Letters From Bangkok: To Kansas From Abroad
13 October 2018
To Ethan & Amber,
I’m now into my third week living in Bangkok. It’s no exaggeration to say that every day I feel like The Hangover, Pt. 2 could happen to me at any moment. Things are so unrealistically unexpected and that’s just the norm here.
Admittedly, I’ve started to become a bit lazy as a traveler. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to settle into a city rather than do the backpacking thing. I didn’t want to constantly feel guilty if I wanted to spend a half-day or full-day watching YouTube videos while it rains.
It rains often in Thailand’s fall season. They don’t call it the fall season, though. They only have three seasons; hot, dreadfully hot, and rainy. In October, it’s rainy.
Today, however, was sunny for most of the day and I made it a point to start my Saturday morning early. Weekend markets are very popular among tourists and locals alike and I hadn’t been yet.
I could have taken a taxi for pennies, but I’m that person that thinks every distance is walkable, so I set off for Chinatown on foot.
The streets in Bangkok are my favorite part. There is so much to notice in its streets. Bangkok is not a beautiful city and that’s probably why most tourists don’t stay long. Likely, visitors will stay for a day or two and then head to the islands. But none of those people get to experience all the quirks about this place that make it great to me.
Just today, I saw a man zipping through traffic on a scooter. He was transporting a bigger broken scooter that was balancing on the back of his. I wish I got a photo. He didn’t even have it strapped down. He was simply holding it to his back and using his other hand to steer. It was mad. And that’s not even the wildest thing you can see on an average day walking the city.
On the way to Chinatown, I ran into a small street market that grabbed my attention. Street markets here are a little different than the ones back home. They often happen in back alleys without a lot of space. There are vendors lined-up on both sides of the alley and a narrow aisle down the center.
It turns out, this market wasn’t too small after all. I thought I could check out the market and get back onto the main road at the next block, but this market just kept going. I’ll be damned if I wasn’t walking that crowded, four-foot-wide aisle for a mile and a half under canopies and tin roofs behind hundreds of people.
Literally, everything was for sale, nothing was off-limits. Everyone had their head on a swivel and the last place they’re looking is at their feet. I accidentally stepped on the nub-sided torso of a man without a leg who decided to inconveniently lay himself face-down in the middle of the aisle to collect pity donations.
I would normally apologize profusely, but I believe he wanted people to accidentally step on him so that they’d give him sympathy money. I don’t know why else he’d lay there so helplessly. I pitied him, but his tactic was of questionable merit so I ignored him and kept trudging through the madness.
Sooner or later, I got out of the mess and was back on the street for a bit until I reached Chinatown.
It was much of the same. Madness. Except with more food and a narrower aisle. This one couldn’t have been more than three-feet-wide and, on top of that, small Chinese women forced dozens of carts through the crowd loaded with miscellaneous junk they were trying to sell.
They’d unite and make one long, single-file line that was impossible to pass. They’d force their way through the aisle at the command of the front women who told the line when to stop/go. Somehow, she seemed to be yelling in my ear the entire time.
Occasionally, a scooter would try to fit through the aisle, too, and when the army of Chinese women met the men on the scooters, it was like a game of Tetras to get everyone through.
In Algeria, I went to a similar market in the Old Casbah of downtown Algiers. Though at that market it was all locals who were shopping with a purpose and the traffic flowed much smoother. Here, with half the market-goers being Chinese and Japanese tourists, it’s no surprise we moved no more than thirty-feet every five minutes.
Each time I’d pass a fellow western-looking person, we’d give each other a look as if we were walking through the craziest place on earth. The smells, too, were awful. For someone with a sniffer from the other side of the world, it was probably one of the most unbearable I’ve experienced. Raw fish is the death of my appetite.
Regardless, I came to Chinatown to eat something I never had before, so I found a behind-the-scenes ‘restaurant’ to have lunch at. Really, it was just a table a family set up behind their street cart. A reservation for one. I ordered egg noodle soup with mallard (duck). It wasn’t the most adventurous thing I’ve eaten here, but it was the only thing on the menu I could bear to look at.
Despite being hectic, the markets are fun. It’s something new that really gives me the feeling of being in a distant city. I struggle to compare Bangkok to any place I’ve been before. I’m really enjoying my time so far.
I hope things post-engagement are lively for you guys. Amber, I’m wishing you exciting days as you start your new job. I hope you make friends with your colleagues. You, too, E.
Take it easy, you guys.