I’m breaking down my first impressions of Bangkok into three Ps: Place, people and food (yes, food. As I am of Filipino heritage, I claim the right of interchangeable p’s and f’s. The funniest/saddest thing I ever saw on TV was on “Wheel of Fortune.” It was a special, where teams were competing instead of individuals. One team was made up of a Filipina woman and her rather elderly mother. When it came to the mother’s turn to pick a letter, she loudly called out, “Epp.” When show host Pat Sajak didn’t understand, she said it louder and repeatedly, “Epp! EPP! EPP!!” It was funny at first, but went on longer than it should have as it was milked for laughs. For shame, Pat Sajak, for shame. But anyhoo—)
We arrived in Bangkok on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The flight was mostly uneventful (seeing as I slept/determinedly kept my eyes closed in an effort to fool myself into sleep.) Highway signs are still the same shade of green as in L.A. and London (there must be an international treaty on this), malls are bigger than anything I’ve seen in the United States/Kingdom but with many of the same stores that I’ve seen in both, and cars are modernish and roughly the same size and shape of cars in California. Bangkok feels oddly familiar to me.
However, we got into a taxi that delightfully reminded me that Dorothy, we are not in Kansas (or Paradise/Chico/Los Angeles/Bracknell/London) anymore. The dashboard was covered in paraphenelia, the roof had money taped all over it and on the windows and chairs, some helpful signs:
My favorite: the bull/goat/whatever at the left end. Apparently, some people need to be reminded not to bring a cartoon goat/bull into a taxi. The other items/activities depicted seemed pretty obvious, although I’m still trying to figure out what the second from the right is (fruit? hairy eye of Sauron?) and third from the left was hilarious to see.
Also, I am amazed at how similar Bangkok is to other Asian cities I’ve seen in South Korea and the Philippines — a mixture of old and new. Shiny modern skyscrapers stand beside squat, soot-streaked buildings whose courtyards are littered with trash and other detritus. The railway system here, the BTS (if you have ever wondered what a subway would look like above ground, this is it) rumbles smoothly above song thaews (trucks filled with people that function like jeepneys in the Philippines) and motorbike taxis that sometimes zip along on sidewalks crowded with vendors hawking food, clothing and hair accessories that rightly belong only on cartoon characters. If you like to do your shopping in air-conditioned comfort, there are plenty of malls and they are HUGE. Even if the malls are not Siam Paragon or MBK (two of the more famous malls), they are still at least 5 stories tall.
A word on the weather: Something must be happening to me as I get older. Humidity, once a bitter foe of mine and felt with all the impact of an 18-wheeler made out of wet towels, is now negligible; I wouldn’t even know it was there except that my hair is in perma-fuzz mode. Much is made of Bangkok’s sooty air, but I can breathe normally without shortness of breath and/or heaving disgusting globs of mucus. Hooray for having grown up in smoggy L.A.!
Next up — Part II: People and p/food