Category Archives: Interesting Places

More photos from Thailand

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Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

The Erawan Museum






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A trip to China Town

Ever since I read Letters from Thailand, I’ve wanted to go on a photo expedition to China Town. Last weekend I got my wish. I have been there before, many years ago but I don’t remember much.

Bangkok is a crowded city but China Town is absolutely packed. Old buildings stick together like pieces of a Rubick’s cube, the peeling paint of crowded shops, and everywhere you look, the ever present red and gold which is a favored combination among the Chinese people.

The air was heavy and sometimes I found it hard to breathe – a mixture of car exhaust, spices and burning incense sticks. A temple crammed between other buildings, a bright spot of color among the dull grey. Cats, walking, playing or sleeping under food carts. I chased them around with my camera but few of them did me the honor of posing. A Chinese woman smiled and called to me, pointing at something inside her shop. I went closer to have a look and found a mommy cat with her kittens, fragile little creatures that were just then having a milk lunch. The mother cat gave me a warning look so I stayed away, quickly snapping a few pictures before making my way out. I thanked the woman and she smiled at me.

Space is an issue in China Town and I found that especially when taking pictures there was not much room to turn around. The closely built houses had left narrow strips of pedestrian road, and I had to keep my elbows close and my camera closer, especially when passing by the food stalls with their uncovered pots. The suicide chickens (I know it sounds rather macabre but that’s the first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the cluster of hanging birds) are present everywhere and even though I was rather hungry I just couldn’t imagine eating that. I’m rather picky when it comes to food.

There are plenty of old buildings, most of them with shops on the ground floor selling a variety of merchandise, from traditional Chinese sweets, to pots, watches, small Buddha images, cooked food and pungent spices. I passed by a shop with people bent over small quantities of dried plants and something that looked like small twigs, sorting them in little groups, and I wondered if that was the local pharmacy.

Street vendors were out selling durian, the very smelly fruit (durian chips are much tastier in my opinion) and various snacks I’ve seen before but don’t know the names of.

It was rather claustrophobic, even though the weather was bearably hot, but the closeness of it all made me think on a giant ants’ nest and I had moments when I asked myself where all those people fit – there didn’t seem to be a lot of space and yet they were present everywhere and the partially-opened doors of the old buildings allowed for a quick look in the lives of their inhabitants. I felt like a voyeur, always looking, ready for a photo, trying to see in order to better understand the people. Here a tiny grandmother sitting on a chair inside the ground floor room, over there a row of wooden stairs, a glimpse of a Buddha image with the smoke of incense drifting out in the street, a pair of beautifully carved wooden chairs, people carrying boxes in and out of shops. Cats, gliding past, never in a hurry, and a panicked white rat trying to scuttle away from my approaching feet. He made my heart jump – rats and cockroaches have that effect on me.

I found my way out of the great maze and was assaulted by the hum of the traffic: tuk-tuks, motorcycles, buses, cars, a mixture of sounds, colors and smells, and in my mind I conjured the image of the mango tree and the red chair on the balcony and of space and quiet. Of home.

China Town






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An Oasis

If asked to describe the city I live in I would say it resembles a great beehive, each little chamber like a secret place ensconced in the great construction of concrete, metal and wires. Bangkok is not a city made for walking, even if one is brave enough to fight the heat and slide through the crowded sidewalks, dodging the peddlers and the pots of food without their lids on, the uneven paving in places and the noisy tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis coming from all sides.

Strangely enough, there was none of that as I arrived at the Neilson Hays Library, located in one of the city’s busiest areas but mercifully enough on a side street that was almost deserted last Sunday morning. The building itself reminded me of the ones at home, in the area we call “the old city”, as it stood white and elegant and so very different from the other constructions I was used to, that it had the air of a familiar oasis in the harsh desert. The poster at the entrance announced “Bangkok Literary Festival” and I thought with a smile that I couldn’t have picked a more perfect day for my first visit.

I made my way inside, to the interior “garden” which was almost entirely occupied by stands of books for sale, and immediately to my right found the entrance to the library building and went in. A feeling of homesickness came over me as I saw the book cabinets crammed full of books, and I walked around for a while, recognizing an author here and there and finding a few interesting new ones whose works looked promising.

Right in the middle of the library there was a space arranged with chairs and a smiling little Asian man was talking about “The Art of Cook Book Writing”. I sat down at the edge of one chair and opened my booklet with the program for the day. The speaker was Ken Hom, a celebrity chef, whose love for food led to several books and a BBC tv series in 1984. The lecture was interesting even if a tiny bit pompous for my taste but enjoyable nevertheless. He spoke about his love for food, the traditional way of presenting it – “food cut up in squares or coming out of tubes is not my thing” (something along those lines – and I couldn’t agree more) and the importance of testing your food several times before you actually commit it to a book. He said another thing that stuck with me – if someone likes one of your recipes you’ve got a fan for life – and I remembered my friend Maggie who introduced me to Christmas cookies last December which ignited in me a passion for baking. 

After the lecture I went into the Rotunda Gallery, a small circular room with paintings on the walls and an inscription right above the door. When I came out another lecture was about to start, and the speaker was a writer whose books I’ve seen in the local bookstores but somehow never felt inclined to buy: Stephen Leather. I spent another few minutes going around the shelves, taking pictures, looking at some of the magazines on the tables, and just enjoying myself.

I left with a pang of regret but also happy that I discovered a nice little refuge in the great hot beehive that is Bangkok, one that I would definitely go back to every now and then.

 

 

 

 

*Click on the photos to enlarge.

 






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