Sunday, June 29, 2008


Last night I slept for almost twelve hours. I spent the day walking, walking, walking. I took the Skytrain to the weekend market on the north side of town, where I walked through aisles and aisles of clothing, furniture, food, coffee, ice cream, handicrafts, plates, underwear, and animals. It was so hot that the sweat coated my entire body and I had to stop and rest several times just to get my body to dry off. Traveling alone gives me a lot of time to just sit and people-watch, which is what I do with about half my time. The other half of the time is spent reading, eating, and walking, equally divided between the three. The weekend market is a good example of everything that Thailand is. Thailand is not anything you might romanticize it to be, but it is also everything you'd romanticize it to be, if that makes sense. I just finished reading Michael Taussig's Mimesis and Alterity and I think I have a refreshed view on what makes a place "authentic." Authentic Thailand isn't hill-tribe people weaving baskets, but it is hill-tribe people weaving baskets as a performance for tourists. Culture is performance. Does that make it less authentic? Is there anywhere where culture isn't performance, in a post-modern world? If it's not performance we don't call it culture, or we don't call it traditional culture. It's pop-culture. And pop-culture is performance. I guess this interpretation relies on the idea that culture hasn't always been performance, that in a bygone era culture was the authentic, rich layering of music, language, food, gesture, and craft, and that culture wasn't "done" to please anyone other than those who belonged to the culture. Whereas now culture is performed to affirm and reaffirm the expectations of those who have come to indulge in foreign culture. But that makes it no less authentic. Authentic culture is this performance: it is the assimilation of expectation with necessities of livelihood, tradition, and innovation. It is always modernizing and expanding. There is the culture of a backpacker's ghetto, and this is the same in any country. There is the culture of the red-light district, which likewise is the same. There is the ex-pat culture and the service industry culture. But then there is temple culture--people performing rituals and making merit to secure better rebirths, and the tourists who stroll about gobbling up Buddha images because they feel spiritual.

It's all authentic. Me and them and the tourists and the Starbucks (of which there are many). The reconstruction of traditional culture is authentic culture, and the destruction of traditional culture is also authentic culture.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bangkok in My Nose

After eighteen hours in the air and four hours of layover, not to mention a two hour bus ride that ended prematurely when the driver said traffic was too bad to continue, and asked us to take the train the rest of the way, I made it to my hostel in Bangkok. I'm staying at Suk 11 off of Sukhumvit, which is sort of the international business part of town. There's a large Arabic-speaking community, an Indian community, and of course the Euro-American ex-pat community, consisting mostly of middle-aged men (I rarely see female ex-pats. Why is that?). Suk 11 is one of the more adorable hostels I've ever stayed in. The owners have let a virtual jungle grow throughout the place. There are tons of plants and vines hanging everywhere, and little gardens all over the place. On the roof there are more plants, and little tables perfect for writing in my journal or reading the books I brought to keep my mind working academically. The roof is also decorated with old rickshaws, some of which still have air in the tires.

I haven't really known what to do with myself since I've been here. Today I walked around and sweated. Pints of sweat, I'd say. It doesn't feel that hot, mostly just humid, but the sweat pours down my body. I don't know why Thai women don't sweat the way I do, but I feel gross and clumsy with my sweat-soaked shirt and pants. I finished a book today. I sat in parks and watched people, plants, and turtles. I saw a turtle in the queens park that had a giant catfish stuck on its back, sucking off its algae. The turtle seemed disgruntled by the presence of the fish.

I ate lunch at a small food stall. Pad Thai for 45 baht, which is just over a dollar. The dollar has lost so much value since I was here last, but food is still relatively inexpensive. When I was last in Bangkok there was one Starbucks in the Sukhumvit area, whereas now there are about eight. However, there is also an increasing number of street vendors who sell fresh coffee. Today I bought a super-sweet iced coffee from a street vendor for 18 baht, probably a tenth of the price of a Starbucks coffee.

Anyway, enough about me and my eating habits in Thailand. It's strange being in Bangkok alone for this long (only three days, but still), and I don't really know what to do keep myself awake until 10pm so that I can adjust to the time difference. Last night I promised myself I'd stay up until 9, but I crashed just after 8 and woke up at 5:30.

I don't have a way to hook up my camera to the computer yet (I'm at an internet cafe right now), but as soon as Luke and Kelly get here, which is tomorrow, hopefully I can post some pictures online. Hopefully I will be more articulate tomorrow too, and have some interesting things to relate.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Tonight at 1:00 am I board a plane at LAX to Thailand, via Tai Pei. From July 1st to August 15th I will be learning Thai and Pali. Then, from August 15th to September 10th I will be conducting research and traveling. I will post photos and diaries of my time in Thailand on this blog.