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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Here I am

Bangkok1

Here I am, in Bangkok again. I looked back at the post I wrote on the blog when I cam home last time, and found that my sentiments are still exactly the same.

It has been two days now in Bangkok. On one hand it felt like a blink of an eye, but on the other it appeared as though it has been forever since I returned. Thailand always evokes such contradicting reactions in me.

I had forgotten how busy Bangkok was. The traffic here is unbelievable. Nearly half my waking hours have been spent in the car, sitting in traffic. It was good that I didn't have to drive. I have long ago lost my ability to navigate Bangkok traffic, not to mention the changing landscape of the city.

Bangkok is heavy on one's senses. Mine is almost overloaded. I feel increasingly as though I am an autistic child in need of a shut down. The streets are clogged with vehicles, the sidewalks full of people, the buildings close together. There are just too many bloody people in this city. And I haven't even started on the noise yet. Close you eyes and imagine a room full of kids practicing on the drums and other extremely loud musical instruments. The noise of Bangkok is worse than that scene you've just conjured up in your head, at all hours.

Bangkok also takes a toll on my emotions. I am reminded of everything I have left behind, the good and the bad. Seeing family and old friends again, those who are still living the life I had rejected, I couldn't help but rethink my choices and look down the road not taken, imagining what would have met me at the end of it.

Thailand is such a study in contradiction. There are so many things that are familiar, yet others are now utterly foreign to me. My mother told me today that I held myself like a Farang, a foreigner. I was startled. What do you mean I held myself like a foreigner, I asked her, indignantly. Then I realized how bow-y everyone around me was. Thai people have a habit of rounding up the shoulders and slouching a little, in deference to others with higher social status. Security guards do it when opening doors, waiters do it while bringing food or refilling water, one must do it even while standing in the company of other people of higher status or age. I am almost certain thieves also bow when taking your money. Bangkok is a city full of polite bowing birds. If you were a chiropractor, this city would be a gold mine waiting for you! As for me, my shoulders were squared, and my back straight. I was ready to face anyone on the same level. I am indeed holding myself like a Farang.

Even my own mother tongue has betrayed me. I spoke today to one of Bangkok's grand doyennes whom Mother and I ran into at lunch. During the conversation, I used a few words and phrases that were simply not polite enough for the situation. I wasn't trying to be improper, those words simply came to my mouth as if they had not passed properly through my brain. I could see them leaving my lips and hanging momentarily in space before dropping off, denying me a chance to take them back. I have become such an embarrassment.

It is deceptively easy to get into the rhythm of things here again. Yes, the city is a mad cacophony of senses, but it has become increasingly benign as I get used to it again. It is easy to close ones eyes to everything happening outside, especially when you are being driven around in a quiet, air conditioned, and comfortable car.

I was reminded of how comfortable life in Bangkok was. I don't have to deal with a constant search for the next parking space, or carry heavy bags full of my new acquisitions. Someone brings me water when I am thirsty. Someone cooks for me when I am hungry. This life is good. But then I remember the main reason I didn't want to live here. In Thailand, life is extremely comfortable for some people, the rest of them are just perpetually damned.

The only thing that has changed this time is I am driving again. I have so many things to do this time, so I decided to try driving again. Bangkok has changed so much, but if I stayed close to where I grew up and knew well, in the Sukhumvit, Ploenchit, Rajdamri areas, I should be fine. Driving in Bangkok is non-trivial. Really. One must have eyes all around one's head, much like a pineapple, to be able to see the cars, trucks, tuk tuks, and motorcycles coming at you from all directions. And I am not even mentioning the pedestrians yet. They are the most daring race, the pedestrians in Bangkok, they would cross the street just about anywhere, no matter the light, no matter the traffic. You could be changing a lane and suddenly finding yourself slamming on the break to stop from hitting a pedestrian standing right in the middle of the lane, with a nonplus look on her face, very likely either eating something or talking on the mobile, all the while standing her ground without even a slightest wince.

It's probably not helping my driving situation that the only car that no one else is using in my house is my dad's old Mercedes. And by old I meant ancient. My dad is particularly attached to it, so he didn't sell it even after he got new ones. It's not much a car as it is a boat, about the same width as a lane and a half on Bangkok streets. That's actually useful to me when driving through Bangkok's infamous labyrinth of small Sois in Sukhumvit. They are usually only two lanes, one going each direction. With the size of the car, I always end up in the middle of Soi, so there is no question of having to remember which side of the road to drive on! (Thailand, you see, use the antiquated British system, so we drive on the left side of the road.)

Since I'm not going to venture very far until I get a bit more used to driving the boat, I had a simple lunch at home. On the menu were a soup made with bitter melon Kang Mara, a Tom Yum sour soup with pork spareribs, and rice. I haven't quite stopped eating yet since I landed in Bangkok, so I was quite happy with the small and simple lunch. Half way through the meal, the cook came smiling with yet another plate, this time one of my old favorites, Pad Prik King, a spicy/sweet stir fry of long beans and pork. My little lunch was turning out to be not so little after all. It's all delicious, so I'm not really going to complain.

(And just now as I am finishing this post, she came back with a fragrant pot full of green curry. I guess I'm having dinner at home again tonight! Kanom-jeen Gang Moo Prik-ki-noo is on the menu! Stay tuned for the photo.)

P.S. I've forgotten about the pig blogging weekend inspired by Kate and Judy. I'm having a practially all pork day so I guess I would qualify. :-)

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