A few weeks ago I had a run in with an middle-aged American man. I haven’t had any confrontation with anyone here since I moved hear nearly 2 years ago. While there’s always a bit of subtle racism going on in this country, I’ve never felt like I don’t belong here. It is why this incident stood out in my mind.
My partner and I were having a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll down one of the many charming streets in Bangkok, and we could hear Darth Vader huffing and puffing behind us. He took offence to us strolling and wanted to overtake us but didn’t want to waste his breath on an ‘excuse me’. He decided to spend it grumbling instead.
Being the overly sensitive person that I am, I told my partner to give way so Mr Grumpy could walk ahead. When I did that, he loudly threw a few choice expletives at us. I don’t know if he assumed I was Thai and therefore didn’t speak English or if I was another clueless native, but he didn’t seem to care that he was being a complete jerk.
When I reacted with a ‘wow, calm down old man!’, he screamed a few more expletives at us and then said something about Donald Trump and free speech. He did all this without so much as looking at us. He just kept walking ahead of us slow enough for us to hear his opinions.
Funny thing is, we both live in a military run country with a very strong monarchy. The rules of Lèse-majesté are enforced here. Foreigners have to do a 90 day report to immigration in which we mention our place of residence and the details of our social media accounts, doesn’t matter which country you are from. However, Donald Trump winning the American elections somehow means that his ‘no-holds-barred’ rules apply even in this part of the world (at least in the minds of the MAGA clan).
While pondering this as we continued to stroll (ain’t nobody going to ruin our Sunday!), we saw him standing at the shade of a tree, out of breath, red, flustered, I saluted him. He called me a bitch after I walked ahead of where he was. Being the feisty person that I am, I went back and asked him what he said. I thought he would have a heart attack. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t so brave when I asked him to uphold his freedom of speech in front of my face.
Its the debate with no clear answer- do you confront people like this? Or do you just shrug it of? Or will shrugging it off give them more reason to spread their mindset? Or will it be the confrontation that changes them from being moderate to extreme right wing. At the end of the day, in my head, a white man insulted me and thought it was okay to do it because of Donald Trump’s weird version of freedom of speech. In his head, a brown lady (debateable!) got all up in his face.
Anyway, we did manage to get the great views we were hoping to get on our long walk (more on that in the next N-N-1), but we also did run across this ironic graffiti ‘art’ just next to it.
A lot of people warned us against going to this island as there was nothing to see or do. It is a quick day-trip for locals to spend the day at a beach without it hurting the bank and without it being a free show of the dreadful farang infestion (their words, not mine!). However, Koh Sichang blew our minds.
Yes, it is a small fisherman’s village and in that lies all the magic. It is small, tight knit and laid back. And while there is development in terms of restaurants and roads, it still is a place stuck in a magical time bubble. It is beautiful.
Only 100kms from Bangkok aka 2 hours by an air-conditioned bus from the Ekkamai bus station and a 40 minute ferry and you are far, far, FAR away from the madding crowd. Pure bliss.
The ferry is at the Sri Racha pier, the name sounds familiar cause they are also a hot sauce we all love (there is a chilli factory in town that we didn’t, unfortuntaley, get to explore). You get off the bus at Robinson’s – you’ll know when half the passengers get off here. A short 50 baht tuk tuk ride away and you’re at a park that also acts as a pier.
Depending on what time of day you come, you get to climb up or down to a boat. It’s quite adventurous navigating the tide.
And then you reach Koh Sichang. While I can wax ad nauseum about how amazing it was, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. If I am guilty of not taking to Thailand the way most people do, I am slowly changing my ways.
The first edition of 2-2-1 saw a collaboration between Norm from Classical Gasbag and myself. The idea was to capture the differences in culture, geography, traditions across various time zones. Luckily, the two of us weren’t the only ones who liked the idea. We’ve had a few volunteers for the project and while logistics will always be a nightmare, you will see more posts in the months to come.
Just to reiterate, the point of this collaboration is not to have a well-curated collection of flawless photos but to capture emotions, flaws and the flow of real life at a set time across borders and across the limits of time.
When it is 7 p.m. in Bangkok, Thailand it is 8 a.m. in Lafayette, Indiana, USA. From where I live it is only a few miles to downtown Lafayette and even fewer miles into the country. I considered going downtown to take a picture, but didn’t want to interfere with all of the people who were trying to get to work on time. I know that the traffic here is nowhere as congested as it is in Bangkok or any other major city in the world, but a rush hour is relative to what you are used to. So I opted to drive a few miles south and west of Lafayette to take a photo of a rural scene.
I originally planned on stopping in a little town named Romney to take a picture of an empty, abandoned old school house, and I did. But I was there too early; and since we are trying to take pictures simultaneously, I drove out into the country. In passing through Romney I realized that about 95% of the traffic there was by people like me. That is, they were all passing through. It seems that Romney is only a destination for people who live there. I wonder if it has always been that way?
Anyway, here is my picture of a farmhouse and outbuildings in the 8 a.m. morning sun. I hope that you like it.
This week, we are joined by Sayantan from Know-All’s Box, a blog I follow not just for its lovely photography but also for the enthralling tales he spins one static photograph at a time.
We decided upon 5:30 pm Indian Standard Time, Friday evening. That time, I am usually in office. So, I had a geographical limitation. I had to take the photograph within walking distance of my office, and I did not have the service of my trusted DSLR to take the shot. So, apologies for the really poor photograph. However, I will try to redeem the situation by pointing out some of the things which I have tried to capture in the shot, and their significance to my hometown, Kolkata.
You will find 3 gentlemen standing in front of something which is overflowing with small packs hanging from invisible strings, while a yellow coloured car which is probably more in place in a city like Havana, passes by in a blur. And in the background there is a building which has the words “Forum Courtyard” written on it.
And in these 3 elements, I find the contradiction which probably defines the city today.
The contraption with the overhanging tarpaulin sheet, I actually one of the thousands roadside tea-stall which one can across the city. Kolkatans have learned to love their tea, thanks to the city’s vicinity to the famous Darjeeling, which is in the same state, West Bengal. Usually, you will find such stalls in the vicinity of offices and malls, as people working in these places love to take frequent breaks from work to have tea usually accompanied with cigarettes. You will also find them selling the odd omelette, instant noodles, cakes and chips, to feed the perpetually hungry bengalis. You can witness many storms being brewed over a tea induced adda, the favourite “timepass”of bengalis! All the Starbucks and Costa Coffees of the world cannot compete with the charm of the road-side tea stall.
The yellow coloured car is the good old Ambassador Cabs which you can find only in this city of India. Modelled after the British Morris Oxford, it is a car fast disappearing from the city, as people opt for the technologically superior Japanese, Amercan and German cars. The yellow coloured cabs are also fast disappearing, as the Ubers of the world push the old world cabs out of the market.
And looming in the background is the first mall of the city, Forum which opened back in 2003. You will find the latest and finest brands of the world selling inside. I dont really need to explain much about the mall, because malls across the world are essentially the same.
What’s interesting to me is the stark difference of the mall with respect to the average tea-stall and the rickety Ambassador Cab and the glitzy mall.
And then there’s me!
I was excited about the time and date chosen because it was a national holiday and I knew I would be out and about, doing something exciting. That’s not usually my style on holidays, preferring to melt into the couch on my time off but mum was in town and it was Songkran – Thailand’s New Year.
During the course of the day, however, I started to realise just how well we curate our experiences in order to appear the most ‘cool’, ‘exotic’, and ‘unreal’. I took a billion photos, keeping in mind the angle, the light and the story that would go with it. When the time finally arrived, I was doing something I hadn’t planned for the day. I was on a boat.
We were just strolling around a riverside mall – mum and aunt were tired and just wanted to grab a bite to eat. We had just missed the sunset, another great photo-op. Disappointed that life didn’t align itself in the way I wanted it to, I stopped looking at the time.
Just as we were heading home on the boat, the lights of the mall and the various food stalls came on like many twinkling stars in the sky. I asked my mum what time it was, she said it was 7pm.
Sometimes, you just don’t need to manufacture a good time. It just happens.
If you want to participate in this series, leave a comment and we will get back to you.
There were 5 monks in office on Friday. It has been 6 years since the office moved to this location and they renewed their contract for another three years. Thailand’s biggest festival, Songkran, is this week and so they used the occasion to get the office blessed. As the monk strolled around office, blessing it with holy water, I stood up, as you do when someone of a high status passes you by.
I got told off immediately. I heard panic cries of – ‘Sit down, sit down!’ So I did, in a confused daze. Turns out that unlike with any other religion that I’m familiar with where you stand up as a sign of respect, in Buddhism you make sure that when a monk passes you buy, he towers over you. Being only 5 foot naught, I easily was a few inches taller than him.
There’s other etiquette that’s just as important. Being Indian, you unconsciously pick these up as you go long. For example, you never sit with your legs outstretched in front of you. All Indian kids know how to sit cross legged on the floor. Other things you can’t do in the presence of holiness includes yawning, giggling, chewing loudly, showing off your shoulders etc.
Thailand is full of polite gestures and words, the most interesting of which is the Wai. Apart from ending each sentence with a ká (female) or a kráp (male), you also enter or exit a conversation by folding your palms together in a greeting. It is right in the center of all Thai etiquette and looks sort of like a Namaste but depending on the placement of your hand, it shows their status in relation to you.
With your hands pressed together and with a slight bow, here’s how you greet these people.
Monks – Thumbs between eyebrows, index fingers touch forehead.
Teachers, Older People – Thumbs on the tip of your nose, index fingers between your eyebrows.
Peers – Thumbs touch your chin, index fingers touch the tip of your nose.
Everyone else – do a normal Namaste, hands in front of chest.
You get a hang of it once you’ve been here long enough. When we first moved here, I made a fool of myself multiple times. One of the stories is how when a waitress asked me if I wanted a glass of white wine (they don’t pronounce the last syllables and so it sounds like wai wai), I ended up bowing a billion times instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. More to follow, I’m sure.
It’s always interesting to see how people deal with change. With the weather being what it is currently, everyone’s turning from shorts and skirts to jeans and thick jackets. The street dogs are also sporting a certain fall-winter collection. Kind souls everywhere are dressing them up in warmer clothes. Doesn’t this just make you smile?
P.S. For a hilarious look at what it’s been like here this week – Coconuts Bangkok has done a great wrap up (pun intended)