Krueng Thep- the city of angels. It was October of 1998 when I had last seen her skyline from an EVA Airways plane flying me back to America for my 25th birthday and my best friends wedding. Now, nearly 11 years to the day I’m walking down the familiar streets of a crazy city that I still think of as my first foreign home of my nomadic adulthood.
There are remnants of the city I remember from long ago, but around these familiar sights, the city has exploded. I walk past the Asia books and remember my first trip there in April of 1997. I pass the Robinson’s department store where I ate too many meals in the food court after church. Bus 136 is still running, and of course there is the JW. I walk through the shiny black lobby feeling the cool air conditioning on my skin and smiling with the memories of amazing friendships that grew over pudding and pancakes on the 9th floor. I’m thankful for my past and for my new future and puzzled how it’s all come full circle.
I’m amazed to see that the streets and the sois of the city, once quiet for walking and grabbing a bowl of noodles, have turned into a mecca of markets- filled with foreign shoppers tripping over themselves and the crooked sidewalks in order to get a bargain on an elephant pillow case or a pirated dvd set. It used to be like this a little bit, I remember it well, but the proportion of the insanity has multiplied exponentially. Bangkok has gotten busier, it has gotten dirtier, the exploitation of women and girls for sex tourism seems even more in your face than remember it from years ago. The skytrain that was falling in pieces from the sky in the early days of its construction when I left has now been whizzing people back and forth above the traffic for ten years already. Girls dresses have gotten shorter and the malls have gotten taller and fancier. There are now 84 Starbucks, and a dozen other gourmet coffee chains in the same city where I first discovered how much that I hate Nescafe. It’s almost as easy to find a latte as it is to find pad thai. There is a new efficiency and a bit of cosmopolitan flair mixed with the old mai pen rai, and I think maybe that I kind of like it.
What hasn’t changed about Bangkok though is the best part. It is the warm smiles of the people, the smell of free flowing curries, the beat of the mortar and pestle making som tom in the street and of course the taxi driver that laughs with me all the way to the airport as try to recite the days of the week in Thai completely tone deaf to the rhythm of the language.
The Thai smiles is contagious. As my flight takes off for Phnom Penh I find myself grinning- filled with a sense of gratitude for all that has been, and knowing that whatever lies ahead in this unknown place I’ll soon call home will somehow be good.
Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. – Maria Robinson