Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.
I steeled myself against the onslaught of vendors as I crossed Tha Na Phra An exiting the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaen complex. Swarming vendors were no match for my well-practiced, detached disinterest. Proud of my ability to shun faux Bangkok, I waded through the stream of tourists to check my planned course of travel against my guidebook. As I hadn’t eaten all day, I gave in to the urge to visit the Lonely Planet-pimped restaurant. The crowd of tourists inside doubled the severity of my self-mocking. I sheepishly ordered from the all-English menu and tried to hide my guidebook.
Waiting for my food, I watched the amulet seller outside the window. He hit up Thai and farang with indiscriminate futility. Eventually, a waiter took him out a meal. I was surprised to find myself thinking of his work as his career, his pop-up table as his desk, his guidebook-recommended restaurant at his back as his regular lunch break.
I surreptitiously scanned my guide’s description of my next stop. I rejoiced to find it would be less crowded and kicked myself for not following the advice to beat the crowd at the palace. I imagined wandering the palace alone and sitting in the café surrounded by Thai co-clientelle, realizing with a start the café would not exist, nor would the palace be open for viewing if it weren’t for the hateful tourists. Nor would I have a guidebook telling me what to see and how to see it.
As I visit new places, I’m always tempted to throw away the tourist help and just wander—avoiding anything touristy. Sure, I’d probably miss the key sites, but I’d see the ‘real’ city. The city that is supported by the dollars, euros, yuan and yen of the tourists. I’d have seen something authentic, but it would not be the Bangkok they write books about—in Thai or English. The tourists are part of the experience. The tourist traps are a legitimate part of the city. No, not the whole thing, but part of it. A thoroughly enjoyable, explorable, empowering part.
I loved my meal.
(30 Jan 08 | Bangkok)