My love affair with Bangkok

2/16/11

Despite the frustrations and difficulties I faced during my initial few weeks in Bangkok, the truth is I ended up falling in love with the place. Head over heels in love.

I didn’t know I was capable of loving a city the way I loved Bangkok. I had spent roughly 8 months in London, and I liked it. I spent about 4 months in Vienna, and I liked it. But Bangkok… this was something different. No place has ever captured my heart the way this crazy mixed-up city did.

At first glance, Bangkok can seem unappealing. After all, it is dirty, polluted, noisy, disorganized and confusing. It can be overwhelming. For an English-speaking foreigner, it can be a nightmare simply trying to maneuver through the madness from Point A to Point B.

And the “restrooms”… Forget about any type of cleanliness when it comes to toilet facilities. Unless you go to an upscale restaurant or night club, the “restroom” generally consists of a small wooden contraption, more often than not infested with cockroaches. There are rarely toilet seats, and forget about any chance of toilet paper being provided for you- it is up to you to carry around your own stash. Bathroom procedures are very basic: Squat over a hole, take care of your business, keep an eye on the cockroaches and spiders to keep them at bay, dump buckets of water into the toilet to drain, and get on with it.

Bathroom sign in Ko Chang, Thailand

To the Thais, luxury is overrated, and I use the term “luxury” very loosely. Things we take for granted, they do not. And if you spend enough time here, you may start to realize that many things we believe are completely necessary, such as safe tap water and toilet paper being provided in bathroom stalls, are actually just comfortable perks we have grown accustomed to.

Thais work with what they have, and they do it well. Families work hard from the crack of dawn to late into the night, doing whatever it takes to make a small amount of money to feed their family.. cooking all day, making and selling clothes and jewelery on the streets, driving motorbikes or taxis. But take a look around- I guarantee you won’t detect any sign of complaint or self-sacrifice in their eyes.

I LOVE to eat, so in this regard it wasn’t difficult for Thailand to win me over. Their food is phenomenal to say the least. There are no words to describe how amazing it feels to eat like a local. Devouring a spicy dish at a plastic table and chairs on a street corner, barely a foot from heavy traffic. Breathing in traffic fumes and hot air, beads of sweat dripping furiously down your face, partly from the humidity, and partly from the pungency of the Thai chilis. It is an experience that will always make me feel warm inside.

Other things I loved about my life in Bangkok… Morning walks up the street to my mango vendor, wandering aimlessly down the sois, the fluidity of time, motorbike taxi rides, Thai sincerity, long hot nights spent smoking hookah in the Nana district, riding the train with monks, inhaling Chai yen iced teas, rolling up my jeans to wade half a mile down my flooded street after a monsoon, wasting time sitting on my balcony watching below, the unpredictability of my days, dabbling in Buddhism, waking up to the sun scorching through my window, deciding on a whim to head down to the islands after class, meeting people from all corners of the world, living in the present moment…

Living in Bangkok was a very humbling experience for me. I saw people give more than they had. I saw genuine smiles all around me, a collective energy of people happy to simply be alive. It made me take a hard look at myself and where I come from, and reconsider what’s important in life. There is not a doubt in my mind that Bangkok has changed me and I will forever be grateful for the time I spent there.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Bangkok, I encourage you to slow down and pay attention. With an open heart and mind, I am convinced you will see there is so much life and beauty to be discovered all around you. Within every moment, it can be found bursting at the seams…

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