by francine Hardaway on June 13, 2007

Bangkok. Everyone talks about it, and it’s always the same. Shopping, shopping, shopping. And rightly so. Photos, both of common sites and our trip, are here. But here are some more impressions:

Many Thais think they speak English, but they don’t. Their language is so different — no tenses, no real gender, and adjectives always after the nouns, that there are many misunderstandings due to the placement of words in sentences. Worse, they are Buddhists and believe in life as a continuous flow, so if you ask for something, they give it to you, but on their own time. Running a credit card at a merchant in Bangkok is a careful, step by step process involving great deliberation and presentness, but no speed. They routinely collide with furious Americans and Indians who are on a difference cosmic schedule.

American spelling is attempted with little success, even on menus in cosmopolitan restaurants. In my room, a form invites me to send my laundry in bluk. In the finest Thai restaurant, I’m invited to eat “Fhish,” or “frimp.” At breakfast, it’s “rinsin bran.”

The same Buddhist attitude makes Thais unfailingly polite, and makes them smile a lot. Even if they are toothless on a longboat in the middle of the canals, selling fans that convert to sunhats for $.50, and bottles of water to thirsty tourists, they seem happy just where they are. Our massage therapists on Phuket giggled at each other while they were working on us, like girls at a slumber party. Thais have fun and a spirit of play. You have to love them.

Bangkok is choking (literally) on its own growth. I’ve been living on my inhaler here, because there are fumes everywhere, from cigarette smoke to gasoline, to diesel fuel. Taking a ride in a TukTuk is fun, but a sure trigger for respiratory distress. The canals are little more than sewage, full of fish that jump out of the water for food from tourists.

The city is sinking about 4.5 inches a year from the over-pumping of groundwater out of Artesian wells under the skyscrapers. About 3000 of them are apparently unsafe to live in, but the government doesn’t identify them.

Technology has both come here and passed it over. 50% of the population have cell phones. The water isn’t safe to drink. There’s wireless, mostly based on dialup. There are TVs in the cars and taxis.

Yesterday outside the Grand Palace, a woman stopped me to offer me a silkscreen print for 500 bhat (there are 33.4 bhat to the US$). I declined. She then offered me two for 500, then three, and so on. I kept walking away, because I practice non-attachment just as the Thais do. Finally she offered me ten beautiful silk screen prints and I still wasn’t going to buy them, because I didn’t need them. As I tried to escape into the hotel van, she made the final plea: “lady, lady, two baby eat 500.” I realized she didn’t care how many she sold me, but she needed to raise 500 bhat to feed her two children. Yes, I own ten silk screen prints.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda V June 14, 2007 at 9:07 am

With all the abundance we have here in the U.S., it would be nice if we could learn to live in the same happy “flow.”

Mjb June 14, 2007 at 9:17 am

Yes, there are problems in Bangkok, like there are problems in every major city in the world. But if you’re going there to focus on the negative, why go? Bangkok offers many wonderful and enriching experiences that you can’t experience elsewhere. That’s the reason to to visit….and be glad that you don’t live there.

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