Bangkok: Puppets, Bicycles, Spirit Shrines, and Front Flips

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Just over a week ago, Charlotte and I left Aotearoa New Zealand for Thailand. After four months of trying every possible boat option we could think of (as a passenger on a cargo ship, working on a cruise ship, working on a yacht, etc.), nothing was working.

The plane ticket to Bangkok was cheap. I packed my bicycle in a cardboard box. We flew.

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Airports are for poetry.

(Here’s the final stanzas of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: “Gate A-4”)

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It was a strange feeling, being on a plane after having avoided air travel for so long. My feet hurt. The air was so dry. Cargo ships are loud, but airplanes are louder.

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Two flights, an 8-hour delay in Melbourne Airport, & a taxi ride later, we caught the sunrise in our open arms… and then promptly fell asleep.

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A friend from my hometown is kindly letting us stay at her flat in Sukhumvit. We’re way up on the 16th floor, witness to power lines // roofs and trees.

Out of frame: taller buildings // bright bright lights // loud loud traffic // rain // thunder // every building has its spirit shrine.

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Judging from observations, the spirits like to drink red Fanta.

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People bow at the spirit shrines as they pass. I have so much more to learn about the place of religion in Thai life, but I love what little I have picked up so far.

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Spirit trees, like this one in Chinatown, are protected from being cut down.

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I’m starting to get in the habit of drawing things to give my writing brain a break. You can see more sketches at drawingsbydevi.tumblr.com.

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Up on the balcony, Charlotte and I ate our first dragon fruit. It tasted like a beetroot walked into a kiwi fruit––savory and delicious.

Then we started the quest to find Charlotte a touring bicycle. I’ll be writing more about this in the future; the saga is ongoing. After a few false starts, we’re nearly there!

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Vrrroooooooom. Look out, world, there’s a singer on wheels soon to join the ranks of touring cyclists doing cool shit. Rumor has it that Charlotte has started a theater blog, too…

Speaking of which, if anyone knows of venues in SE Asia / beyond that would like to host Charlotte to sing, do be in touch 🙂 Best bet is if there’s a pianist or other instrumentalist to accompany her.

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Three things to know about Bangkok:

ONE: It’s hot. Well yes duh, Devi, it’s hot.

This is not Boston heat, folks. It’s not Fiji heat, either. It’s hotter, even, than most days in Tuvalu (plus more traffic, more population, and greater distances between places, so moving in Bangkok means reckoning with CARS, MOTORCYCLES, TUK TUKS, TAXIS, PURELY DECORATIVE CROSSWALKS, NONEXISTENT SIDEWALKS, EVERYTHING). Step outside in the middle of the day in Bangkok and you’ll be dripping with sweat within minutes.

Bangkok heat is the kind of heat that is exhausting to walk in.

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TWO: Crossing the street is an adventure. When I say “an adventure”,  I mean: it’s stressful: a full-body kind of stress. Pedestrians don’t have right of way: cars and motorcycles do. There are a few pedestrian overpasses, thankfully.

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THREE: The only drinking water is bottled water. More on this later, too. Having access to safe drinking  water that flows from a tap (or from the ground) is a huge privilege. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

FOUR: Everything is wrapped in plastic. I’m doing my best to refuse as much plastic as possible, but the stuff is everywhere. Drinks come with straws. Bananas in the 7-11 come wrapped in plastic, and then the cashier puts that bundle inside another plastic bag for you to carry out of the store.

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The saddest bit, as we all know, Is that all that plastic goes to the water, and then into the sea. We’re on track to have more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

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I met up with Madeleine Recknagel, an activist working to change the culture of plastic use in Bangkok. She’s a cool cat. You can learn more about her work on her blog.

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Thanks for showing us around some of the temples, canalas, and back alleys, Madeleine!

SPEAKING OF MEETING UP WITH COOL FOLKS:

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That’s Li Murphy at left, and Awais Hussain at right, both Harvard Class of 2015. Li co-founded Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers. Awais was head of Harvard’s spoken word poetry group Speak Out Loud, and also does awesome things in physics and philosophy.

We went trampolining and had a yummy dinner at a night market. Awais did his first front flip. Li told me a story about water buffalo.

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collecting stories at the night market — the cardboard sign lives!!!

AND OH MY GOODNESS, so much has been happening that I almost forgot:

Charlotte and I visited Sema Thai Marionette, a puppetry company dedicated to working with underprivileged children and doing research into Thai puppetry traditions.

We went to their morning performance of a show about the Rambutan Prince at a school in town, and then hung out at their puppetry workshop for the rest of the day.

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The team of puppeteers helped me translate my cardboard sign into Thai…

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…so now I’m ready to collect stories on the street. Thank you so much, Sema Thai Marionette! It was so wonderful to get to know the whole troop, and to spend some time with the puppets, too.

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Charlotte and I loved the bicycling marionettes––

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… the pedals even moved! 🙂

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More soon, lovely people of the internet. For now, I’ll leave you with some street art from the neighborhood. Wheels on wheels.

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Over and out,

Devi in Bangkok

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