Part of me felt as though I’d dislike Bangkok. Some notion embedded itself in my mind that my stay on the coast of Thailand was rustic and authentic, that its thatched roofs and rugged cliffs embodied some personality essential to Thailand as a country. On the coast, I spent quiet days listening to the waves crashing on the shore and struggling to find English-speakers to film. Due to a perhaps never-ending monsoon (it was still raging as I left,) I was sometimes marooned inside, sitting on the covered balcony watching sheets of water crushing in front of me. Stumbling through the downpour, baggage in hand, I turned my back to the countryside and felt as though this genuine-Thailand melted away behind me. I headed toward Bangkok.
Upon arrival, the streets were vibrant and flashy and bustling. Rounding a corner, I am met with fifty food carts overflowing with corn on the cob and skewered insects and sliced mangos. Incessant flies meet swatting hands. To my left, a limbless man lies on the sidewalk with a bowl before his face and to my right, something drips on my shoulder despite the cloudless sky. In front of me I am met with a line of tall plants with beautiful orange fish swimming in their pots and behind me bundles of telephone wires are clumped together like freshly-fed pythons. Three women side-straddling a single motorcycle scoot by and a man prays to a miniature sidewalk shrine. A gigantic lizard emerges from the river that runs along the street. The city flashes and beeps and screams. I am inexplicably in love with Bangkok despite my previous reservations.
I accidentally find myself in the red light district, which is wonderful for filming purposes, as this was a targeted area for condom-distribution in the 100% Condom Use Campaign (read more about my documentary here). I gaze into elevated open-air bars and study the faces of young Thai women coupled with older white men, and I feel sadness, although I’m not sure I should. A police station is nestled in the center of the district and signs are scattered throughout the streets promoting safety and the availability of officers. Despite the importance of such regulation, I still squirm at the scene dancing in the warm light above me. A woman leans into a man and whispers into his ear before slinging her head back as she laughs. I struggle between battling thoughts that perhaps these women find empowerment in an unlikely place and that this might be a woman’s last resort, which is horrifying to me. Conflicted, I feel like a pinball rolling through the streets, naive and bumping into men and women and carts. Hopefully I will learn more before I leave.
The True Thailand (is there such a thing?) does not exist in an exclusive Southern pocket of the country, but exists here too, and brushes past me like a gust of wind that is seemingly everywhere at once. I see it buzzing between these couples and leaking from these bars. I see it in the face of a monkey. It flutters through a clothing line on the tenth story of a mossy building. It weaves past me and a line of tuk-tuks, whipping through the stalled traffic. I feel silly imagining it is only trapped in the coconuts that littered the streets of the Krabi Province, and I finally understand what it is to be a part of a vibrant, living city, with its own pulse and livelihood that will beat on without me when I leave. Thankfully, there’s time before I am ripped away from it, and there’s still much left for me to explore.