Saturday, March 01, 2014

Bangkok, Thailand

The Bangkok demonstration site.  Yes, we were told to stay away.  And no, we did not.
19 February – 1 March

You think of travelers as bold, but our guilty secret is that travel is one of the laziest ways on earth of passing the time. Travel is not merely the business of being bone-idle, but also an elaborate bumming evasion, allowing us to call attention to ourselves with our conspicuous absence while we intrude upon other people's privacy--being actively offensive as fugitive freeloaders. The traveler is the greediest kind of romantic voyeur, and in some well-hidden part of the traveler's personality is an unpickable knot of vanity, presumption, and mythomania bordering on the pathological.  
--Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
This is exactly how I'm feeling lately. Not that I don't still love the grit and chaos of travel, but more I feel its aimlessness, as if I don't know exactly what direction I'm supposed to be moving. We rested in Bangkok for more than a week because, well, Bangkok feels like home. Especially Siyan, our adopted neighborhood, home of Bluefin Guesthouse—which I'm sure doesn't need any more business, or I don't know if I want it to have any more business because it'll lose that magical quality it still possesses.

Three bowls of beef guaytaeou in Siyan

Siyan is an intersection of two roads, Nakhon Chai Si and Samsen, and the site of a vigorous and thriving day and night market, unpopulated by farangs. (Except for us.) When we arrived in Bangkok the first time, I asked in broken Thai: where's the market? I was expecting something grander, maybe, a tented pavilion with arches. Instead the market's laid out on the street, with almost anything one could want. Plastic utensils, smartphones, Thai flags, clothing, noodles in any incarnation. We spent most of the week hopping from one noodle cart to the next. One that just did beef—thin slices of rare meat just immersed in broth. Another with chicken—floating whole chicken legs and sliced breast.

Thailand is beginning to lose its strangeness. I begin to callous to its beauty, the way I do to a photograph hung on the wall. This afternoon I even went through my photographs of Maine, posted some I'd never bothered to before. It's a place that looks so alien and cold, so unfamiliar now. I'm not as stunned and grateful to be here anymore, and instead I just want to settle in, find a place where I can make friends, talk to the same people every day. Instead we push ourselves forward, out of the nest again, onto the next destination, at least for a little while more.

I loved Bangkok. I hated to leave. It'd take me a full year to eat myself up one side of that street and down the other, and in the meantime I'd get educations in Thai, food writing, cuisine, and how to take market photographs (a skill I have barely begun to attempt). It's terrifying asking people if you can take their picture. More and more I feel like true travel is to move, to stay in one place until I'm no longer a “farang,” just that weird American who lives down the block. But instead we move on.

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