Thailand. Everything that’s come before is completely different, anything after is changed. The jaded voice of old posts has no room here. This new setting is invigorating down to my soul. My grit’s been replaced with wonder. Even with one week of experiences, there’s no way to describe it all. Hopefully, over the next three months, I’ll give you a sense of the country’s flavour, an idea of what it’s like to live and work here, and maybe some good pictures too.
Wat, derived from a verb meaning “to measure”, is what the Thai call Buddhist places of worship. Appropriately derived — these guys clearly love to measure. Everything is an intricate pattern, mathematically calculated details. From the placement of the smallest jewel to the layout of an entire complex, it all feels designed to give the viewer a sense of the infinite — how minute are the patterns of nature and how far do they extend? Maybe I’m stretching here, but the walls feel like they could house the greatest lessons. I’m not sure what it is, but I feel a childlike wonder with every wat I step into. As if, were I alone in this place, an ancient spirit would appear to send me on a noble quest.
Well alright, maybe I haven’t fully recovered from jet lag yet.
But what’s truly provocative is the anachronisms produced by wats. Next to the old walls and intricate spires is a world bustling with energy, having blasted through industrialization. Scooters, trucks, tuk-tuks — many worn, crumbling, clanking piles of dirty fumes and loud pops — are all essential means of local transportation, and an ever-present element of the Thai collage. The sparse sidewalks in the city have no crosswalks, pedestrians expected to meld into the lawless traffic of everyday commuting. Drooping bundles of wire, too heavy for the poles they’re on, dangle precariously over roads. A country moving too fast for rules and safety.
And yet, somehow, it all works. There’s a strange beauty to the traffic here, the flow of scooters and pedestrians between cars. The technology of the street is messy, but working. And with the ancient wat turrets piercing the background, the old and new combine to create a world that I haven’t seen before. A Lucas-like combination of familiar and foreign — this is Tatooine.
A quaint picture so far, and maybe five years ago it would have been complete, but we’re not done just yet. Because, beyond past and present, the future is also here. I’m sitting in a co-working space — a place for renting a desk or private room — filled with studying college kids and cyber nomads, all on cell phones and laptops with blazing fast internet. Yes, Thailand is now on the edge of a digital revolution, complete with a smarter youth, online presence, and even hipster coffee-shops. Giant, air-conditioned malls, arcades of the latest video games, bars with both local and imported craft beers — signs that the new generation of Thailand has seen the world at large and is ready to join it. It makes working while living here easy — just go to a cafe, buy an iced americano, and pretend you’re on Pine and Jones at some shop with free WiFi. The internet is a messy place, but this culture is ready and hungry for it.
I should mention this is my first trip to Southeast Asia. And in that sense, Thailand stands on its own. The complete representation of another continent, a different people, an alternate life. I don’t know if other countries will have as big a mental impact, but I imagine they can’t. This is the first place — exotic, wonderful, life-changing. A spicy bowl of coconut curry that smacked me right in the face.