Letters From Bangkok: To Kansas City From Abroad
19th October 2018
I’ve been in Bangkok for about a month now. It’s hard to describe this place and even more difficult to navigate. The city seems so vast and endless when compared to island life in Malta. I reckon I’ll leave in a month and have no better idea of the place than when I first got here. That’s just how a Bangkok experience should be.
The people, too, will take patience to figure out. At any one point, I’ve been enamored by their hospitality, duped by their deception, lost by their accent, or distressed by their lifestyles.
I feel pitiful when I walk the alleys and see men, women, and children all sharing in duties to provide income to the family in their tiny one-room garage-like homes.
I feel pitiful when I see half the space in those ‘homes’ filled with stacks-on-stacks of pieces ready to ship to the western world, such as the rubber flap that sits in the sole of your shoe.
I feel pitiful when I see children getting dental work done in a chair on the street as the hustle of the city walks by without blinking an eye.
But I feel happy when I see families living life anyway, eating dinner on the floor of their homes or businesses. That’s customary in Thai culture. That, and removing your shoes before entering a building.
I feel happy when I pass a bald monk on the street in his orange gown with his traditional Sak Yant tattoos and he smiles. It’s the first I’ve ever felt happy for people so heavily involved in their religion.
I feel happy when I say “yes” to street vendors asking if I’m sure I want my food spicy, then seeing them laugh together as my eyes water and I wipe profuse sweat from my forehead.
Something I haven’t received here which I always receive in third-world countries (I use this for lack of a better term) is warnings. Locals don’t tell you an area is too dangerous to explore. Whether Bangkok can be dangerous to tourists or not, I’ve yet to determine.
More warnings seem to come from friends who have traveled here before. They tell me to be leery of street vendors off the main tourist route in Southeast Asia. They say frying oil can be contaminated, meat could be spoiled, and food poisoning is easy to come by.
I’ve wandered around neighborhoods here not too far from main streets. Although it’s true the food from neighborhood vendors have a different taste, I believe it is because the taste is more traditional. I’m afraid vendors on the main tourist drags have westernized their dishes – such as taking the spiciness out of them.
Because I didn’t get vaccinated before arriving, and the threat of Typhoid is fairly relevant in Thailand, I’ve let those warnings get inside my head more-so than I probably should. I’ve come down with cold-like symptoms the past few days, but I don’t think it has anything to do with my diet here.
Some Thai’s speak excellent English, others can’t speak a lick. I figured being the most-visited city in the world, Bangkok locals would have no problem with English – especially toward the center of the action. But that’s not the case.
My accommodation is relatively comfortable. Like I mentioned to you in text messages, it has air-conditioning which is a luxury a majority of locals don’t even fathom. The bed is as hard as a rock, but I’m actually enjoying the firmness after a week of hauling my backpack around.
Late last night, a man in my building came home in a drunken rampage, punching out several windows and yelling violently in Thai. Many doors were slammed, too. It was the most aggressive I’ve heard the language as most people here speak shyly and innocently.
I find myself not-so intimidated to speak English with Thai’s as I am with Europeans. People seem to invite the English-speaking practice unlike in Europe when that’s not always the feeling.
I’ve had several people ask me if I’m a teacher here. Most foreigners here for an extended time probably are. I will continue to consider it, though I still don’t think I’d make a suitable English teacher.
It smells often in Bangkok. Between raw fish, an overwhelming amount of exhaust, and standing water, you can catch some pretty repulsive smells. I usually hold my breath and continue walking a few dozen feet until I can comfortably use my nose again. Other times, the spices from various dishes will just about make your eyes water as you pass by on the sidewalk.
It’s quite difficult to spend a lot of money here. My kind of place. Yesterday, I tracked my expenses; two taxis, a book, lunch and dinner out, a smoothie, water for the entire week, and a bottle of traditional herbal yellow oil (a remedy for my sickness). When I added the total at the end of the day, I had only spent 384 Baht (roughly $12). That was one of my more expensive days here, so far.
These are all just a bunch of random thoughts I’ve had in my first few days in Bangkok. Next time, I’ll tell a story or two. You won’t be able to respond to this letter. By the time it gets to my mailbox, I’m afraid I’ll be far away from Bangkok.
Soon, I’ll have a more permanent address, hopefully. I hope kitchen renovations are going well. Send photos when you can.