Bangkok. Established early 15th century. Population ~8.5 million. A.k.a Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. A.k.a the capital of Thailand. And the city I am currently in. Before I divulge the events of today, let me give you a brief overview of Bangkok from an incredibly reputable source: Wikipedia.
Bangkok was established in the early 15th century as a customs outpost due to its stragetic location at the mouth of a river. Over the centuries it has constantly changed hands between leaders, who are now forever immortalised as names of train stations. What arose from its trade, with places such as China, was a booming economy which allowed the city of Bangkok to expand rapidly. Bangkok is largely regarded as a centre for modernisation, in what was then the country of Siam; a factor that still holds true to this day. 1932 saw the end to the absolute monarchy that governmend Thailand. It was subject to Japanese occupation during WWII but was saved by U.S. funding in the post war period. Becoming bed buddies with the U.S. ensured an increases in sex tourism, as it became an R'n'R location for American soldiers. Although not the most reputable way to make money, Bangkok’s economy and infrastructure bombed throughout the 60’s and 70’s. This was brought to screeching halt by the 1997 Asian Finacial Crisis. Although the economy recovered so what, there was a general disenfranchising of the youth of Thailand, which subsequently lead to student protests against the Thailand military that carry on to this day.
Now back to me.
I think there is a misconception about Asia that a lot of westerners perpetuate (to an extent, myself included). We expect Asian countries to be rooted in traditionalism, where western ways and ideologies cannot permeate. We go to these countries to “find ourselves”. To achieve spiritual enlightenment. Maybe it is because we believe that there is something brutally archaic about these counties that allows us to somehow return to our roots and absolve ourselves from our materialistic lives in the west. To begin anew, as one would put it. Maybe it’s because Buddhism is very attractive as a religion, and although we may not admit it, we too could leave the bonds of this earth and ascend to a higher plane of existence.
The Thailand I experienced today was nothing like this.
Let me set the scene for you.
Imagine it’s the peak of summer and you go for a swim. Except you have all your clothes on and the water form the pool is made up of your own sweat. That’s what 36 degrees and humidity feels like. Throw in the worlds largest weekend markets with a inordinate amount of people, and you’re in for a great time.
In all seriousness, if you’re ever in Bangkok on a weekend make sure you check out to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Exclusively, as the name would suggest, held on the weekend, the Chatuchak markets are truely a sceptical. Even if you are not lured in by the copious amounts of stuff you can purchase, it is still a great place to being to unravel the mystery of Thailand. What can you buy at the market? Well your imagination is the limit. The market boasts an extensive variety of goods. Some of my favourite items were the wooden dildos (For Display Only), the Oedipus portrait, buckets of alarmingly small baby carriages, and epic unicorn statues.
Amongst all the crap, however, there is a hidden world. One I certainly was not expecting.
I think it’s very egocentric of westerns to think that we are an authority on all things. That we are beginning and end of all movements. We expect that less developed countries will hear about facets of our culture long after they’ve fizzled out in the west.
However, here Chatuchak is a small hipster paradise. Boutique clothes stores line the walkways sporting an overwhelmingly extensive range of iconically hipster clothing. I hazard to suggest this, but I think it may have been more hipster than Melbourne. What could be more hipster than buying from a brand that literally nobody (well nobody in the west) has heard of? And there it all was in the middle of an extreme divergence of humanity, that is the Weekend Markets. Needless to say, my wallet was burning.
Although I did enjoy the clothing, I could not help but feel a little disappointed. I love a good market. The shear insanity that comes from manoeuvring through the throng of people. The thrill you get from bartering. The smells. The colours. The noise. You are almost transported to a world that is so separate from the airconditioned concrete palaces that are western malls. This market had all of this, as yet I felt something was missing. Perhaps it was the fact that well over half of the patroners were western. Or that the market had an app with directions and free wifi. Or maybe it was the lack of traditionalism that western modernisation has systematically stamped out. Yeah you can still get an essence of Thailand culture, but I could have been anywhere in the world today. Add better infrastructure and more bins, I could have even been at home.
As I said above, I am guilty, at least a little bit, of believing that Asian countries have to have some level of spiritualism in them that is so lacking in the western world. Maybe I almost crave it a little. Maybe I wanted to stumble across a wisended old man who would give me sage life advice that would lead me to my one true love. Maybe I wanted an Eat, Pray, Love moment. Or maybe I need to realise that in order to keep up with the ever evolving face of the western world, Thailand was forced to adapt its culture and abandon certain aspects of it. Maybe I needed to realise that the western perception of Asian countries is so incredibly warped, and the fact that we fail to integrate any other “culture”, besides our own, thereby ensuring the loss of ethnicity from typically more Eastern countries, is inherently sad.
In saying all this, I did stock up on typically western clothes. I wish Ali Baba pants translated well in Australia, but they really don’t. So for now I will stick to my collard shirts and denim shorts in the hope that one day there is a greater integration cultures not just in Australia, but throughout the world.