Bangkok Found: Reflections on the City

Bangkok Found

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

Reflections on Bangkok Found…

Bangkok Found I’m not a city gal. I enjoy gardening, country walks, and being able to see the moon and stars at night.

And since falling in love with Bangkok in 2004, I’ve had a troublesome time explaining why to those who spread out north, south, and elsewhere in Thailand.

Their lives are full of the wide open spaces and fresh air of the countryside. Mine is full of people, traffic, and air cleaners.

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So when the conversation comes up, I usually wave in the direction of the excitement of the city, the vibrancy, and the variety of people. But my explanations are notably vague as I have not been able to pinpoint exactly why this city holds me tight, and not others.

I have a few exceptional books on the quirks of Thailand, but none that really define the soul of Bangkok for me. Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Thai filled in elephantine holes. Bangkok Inside Out did too. But neither spoke directly to my heart. Not in the same way Alex Kerr’s Bangkok Found has.

Alex and I were both raised for a slot of our childhood in Japan. Years later, Asia tugged me to the island of Borneo, and then here to Thailand. Alex went back to Japan before finally settling in Bangkok too.

All through Bangkok Found, Alex compares Thailand to Japan as well as China and other Asian countries. By defining what Bangkok/Thailand is not, he clarifies (as much as anyone can) what Bangkok/Thailand is.

As usual, when people start talking about Thailand, you run into more and more complications, and it ends up in a muddle. Bangkok is like a thep phanom, a smiling angel with hands clasped in prayer above – and twirling leaves and vines below.

(and) Everything is negotiable…

When I went searching for the origins of the goddess at Bangkok’s Fertility Shrine, I signed off with: “So there you have it. Jâo Mâe Táp-tim is the Chinese goddess Mazu. Maybe”.

In Thailand, one sets out into unknown territory without a map.

It is this lack of a map that beguiles me. It is knowing that even when I’ve found an answer to a query, yet not quite, that sometimes frustrates me.

To some degree, history everywhere in the world is a created artifact. But in Bangkok, you feel this more acutely than elsewhere.

The Thais hide better, embellish better. The whole thrust of royal Siamese culture since Ayutthaya was the building of fantasy worlds, ethereal realms that are not of this earth. A lot of thought and choreography go into creating illusion… gorgeous pageantry.

Thailand is a Bowerbird, collecting bits of ribbon, twigs, iridescent insect wings, blue bottle caps, all sorts of shiny and pretty things, and weaving them together as decoration for its nest.

The myths and counter-myths of Thailand and its people are a quagmire, for sure. But give me the nest of a Bowerbird over the sterile tidiness of the West any day.

Note: Alex Kerr can be located via Alex Kerr.com. The artwork (above and used on the cover) is a creation of the fabulous Thai painter Thongchai Srisukprasert (ธงชัย ศรีสุขประเสริฐ).

10 comments
  1. Living away from the noise and dust while still being in BKK is the best of both worlds. I just read about Suk (it’s awful). So I’m doubly pleased about living in a quite soi instead.

    When the subject of BKK drowning started making the rounds, the man of the house had an interesting time mapping out just how much of the country would be under water (and where we could move to if it did). Even scientists (especially scientists) are undecided about what is going to happen. Or when.

    The world will end in 2012? Cannot, lah. I need to make my investment back off this condo before then 😉

  2. I found out living in the outskirts is the best for me too. It’s more relaxed and you can have Bangkok on demand. I just hope we can live here for some more time and don’t need boats to get around…

    Bangkok Is Drowning: Fact or Fiction (no longer live)

    If Bangkok would really drown… I can’t even imagine that. But then again for some people the world will end in 2012 (while I will enjoy the new Ikea store in Bang Na that should be open by then).

  3. I lived in several provinces here in Thailand but there is just no other place that matches what Bangkok has to offer if like you said you like the vibrant city life.

    Even though I can not imagine still living downtown like I used to. Maybe I get old but the constant noise was at some point too much for me.

    I have heard from many people Bangkok is a love / hate affair. My theory is that Bangkok is very unlike other places so it takes a while to get used to it and discover its beauty (or the beauty in the chaos).
    .-= jo hopes you will read…Phrase Lesson 3: General answers (Audio) =-.

  4. I don’t miss the M25 at all. Note… when I lived in the UK, I didn’t have to tussle with London traffic for work, as I was in Scotland. But I do when going home to Devon several times a year.

    Three months on an island… it takes a special person to handle island living. What do you do when there? Borneo is quite large and I had island fever regardless. Singapore is the same for me.

  5. Chiangmai. And udon thani do have there attractions that’s for sure but even the boonies of issan while on the surface very laid back can tell a different story if you scratch the surface
    Life as a expat in Thailand even in a city as large as Bangkok must be more preferable to you then driving round the M25 every morning and fighting your way back at night

    Sometimes I feel like kicking back in ban dung other time’s udon thani then there’s always catching up with a few die hards in Bangkok our pats
    I must admit at the moment I could easily do 3 month’s on kao tao island where I met the wife 10 years ago
    At least when your based in Bangkok you can easily head north our south in a day
    Regards john

  6. I used to dislike Bangkok. I’d land and catch the next flight to Chiangmai. But it grabbed my heart after a couple of months living here. And now I no longer want to live in Chiangmai or elsewhere in Thailand. I love the vibrancy of the city. Oh, and the quiet! I hear that the countryside is the last place to go if you are hankering after peace and quiet 😉

  7. When someone new comes into my community in BKK, I arrive with Very Thai as it is an itemized window into the many mysteries of Thailand.

    In one of the reviews, Bangkok Found is advised for seasoned expats instead.

    It makes sense. When you first live here, you are saturated with a menagerie of colours, smells and sounds. Very Thai is one solution.

    But when you have been here for awhile, the screaming for attention quiets down and the small details appear. And with this comes even more questions.

    Alex’s thoughtful musings throughout Bangkok Found prods your mind to another level of what Thailand is or isn’t.

    And if you ever find out the final FINAL answer, do tell!

  8. Bangkok Found sounds like a great read…I will be ordering it momentarily and hoping that it does something to satiate my need while I am away from the country I love.

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