Singapore Adventure

Friday, August 26, 2005

by venitha

Sprawled out in exhaustion at the end of our first day in Bangkok, I feel a bit pummelled, and I don't just mean from the wrestling match of my Thai massage. Blackened with pollution, seething with heat, and teeming with crowds, Bangkok has performed a non-stop assault of its own.

We wander through the backpacker's haven of Khao San Road, and my eyes sting, assailed by grit that I think I can actually see in the air. I understand why the man on the baht notes - is he the king? the prime minister? and where is his cool hat? - wears glasses.

We venture further to Th Ratchadamnoen Klang, along an onslaught of morning traffic, and the ubiquitous bright white face masks become less a curiousity and more something to add to our shopping list. I'd almost like one as a souvenir, but we never run across them on our brief Bangkok shopping excursions. Perhaps they're sold in the inner section at Chatuchak weekend market, where, according to Luxe, madness lies alongside bacon-stripe underpants and dead squirrels. We stick to the market's perimeter, purchasing a wind chime, silk orchids, and two ice-cold soy milks when the heat and the crowds and the agressive materialism sap our spirits.

People push forcefully past me in the narrow aisles of the market, breathe hotly down my neck from the step immediately behind me on the lift, press invasively against me in the crowded sky train. I want to stand arms stretched wide, turn in a circle, and declare with foot-stamping adamance, This is my space. I have to fight the urge to shove people away, even Jim, who leans close just to hear me over the clamor banging around us.

Thundering diesel buses, honking scooters, and assertive taxi and túk-túk drivers - Hello! Where you going? - unite in an auditory barrage. We're stunned during a walk through shady Romaneenart Park, a lovely green oasis in the cement gray city, to be assaulted by frantic music blaring from a loudspeaker. There's just no escape from the city's cacophonous voice.

Up bright and early our last morning to climb the majestic Golden Mount in relative cool, we pause to watch a troop of soldiers on the street. They line up neatly, unfurl a colorful Thai flag, and from a speaker, the Thai national anthem begins. All around us, the action stops; each person stands still and straight, arms at his sides, in a respectful salute to his country. The sudden calm in the storm allows me to exhale a breath I've been holding for four days, and when I inhale the air seems almost clean. The flag reaches the top of the pole and the anthem comes to an end.
The assault begins anew.