Dec 31st, 2014
When I arrived in Bangkok train station in next morning, the sun already brightly shone above the hubbub of Bangkok. It’s a busy place. The city was generally clean, and well arranged. Many aspects were comparable with some other Asian cities I had visited, except one characteristic — it’s unbelievably TOURISTIC! You saw tourists everywhere, I mean “white” Western tourists. In Vientiane, in Hongkong, in Hanoi, you also saw many of them , but compared to Bangkok, they were nothing! In many, not some areas, restaurants, cafes, massage salons, hotels and even night markets, you saw ONLY tourists. You went to any small alley where you would expect only locals, some torists would suddenly jump into your eyes! The China town of Bangkok, an exceptionally big quarter appeared more like a China town in US or Europe — as many Chinese locals as westerners. This was not counting the Asian tourists, such as Koreans, Japanese and Chinese since they looked rather indistinguishable among the local Thai people. I’ve been to more than 40 countries but I tell you, dear friends, Bangkok is the most touristic city I’d ever seen! You could feel that the whole city, even the whole country was transformed to accommodate the tourists. The city was feeding on tourism. In Europe there are also touristic places, like Paris, Barcelona and Venice. However, these cities HOST tourism, not the opposite. The charms of these cities lie in their own characteristics and historical dignity, which are internal and have been there since hundreds of year ago and will still be there for hundreds of years regardless of tourism. There are tourists coming? They are welcome but if no tourists come, the city retains is still capable of its beauty and charm. Bangkok is different, it’s not that the tourists came to embrace the city. The city comes out of its way to embrace and even HOLD tourists, like those countless small Thai girls holding the hands of those big white old guys, instead of the tourists coming to embrace the city. Though I can imagine how many mouths this huge industry could feed and how many chances it had given to people of not only Thailand, also neighbouring countries. Another noticeable characteristic of Bangkok was that it is perhaps the city with the most Chinese heritage in South East Asia. 30% of its population is of Chinese origin. If counting also those of only partially Chinese origin, this ratio can easily rise to more than 50%. In China ever since Qing and even Ming dynasty, there have been tides of immigration to Indochna Peninsula. These people have been mainly businessmen. They have come for starting up businesses, shops and trades. They’ve carried the traditional Chinese culture here with them. While in mainland China, the traditional Chinese culture was overthrown and many values and norms were murdered by the Communist movements, especially the cultural revolution, these traditions are miraculously preserved here. On Bangkok streets, you could see lanterns with Chinese characters like “Heaven Earth Father Mother”, which were the core values of traditional Chinese society. Inside the Chinese quarter of Bangkok, one could find so many temples and shrines, not just Buddhist temples, also temples for those Chinese mythic immortals, like the “Li Da Xian” temple near the gate of China town. Even inside the hospital of China town, the first thing one sees is not the emergency department or inpatient department, but an arch, a sprightly memorial arch with Chinese gods enshrined there, worshiped always with countless incenses. The smell and smoke got so strong that it must be bad for the health of people around, including the patients. I stayed in perhaps THE cheapest hostel in the whole Bangkok (about 3 USD/night) — Shadow Inn. It’s a shitty place run by some Indians in a small alley of China Town. In the door its written “clean accommodation”, but there were literally many mice running around. 🙂 WOWO! Amazing! However, the number of cockroches was rather limited. All I needed was a bed, hot shower and wifi. However, there was only cold shower…… That’s a bit challenging, but somehow I survived. In this hostel I met a 29-year old Chinese solo traveller and he even spoke pretty good English! WOWO! You know, most Chinese do not speak good English and they mostly travel in groups. You surely have seen them on the streets of your country! 😀 He was a cool guy. His English was not learned in school, but mainly by himself. When he was a teenager, he went to Shenzhen, a booming Southern Chinese city to try his luck in business and he eventually earned quite some money. His last job was for the quality control of an American company. He felt like trying something new. So he quitted his job. Using the money he earned in those years, he bought a house in his hometown and rented it. His family was taking care of this business for him, so when he was travelling, he still received income from this room leasing business, which was more than enough to support his journey. For me, travel itself has its own value. I travel to see the world, to experience wonderful things but also just travel to travel. For him it’s different, he travelled to find oppourtinities for chances of business. He paid much attention to the types and prices of local goods in different places. That was the typical mindset of many Chinese youth nowadays, which partly explains Chinese economic success. That was his first time to get outside of China. Same as me, he exited China from Laos, but he paid the “tip” to the fat officer in Lao border checkpoint. He was very intrigued by my experiences. –“Hitchhiking?……” He doubted when I mentioned it as my main way of travelling. –“Yes! Hitchhiking, the best thing ever! It’s soooo nice! I hitchhiked in Europe, Middles East and now South East Asia.” I replied with full passion. –“Is it safe?” That was his first question regarding it as in China one must be mad to try it. –“Yes! I’d never had troubles with it! The only trouble will occur if nobody picks me up!” –“Do you tell your parents about what you are doing?” That was his second question. –“Eh… No actually. You know, my parents will immediately get heart attacks if they learn about it. It’s my way to protect them.” I had to tell the truth. Like all the Chinese people, once you get to know each other, they will help you with whatever they can. If they have only two bananas in their hands, they will offer you one. If they have only one banana, they will offer you at least half. He was the same. Other people staying in this hostel were some quiet guys from France and a group of Pakistani dudes. Then there was this Russian girl who was sleeping all the time and did not speak a word of English. I went to see Bangkok. The streets were simply literally sprawling with food joints, shops and stalls selling all kinds of things, like plants in a rain forest, no space in between. There were temples, monasteries and Christian churches dotting along the river. Everything looked modern but yet there were so many traditional traits preserved, unlike in mainland China, where the traditional heritages are either gone or only have the appearances left. The monasteries were extremely busy on that day because of New Year. I saw people donating cash, hunderds of butt to monasteries. In the monastery next to the grand palace, foreigners had to pay entrance fee while it’s free for Thai people. “I could pass for Thai people!” I thought, so I walked casually through the entrance lane for Thai natives and it worked!! 😀 I did the same for other monasteries and it always worked! 😀 It’s getting dark and I hurried to the grand palace. It’s closed. The armed guards, several young fellows politely and smilingly apologized again and again. Nice! I passed the monastery next to the palace again and saw a guy jumping out of the gate, holding some pakcages of food and said to me:”free food!” and gone! FREE and FOOD! When these two words come together, they possess the most powerful magic to me! I was immediately drawn there! There were already long queues of in front of several stalls, where one could find rice, fried rice, noodles, noodles made of rice, soups, bean sprouts…… ALL FREE! 😀 It must be because of the new year! 🙂 Today at noon I already saw one site like this in front of a monastery and I ate as much as I could. Now there were more free food!! Thailand I love you!! 😀 You perhaps know how good my appetite is and how shockingly much my slim body can contain. The food was very delicious! There were countless tables where one could sit and eat. I met a French girl who lived in Reunion Island. A Thai next to her told us that the free food was for the Buddhists going to pray for the new year later. Although we did not plan to pray at all, people there were still glad to serve us. So many people, talking, laughing and walking around, with all the lights shining, the Buddhist music playing and even some people distributing free drinks, what a busy and joyful scene! When I returned to the hostel, it was almost midnight and we went to the roof the watch the fireworks. It was not too impressive but nonetheless the atmosphere was cozy. We wished each other Happy New Year and an old French guy, whose neck was injured and thus bandaged all the time gave everybody chocolates. Other than that everything was quiet.
–“Welcome to 2015!” One guy shouted.
–“Yesterday was New Year’s Eve, No?!” I asked, with great confusion and shock. I had thought all that time that the night before was New Year’s Eve, when I crossed Lao-Thai border and hitchhiked a train to Bangkok!! “Today is New Year’s Eve again?!… Not possible!” I thought. After confirming and online checking I finally figured out I was wrong! WOWO! 😀 Then I suddenly realized that there must be Couchsurfing parties for the new year!! Too late… If I got there it would already be the end…… Dear friends, that’s another thing that will happen when you travel too much — you will forget which day of the week it is, the date, the month and EVEN THE YEAR! 🙂 😀