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Travel, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

I haven’t had a lot of time for writing since we got to Bangkok, but tonight rain is pounding down on the streets and corrugated tin roofs around the Lemonseed Guest House, and thunder is rattling the concrete towers, so it seems like a good night to sit on the bed with Janelle and my iPhone and get caught up on my correspondence.

This is actually our third time in Bangkok.  It’s finally a place where we know what to expect and how to get around. We’ve done most of the basic tourist things–visited the royal palace, taken a longtail up the river, gawked at the bar girls in Patpong–so this time we can just settle in and appreciate Bangkok’s charms.

And charms it has, though it may take a little while to appreciate them.  Bangers is urban living on a scale I’ve really seen only in New York, or maybe Paris.  Why have an electronics store when you can have a five-storey maze of corridors and escalators lined with booths and rooms selling warehouses worth of electronic device, cables and accessories?  Why a few street vendors, when you can have an army that lines every major street with little booths and food carts, turning the city into a combination of shopping mall and al fresco restaurant?  And you know what’s the most mind-blowing about all this?  The repetition.  There aren’t a hundred electronics stalls selling a hundred different sets of items–there are a hundred stalls, each selling one of about five sets of stock, usually arranged the same way for the same prices.  The street food vendors don’t each sell a completely different type of food.  There are about eight different types of vendor–orange juice, chicken soup, fresh fruit, thing-on-stick–and one of each appears in each little cluster.  The whole thing sometimes make Bangkok seem unnervingly like a video game where characters and backgrounds are reused from level to level.  It’s the volume that boggles, not the diversity.

Speaking of video games, there’s a good urban action game waiting to be set here.  The core of Bangkok is a three-dimensional sprawl of overlapping canals, roads, bridges and raised pedestrian walkways.  Crossing a busy intersection can sometimes seem more like solving a geometric puzzle.  And above it all, the massive concrete pillars supporting the skytrain network that soars between the office towers and high-rise apartments like a grey, pollution-stained version of The Jetsons with LCD advertising.

Alright, I realize I might not be selling the Bangkok the Thailand tourism council would like, but after a couple of weeks of beaches and jungles, we’re ready for a more urban experience, and Bangkok delivers.  BKK is exotic, but cosmopolitan.  It’s easy to get around, as long as you know the way to the nearest skytrain station or can communicate your destination to a taxi driver.  It’s full of life and activity and commotion.  It has glitz and grit in abundance.  In fact, most often side-by-side.  

We’ve been having a good time running errands, looking at unaffordable fashions and eating ridiculously cheap and tasty street food (and a greasy fast-food burger or two–cheese and dill pickles, I have missed you, and fries go pretty well with sweet Thai chili sauce).  The night after we arrived, we met up with Mark, an old friend of Janelle’s who now works in Bangkok doing PR work for a chain of hotels.  In addition to being a hilarious, entertaining and all-around awesome guy, he was able to give us a little bit of the inside scoop on the expat life, which was cool.  We got very drunk, ran through late-night tuk-tuk traffic, kicked a rat (unintentionally!) and got some condom-related photographs.  You know, all the things you’re supposed to do here.

Anyway, there’s lots more I’d like to say, but to be honest, it takes me a really long time to write and edit these posts on my iPhone, the rain stopped hours ago and it’s after midnight.  

I don’t know that I’m completely ready to move to Bangkok, but if a good opportunity came up, I would very seriously consider it.  Not something I would say about any of the half-dozen or so other Asian cities I’ve visited, so you can consider that high praise, BKK.

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