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.
Finding our way is difficult and sometime it is beautiful and sometimes it is stinky- I love reading your posts Vicki! I would love to visit Thailand some day– the richness of this past year, I am sure has changed you all! amazing! Hopefully I will see you this summer– back in serene Maine! end of July?? love you! Heffy
Penelope Bedell said:
I’m so glad you’re keeping such a wonderful record of your travels. The Far East is a magical place; the longer you stay there, the more you realize the total “We’re not in Kansas anymore” immersion. It’s amazing, puzzling, sometimes scary…as you say, the whole gamut of emotions and reactions to such a different culture run through you like a river, on a daily basis.
Enjoy every minute of it; it will stay in your heart the rest of your life.
Diana Ryan said:
I love your posts they are verying entertaining. I will never visit all of the places you have been in the last year, but it is like having a tiny window into another world. I still think you should write a book when you get back. Diana
Vicki Hamlin said:
Diana, Thank you. I write with friends like you in mind, like a letter almost.
I would love to write a book. I just don’t know who would read it!
That was beautiful and so true! I loved reading it.
V–you are getting SO good. I did not have time to read this tonight, but when I started I couldn’t stop. And the photos–the one with the woman and the hats is marvelous. And the message of that tree–isn’t it what we all do? Forge through the hardest things so that we become stronger. Bravo.