Bangkok… the city where every guy can get a girl
Bangkok, the city where every guy can get a girl; where every guy can catch a boy; and many a Thai girl gathers moss like a stone and a grim scowl as another year goes by. For in the land of smiles, a female smile eeked out in hope, across distant miles, and miles in a lifetime, a smile stretched across the nights and the days of waiting for a foreign sweetheart, to text, to email. This is her burden and longing. A Buddhist conundrum, as Buddhist conundrums go. Does one detach so readily and let go? Is Buddhism thwarted? Or is detachment delivered somehow. Disappointment arranged, and eroded over time?
Imagine every day the same…
Whilst in Bangkok, I gaily have gone to and fro the Skytrain station. I pass a woman who, in exchange for twenty Thai baht, will hand me a bottle filled with freshly squeezed tangerine juice. I ponder that for as long as she can stand and as long as she can pull down the handle to extract the elixir from her fruits, she will daily forever be upon this very spot (slightly to the left of the door of a Dental unit offering gleaming white teeth). This morning she proffered the delicious juice without sound and with a generous smile. Alongside her, beneath green umbrellas and ageing yellow canopies, women bake small sponge cakes, sticky rice puddings, and prepare ready-meals—contained in tightly knotted diaphanous bags—of pork balls, rice, and noodles, all swimming in a foggy soup. One man grills fish, another be-heads coconuts, each in their place every day. All manner of plastic items is on display, hair rollers, slides, and bands, baskets and colanders, and sandals galore. At the foot of another are buckets of beauty. Flowers and a table bedecked in necklaces of saffron-coloured offerings—a temple-goers delight. Still others cling to ever murkier and ever reduced dwellings by the water. The richness of their former life diminished— laid shallow by encroaching modern ways. Sleeping dogs lie, and cats scout for the heads and tails of fish in a sunless shambles. A billboard shouts: ‘Life is in the details’. In Bangkok life, to the greater part, is in the detritus.
The Way of the ‘Wai’?
The Wai is the traditional Thai greeting. The younger person initiates the greeting with respect, and the older will respond. In Siam Square, where ageing appears to be a question of socio-economics, who can tell who might put their palms together first? In first-world Bangkok, where the aesthetic is Queen and the ascetic is Monk, only the poorer wither and darken. Many merrily keep in check advancing years with Aesthetic clinics a-go-go: whiteners, bee pollen and snake venom masks. The middle classes age not. Want not. They are eternally youthful, and who knows who is who?. The ascetic and the poor by comparison, addle as lines work across their brow. It is they who keep tradition twinkling in the tourists’ eye.
A Paragon of Material Virtue
Hail the ‘Paragon’ of material virtue, a shopping epicentre in Siam Square—a crystal cathedral with a crowning dome, ascending high, and higher to Zara heaven. The super-rich may shop, sure-footed upon the ground—it seems that Paragon ordered their estate. The rest of us are escalated upon an ever-moving stairway to heaven. This golden estate is destined to become so lastseason and cast-away to the back of drawers to gather dust, and yet, Thais and tourists in droves are driven and thrust to Siam, to Paragon. The signage of branded goods is ablaze and ablast. Rooms of gleaming crystal glass pay homage to Prada, Burberry, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton. Labels bedazzle. Posters shout. Infinity pools and fountains shine on their parade. Everything is suffocatingly wrapped, packaged, and bound. Spot an upright surface, and it is one that can be used to promote something. All of Bangkok seems to be pushing to permeate each and every conscious being with a brand. All is projection. Walkways, stairways, apartment blocks — nothing is too tall, too small, too inaccessible. All can be addressed. Each and every available surface is cloaked in a message of solid, brand-bearing might.
Might tradition in some ways still hold the upper hand?
Back at Bangkok airport, standing upon a moving walkway, I see a sign that reads; ‘Reception area for Buddhist Monks’. Aha! In a city where, increasingly, tradition is being reined-in, there is a sense that, tradition just may in certain quarters, supremely reign.