I’m starting my second week in Bangkok, and I’m settling into a routine of sorts. Once the initial novelty has worn off, it’s possible to start to get a stronger sense of what the place is like. Amid all the hustle and bustle, there is a pattern to people’s lives, much like anywhere else. It’s simply a case of tuning in.
People are very patient and don’t seem to get easily flustered. There is no point being demanding or pushing oneself forward to occupy the space around you, for example, on the metro, because you will just be ignored. Everyone know’s how busy it can be, so just be patient and wait, the queue or the crush will move on before long.
This principle doesn’t seem to apply to the roads and people’s driving though. It’s really a case of taking your life in your hands when you try to cross. It’s best sticking to junctions and walkways, even if this means adding times to you journey, because it’s not worth getting killed for the sake of a shortcut.
On Sunday I went to Chatuchak Weekend Market, and I took the BTS (Skytrain) to get back to the centre. I thought it might be a more scenic view, but instead it was an endless view of tower blocks and skyscrapers. It seems that the buildings in Bangkok serve two purposes, one to provide a space for apartments or shopping malls, and to provide space for parking cars.
This is a city that is totally overrun with cars. They are everywhere, often in three or four lanes. It is incessant. The traffic never stops. People are either going somewhere very important or they are just aimlessly driving about. I’ve not been able to figure this out yet. I’m sue anyone who can model the driving patterns and behaviour in Bangkok would need a considerable amount of computing power to even begin to understand the scale of the problem.
The knock-on, then, is that there aren’t really any open boulevards and walkways that are pleasant to walk along, and relax under the shade of the trees, as you get in many European cities. It’s why so much life is focussed on the shopping malls, because they offer an escape from the road, with the dust, pollution and noise.
And there are so many shopping malls now. Each time I visit I discover three or four different malls. Some have been stablished for a while, but new malls are springing up all the time. In 2012 when I first visited Bangkok Terminal 21 was new. I don’t remember it being as large as it is, and it certainly wasn’t as busy.
I’ve read that the city authorities have been cleaning the street markets and vendors from the city, and instead they are being set0up in the shopping centre, each of which has a food court with stalls selling local and regional dishes. They are actually good value for money, from my perspective, but I’m sure that many low income Thai people are still price out. Hence the continuing presence of many street stalls.
Away from the centre there are a good number of smaller shopping malls be supermarkets, sometimes seemingly hidden in a warehouse-like building, which doesn’t indicate what it’s function is from the outside. The more I visit these places the more I’m starting to recognise what they offer.
Chatuchak Weekend Market is a staple of any tourist visit, with it’s endless market stalls selling all kinds of clothes and trinkets, household furnishing and even pets. Even this market, however, has been supplemented with an adjacent shopping mall. There is a new mall near The Centre, called The Market, and it’s offer is to be like Chatuchak Market, though it is air conditioned, with plenty of toilets and places to sit next pondered.
I actually liked The Market because it was half empty, and didn’t have many customers. It was quieter and there was more space to walk through the isles. And it haas a Leica shop, which was worth having a mooch around, looking at cameras that I can’t possibly afford.
My main concern, however, has been to find places to sit where I can have a coffee and do some reading or writing. Today I have broken a rule that I set myself, to not go to Starbucks. Not only is Starbucks expensive, the coffee is pretty awful as well. I’m waiting for the money exchange shop I’ve been recommended to open, and the Starbucks opposite the Siam BTS station was my best option while I wait.
Christmas music is playing on a loop, which is incongruous to the thirty-five degrees heat outside. I don’t mind wasting the resources of a global conglomerate. I will use their wifi and take up a seat for as long as possible, because they are the opposite of what coffee shops should be like. Bland, corporate and forgettable.
I will be teaching again this week, and in my free time I’ll try and get some reading and writing done. Perhaps another podcast and some more additions to my photo galleries. The time I’ve spent improving and tweaking my websites has been useful. It’s a good way to relax to develop the WordPress blogs I host. They are much improved since I move hosting company, although I’ve had to re-learn how to update things like php and MySQL on the server.
Dusting off my Linux command lines has been, surprisingly, a useful way to relax. Other than shopping and eating, It’s been about the best thing I can do to occupy my time. Far from being a holiday this is tuning into a good opportunity for me to get some planning and preparation work done. I just need to find a regular independent coffee shop I can haunt and then I’ll be happier.