Saturday, December 5, 2015

Looking Back on a Bus

This is the fifth morning in my Bangkok home and I use the word Bangkok in its loosest sense, which is not a bad thing. I wanted to stay in a spot with no memories attached, which proves difficult since I taught all over this city for years. My little condo is within spitting distance of a bank HQ where I spent a lot of my time. Unfortunately my memories don't include what bus I took to get there from Bangkok. I do remember that it carried me far enough away from the river that I then had to take a motorcycle taxi to get me back to Kasikorn Bank HQ.

Now I take taxis to get me to and from the skytrain to the tune of 200 baht a day roundtrip and an hour each way by train and taxi to Dasa Books and other places I love. I look back on the days when the skytrain was almost empty--too expensive for many Bangkok residents and less useful than taxis for others. Now the train is often as crowded as Bangkok buses used to be, without the conductresses who bullied people into taking up as little space as possible. I miss those little dictators.

I took a bus yesterday, one that I used to sit on regularly, the 117 that runs from Nonthaburi to Huay Kwang. I knew it would take me back to my old neighborhood and I steeled myself for that. I'd forgotten that it also ran through the area where I first taught in 1995.

Bang Po used to be a lumber town and the girls I taught were the daughters of an affluent sawmill magnate. Pracharat Sai Neung was a street that was filled with the raw, sweet odor of freshly cut wood and the market had many stalls where men made dollhouse furniture from scraps of lumber. For years I had a tiny chest of drawers whose drawers opened and closed smoothly. One entrepreneur made Thai alphabet letters and I bought them all for tactile learning. The 7-11 was the only retail game with any claim to sophistication--it sold bottles of Johnny Walker Blue, which I couldn't afford.

Now this street has at least one sushi joint, a place called Chic Burger, and a lumberyard that proclaims a Passion for Wood. I gaped, a Rip Van Winkle on an ordinary bus--no aircon, no fare.

I got off at Saphan Kwaii, immersed in more memories than I could handle. But this part of the city is unchanged and that was just what I wanted to see. Food lined the sidewalk, along with fresh flowers. Fabric shops and drugstores filled the opposite border. I didn't find the Bangkok I was looking for but I found a garland of jasmine, rose, and chumpee (don't know what this is in English but it is so fragrant that I bought a small posy of it contained in a cone of banana leaf and sniffed at it all the way home.)

The vibrancy of Saphan Kwaii has always invigorated me and I left it knowing I was back in the place that I love. For a minute or fifteen I was far from the Starbucks that is eating this metropolis, even the riverbanks, and the ostentatious shopping palaces that I detest and that take up more and more of Bangkok's space. Next time I'm staying there. This time I'm wrapped in emptiness, which is a state th
at carries no memories at all for me in this city.

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