Letters from Bangkok: To England from Abroad
27th November 2018
I’m back in Bangkok. You’re back in London. You are coming to Thailand in a matter of weeks and I’m thrilled.
I’ve adapted a love-hate thing for this city. It shows flashes of being a truly cool city, but then the parts about it that I don’t enjoy become over-bearing.
One thing that has become increasingly more difficult for my mental state is being surrounded by poverty for extended periods of time. I say it is becoming this way, but, in reality, it has always been a struggle to maintain cheerfulness when poverty is ever-present where I’m living.
I’ve been very fortunate in the few instances I’ve been around poverty because of the people I was occupied by. For example, while I was in a village of Limpopo, South Africa, I was too distracted by the inspirational children I befriended. I didn’t notice the poverty-stricken community they lived in because their smiles were infectious. The same goes for my summer in Algeria where I was hosted by a more-than hospitable family who I love very much. They showed me some of the best parts of their country, but I was sheltered from the other half.
Poverty is depressive and there’s not a reference that better describes it. Hopeless? That could also work. My heart burns to help these people; particularly the children. But just as the kids in the South African village, they run around with smiles not knowing there’s a whole other side of life they will probably never experience.
In Southern Africa, I felt rather helpless. I was down in funds and, as a matter of fact, didn’t even make it home without borrowing from family. They looked at and begged me as if they expected every white man waltzing their street to be bearing a blank checkbook. There’s no way they believed I didn’t have enough to spare them, but it turned out to be the truth.
In Asia, with my funds built up a little better, I find myself willing to give more freely.
The other day, I gave a few bananas to a homeless man and bought a cute little girl an ice cream cone. These are small examples of something that makes me feel honored to do. I often daydream, as I’m walking down the sorrowful streets, of doing something more for these people in need one day when I become more financially stable.
Recently, I had the sudden urge to sponsor as many children as possible. This is to see them through to adulthood and make sure they are able to take advantage of opportunities that may have not been afforded to them without the financial backing. I’d love to see kids whom I know I’ve made a difference in flourish. That could be the happiest feeling I can think of.
I try not to compare the contrast of wealth and absolute poverty in Bangkok because I know the contrast exists everywhere. Only, it’s much more exaggerated and visible in an impoverished city like this.
The old town is littered and desperate and the smile come few and far between only when they think they’ve attracted your business. What they call the “new center” is flourishing (largely because of tourism) and there are blasts of air conditioning from the sidewalk as you walk by every doorway. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it’ll buy hope.
I don’t have the same thoughts and generally not in awe of the world like I once was. It has been a difficult feeling to overcome — I just want to feel everything but very little ever hits me as it did. This feeling when I’m surrounded by hopeless poverty still hits me as it had. I hope, if I lose every other sensation of traveling, this one remains.
I don’t know how to explain the importance of staying connected to these realities. Probably because I don’t really understand yet. I’m staying in an upscale part of the city now. I’ve found a hostel that caters to westerners well and seems to treat its Thai employees with the same respect it treats its guests. I like that. It’s right next door to a brothel (Bangkok remains a little insane no matter where you are). It is nice to surround myself with other travelers again after a lonely month on a small Vietnamese island.
There are many things to look forward to in the coming months and hopefully will turn my travel senses back on. Such is the downside to staying on the road for so long. But I know you know that.
Travel has become increasingly about patience. As it once was, it seemed the stories couldn’t slow down. As it is now, sometimes you have to dig for even deeper experiences because the drunken hostel nights aren’t the experience they once were. Meeting people from all over the world isn’t enough. Now, I feel like I have to understand the world on a much more lifting extent.
I will find it. So will you. Can’t wait to start this search.