For spring break this year, we opted to go to Thailand, a beautifully lush, absolutely vibrant country. It was everything I thought it would be – stunning as well as devastating. All cities probably have both qualities. What surprised me was that both were constantly surrounding us. The impoverished side was not banished into any separate sections of Bangkok — posh and destitute existed side by side.
We are hosting my mother and my niece for a few weeks, so they came along.
Our first stop was Bangkok.
Our guide, Anne, laughed when she explained to us that sometimes, in this city, one can experience all 3 seasons in one day: summer, rainy and winter. It was hard to believe. On our visit to Bangkok, the temp hovered around 100 with 95% humidity. It also rained a couple of times, but the showers did not alleviate the oppressive damp blanket of heat, and winter was nowhere to be seen.
I found that, often, on our trip to Thailand, like the changing of the seasons all occurring in the span of a few hours, my emotions went from euphoria to discomfort to despair in seconds. I was so happy to be in a place I’d dreamed of visiting all my life, experiencing profound beauty. Spectacular temples and palaces, wherein 90% of the Thai people worship their Buddha. Sensational gardens, with thousands of types of orchids abounding.
But, also, I was overwhelmed by the reality of poverty, corruption, overcrowdedness, and the injustices that plague Thailand.
When you are soaked in sweat, navigating crowds of every nationality on earth, breathing in the horrific stench of human urine, being accosted by street and river vendors, attempting to keep track of your beloved group of 7, including 4 children, in fast city traffic — your head spins like a pinwheel in a heavy wind. You are at once astounded by the activity, the vibrancy, the aliveness of Bangkok – and feeling the need to get away. To sit in a peaceful place. To feel grace again.
Thankfully, our guide sensed this, and she would offer quiet moments after blisteringly intense ones.
She took us here, for example, where we bought day old bread from monks who allowed us to feed the river fish.
Along the river, I witnessed a group of four teenagers, crouching together and arguing. One stood up and kicked another in the head. The latter curled into a fetal position, hands covering face, and stayed that way until I could no longer see them.
But, then, I also witnessed things like this:
…a woman selling hats. Beautiful. Simple.
What I took away from Bangkok was the feeling that everyone is just trying to eke out a living, fulfill hopes, dreams or destiny. To carve out what tiny space can be theirs in a city of 9 million people.
Snapshots of Bangkok:
A little girl in a red dress, lighting a candle and saying a prayer to the Buddha. An old woman in traditional dress who refused to let us take her photograph. A seemingly harmless drug addict who watched our family take goofy pictures in the mouth of a big fake shark at the pier. A beggar with no hands, and only a cup and a few coins in his possession. Millions of cuts of glass, all painstakingly glued to the side of a temple, in the brightest colors imaginable. A little boy jumping from a billboard hanging out over the side of the highway, into a polluted river to cool off. A woman with a giant smile and rotting teeth, offering her plastic elephant souvenirs, and a “special deal” just for us.
Everyone just trying to make their way. Just like everyone else in the world.