Bangkok- The very name reminds me of those umpteen discussions that we friends at the Delhi University’s VKRV Rao hostel used to have during our nostalgia inducing days. After those hectic, hallucinating classes at the Delhi School of Economics when we returned to our hostels, intense Boys centric discussions around Bangkok and its way of life and fancy about those steaming oriental body massages being offered by those mermaid type women, with the tinkling magical music being played in the background acted as tranquillizers to our otherwise exhausted minds and bodies.
Likewise for several people Bangkok has been made identical with the sex capital of all the affordable touristy places around the world. This is primarily one of the reasons that petty businessmen and several others too escape from their regulated households, in the name of business to Bangkok and then return rejuvenated after fulfilling all their whims and fancies of life.
Thus we have stereotyped the place. This is one of the several reasons (apart from being habitual bargainers) that we could observe a general feeling of disrespect for our fellow Indian tourist folks at Bangkok and of course at several other places as well. We have always lived in our imagination of stereotypes.
We generalize. We see women in short skirts and take it for granted that the dress is some form of code language to invite people. This is the general feeling of a set of bachelor or pretentiously bachelor tourists who visit Bangkok. Just because sex industry is a long established profession in that society, it doesn’t mean that every free soul on the street is available.
Anyways on my recent visit to Bangkok, I was alone and since I had a few days to spare there I decided to experience it with a broader outlook. I dedicated a day for a candid city tour, trying my best to utilise all those resources that a local makes use of, the sky train, tuk-tuk, water way and so on and yes a guided bike tour of the city lanes and of course a walk round the city with a map in hand (around 12 Kms).
I noticed the amount of time people spent in eating. I will wake up at five in the morning and decide to take a walk, people would already be in the middle of their morning meal. I go back to the hotel, take a shower, eat my breakfast, come out and see another set of people eating. And very disturbingly, this happens all through the day and late into the night. The benches are never empty. There are no three meals a day restrictions and it seems, no one cooks at home too. The street food is the most defining and most persistent characteristic of the city.
During my walk I came across a shrine called the Erawan Shrine (near Chitlom sky train station). The shrine housed a statue that had 4 faces and looked like some Indian God. What was amusing that unlike our super regulated and oppressive temples, this shrine was amazing in its concept. They had kept free incense sticks, louts flowers and some beaded garlands which people visiting it were picking and simply offering it to the deity.
There was no dress code restriction for commoners and people passing by, who in super fashionable dresses (mostly youth, unlike our Indian temples) were entering the shrine and offering prayers. It appeared that for a change the God had made an effort to reach out to the people.
I was busy gazing at it and trying to unravel it, when I was interrupted by a local gentleman. He asked me whether I knew whose statue was this. I told him that the people are referring it to be some 4 faced Buddha but it looks more like the Hindu God Brahma. I saw the feeling of content on his face. He reverted, yes, this is Brahma’s statue which people generally refer to as the 4 faced Buddha. During our course of discussion what struck me most was his humble acceptance that the Thai culture had a lot of resemblance with that of the Hindu India, especially the North Eastern part of it.
But what hurts them most is when the Indians either approach their cities and culture with extreme feelings. Like some visit Bangkok for the obvious famous sex centres or the ‘enlightened’ ones approach it as a cultural extension of India. The phrase that he used was ‘cultural colonialism’ and suggested that abstaining from such a feeling was the key to win over the normal local folks respect and love.
He admitted that India and its cultures always had and still have a lot to offer to the surrounding regions. It struck me very promptly that whenever we visit some other culture and see that something similar to ours is present there, then we develop a feeling of greatness about our own culture and feel that the others owe their culture’s depth to us. This in is social sciences has been referred to as Ethnocentrism.
Anyways we had a huge discussion and he suggested me a few places that I could visit for the next 2 days. One of the places is called Ayutthaya (sounds like Ayudhya) which is around 85 Kms north of Bkk upstream of the Chao Phraya river. Ayutthaya was also the ancient capital of Siam (Thailand) till it was burnt and destroyed by the Burmese Rulers by 1767 AD. The other places were the Bang Pa-In Royal palace complex (also called the summer palace of Thailand) and the last was of course any of the floating markets.
More of that in the next part 🙂