While Delhi was my First Love, and Ankara was my Big Love, I pretty much define Bangkok as a Convenient Rebound. I can’t say I love Bangkok but I have become familiar with her and she was a convenient duty station. That’s not to say that it is not a fabulous place to live in, it’s just that it wasn’t my kind of party and ultimately, I spent the first year there still pining for Ankara (as one usually does after The Big Love ends). Lovers of big, messy, metropolis with a million and one things to do will be aghast at my longing for the sleepy dullness of Ankara when stationed in the buzzing hotspot of the region but I suppose this is the case of one man’s meat being another’s poison.
The initial disgruntlement with Bangkok was very much caused by the pointless and constant comparisons I made with my (perceived) superior past to my non-meaningful present. The energy of the city was ruthless and disinterested in the individual (which is what happens in a population of 8 million onwards of course). It was difficult to trust taxi drivers (also a problem in many parts of this region and not specific to Bangkok), the tuk tuks were road tyrants (also deluded themselves into thinking they were F1 drivers) and on some days the traffic was just bone-to-the-soul crushing (it was a good training ground for Jakarta I guess which was another level all together). Because of the street food culture, food remnants were always on the streets which also invited roaches and rats to share the sidewalks with pedestrians. And the rats in Bangkok are just obese. In the first year, I spent most of my time hopping down the streets of Ari instead of walking as I just flipped out at the idea of any of these creatures touching my feet. My husband’s favourite dinner party anecdotes strongly features my dramatic escapades from the rats of Bangkok. I find Thai culture and arts unique and full of history though their traditions a little inaccessible. The people were polite but reserved, the value of ‘saving face’ cannot be underestimated and speaking authentically can be challenging.
On the upside it is shopping heaven (Chatuchak Plaza – not Market – for gorgeous ceramic lamps, Celadonia dinnerware, Tibetan house pieces, vintage leather notebooks, pastel rattan baskets – my kind of heaven, at least), and keeps pushing the boundaries in the food industry (artisan fusion food, classic Thai dishes or luxury fine dining – apparently Thailand, Singapore and Japan are the only Asian countries that managed to secure Michelin stars for some of their dining spots) and the hotel industry (we were first introduced to the concept of boutique resorts here and are now big fans). Thais are also great lovers of the aesthetics and visiting their museums and exhibitions are a feast for the eyes. Beautiful textiles of jewel and pastel hues, delicate paintings of village life and intricate handprinted ceramics rivalled by no other. In fact the dining experience itself, apart from the actual food, are always offering something new and creative in ambiance. The options were also often a reflection of its locality. We lived in Ari in the first year which is more local and ‘hip’ (the equivalent to London’s Portobello area) and offered plenty of chic eateries with a little bit of personality (Salt being our local favourite) and in my last year I was based in the Chidlom-Ploenchit area (the equivalent to London’s Bond Street) which offered equally good options but more in the style of upmarket department stores (Chidlom Central Food Hall is basically the Selfridges Food Hall).
Bangkok is bombastic, ambitious and bedazzling, but I just couldn’t access her heart and nor could she understand mine. It’s hard to really know why some places stick to your pores better than others. So, the first 10 months there felt like the brand new relationship that had all the glitz and glamour of being perfect on the outside but ultimately missed out on the soul connection. However, our innate desire for self preservation propels our adjustment valves and in order to survive I eventually embraced the city and life experience there. By 2016, I had a career ‘high’ in terms of accomplishing an important project and felt like I’d climb another ladder of ‘growing up’. I was inspired by the energy of strong, accomplished women who so seamlessly balanced between work, husband and children (in addition to being all of these things my boss was also such a tender hearted but fair and powerful leader) and totally enchanted by the young, talented colleagues whose self assurance, worldliness and lust for serving the marginalised assured me of the next generation’s direction.
In the end, I came out alive, stronger and better. I don’t reflect on the city with much sentimental affection but I am glad I experienced it. Much like a convenient rebound relationship, I guess, it was helpful in transiting me from one big experience to another, but it was never going to be The One..
Cafe Tartine – The salads and brunch here is a brilliant way to start the weekend.
Note: Featured Image of Bangkok street is sourced from Pexel. All remaining photographs are mine.