Thursday, July 24, 2003

East Meets West
by Skald

Bangkok is home to a trashy and chaotic "backpackers ghetto"... a place where on-the-cheap Westerners mix with tourist-trade Thais. Many people denigrate this area--- they say it's not the "real" Thailand.

But it's as real as any other place... certainly as real as "Buford Highway" in nearby Atlanta.... or "Little Mexico" here in hicksville. These inter-culture zones are dynamic places.... places where strict rules break down-- where newcomers leave behind the expectations of home..... where locals abandon local expectations. In the backpackers ghetto, Thais wear blue jeans and Americans wear local peasant clothes. Thai cuisine is served with french fries.

Its crass and gaudy, but there's no denying the energy of this place.... a place that's not quite Thailand... not quite America. There are negative effects to be sure: the sex trade and hordes of obnoxious drunks. But there is also an explosion of creativity, a breakdown of conditioning, an expansion of identity, a renaissance of self-experimentation,... and a dramatic cross-fertilization of cultures. Bangkok is squalid, breeding, sweating, grotesque, and beautiful. So is life. So too Buford Highway.... which is a hodge-podge collection of Asian supermarkets, Korean restaurants, Mexican grocers, flea markets, and Vietnamese take-out: messy, gaudy, chaotic, organic, dynamic, alive. The world village in a microcosm.

Some bemoan these places. Purist tourists bitch about the loss of "unspoiled" places. True-blue Americans rail against the immigrant invasion. I walk these places and dance with glee.

They give me hope.... that the world village isn't the bland corporate gruel served up by McUSA. Nor is it a series of rigid customs that enslave or confine. Rather, it can be a wonderful masala-- a spicy mix of identities and languages-- a "congress of weird religions"-- a clash of styles-- a dance of opposites.

Give me spice. Give me dirt. Give me chaos, movement, sweat and heat..... give me organic life. Fuck the suburbs. Give me Bangkok.

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