Bangkok, Oriental City

Bangkok smells of diesel fuel, lemongrass, grilling meats, kerosene stoves, dirty canals, ripe fruit, and, occasionally, of unmistakeably stinky durian.

I’m getting braver. Today I bargained for my tuk-tuk fares. Then I took a river ferry, counting the stops and jumping off hopefully; once on the wrong riverbank.

In the gardens of the Royal Temple, I was interviewed by not one but two sets of young Thais. The first was a group of 18-year-old high schoolers doing a school project. They had a laborious list of questions—where was I from? what did I think of Thai culture? Thai food? Thai people? One cutie, clearly the class clown, asked boldly at the end: ‘You…Home Alone? Home Alone?’ One of the girls finally translated this as ‘Single?’, and they all fell about laughing. They asked to take my picture, standing like a monument surrounded by tiny teenagers in crisp uniforms.

Then three lovely girls, dressed like air hostesses, wanted to tape me for their university English class. They told me that they wore those neat black skirts and white blouses whenever they were representing the university, though not to class. I told them American kids never wore uniforms, and Europeans only wore them up to high school level. They giggled. They didn’t believe me when I said Bangkok was more frantic than New York. Same list of questions, more or less—-what do you think of Thailand? do you want to come back here? do you like us? This country is getting very Sally Field.

Then I watched an old monk get fitted for false teeth down a back alley. I talked to a diplomat from the Thai Embassy in London at an out-of-the-way temple. I learned how to bow in a wat—three times, very low, touching hands to forehead first, then chin then floor—and to say hello and thank you. A busy day.