Bangkok, Thailand, Travels

Bangkok’s Chinatown

In the morning I packed up and bid adieu to the Atlanta. The new hotel wasn’t too far, though with a large pack on my back, I would be safer in a cab, if I saw one. I spied a metered taxi just a little way down the street, and got in, handing the cabbie a business card for the White Lodge.

“100 baht.”

“Meter,” I pointed at the meter. I’d been in town long enough to understand that 100 baht was an insane fare to charge for the distance involved.

“100 baht.”

I wrapped my arms back through the straps of my bags and got out of the cab with ease. I continued over to the SkyTrain station and made it to the hotel without incident.

I decided on a walking tour through Chinatown, which was only a kilometer or two away, so I walked from the hotel down Bumrungmuang. The sidewalk split off from the road for an overpass, so I followed the sidewalk into a warren of tightly-packed houses and shops. This is where the poor folk lived, the “developing” side of a developing nation, and in my eyes, the more interesting side.

It was enough just to see — ancient houses on top of different shops — stray cats and dogs everywhere — endless textile markets, where the clothing is cheap, so close to where it is made. There were shops full of recycled auto parts, headlight and tail lights hanging from their wires like fish on hooks. Some shops had piles of a particular kind of generator or motor. One shop’s floor was entirely covered in lengths of rusty metal chain layed back and forth like newborn pasta. Unfortunately, my camera was full at this point, so I missed out on a great picture. It had also managed, at long last, to eat the day’s pictures. This irritated me immensely, but what can I do but come back and take some more? I have that kind of time.

Old-school housing
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An example of Bangkok’s old-fashioned, wooden housing.

Security grates
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Thailand’s population tends to be lithe and limber, and Thailand’s thieves tend to be stealthy and nimble. This must be why this building’s security grating goes all the way up.

Crazy telephone wires
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Thailand is chugging away into the information age. The gritty infrastructure for Bangkok’s dense population comes together in beautifully complicated telephone poles like this one atop a railside shanty.

Calico cats
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A colorful family of Calico cats nap in a woman’s sewing shop, which open to the street.

Railroad shanties
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There’s not enough proper housing to go around, but there’s some room for shanties along the narrow-gauge right-of-way. I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge, but you can see that many locals don’t bother to get the view.

Riverfront housing
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This looks like a step-up: random slabs of colorful contrete blocks along the river.

Great Chain of Building
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Two-story river-front housing is overshadowed by ugly concrete construction, which itself aspires to the glistening wealth of the sky-scraper behind it.

Auto Parts
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Need auto parts? Shop here.

At one point, I developed a thirst for a Coke. It wasn’t long before I spied this American logo in one of the narrow alleyways. An old Chinese lady had two refrigerated beverage cases. I pointed out a bottle of Coke, rubbing my finger together and asking “How much?” She grabbed the bottle and opened it, reached for a straw, which I declined, and she bade me to have a seat at one of the little plastic tables sitting in the alleyway next to her refrigerator cases.

Still wondering her price, I handed her a 100B note. She handed me 90B worth of notes in change, then she went for her coins. I asked her to stop, feeling guilty of the slight apprehension that she might have tried to overcharge me. 10B: 25 cents is an unheard of price for a bottle of Coke back home.

I got up to wander around with my bottle but she again encouraged me to have a seat, and then I understood: she keeps the bottles! I was participating in the human economy at a scale where a bottle of coke is best served restaurant style, which explained why she was in no hurry to charge me. Chagrined, I realised that as a strange foreigner I was more likely a threat to naively steal her bottle, than an opportunity to be charged a premium price.

On my way back I stumbled upon a few shops packed full of schoolboys, playing computer games for 20B an hour. They had no terminals available for me to check e-mail. Instead I approached a lady with a cart who was grilling slices of thick white bread with butter and sugar on one side. I asked her how much, and I heard her say 25B, which seemed steep, but worth it for me. She grilled me up a fresh slice, cut it in eight, bite-size pieces, placed them in a baggie and handed it to me with a wooden spear to use as a utensil. I gave her two 20B notes, took my change, and wandered off with my treat. A moment later she chased after me and handed me my second 20B note – the price had in fact been five baht – this delicious treat could be only as sweet as the lady who sold it to me for twelve cents. Her main clientele must have been the schoolboys, and I figured that growing up in Bangkok’s Chinatown couldn’t be that bad if you get to play computer games and eat sugar bread after school.

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Categories: Bangkok, Thailand, Travels