Saturday, May 12, 2007

decadence & decay in Bangkok

Bangkok. The city's a behemoth, a concrete monster. Horrible pollution, little green space, and empty crumbling buildings that compete for space with cranes for new construction. The Asian economic boom of the mid-1980s spurred furious, directionless growth. Now, there's no city center, public transportation is a joke, and traffic some of the worst in Asia.
The shiny new airport is 30km outside of town, a 45 minute cab ride at 5:00am (the only time there's no traffic). A sky rail is being constructed to connect the airport to the city. It won't be completed for years. The flashy new airport has rankled Bangkokians since it's opening last fall. The old airport was old, yet fully functioning. And, it was connected to the city's nascent subway system. The new one is built over acres of lowlands that were once a mass cemetery.
The three above pictures were taken near Chinatown. Ah, rampant development in poor Asia.

Despite the abominable architecture and city planning, I love Bangkok. The people and the food are enough to have made me come a 2nd time. The juiciest, least fibrous mango ever to touch my tongue. This is my friend/Thai uncle Chanin cutting it for a plate of sticky rice and coconut milk. In addition to food, he serves pocket-fulls of wisdom with a side of shrewd common sense ("you have to find out where you come from and why you're on this planet–this is the most important thing for Buddhists").
And the strangers. "If I only knew more Thai," was the regret floating in my head as I walked around. Still, most times I could get by with the few phrases I knew. I stumbled upon a dozen old guys gathered around equally old marble tables, passing the stuffy afternoon in the shade...
Life in the shade, or under highway underpass. That's where this family spends most of their time. Amid the incessant roar of cars above, two of the children play the same game as the old guys in the shade (above).
Leaving Thailand on a Sunday morning, I knew I probably wouldn't come back, at least not for a while. Flying by gargantuan billboards advertisting Japanese cameras and European-owned hotels, I thought how the tourists is a parasite in Thailand. Take, take, take...take the white sand, the fake fashions, pirated CDs, cheap sex and massages. Take products, not culture. Not faces and the stories behind them. I took pictures, and no one asked me for money once.

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Dad said...
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