Ride with us on the Saturday morning standing room only Bangkok air tram to the last stop and then just follow the tidal wave of people to the renowned “weekend market.” Wander around – this is not an exaggeration – the five thousand stalls and shops, most of which are busy (!) selling things like shirts, dried flowers, handbags, “big eyes,” and, of course, food. Succumb to the food sellers all rubbing their noses with their hands, handling the food and the paper money they get from 100s of other people rubbing their noses with their hands, eating things you wouldn’t eat stateside on a bet (hey, the food is hot and the bugs are dead, right?) – Thai sausages, chicken with Thai spicing, frozen bananas covered with chocolate and crushed nuts, pork and noodles in a delicious broth, mango sticky rice, crazy hard boiled eggs with red and green things on them. Enjoy Sam finding a basketball game with very polite 15 year old Thai girls, fighting off the cutest sex workers, getting legit foot massages together (as he said, “cross that off the bucket list”), one hour’s worth for $7, without a hint of going higher than our ankles.
Ah, breathe in that fine city smog and the exhaust fumes from a million motorcycles, buses, vans, cars, tuk-tuks … is it any wonder that so many Thai’s wear masks. Listen to that American soft rock music, some of which comes out of the omnipresent loud speakers on every street corner, set up to blast out the king’s song or national anthem twice daily, a moment when the entire Thai nation stands up and stops totally still, frozen in the street and on the stairs to the train station in respect to the king (and not a bad melody either, the king being a jazz musician/composer). Watch 1000s – now remember these are not exaggerations – 1000s of Thai kids from ages 6 to 16 riding around the central park of Bangkok on rented bicycles with a kind of 1950s innocence and joy … two kids to a bike minimum.
It is amazing to be spending this kind of time in continuous proximity to my son, something I don’t think we’ve done together since before he started day school twenty years ago, or on family vacations, the last one of those a decade ago. Competing with him for my share of computer time! Just being with him making small talk and tall talk. Not quite the trip I’d pictured, but apparently the one I’m on, and loving. Even finding the American national football league divisional semi final games on streaming video on the computer, in Thailand, rooted to our culture, familiar and current, we’re talking beer and pretzels here folks. And in all of this at least one man not quite so alone with himself, not quite so focused on the familiar explorations of his interior space, immensely and frequently conscious of his gratitude and good fortune, breathing away the negative thoughts that serve no useful purpose, the demons they supplanted long dead, the tracks they ran on old and tired, the new tracks so much quieter, and smoother, not to mention more beautiful. And besides all that, I can spend time on line from half the world away arguing with people about American politics, and about what grassroots looks like and means. Can’t be better than that can it? We’ve been here so long an American couple asked us for directions to a bar (in our neighborhood admittedly) and we knew right where it was. And besides, you cannot imagine the delicious smells wafting up to our old wooden hostel room from the street food vendor in the alley. Welcome to Bangkok.