The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Start of the Journey

by Steve Gajadhar

Last time I promised to tell you all about our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, and so I will. I’m new at this travel writing thing, so hopefully you’ll bear with me as I go on my own travel writing journey of travel writing. As with all journeys it’s always best to start at the beginning, and the beginning was Bangkok. We spent very little total time in Bangkok, it was our stopover en route, our travel limbo. But we tried for 4 days and 4 nights to wrap ourselves around the city, to learn what we could and take something with us.

Like most of us tend to, I had wasted my time forming preconceptions as to the nature of the exotic capital of Siam. Swashbuckling Indiana Jones mixed with some leftover WWII economic boom, topped off with a weird mixture of socialist-communist-monarchy. I pictured an interminable megapolis of decrepit buildings ringed with abandoned 1990s cars. Cardboard shanty towns across the street from shopping malls. Parks full of garbage. Bangkok is all of this and it is none of this. Bangkok is the kind of city you could spend a lifetime discovering and still only scratch the surface. Bangkok’s underbellies have underbellies. Its stink assaults you while the heat immobilizes you. And just when you are ready to write it off, you stumble upon the royal palace that rivals Versailles. The wats (temples). And the people. All their colours and classes. All their religions and all their vices. The people are the jewels in Bangkok’s flawed modernity and they are everywhere. Tuk-tuk drivers, cab drivers, tour guides, travel agents, ladyboys, strippers, monks, tourists, shop owners, street vendors, buskers, landmine victims, and everyone is happy. Even the beggars wear smiles for clothes.

I started out trying to convey something about Bangkok. But I can’t. It would be like forcing reductionism on the universe. It makes writerly types want to curl up with a cheap drink and pen the great 21st century novel while it simultaneously peels language away until nothing is left but imagery and gesture. Bangkok. If you’ve been there the word is enough to conjure everything above and everything experienced that others have missed. And if you’ve never been there maybe you should go. Whether you end up liking it or not, Bangkok is worth the trip.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

"Bangkok’s underbellies have underbellies." That says a lot and is everyone truly happy even though they smile? Glad you got to experience this, Steve. What's the photo about?

Tue May 15, 04:31:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous hai on said...

all of asia, bankok included is also addicted to noise.

Tue May 15, 11:02:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Great post, Steve, but come on...! what did you EAT? Thai cuisine has got to be my all-time favourite. I want the dirty details.

Wed May 16, 03:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Thanks all!

Tricia, i found everyone to be happy and it didn't seem superficial. Joy seems to permeate the culture, and we spent some time going through the countryside as well.

Mel, you're right! but all this is for another post, don't worry!

Wed May 16, 06:28:00 pm GMT-4  

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