Bangkok

Bangkok has been my home for the past eight years now, and after almost a decade here I suspect I might be spoiled and will have to stay here for good as there is no place I have ever been to that even comes close to Bangkok, not in size, not in color or taste and definitely not in the energy you feel in the streets every day, and especially every night.

Bangkok has a mystical erotic allure in the mind of the west, and I have to admit it does stand up to the myth, but that is just a very small part of what this city-state Bangkok really is, of what the capital of the kingdom of Siam actually hides in those small allies that lead nowhere.

When I moved here I was mesmerized by the enormous size of the city, spanning from horizon to horizon, sucking in the best minds and development like a huge magnet, or maybe like a huge vacuum if you will, a vacuum created by a steep leap toward the future, a leap towards municipal prosperity and international cultural sophistication.

It took me a couple of years to understand the structure of the city, not geographically or architectonically, but socially and economically. Bangkok is without doubt divided into a higher Bangkok, and a lower Bangkok, or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is divided into Bangkok and Krung-thep, the original Thai name for the city, the city of angels.

Well, actually the 'city of angels' is just the nick name, as is the custom here in Thailand, the original name of people is so long and complicated, every person has a short nickname, usually not more than one syllable.  If you shorten a name, might as well go all the way. The original full name of Bangkok is so long it has twenty six syllables in it, a name so long that you can say it from beginning to end while being stuck in one of those never ending traffic jams the city is famous for as a great way to pass the time.

 
 

Some of my friends who visited me here complained that Bangkok is nothing but markets and prostitutes, which is so superficial as everyone knows Bangkok is really food, markets and prostitutes. You don’t want to miss something as important as food in a place like Bangkok. Yes, there are also a lot of monks and temples, and a couple of palaces with shinny halls and golden twelve foot guardians at the door, and it is indeed an important part of the tourist experience, although they have very little significance to the city's real life.

Like any warm blooded good hearted people, the uniting element of all Thai people is without doubt food, and I have never seen a nation so skinny eating so much so often. It is hard to find a Thai who is more than an hour from a meal or a snack. (which is by the way also the secret to their physique, as multiple small meals during the day is more efficient than the standard three meals the west has, and symbolized the pre-industrial way of thinking and way of nutritional management still based on family life and localized communities.)

Bangkok, as a national and international hub, and as the commercial center of the region brought to the city a strange puzzle of individuals, of cultures, of tastes and smells, and in a local food market you can find tasty ambassadors from all parts of south east Asia, not to mention the different cultures you have in Thailand itself, a kingdom that holds people from different ethnic background and  customs.

It is hard to find the original architecture of Bangkok, as the palaces and temples were kept intact as monumrnts but the cityscape itself has changed in the last century to an uber-modern center surrounded by simple neighborhoods of late 20th century workers accommodations. The three areas where you can still find some of the old Bangkok charm are Chinatown, Ratakonsin and Silom, the older parts of the city, areas where conservation was part of the business plan, of the global view of Bangkok as a modern yet classic asian megalopolis.

 

Like a lot of Asian cities, Bangkok still keeps the street life as the major energy in the city, and as most apartment are small or far, most social activities are done outdoors , or in the updated mutation in  huge malls. This public lifestyle, as opposed to the reserved closed in cement cubes way of thinking the west has adopted, was a great help for me to understand and document the people of this city, and all you need is a good pair of legs and immunity to sweat in order to pass and look into people's living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, the door is always open, the street  seeping into the private home is part of the décor.

It is a symbol of a people, of a nation. The door is open. There is always something to eat. Come on in and I will pour you a small glass of Thai whisky. Or maybe it is just romanticizing the situation and the symbol is not of the nation but of poor people worldwide, as it is only the rich who have to hide behind high walls and locks on doors. The beauty is that this mentality is still valid here in Bangkok although most of the people are very far from being poor. After all it is a successful prosperous city state that hosts twelve million people in a working day.

Bangkok has a certain charm that I was afraid that would pass after the preliminary enthusiasm, but have managed to still slap me across the face every time I leave the house. The smell of the food carts on the street, the small allies of mom and pops small shops, the markets full of knick knacks and affordable fashion, the riverside bars and boat cruises, the vitality of the Silom business area, with its international array of localities, the Sukhimvit Farang ghetto. It is indeed a world of its own.

As long as there will be people living their lives on the street and not in their private space in front of a screen, as long as there will be small food stalls in every corner and not only mega international junk food centers, as long as there will be Tuktuks passing you by in their typical melodic engine noise instead of another air-conditioned  car, as long as Bangkok will still hold on to its true personality, I will be there with my camera.

 

 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
                     
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