Text

An open letter to Bangkok

Dear Bangkok,

I’m leaving and I don’t believe I’m ever coming back. It’s not you… it’s me.

Ok, to hell with it… actually, it’s you. It’s you all the way.

There. I said it and I feel a wee bit better.

I do think you have some good things going… I love the surreal, eye-popping Wat architecture, the fabulous food and food markets (DESPITE being a vegetarian and not a barbequed bug eating Foodventurer), the stunning art and craft (the fabrics!), and the rare glimpses of a rich and textured culture.

But it ends there.

I hate everything else. Everything else. Without exception. I realise it’s perhaps immature to be whiny and thin skinned during travel, and usually, I’m neither of those things. I’m not naive and I’m very, very used to gritty, ambiguous cities that have several shades of grey. I come from one of those, for god’s sake.

But you - you are not for me. The constant aggressive hustling, the relentless gemstone and bespoke tailor scamming, the 300-baht-for-a-2km-ride cabbies and tuktuk drivers, the bored shopkeepers, the surly waiters, the indifferent service folks, the way people bitch and snigger the minute your turn you back… I was even willing to overlook those as signs of human greed and ignorance rather than a Thai trait. But the all-pervading meanness and pettiness finally got to me. I’m only human…

That’s rich coming from an Indian? Well, in my defense, it’s not nice at all, but back home, I know how to deal with that stuff. I speak the language. I’m spending in my own currency. I am capable of being rational and stoic and I know what and who to avoid. I don’t stick out as an outsider. Here, I’m just another nameless, faceless tourist completely exposed to your unkind ways; and I’m not even spending in dollars.

I’m not crying “racist” yet; I know that would be way too big and serious an accusation. But I’d have to be blind to not come across hundreds of blog and travel forum posts about why Thai people purportedly hate Indians. I believe, “Indians stink” “Indians are black” and “Indians are stingy” are the most common refrains. And the whole “when you meet an Indian and a snake, kill the Indian first” rubbish. Till I came here, I really disregarded all of those as childish over-reactions and shrill rants. But now, I’m just exhausted.

I’m think I’m a pretty a good tourist. I like your art and culture. I respect local customs and people. I don’t yell and scream and push and shove. I don’t walk around on Khaosan road with my underclothes showing and a beer bottle in hand. I am not here to shop for girls on Soi Cowboy and Soi Nana. I’m not here to see freak shows where women pull razorblades and stuff out of their genitals. I am not here to shop for a wife - for a week or for life. I don’t support flesh trade in any form - under any guise. And seriously, I don’t have BO. I am not stingy. I don’t scrimp on a few baht. I am nice, I am polite, and I’m generous.

So, help me understand, why do I routinely get the feeling that folks from richer countries are being treated better - when I’m practically within earshot - at the next table, at the next counter, whatever.

Not saying it’s everywhere - but it happens a LOT - enough for me to get upset several times a day. And you ought to know that it’s not possible to have cushioned, santised experiences all day long; for that, I’d have to stay in a mall for the duration of my trip and never get out. Clearly, that’s not what I’m here for.

There ARE a few exceptions where people have been nothing but warm, engaging and gracious, but I can genuinely count those on my fingers. (And I’m incredibly grateful to those folks - for giving me something to carry back home).

But for me, the last straw was a walk down Sukhamwit last evening… I’m not getting into specifics, so forgive me. But, in those 30 odd minutes, I felt like I was seeing the very core of ugliness. And that includes people of every race, every gender, every nationality - including my own.

That’s when I gave up.

A recent report tells me that this year, you will receive more tourists than any other city on Earth.  You are, after all, the capital of the fabled ‘Land of Smiles.’

But as far I’m concerned - I am not coming back in a hurry. I’m sorry it had to be this way. I tried. I really did.

Stay well. I guess you weren’t always like this; but you are a fine reminder of how excessive tourism can destroy the soul of a place.

-Me

Ps. I hate how morose and humourless you’ve made me.

Picture courtesy: Reddit.com

#bangkok #thailand

Photo
The pink bicycle — Haji Lane, Singapore, Singapore

The pink bicycle — Haji Lane, Singapore, Singapore

Photo
People, places, cityscapes and skylines - shot before, during and after the photography workshop with Eric Kim in Mumbai, late February, 2013 — in Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra.

People, places, cityscapes and skylines - shot before, during and after the photography workshop with Eric Kim in Mumbai, late February, 2013 — in Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra.

Photo
So, this is what happens to me when I travel. I arrive, I take my time settling in, I explore a little bit, I figure out the bus system. The metro, if the place has one. I find a cafe I like. I find a restaurant that serves up a reliable lunch. A store where I can buy bread and fruit and milk. I fall in love with a street and a no-name park bench in a regular neighbourhood. I fall in love with the sky and the skyline and odd little bits that never make it to travel guides. I pick up words from the street and weave them in to my vocabulary. The maze of the city slowly begins to make sense. I begin to recognise patterns on the city map and I begin to see patterns in my day. I get very little sightseeing done. But the sounds, smells and everyday sights get under my skin. I begin to forget that I am travelling. I feel like this is where I live. I feel a physical ache when it’s time to leave. And I let a city break my heart all over again.

So, this is what happens to me when I travel. I arrive, I take my time settling in, I explore a little bit, I figure out the bus system. The metro, if the place has one. I find a cafe I like. I find a restaurant that serves up a reliable lunch. A store where I can buy bread and fruit and milk. I fall in love with a street and a no-name park bench in a regular neighbourhood. I fall in love with the sky and the skyline and odd little bits that never make it to travel guides. I pick up words from the street and weave them in to my vocabulary. The maze of the city slowly begins to make sense. I begin to recognise patterns on the city map and I begin to see patterns in my day. I get very little sightseeing done. But the sounds, smells and everyday sights get under my skin. I begin to forget that I am travelling. I feel like this is where I live. I feel a physical ache when it’s time to leave. And I let a city break my heart all over again.

Photo
Craving summer. In Europe. 

Craving summer. In Europe. 

Photo
The ele smiles! (while he gets a good early morning scrub-down from his mahout.)
- At Sakkarebyle Elephant Camp, Shimoga, Karnataka, India 

The ele smiles! (while he gets a good early morning scrub-down from his mahout.)

- At Sakkarebyle Elephant Camp, Shimoga, Karnataka, India 

Photo
Yellow cabs and yellow tulips

Yellow cabs and yellow tulips

Photo
A potter finds a unique way to display his wares in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

A potter finds a unique way to display his wares in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Photo
A recent cover of the New Yorker. Signs of our times. Sigh.

A recent cover of the New Yorker. Signs of our times. Sigh.

Photo
Unlikely telephone exchange, Karnataka, India

Unlikely telephone exchange, Karnataka, India

Text

City love

Morning, shiny people. It’s Friday and the most interesting thing I’ve done all week is negotiate traffic across Bangalore city, in various degrees of exasperation. But then, all week, I’ve been thinking about cities. And what they do to me. How they affect my moods, my dreams and my longings. And that’s when I came across this blog post with this questionnaire on Tumblr. I found it very apt for my current state of mind, so I’m sharing my answers here and I urge you do do that too. :) Here goes:

I think a lot about cities and their personalities. I also tend to personify them. Please answer this questionnaire and share it, I would very much love to hear your city thoughts as well.

1. What city do you call home?

Bangalore. Currently Mysore. But in some inexplicable way, a part of my heart will always belong to Bombay - my home of four years.  

Read More

Photo
School children cross the bridge over Tunga RIver in Karnataka, India

School children cross the bridge over Tunga RIver in Karnataka, India

Photo
A very yellow house, Udupi, Karnataka, India

A very yellow house, Udupi, Karnataka, India

Photo
Blue door, Kaup beach, Karnataka, India

Blue door, Kaup beach, Karnataka, India

Photo
Mid-day mist and road-side slush on a winding hill road in Karnataka, India. This is the kind of picture quotes are written about. 

Mid-day mist and road-side slush on a winding hill road in Karnataka, India. This is the kind of picture quotes are written about.