17 Jul Bangkok in One Word
Written by Olivia May, 2015 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation
The minute I stepped off the plane I was bombarded with a heavy dose of heat and an excess layer of sweat – also with a smile spread across my face. Traveling to Southeast Asia has always been a dream of mine and soon that dream was going to be met. The thing that intrigues me the most about traveling to a new country and immersing in a new culture is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. You may come with predispositions about people, a society, or a culture, but experiencing and living it brings a new light to such blinded topics. Coming to Southeast Asia, I was thirsty for knowledge.
If I could explain Bangkok in one word it would have to be…spicy! Spicy in the sense that the heat hits you like a mouthful of hot peppers followed by an endless supply of beads (or puddles) of sweat. Spicy in the sense that the city is full of flavor with the hustle and bustle of the motorbikes, the magical touch of the crazy tuk tuk drivers, the potent, lingering smells of street food, the lovely vendors filled with foreign fruits, the markets upon markets of knick knacks and clothing that will most certainly put a dent in your wallet, and of course the immaculate golden wats. Bangkok is spicy in the sense that once you take that first bite, you are thirsty for more. You want to find the “best pad Thai” or the best bargain for a pair of elephant “Aladdin-style” pants or you simply want to meet more people and take in the way they live their lives on a day-to-day basis and absorb that knowledge.
Bangkok is full of surprises. Just when you think you are getting a feel for the city, there is a whole new area you’ve never checked out before. It is just simply a huge city! What I think I found very interesting was the difference in area between where our guesthouse was located and the area where the mall was located. The moment I stepped in the financial district, I noticed the difference in economic status. There were expensive luxury brand stores, lots of air conditioning, cleaner-cut apparel, and also more organized traffic. I started to wonder how big the gap between the upper and lower class was. It made me a little upset seeing the small shacks that families lived in along the river versus where the people of the financial district might have lived. Being unable to imagine living a life like that was concerning to me. I began to feel upset for these people with an urge to want to help them live a better life. However, during one of our group discussions, Walker and Kayla really brought light to the situation. How do we know that living a life in a small shack with a squat hole and no air conditioning is not what they want and how do we know they are not happy? We simply don’t.
Coming from a Western society and seeing a common lifestyle among the Thai people that is unfamiliar to us is going to happen, but we should not assume that they all want to live the Western way. This talk really brought me back to one of the purposes behind this backpacking trip, which was to immerse myself in the culture and learn from it and rather not critique it and compare it to the Western form of comfort with toilet paper and air conditioning. One thing that also came to mind is an important word I learned in an anthropology class called ethnocentrism, meaning a person believes their culture is the “right” or “correct” way of living and every other culture is living the wrong way. We must remember to not be ethnocentric and look at Bangkok as a city full of its own important, unique culture, and we should immerse in it, learn from it, and in my case, fall in love with its craziness and spiciness.
Now off to Cambodia to imprint more knowledge and understanding in our brains and more love and memories in our heart.