POSTCARD#45: Bangkok: The traffic is incredible – beyond credible, the French word incroyable comes to mind. I get in the taxi, tell the driver where I want to go and he sets off in exactly the opposite direction to where I’m going. Disconcerting… it’s like when you ignore the GPS and its voice keeps on telling you to: ‘please take the next U-turn where possible’. But doing a ‘u-ey’ (yooee, Aussie slang for U-turn) is no good when the whole city is one huge U-turn, interconnected with diversions and u-turns within u-turns. Diversion signs posted everywhere; alternative routes because this is the ‘Bangkok Shutdown.’ All roads leading to Thai Government Ministries are blocked by demonstrators… a protest campaign to force the government out of office before the February 2nd elections. A bit scary but no signs of violence here… I feel secure enough. Strange how the Thai population is able to accommodate these dangerous protests and life goes on pretty much as usual.
The taxi is now going along at walking speed through a crowded area. It’s the lunch hour, people rush out from offices and factories to get something to eat from the local traders. But there’s hardly any room, cars are occupying every space and there’s nowhere for pedestrians to walk. They filter through the flow of slow moving vehicles like water trickles through the stones and boulders in a stream. I try to get a good photo of it but it doesn’t make visual sense, everything is too close, I’d like to try making a cut-paper collage and paste pieces of images of traffic in a kind of jigsaw effect. Maybe it’s something I’ll do after this – at the moment I’m in this collage. I’m part of it, looking through the windscreen, past the passenger head-rest in front and seeing in between a building and a pedestrian footbridge overhead. Out there, there’s a small patch of blue sky, maybe 30 miles away and I can see a passenger jet ascending into the air.
I don’t know to what extent the government is really affected by these demonstrations; it’s the ordinary people who have to take the immediate pressure. But I’m a foreigner here and there’s all kinds of stuff I don’t understand. One thing I don’t understand is how everyone is able to keep their cool, no sounds of car horns at all; drivers maintain an outward calm. The Thai othon (khanti patient endurance), a Buddhist control of anger through the cultivation of mind, based on compassion for all living beings. But how does that sit with the fact that authority figures may be taking advantage of this willingness to comply. This putting-up-with-it thing is allowing all the political skullduggery to go on unchecked…
Bangkok celebrates Chinese New Year from 31st January (10% of the Thai population are of Chinese descent); a 15-day holiday period is coming up when people take time off to go around the city and upcountry visiting family members. How will the traffic be, I wonder. How about the Thai capacity to stay calm in difficult circumstances? Will the political leaders go on pushing until it explodes?
There’s a distinct feeling that, for the time being, everyone is just waiting quietly to see what will happen
‘In daily life we experience suffering more often than pleasure. If we are patient, in the sense of taking suffering voluntarily upon ourselves, even if we are not capable of doing this physically, then we will not lose our capacity for judgment. We should remember that if a situation cannot be changed, there is no point in worrying about it. If it can be changed, then there is no need to worry about it either, we should simply go about changing it.’ [The Dalai Lama]
I guess one can only better understand when living there… Thanks for this excellent post!
Thank you Jenny and yes, seeing it more from the inside. But I’m on the outside, really, when it comes to this. I’ve tried to discuss it with Thai friends but there’s not much to be said. No words for it, cultural behaviour.
Take good care of yourself and looking forward to reading more about your experiences! Jenny
“I get in the taxi, tell the driver where I want to go and he sets off in exactly the opposite direction to where I’m going. ” No change, then? :p
This is it! Yes, no different from when I first came here nearly 30 years ago… a vast sense of timelessness.
Your description of the traffic was stunning, with the water trickling through stones juxtaposed with the fragmentary image of the collage. It felt like coming face to face with all of existence: witnessing the sensation of something smooth and uninterrupted that on closer inspection is a buzzing hive of still moments, a whirling dervish slideshow. How many intersecting lives– how many timelines and catalogs of dreams– can one city block contain before it gives away the trick? I think, maybe, that is what you are asking… 🙂
Nice. I’ve always put it down to being a ‘Thai’ thing… I watch it, see where it goes but cannot really get inside it because their cultural view of the world is different in a subtle kind of way I can’t quite see properly, but I keep on trying – this is how I live my life 🙂 Could be the Thais have more of a non-verbal interconnectedness than other societies because the majority are devout Buddhists who really believe in their own national identity in a shared kind of way. And I’m on the outside looking in, mostly – sometimes I see it, then it’s vanish’d away.