The Need to Rise Above It: Thoughts on Bangkok.
Ed. Note: The previous blog post on Thailand was removed due to it being poorly worded, lacking any real direction, and because seedy shit went down this afternoon. Some of the original text now lives below.
Ferris Bueller contains a multitude of fantastic quotes and thoughts, but one has always stuck with me slightly more than the rest. As Sloane, Ferris and Cameron stand on the viewing deck of the Seers Tower, heads against the glass, and stare down at the city below, Sloane remarks quietly, "The city looks so peaceful from up here", to which Ferris replies, "Anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three feet." (Cameron then remarks, "I think I can see my dad. Shit." This bit is awesome, but not really related to my point).
Ferris is dead right. Height takes us out of the realities of a city, and into the cleanliness and calm that lives so far above the gutters. Standing up (and looking down), we can see the city only from a macro level, and our macro views are often dramatically warped. In no city is this more true than Bangkok.
This is a city with a thin facade, and a truly seedy underbelly (I can only imagine it 20 years ago). And funnily enough, the facade is AWESOME. The Hangover II showed us the rooftop bars that stare across the city, and after visiting nearly all of them, I can say that from height, this is a truly gorgeous city. Imagine Singapore: green, leafy, organised. Now remove the organization and dirty up the place a little and you've begun to get a feel for Bangkok. I don't mean this in a derogatory way: I love Swingers, but it always feels a little plastic, and unreal. No one can accuse Bangkok of feeling unreal. This place reeks of real. In some ways great, and in some disgusting.
There are the people, and they might be the friendliest people on Earth. Lovely, smiling, accommodating: the Thai locals we met were almost all lovely. No wonder filthy white fuckers can be found all over the place, then, with their fat faces smiling disgustingly at their young, local partners (men and women).
It's really sad, actually: these beautiful, kind and often very, very young people being letched onto by the lowest losers spat out from Australia, the UK and the US. I know that sounds mean, and it is a massive generalisation, but a quick walk around any mall, any bar street, any BTS station in the city, will guarantee the sight of a 40-50 year old white guy with a 20-30 year old Thai chick, which seems weird when viewed en masse. I've seen this on occasion in Shanghai, but it's very rare (at least in the world I inhabit).
Like so many Asian capitals (Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, KL), shopping malls dominate the landscape. And unsurprisingly, they're exactly the same as in each and every city, albeit slightly cheaper. Luckily, the floating markets and temples are still around, and cultural sights are blended into the highrises. And wherever you turn, there is a huge picture of the King: he's a very popular chappy. In fact, it might be the only thing that unites the highrise views and the neon lit streets: the King oversees it all.
Then there's the fucking taxis. Unlike Singapore, Shanghai, HK or KL, Bangkok lacks an amazing metro (the BTS is ok, but doesn't take you everywhere), which means that tuk-tuks and taxis are a necessity to get around. However, man oh man, do these fuckers GOUGE the white man. Tuk-Tuk's i can understand: they're an unmetred system, so of course you haggle before you ride (plus they give the rider the novelty of near death as you rocket through the traffic). But the regular taxis are (by and large) GAPING ARSEHOLES. They point blank refuse to use the metre, and at the slightest hint of traffic (which is EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME), they'll jack up the agreed price, throwing you out on a freeway if you refuse. On two occasions, I have nearly come to blows over this: a 30 baht fare suddenly shoots up to 250 baht, and you're powerless to argue. Some of the cabbies try aggression, some try whining. Either way, fuck those guys.
Honestly, I found it really hard to stomach the street level stuff: the blatant underage prostitutes, the lumbering, tattooed overseers who stare from the shadows, the overflowing, bulging white stomachs protruding from under tee shirts with slogans like 'I Don't Need Google, I Have A Wife', the constant badgering for every drug you can think of: apparently the city is gripped by a huge meth epidemic, a fact I do not doubt for a second. And most of all, I found myself clenching my fist to prevent just ripping into one of the filthy sexpats that populate all the bars on all the bar streets, laughing loudest as they grip their child concubine's leg.
But I didn't. I don't like it, but getting into fistfights isn't going to help. So I retreated into the safety of the sky, and headed to the bars on top of buildings. I couldn't rise above the filth on street level in a metaphorical sense, so I had no choice but to do it literally. And with cocktail in hand, I stare across Bangkok. From up here, it ain't so bad.