Friday, August 29, 2008

Routinization

These past few days I've been reestablishing myself in Bangkok, trying to figure out what to do, where to go, how to get over this sickness. I've developed a strange routine that involves an expensive mall, lots of air-conditioning, and an occasional trip up the river. These things I know how to do. I know how to take the Skytrain to Siam Paragon for an expensive lunch or to see a movie or to hang out in the bookstore. I know how to reboard the Skytrain to go to the river, where I can take the boat for 17 baht either to the backpacker ghetto (which I am so sick of) for cheap food or to one of the pretty sites along the river.

Today I hung out in the hostel for awhile and read, after eating my free breakfast of watermelon (daeng mo), pineapple (sapbarot), and bread (kanom-pan). I finished the Hemingway last night, so I begrudgingly picked up the Dickens' that I've been trying to make it through for the past few weeks. When I first got here I was tearing through books. 600 pages? No problem. Give me four days, max. This Dickens' book is about 750 pages of tiny print. Not only that; it's Dickens. Which means that, yes, there's humor. Yes, there's social commentary. But my god! Why spend page after page on so much character development! Come on, Dickens! I know she's innocent! I know he's shady. Let's get on with the narrative! Bleak House is its name, in case you're itching to go read it.

I left the hostel to return to MBK, a big shopping center/mall thing with everything you could ever not want and then some. Yesterday I had bought an iPod charger, against my better judgment, and of course it doesn't work. So today I thought I might be able to at least try to get my money back. Well, after walking around the maze that is MBK I finally found the place where I bought the charger and the woman played double dumb. Yesterday her English was pretty good, today when I asked her "Pud pasa angrit dai mai ka?" she responded "Mai dai." Nope. No English. I tried to explain that the charger I bought from her yesterday didn't work. She told me that I didn't buy it from her. Nope. She doesn't sell that kind, she said. It was clear to me that yes, she did sell that kind, in fact, her hand writing was the same on all the stickers on all the (most likely defunct) electronic chargers, including mine. Trying to maintain Face (critical in Thai society) and to have a mai bpen rai attitude, I smiled and walked away defeated.

Grumbling along, I decided to walk over to the REALLY fancy mall, Siam Paragon, to waste some time. I thought maybe I'd go see a movie, but there wasn't anything playing that I wanted to see. So I just sat on a chair on the fifth level, watching movie previews and staring at the wall. It felt pretty good.

I got back in the Skytrain and decided to go to the river to catch the boat to go see Wat Arun, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Bangkok. It's really pretty, and cool because it doesn't have the sort of opulence that Wat Pho and the Royal Palace have. For decoration there are ceramic plates in the shape of flowers. The Buddha images are not super fancy. Plus, you have to walk up really steep staircases to climb up on the stupa (a.k.a. jedi, pagoda). Everywhere I turned, however, there were Japanese or Italian tourists blocking my path, snapping photos of one another without actually looking at their surroundings. I have a lot of venting to do about the world's tourists, as I'm sure you've read, and this just continued to annoy me as I tried to circumambulate the area.

I got back on the boat and decided to head back the way I came, toward the Catholic cathedral, Assumption. I got there about 15 minutes before the evening mass started, so I sat in a pew by myself in the back to watch how Thai people enact their Catholicness. There were a few Westerners who came in for the mass, but not many because it was in Thai. The Westerners bow on one knee when they see the altar, whereas Thai people put their hands together and wai the altar. During the service when we're instructed to greet each other, rather than handshakes everybody looked around the room and wai'ed each other. I really liked that. You don't have to talk to each other, you don't have to shake hands awkwardly, or, if in the Unity Church give each other big stranger hugs, you just silently acknowledge each other with a wai. I like it.

The church was beautiful. There was no choir, but a lone woman in the front had a microphone and sang acappella so beautifully that I couldn't help crying like a baby. It was one of the prettiest things I've ever heard. I think the songs were traditional Catholic hymns translated into Thai, but the way she sang them was heartbreaking. I have to admit that no matter how incredible a Buddhist temple is, a Catholic cathedral always trumps it for me. It's probably personal and cultural associations, but the buildings themselves are almost enough to make anyone a believer.

I'm not sure what me retelling my day has to do with routinzation. I guess I just feel like sharing these simple experiences with someone. Being alone is a really interesting experience, especially when you're alone in a place that isn't your home. I wonder who people think I am from a distance, when I sit alone in the Skytrain and watch the advertisements for pizza and Bergamot. If I were with someone else I wouldn't wonder so much. But as it is now, it's just me, hoping I'm making the most of this.

1 comment:

Cokie said...

you may be alone, but you are daily present in the thoughts of us back here in the U.S.A.