If this article smells like sewage, it’s because it was conceived in the wonderful and chaotic stinkiness that is Bangkok. I’ve been in Bankok for ten days now. There is no love here, just a city full of sex and pollution. Yet, people are smiley.
Bangkok is the size of Montreal, but with 10 times as many people, each smiling more than the next. There is a lot of sex in Bangkok. For one thing, there are lots of older men with younger women and many girls with penises. Transvestites or “lady-boys” as they are called, are widely accepted in contemporary society. They even serve you coffee at Starbucks. They all look like chicks but you can tell by the facial complexion that all is not what it seems…
There is no word in the Thai language to say “culture”; instead, they use the term “lifestyle.” For them, pleasure is key whether at work, enjoying a meal or out partying. Bangkok has the reputation of being a party town, but some time before I got here, the Thai government passed a law forcing bar owners in most areas to stop selling alcohol after 1 a.m. In reality though, they stop selling it at 12:30. They kick people out around two. You can imagine the nightlife.
I made a few friends during my visit: Thaem, a 23-year-old artistic painter and Hi, a 19-year-old street worker (not the kind you think). Thaem, whom I met in an art gallery, showed me around town and brought me to the Royal City avenue district, one part of town where bars stay open until 3 a.m. Each bar is more lavish than the next. Usually, there is no cover charge, but beer is expensive: 200 Baht for a Heineken, that’s about $7 Canadian. After our night of partying, he and his girlfriend took me to an after-hours club, on the 21st story of a downtown skyscraper. Here, the term after-hours implies not so much dancing, but rather continued drinking until 5 a.m. The Bangkok city skyline is breathtaking albeit a little blurry and dizzying from all the smog and weird city planning.
I spent a lot of time in art galleries – more than in temples. Temples all look alike: gold-plated, built in terra cotta and filled with tourists. The galleries on the other hand, tell a different story. Whereas the vast majority of Thai art in the past decade is of a religious nature, the city’s more recent art is of a contemporary style. Commercialism seems the rule of thumb. Many galleries are now sponsoring artists that produce art by demand. Thaem told me that right now, abstract art is what’s in.
And, as for the cinema, it’s the same as in Quebec. A few filmmakers produce very interesting stuff, but the majority of people prefer the latest American thriller.
Thai food is fantastic, of course. Butter doesn’t exist here; but everything is o-i-l-y. Yikes. People eat at least four times a day, if not more. Food stalls are found everywhere, even in dark alleys beside the clubs where women shoot ping-pong balls out of their youknowwhat’s. Trust me, it’s interesting for the first few minutes… But then, the smell of Pad Thai brings me back to the food carts. Another notable mention is the ground-up fish, rolled into balls, deep-fried and skewered. I have mostly been eating vegetarian, except for the late-night romps at the Burger King with my travel-buddy, Kieran.
After two dirty weeks full of smog and beer in Bangkok, I am now seven hours north in Chiang Mai, a city about the size of Trois-Rivi