Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Bangkok Book 1 / 曼谷之書 1


This is not a planned trip. Two weeks before setting off, I felt the urge to travel, and thus I  booked a plane ticket immediately. Nor did I have specific itineraries. All I wante to do is draw. Since I made the decision, I have been looking forward to visiting the renowned Asian city. Thanks to the goal of sketching, I can't wait to get up every day during the trip, wondering what I will experience that day. There is still so much I want to record even when I am about to leave. 


     During the trip, I run into the same old German gentleman when sketching in two different places. He is probably impressed by my ambition, so he can't help asking, "Are you going to turn your sketches into a book on Bangkok?" Well, even if the answer is yes, I believe it's just a very tiny book. 

Looking for My Direction

倫比尼公園 / Lumphini Park 


     Flying from Taipei to Bangkok is like flying from winter to summer. To get used to the high temperature in Bangkok, I while away the first afternoon in the extremely commercialized city center. To be honest, I am totally at a loss, meanwhile aware that is not what I am looking for. 


     On the quest of a night market that doesn't exist anymore (thanks to my old guidebook), I accidentally walk into Lumphini Park, the largest one in Bangkok, which turns out to be my cup of tea. I realize that jogging is popular in Bangkok. I can't resist the temptation to walk around the whole park with them. We walk past by the locals and foreigners who practice yoga on the lawn. The public sports equipment as well as the fitness center is all occupied by people. 


     While waiting for the sunset near the lake, I feel the day cooling down. One of the most intoxicating moments in Bangkok is the evening when the sky is painted with several soothing hues such as orange, pink, purple and eventually indigo. It is then that I feel I can finally relax. 

The Entrance to People's Everyday Lives

在六號碼頭和摩托車司機們消磨一整個下午 / 
An afternoon with motorcycle taxi riders in Pier No. 5--Rachawongse 


     Luckily, my instinct tells me that I should check out the older part of the city. On a Saturday afternoon, I fight my way with a huge crowd to get on the Chao Praya Express Boat. As a very willful traveler, I don't have any set goal in mind, but upon seeing the No. 5 pier and hearing the staff shout, "Chinatown!" I hop off the boat right away. 


     As soon as I walk out of the pier, I have found a place which I'd like to draw. Fortune smiles upon me by presenting an empty chair at the roadside. I hide behind a group of motorcycle taxi drivers in the shade as I sketch. They and the vendors nearby will come to check my progress from time to time. Interestingly, when one driver can't understand a foreigner, he turns back to me asking for help. When I finish the sketch, I invite a driver to write the name of the place in Thai for me. 


     Though there are many tourists passing by me here, there are even more local people. I really love being surrounded by the Thai language, which makes me feel that I am part of the daily lives here. After having sketched for days, I find that people I run into away from the city center are far more interested in what I am drawing. As for those who work in the tourism industry, they come across as indifferent. 

My Outdoor Library in Bangkok

九號碼頭的書房 / My study at Pier No. 9--Maharaj 


     Somehow I am fascinated by the views on the Chao Praya River. Scared by the crowds that visit the Grand Palace, I give up the famous scenic spot and nestle in a corner in Pier No. 9 instead. In the company of a cat and commuters, I draw until the sun sets under the wooden roof. 


     The Chinese introduction blasts from the microphone on several boats. It's a luxury to feast my eyes on the fiery sunset on the river, with the wind dispersing the heat of the day. 


     Before going home, I plan to visit the Chao Praya River for the third time, but in the end I quit. Though I spend the day in Chulalongkorn University instead, I am still obsessed by the river views. 


     After coming back to Taiwan, I create another collage picture with the fruit I found in Lumphini Park. 

Surprises for Tourists 

臥佛寺 / Wat Pho 


     I hesitate for long before going into Wat Pho. I have a long brunch in the restaurant across from the temple. After doing some sketches, I finally muster up courage to go in. 


     At the entrance is a small elementary school. The class seems fun! As the visitors walk away after staring at the kids like in a zoo, the teacher says to everyone relieved, "Now all the foreigners are gone!" 


     I believe Buddha must give me the power to calm down because I am about to do something that I couldn't even imagine. 


     Among the buildings without any shade, I suddenly feel I should take out my sketchbook to draw these magnificent temples! 


     I figure out a way to do so, with one hand holding the umbrella and the other hand drawing. I attract the attention of two little Chinese girls, who accompany me for a long while. In the end their moms come for a conversation. One of the girls keeps saying to her mom, "This can be a Secret Garden coloring book!" 


     After walking into another temple, I keep drawing, experiencing infinite calm and peace inside of me. 

吉姆湯普森之屋 / Jim Thompson's House & Museum 


     Jim Thompson's House is one of my favs. It's tucked in the city center; even the taxi driver that takes me there isn't aware of its existence. Thompson was an American architect. His taste for architecture and antiques is described as flawless, so even though I know the contradiction of this place designed and owned by an American, I helplessly fall for its Thai charm. 


     Now I am gradually used to Thai English. I find the rising intonation of every word and sentence of the tour guide lovely. In fact, I try to imitate the accent if I need to mention any English word. However, no matter how muddle-headed I am, I insist on speaking Thai. I believe my Thai teachers in Mudita must be very proud of me! 

Asiatique 河濱夜市 / Asiatique the Riverfront Night Market


     In fact, I am not a typical tourist. I don't have any night life. I don't go to massage parlors or buy food from vendors, and worst, I hate bargaining. Yet surprisingly, I have a blast in Thailand. Normally I would shun away from a place like Asiatique the riverfront night market, but I have booked a Muay Thai show there. While waiting, I can understand why people love such a place as I sketch the Ferris Wheel in the beautiful evening. 


     Sketching creates a lot of amazing connections between me and people. I encounter two Thai girls two days later. They mean to introduce Nutrilite to me, but our talk just digresses to my sketchbook. One of the girls loves the Ferris Wheel sketch the most. She also reviews Ferris Wheel in Thai for me. The other girl Anarda thanks me sincerely for liking Thailand. Lovely young girls! 

乍都乍週末市集 / Chatukcha Weekend Market 


     I don't enjoy shopping, but Chatukcha conquers me. The most effective way to end my shopping spree is taking out the sketchbook. I find a seat in the gallery section. It is here that I hear of the earthquakes in Taiwan from the conversation between two Thai clerks. 


     However, I don't like Chatukcha. It is too touristy without a touch of feeling. 

Off-beaten Tracks


     Some friends keep thinking of places to go for me. Alison introduces me to go to TCDC on the fifth floor of Emporium. There is an enormous collection of books on design. What's better, foreigners have access to it as well. I am thankful to the place for giving me inspirations on sketching. 


     I do not visit any museum on this trip, but the city center impresses me with a strong sense of design. 

撒拉公園 / Benjarisi Park 


      Kay also looks up Benjasiri Park for me, which is right next to Emporium. Every morning on my way to the BTS station, I am greeted by many joggers and picnickers. 

Not Scenic Spots?


     It's very important to find an appropriate site for sketching. I have a thing for the overpasses. Also, Salad Daeng has some elements that capture my attention, so I spend two mornings sketching there. It's a lot of fun to observe how people live their lives before going to work. They would buy breakfast and drinks from the vendors along the road. 

BTS拉差當梅站 / Ratchadamri BTS station 


     BTS stations are also great sketching places. One noon I sit at Ratchadamri Satation sketching. The policeman is puzzled, but often when I am sketching, people will come for a look. 

Let's Go out of Town! 


     I do not intend to stay out of town overnight this time, but I do want to visit floating markets. I get up early one day to take the minivan at Victory Monument BTS station. However, the Thai driver is so laid-back that we do not set out until 7:30 a.m. Along the way, he really takes his time by stopping at two places. That's why we do not arrive at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market until 9:30 a.m. 


     On the minivan are travelers from different countries. It is said that Chinese tourists love to follow people who speak Thai. I guess that's the reason why a young Chinese couple ends up spending half a day with me. Well, I don't mind if they don't care I have a terrible sense of direction and often hear people wrong. 


     Damnoen Saduak Floating Market on weekdays is not very crowded. It has its own kind of rural quiet that can't be found in Bangkok. 


     On our way from Damnoen Saduak Floating Market to Maeklong Railway Market, I am confronted with a series of Thai oral tests. The young Chinese wife also throws in a lot of questions for me to translate. ( Isn't that why I come to Thailand, to review the Thai language?) We intend to walk for three kilometers to go to the station where we can take the bus to Maeklong, but we are very lucky to be spotted by the lady conductor of the blue bus, who gives us a ride, or we would have to walk in the middle of nowhere. The lady comes up with more questions about the minivan fare for me to answer. Frankly speaking, I like places outside Bangkok because people won't speak English to me. Yet, even if people do, now I insist on answering in Thai. I really have to thank Teacher Ter for this good habit! 


     We wait in a very traditional-looking parlor for the minivan that will take us to Maeklong. The ride from Damnoen Saduak to Maeklong costs 20 bahts. 


     In fact, the muscular ticket clerk in Damnoen Saduak explains to us that the railway in Maeklong is under construction, but the Chinese couple is tempted to go anyway. Infected with their adventurous spirits, we head for it without a doubt. 


     I am influenced by the couple. When the husband answers cheerfully, "Sure, let's go!" I feel I should open up. I wind up eating my first bowl of noodles in a market though I pray hard for Buddha to take good care of my weak stomach. They might feel a sense of security in following me (and that is because they don't know the truth), I have to thank them as well. 


     Now the vendors don't have to run away from the trains! 


     On the way back to Bangkok, the auntie sitting next to me even asks me where we are. It shows that I can pretend to be Thai too! As a matter of fact, I even translate for Thais and foreigners later, which really amuses me. 


     Last time I visited Bangkok by accident twelve years ago. I didn't expect that I would learn the Thai language so many years later, and neither would I know that I would come again alone and enjoy the trip so much. Life does have so many surprises for us! 

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