visitors were invited to enter and be terrified. “Do not harm the actors in any way,” the sign cautioned, making me feel terrified without even paying an entrance fee.

Walking back towards my apartment, I began to notice all of the brand new apartment and condos that are so lavishly advertised on walls of the Skytrain and Metro, and suddenly there was a market that filled the edges of boring old Ratchadapisek Road with food and clothes and the newspapers in English that have disappeared from my soi. Trees sprouted in dusty optimism at the sides of the street and to my surprise I realized this thoroughfare had been filling in the blanks during the two years that I had ignored it. Bangkok’s irrepressible life and spirit is taking hold, moving from the sois nearby where it has always been to a larger staging ground. In this most unlikely neighborhood, one that had never held interest for me, Bangkok's surprises welcomed me home one more time.

1 comment:

Dr. Will said...

THIS is the kind of love letter I expect from your mature relationship with Bangkok (after the aborted breakup of three months ago). Bring on that holy water!