The Big Mango
I arrived in Bangkok early yesterday morning (around 1am), had about 5 hours sleep and then had to get up for a full day of appointments, so my sleep deprived existence continues. I missed speaking to you on Skype because your mum had to leave the house to collect your grampa’s car and I couldn’t speak to you last night because the internet was down in the hotel, so I haven’t seen you in a few days. Apparently you are crying all the time unless someone holds your hands so that you can practice walking. Please don’t start walking before I get home. I suppose I am going to miss all these things because of travel. Apparently you are already saying “car” and “shoes” and I’ve only been away just over a week.
Bangkok (the ‘Big Mango’, as opposed to the Big Apple) is not how I remember it from 4 years ago. It is busier, more modern with far more westerners here. Your mother and I first came to Thailand in 2001 as part of our world tour and gave Bangkok a miss, instead just visiting islands and beaches. Even then it was incredibly popular as a holiday destination, not just for northern Europeans but for Asians, Americans, Latin Americans – it was verging on being ruined by its own popularity and I can only assume those same beach resorts now are. I’ve been here one full day, but even in that time you get a sense of changes, attitude and people around you. I like to categorise the westerners I see around me and so far this is my little game when I am the BST (Bangkok Sky Train): In my eyes there are only a few categories:
1) Couple dressed casually = tourists
2) Couple dressed scruffily, probably with braids, fishermans trousers, bangles, etc = backpackers
3) Man in suit = visiting business man
4) Couple with pram = expats
5) Couple of tanned men sharing iced drink = gay expats
6) Man on his own, or holding hands with much younger Thai woman = sex tourist
I know, I am a terrible stereotypist, but it keeps me amused. Why does the entire world descend on Bangkok? Everyone can find the experience they are looking for here – a luxury break, the cheapest of holidays, a hedonistic weekend or a spiritual journey – and the local people are forward thinking, accepting and business-minded. The City, like many in Asia, comes alive at night when market stalls are erected and the population pours onto the streets to find everything available to mankind. I met up with two colleagues last night and took a wander through the (rather sterile for BKK) streets around the hotel. I’m staying in the Novotel in Siam Square, bang in the middle of the city, which is much more developed and westernised than I remember. There are still children made to work, either begging, playing instruments or as part of the enticement game for tourist stalls – it makes my blood boil. The malls over the road have all the trappings of Europe, the USA and the rest of the consuming world: Krispy Kreme donuts, McDonalds, Tesco, Starbucks and restaurants from all four corners. The only thing I couldn’t find was Thai food! We looked for a bar to relax in, but I suppose retail space is so expensive that they cannot afford to set up and the only place open in the whole district was a Hard Rock Cafe playing very loud live music so we gave it a miss and had a couple of beers in the hotel lobby instead, getting bitten on the legs by mosquitoes.
I’ll take my camera out tonight and try to get a visual record. When I first started travelling for work I took my camera everywhere, but after a while I became ambivalent and stopped. Such a mistake, as there are some places that I used to visit frequently that I will probably never go back to now – I only have 2 photos of Bogota in Colombia for example, hardly any photos of Uganda or Nigeria or Pakistan. I’m going to make more of an effort to capture this period of my life, although there is always the question of what I’ll do with these pictures. They tend not to be the kind you frame or put on your wall. Just for me and memories I suppose. Here is the view out of my window until later: