Last week, I was on my quest for the best coffee places in my Bangkok neighbourhood. When I was walking along the main street in the Ekkamai district, I stumbled upon a massive mural on a deserted house. It reminded me that for quite some time, I had been planning to write a post about street art in Bangkok. Why had I not done it yet? There was always an excuse not to do it. It was too hot, I had a meeting, I did not feel well… And I had to think about my seminar in Alpbach last summer where Bernie Roth taught us that “there are only bullshit (sic!) reasons”.
On Friday morning, I was not feeling very motivated. I was thinking of taking the day off. But then I just packed my equipment and ventured out into the area around Chinatown. I had read in a few guides that this was supposed to be one of the areas with a lot of street art. Even though I was exploring the alleys near Chinatown, I did not see too many foreigners. And the more I ventured into the so-called “Sois”, the side alleys, the more I got to experience what I think is the “real” Bangkok – far away from the luxury malls, the fancy condos and skyscrapers.
Google Maps was not showing all the small streets properly and I had to ask my way through the area. I got to meet a Thai guy who was just casually smoking his cigarette with his red and yellow parrot on his shoulder. I saw a woman putting her cat into a small cage – yes, in this part of the world this is very normal, unfortunately. But I also met a Pomeranian whose owner was buying coconut juice for him. I talked to the women selling street food from their small stands. My Thai is still very limited and most of the people did not speak English, but somehow we managed to communicate. Sometimes, I did feel a bit uncomfortable. I felt the looks when I walked by. Probably, most of the locals thought “What is this foreigner doing here? And why is she taking pictures of our houses?” By that time, I had forgotten my miserable morning. I had expanded my mission from discovering street art to documenting every day life in Bangkok.
I was really lucky on that last Friday to be able to see a different side of Bangkok. My boyfriend, who grew up in Thailand, told me so much about lizards that used to roam around in the middle of the city. And when I tried to take a picture of the river, I realized after a couple of minutes that right in front of me, there was a giant lizard chilling out in the morning sun. How would I have seen that if I had not been curious? If I had just walked by the river, not wasting one second looking more closely.
We all tend to somehow blend out everything around us. When was the last time you looked out of the car or the bus on your way to work? When did you actively observe what is happening around you? In a city like Bangkok, where walking is limited to the mere minimum due to the heat, it is easy to get caught up in the car, watching Youtube, listening to music or just blanking out.
I still remember all the things I experienced when I studied and worked in China. But I never documented anything I saw. Now, everything has probably changed, a lot of places have disappeared. I recently attended an event by the American Women’s Club and talked to some women who are first time expats in Asia. When I shared some of my favourite stories about China, Hong Kong and Singapore, I was surprised by the interest everyone showed in the stories. To me, they have become normal, they are part of me. I tend to forget that the small and, very often, funny things – salons turning into brothels at night, chicken feet sold at the corner shops and that Google really does not work in China – may be a totally new experience for somebody else.
I did not want to make the same mistake and forget about sharing my daily stories and I am now trying to capture the moments from every day life abroad. I do not think we can only be curious while travelling. I think we can do it every day. I am sure that if you look closely, there are amazing things to discover. Just think about that saying “look at the world through the eyes of child”. So simple, and yet we forget about it.
What’s On for This Week
I am currently excitedly packing and preparing to go back to Europe to spend the Christmas time at home. Even though there is a lot of Christmas decoration here as well, I find it hard to get into Christmas mood in the tropics. I have to spend Christmas in a cold climate. Furthermore, Christmas means coming home and spending time with family and friends. Everybody who lives abroad comes back and we will exchange the latest gossip! (The people in question should prepare 😉 ). It is a busy but at the same time quiet period to catch up with everyone and to reflect on the past year. In most of the Asian cities I have been during Christmas time, December (or actually the time starting at the beginning of November!) means techno Christmas music and even more shopping deals to spur consumerism. It is really strange to see so many people taking selfies in front of decoration that has virtually no meaning for them. I feel the same when I see Europeans put Buddha statues in their gardens for decoration. It just does not work.
Anyways, this was my small rant about Christmas consumerism. I wish you all a great start of the week!