We landed in Bangkok on December 29, wondering if we were really doing this trip or it was all some kind of strange dream. The past few days have been a jet lagged haze, but not in an unpleasant way: we’re staying near Khao San Road, the backpacker mecca that Seth and I remember from a trip here decades ago. On this trip, however, it is clear that we are, all four of us, just about exactly twenty years off from the target demographic of beer drinking European twenty somethings. And yet, it has been a gentler place to begin our trip than I feared: I worried a lot that Bangkok’s hectic pace and sheer enormity would be a stressful place to begin our journey, but the boys have surprised me by demonstrating rather little culture shock so far. Perhaps the easy availability of things like cereal with milk, sandwiches, and a hotel swimming pool have given us enough of the familiar. In fact, I have been delighted by the neighborhood this time around, maybe because it is so different seen from a twenty year vantage point.
Instead of partying with the backpackers, we have spent these first few days trying to sleep at the right time, and stay awake at the right time, and in between visiting temples and riding tuk tuks. For me, the highlights have been the small moments: at the Grand Palace, we happened upon the changing of the guard, and watched their ritual march — up and down, saluting each other, and then terminating with a gentle gesture in which each guard briskly pulls at the other’s uniform, making sure that all is clean and proper before handing over the reins.
At Wat Po, where there is an awe-inspiring, huge statue of the reclining Buddha, we learned that New Year’s Day appears to be when Thai people come to the temple to make offerings to the monks, and so we sat quietly in the back of the room while this proceeded, some drops of the water the monk shakes over the crowd in a blessing at the end of the ritual landing on our heads and shoulders.
Each day, as the usual waiting phalanx of taxi drivers accosts us: “Where are you going today? Taxi, lady? How are you?” Seth replies cheerfully, “Walking, walking. Good exercise! And where are you going?” And the drivers laugh and tell us they are never going anywhere, “Staying here all day!” and that does in fact appear to be true, but the entire exchange is so friendly and funny that we all laugh.
Small moments of delight, long moments of fatigue, various challenges that I will have to write about in another post, and through it all, a sense that we are embarking on something big, but we don’t know yet what it means. One foot at home in Berkeley, one foot here in Bangkok, we are in transition mode. Can’t wait to see what 2016 brings us.