Not for Decoration
I walked through Bangkok’s ultra modern Suvarnabhumi Airport to what seemed like a brand new metro in the basement. It was nice and cool, the air conditioning pumping full blast. They had a lot of security staffing the place. Two women stood on either side of a metal detector, laughing as it went off every time a passenger walked through. They waved their wands at me and I laughed back. I think we all realized how pointless the screening was.
I bought a train token for 45 baht, one way. They were cheap looking plastic chips that electronically opened the gates. I felt like I could snap them with a mistake of my fingers.
I got on the escalator and went down to the platform. Looking around, there were no crowds by the metro doors, just queues of people, quietly and patiently waiting for the train to arrive. It was way too big of a station with ten sliding doors. When the train came it only accessed half of them. The old passengers exited and no one got on. Instead, security personnel walked through the cars and finally ushered us to pass once they deemed it safe.
The train took off for Phaya Thai where I was to transfer. The tracks ran along a highway that looked like a race track. I watched as the lanes tilted into curves colored like clay tennis courts. We streamed past tiny houses dwarfed by gigantic billboards. They screamed technological progress: new 70” Samsung TVs, new MG sports utility vehicles, beer that guaranteed friendship.
I looked down again. Urban rivers trickled like an archaic artery of the city that had outgrown them. The narrow canals trembled in the fast moving wake of big tour boats.
I went to Thailand and did the whole tourist trap. To tell you the truth, I loved it. Street food, and spiced fresh fruit, tours of temples and majestic ruins, but my favorite was Wat Phanan Choeng and it’s big Buddha.
I took of my shoes and was overwhelmed by red and gold and the constant chink of followers patting pockets for coins. Babies cried and toddlers watched YouTube videos on smart phones while their parents chanted. Fans blew over bent knees under the giant statue. I simply looked up in awe.
A man walked around, laughing with experience. He collected coins from the visitors, and in exchange handed them neatly folded orange robes on silver platters. Buddha was dressed and undressed, dressed and undressed. Orange sheets flung up by three generations. The oldest, still laughing as he now took the sheets from the kneeling people. A middle aged man treated the service like a job, quickly taking the sheets and throwing it over his shoulder. The youngest, nervous and trembling, took sheets and flung them with all his might, barely making it to the crew standing in giant Buddha’s lap.
I felt so foreign, yet very much part of it all. I felt the cycle. To be a part of something larger, but unmistakably connected.