This month marks 18 years since I left my comfortable life in the USA and moved to the chaotic confines of Bangkok. It was a drastic move and a new adventure, but one that I felt like I needed to make. And I haven’t regretted it a bit. Eighteen years? Damn, time does indeed fly by!
When I first moved to Bangkok I was quite adventurous about seeing — and doing — as many things in town as I could. Of course I was already familiar with the city after visiting many times over the previous years, but living in “The Big Mango” was still a fascinating and thrilling new experience. The city isn’t for everyone, and certainly there are many people who don’t like it at all, but for me it’s a fantastic place to live and it still hasn’t lost its vibrancy and fascination. Never a dull moment is an understatement. I love living here.
I had a bit of time to reflect on living in Bangkok earlier this week when I ventured down to the notorious Patpong quarter to meet Richard, a friend from Texas, who was staying at a hotel on Suriwong Road. I hadn’t been to this part of town in ages, but walking the streets and immersing myself in the myriad sights, sounds, and smells, brought back lots of great memories. I stopped at one street vendor and bought a bunch of Thai themed key chains to give to friends in Myanmar when I go there later this month. I bought several dozen so the dealer was more than willing to give me a discount. I’m not much of a haggler, but I do enjoy talking Thai with these street sellers. Most of them are really nice folks who are always delighted to hear a foreigner speaking Thai, and that really opens up the conversation. For me, that’s part of the charm of living here.
After meeting Richard at his hotel we strolled down the sidewalk obstacle course on Suriwong. It was about 6:30 in the evening and the street was already packed with vendors, touts, and the usual parade of badly-dressed tourists. We ate the Roadhouse Grill on the corner of Suriwong and Rama IV Road. I’ve eaten there many times in the past decade but hadn’t been there in about two years. I was very impressed by the service and the food was excellent (the savory black bean soup brought back memories of great Cuban restaurants in Florida), although it was muchmore expensive that it used to be — or at least more than I remembered. The waiter was so diligent and personable that I added an extra tip on top of the service charge already on the bill.
Earlier this week I had to go to my bank to transfer money to an account I have in the US. I’ve done this several times before, but the process, and the paperwork involved, is always fraught with tricky details. One wrong piece of information is liable to screw up the whole transfer. But the young woman I dealt with at the bank was very sweet and very patient, and when I made a mistake putting the correct name under one of the beneficiary accounts she caught it and helped make the correction. When the transaction was finally complete she gave me a little bank bag as a gift.
And then my friend Toh showed up one night and met me for a late dinner of noodles at a nearby street vendor. Those cheap eats are some of my favorite meals. Toh just returned from visiting his mother in Kalasin and brought me a gift, another unexpected but nice surprise. After dinner we went back to my place and listened to music (he had brought a live CD by Retrospect, a Thai band that he likes a lot) and had a really nice conversation. I hadn’t realized that he was such a history buff; he particularly loves watching movies and documentaries about various world wars. He’s such a cheerful and easygoing guy, and I feel lucky to count him as a friend.
Feeling lucky sort of sums up my life here in Bangkok. I’ve worked some great jobs and meet some great people, both Thais and other foreigners. It’s been an incredible adventure, and I hope it continues for another 18 years … or longer!