October 23, 2008

Bangkok glows at night

It's a funny thing about cabs and Tuk Tuks in Bangkok. In the mornings they are everywhere. In the evenings, they are only around the night spots and the malls. Having stayed late at the Chulalongkorn University (I'm talking 7 p.m.), there were no cabs in site). So I decided to walk home. Good exercise. Lovely night without rain.

I like walking in Bangkok at night. It is sometimes cooler but more importantly, Bangkok is very different at night. It comes alive. It has a new personality at night. On the streets, small vendors set up shop. One has socks of various colors; another has sunglasses. There is a chocolate stand, tiny squares of lush chocolate, white and dark. School girls in their uniforms crowd around a vendor selling little "knock-off" Lesportsace bags. T-shirts in row after row adorn another stand.

The evening restaurants pop out. Some are no more than roll-along carts like New York's hot dog vendors. Sidewalks that once were walkways, are informal restaurant. You can get corn on the cob cooked over charcoal, or nice bowls of noodles with various types of fish. Tables sprinkle the side walk with people talking, chatting. The stray dogs wander in and out of the tables hoping for a tasty morsel or two. There is the blind man with his boom box singing a beautiful song on a corner spot. His friend stands near. A pandhandler or two dot the street. "Please madame their eyes hopefully beg.

One thing that is important as one walks around the streets is not to avoid people. It is okay to say no you do not want something but if they speak to you, you need to at least smile and acknowledge the person "Not today" They get very upset and shout at you if you don't do acknowledge them.

You can buy cans of soda, potato chips, candy, sun glasses, watches. The massage ladies (reputable) sit outside their shops waving signs. Business has been slow due to the bad publicity Bangkok has received about political unrest. So the signs say "Massage only 149 Baht." Now that is a bargain. That's about $5.

I pause by a park as a few people practice gentle movements of Tai Chi. So beautiful, so fluid. the parks are so beautiful with lush green grass, lovely fountains. I feel a moment of peace. As I near a small shrine. Women sit at their roadside stalls selling incense and small handmade flower wreaths to give thinks to the Gods. I take a moment and reflect and pause myself.

Near the sky trains on the overwalks, young kids break dance. Never under-estimate a Thai young man because he is not as large as African Americans. These young guys are strong. Very strong. They can do the usual tricks. But they add a grace that is strictly Asian. Perhaps a martial arts influence is what makes it different. One young guy balances again and again on one hand. He holds the move longer than one might think possible and then rolls into a unique hip hop spin.

People wait on the streets for a bus ride home. Advertisements on video billboards entertain them as they wait. Zooming up and down the streets are trucks of construction workers. The trucks remind me of cattle trucks with high side railings and cloth cover over the top. Males AND females ride in trucks, all dressed in the same color uniforms with hard hats of the same color on their head. The uniformity in attire reminds me of work crews from the country lock-up in the U.S. But that is not the case. These are the people who keep the city moving. It is cooler to do repairs in the evening hours. I see more women working construction in Thailand than I do in the U.S. and they don't just hold signs. They dig and work along side their male peers.

The lights of the MBK center shine brightly as a beacon light. Finally, I am near the the last cross over bridge Okay good I am not lost. No problem I am almost home. The walk seems long because to cross ever major street, one must walk up two flights of stairs to take the overpass bridge and then down again. A mother with a small child sits with a cup and hopes from contributions for her family. I watch in amazement at his determination, as one man with very deformed legs such that he can not walk on them. Puts sandals on his hands and does a hand stand down the stairs from the sky train walkway. I promise myself that he will get a a donation from next time. I can not walk on my hands at all, let along go up and down steep steep stairs.

Car horns blare at a night. Motorcycles whip in and out of the traffic. If really impatient, they even zoom past me on the side walk. Now that is scary to be walking along and all of sudden there is a motorcycle heading your way. the only negative is crossing streets. One must walk with determination across the street. Any hesitation and the car will zoom past you -- very close. Too close for comfortable for this slow walking American.

Getting closer to my apartment, I cross over the river on the bridge. The lights are bright. Elephant heads stair down, carved into the pillars of the bridge. A stray dog walks by me taking the bridge to who knows where. A girl offers to take my packages. I think she is sincere but I do not know. I talk and chat with her but hold onto my own bags -- just in case.

I look down at the canal from the bridge. At night. the water taxi is lite up and still runs its run, gliding down the glossy river. Carts are pushed up and down the sides of the roads with various food items. The vendors roll them to new and different spots if business is slow. Near the malls music booms out as various musical acts perform.

As I pass the shop where I usually get a massage, they wave. "Tonight madame?" they ask. "No, maybe tomorrow." They are always hopeful about business. But it has been too slow. I stop at my favorite corner market to pick up some coke lite. The owner lady sits ironing. Every baht matters in Bangkok's small family businesses. Her son sits at a desk, ready to translate for the Americans who need help. His books are open. He hopes to be finish college and work as a translator. His English is quite good. He laughs at my silly jokes. Perhaps I need some potato chips too.

I like Bangkok at night. It is a different city than the Bangkok of the day.

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