Writing these words while sitting under part of the Sirat Expressway near Victory Monument, hearing the chants of protesters and waiting for a van to go to Eastern Thailand – I look around carefully, beyond what I normally gloss over, and try to remember what would have made an impression on me during my first trip here.
The weather and the humidity that I am so used to now seemed overbearing at the time – sitting under a freeway with traffic buzzing by, motorbikes, tuk tuks, taxis, vans, trucks, all would have seemed so chaotic. Shacks with tin roofs under freeways. Fancy buildings standing right next to them. A maze of tangled black electrical wires rigged together so that one cannot tell where one wire started and one began – a birds nest of electrical current overhead.
Then you have the street food – friends and I were so worried about eating street food. We dared each other back then – who would be the first one to try “mystery meat on a stick”? Would we get violently sick? None of us had ever eaten street food before or really even been exposed to it. All our lives we had purchased foods in annoyingly clean supermarkets and from enclosed restaurants. What was all this “weird” food we had never seen before? It was a sensory overload of aromas, sights and sounds in the markets and on the streets.
Then there was the aspect of seeing the city; we couldn’t figure out where we had gone and where we had been before – to us it was just one big maze of buildings in all directions. We didn’t identify with any landmarks, of which there are many. Without a point of reference, we just wandered around lost – certainly an exciting way to see the city.
So today, none of this makes the impact on me that it first made. I know how to get around the main parts of town without getting lost. Most of what I now eat in Bangkok is street food. The perceived chaos is all part of the accepted scenery of Bangkok; I am so used to it and comfortable with it.
However, I don’t always stop and think about my perceptions that I had during my first trips abroad. So in that sense, it was a neat feeling today to just stop in the midst of all the chaos (helped by the protesting crowds and additional noise from the loudspeakers) and look around and remember how I used to perceive Bangkok.
With that said, I still get excited before any trip to this urban hotspot – it is certainly one of the world’s greatest cities and one of my favorites.