More about week three

To see more photos of Bangkok, go here.


As the days have passed, life has started to feel more normal here, though it’s far from any kind of normal I’ve ever been used to. Certain routines from my existence before Bangkok have resurfaced. When I find myself doing these time-honored activities, I feel like the same person I was back in Santa Cruz. The return of my personality, of a sense of being known to myself, gives me the courage to do more exploring; exploration brings information which emphasizes the difference between Bangkok and Santa Cruz, and I start to feel strange again, until the new information is absorbed or forgotten. I can’t claim to be absorbing more than a small fraction of what I am taking in.  

Week 3 was when I realized this was happening: a two steps forward, one step back kind of process. I started to comprehend the layout of the city and made a mental map of my neighborhood. In my mind, it goes from the general area of Phrom Phong BTS station on the west side to Soi Thong Lor on the east, with the Saen Saep canal as the northern boundary and Sukhumvit Road as the southern boundary. Probably about four square miles in area, the kind of distance I was accustomed to walking in my daily life in Santa Cruz, and as good a place as any to start understanding Bangkok. 


One day I wandered around the posh malls near Phrom Phong station and then lingered in Benjasiri Park. In the malls everything was polished, expensive, and climate-controlled, and I felt like an outsider as I watched people buying the fancy food and clothes. At Benjasiri Park my outsiderness came when I saw Thai people lounging around together, eating snacks and laughing. But then a man near me who had been sitting alone on a bench started talking on his phone in a mixture of standard English and Jamaican Patois, and I gathered enough from his conversation to understand that he, too, felt a little left out watching these groups of locals who were so at ease with each other. Plenty of people in Bangkok are also visitors, and they must feel just as baffled as I do.  

Week 3 was when I was supposed to start training to be an English teacher, until I learned the course I intended to take was full. Training would have to wait until October. This news was both a relief and unsettling, if it’s possible for both things to be true at once, which of course it is, especially here. Unsettling because that’s one more month before the income machine starts up again; a relief because now I have more time to adjust to Thailand before embarking on a whole new career. When I start having homework, there won’t be as much time for long night walks like the one pictured below.


On that evening, I drifted down Sukhumvit in the direction of Phra Khanong. Not that I knew where I was going at the time.I had begun the practice of walking first and asking questions later. I stopped to eat dinner at a tiny restaurant (called 7Sis Kitchen) where the som tam was so spicy, it gave me a blister on my lower lip. The entire meal cost about $3 and I left the place totally stuffed, traveling at a crawling pace, ready for any adventure that didn’t make me move too fast. Soon I was at Phra Khanong Market, a maze of stalls reaching all the way to the canal.

This night market (it’s open in daytime, too) was the first one I experienced in Bangkok. I passed a mosque near the intersection before the market, and in order to make the treacherous street crossing, I merged with a crowd of ladies in hijab who were on their way to do some after-church shopping. After sheltering within their combined strength, motorbikes whizzing around us, I trailed behind on the sidewalk to see what they bought. When I left them, they were negotiating over fruit.

I have since learned that there are many more night markets in Bangkok, and I want to try them all. It’s fun to look at the array of items, from piles of mangosteens to regiments of colorful electric fans, and hear people discussing them in a variety of languages. Darkness makes it easier to lurk and eavesdrop and find photos in the chaos.


At the end of the alley loomed steps that led to the canal overpass. I climbed them to where I could photograph the market from above. On the footbridge, other pedestrians rushed by on their way to wherever they were going. Most paid me no attention, but a few grinned as they passed me, and I remembered that the whole day had been rich in positive, wordless communication from strangers, in moments of bonding and then separating. I felt like I was on the right track, finding my way to places where I was meant to be.   

There is a transitional space to be inhabited in a city like this, and while it’s not the cherished, green, perfectly evolved space of my favorite forest, it has some of the same qualities. Walking in and around the crowds that night, I felt that time was suspended and my boundaries were melting. This feeling had often come to me under redwood trees. It exists here too, I said to myself, the wild, secret place. I looked down from the bridge. A sleeping soi dog, people in intimate conversation waiting for a canal taxi, yellow light splashed like paint on everything - these were all part of the that same parallel universe.


At Phra Khanong I boarded the Skytrain and went to Thong Lo, then walked to Soi 49 and our apartment. Traffic on the soi had dwindled, construction had mostly ceased for the day, but some workers could still be found at the site. I liked the way the fluorescent light fell on the scene, making it look like a stage. Sitting in their positions of work, but not actually working, these people looked like actors during a break in rehearsal.

Across the street, workers who were done for the day drank beer and talked under the street food tents. I wondered what their day had been like, laboring in the heat and dust. Most of the construction workers in Bangkok are migrants from northern Thailand and Burma. Many live in dormitories and come to their construction work on crowded pickup trucks. What a vast distance exists between their experiences and mine. We are all visitors in Bangkok, but my days here are certainly easier, I thought. I get to wander around chasing a parallel universe. Why am I the one who gets to do that?

I think about this every time I walk by the numerous building sites on my walking route, and it always leaves me feeling painfully aware of how little I know about the lives of nearly everyone around me, or even about my own privileged position. This environment fills me with unanswered questions. But that night when I passed the laughing group of workers I felt only the peace of a finished day and a rush of affection for strange sights now becoming familiar.  

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Reader Comments (2)

Your photos are great

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 10:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterCommenter

Love the shots of little shops and doorways and cats and things. I think the statue covered in plastic is my favorite, weirdly - seems like there's a story there...

Glad to see you're exploring, and even more glad to see that you're sharing what you see. :)

Friday, October 9, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterG. Hobo

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