Perfectly describes my gastrointestinal state after two days in Bangkok
You know how they say everything’s big in Texas? Mofos ain’t never been to Thailand.
New York never sleeps? Bangkokers make Manhattanites look like my grandmother after an afternoon mahjong game.
This city is bigger and hotter and more crowded than everywhere else combined, and the throngs of humanity everywhere make virtually every moment claustrophobic. Half the people seem to be street performers, which in Bangkok leans to legless men paddling around on skateboards singing into a microphone.
As if aware of its own over-the-top nature, Bangkok gives everything in town a grand-sounding official name. This morning we took the SkyTrain, formally known as the “Elevated Train in Commemoration of HM the King’s 6th Cycle Birthday.” Then we took a water taxi on the mighty Chao Phraya River—a waterway so muddy-brown toxic that if it splashes you, you get a welt. It is also known as “River of Kings.” Bangkok’s full ceremonial name, Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam, apparently translates into, “The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam.” Chicago, if I recall, means “stinky onion.”
Many of the stops on the SkyTrain, by the way, have names that Hannah can pronounce (“Nana,” “Ari") but there are also plenty of vaguely naughty ones (“Mo Chit,” “Thong Lo,” “Phloen Chit") for our amusement, all of which we snicker at like sixth graders hopped up on Red Bull. Great place for a baby, Bangkok.
Actually, it is. Everywhere we go people make a hot fuss over Hannah. I don’t know if it’s the porcelain skin or strawberry blond hair or what, but as we wander around at the Grand Palace—a 54-acre compound of glittery golden temples, murals, shrines, and pagodas surrounded by lush lawns that once served as the king’s home—those who aren’t praying to various Buddhas are cooing at this smiley little cupcake of a baby on my back. I’m trying to make sense of a sprawling 140-panel mural depicting Ramakien, Thailand’s incomprehensible epic story, and everyone else is busy snapping my kid’s picture. Toothless ladies bow and offer trinkets, which Hannah promptly puts in her mouth.
The Grand Palace: It’s not as tacky as it looks. OK, maybe it is as tacky as it looks.
The centerpiece of the Grand Palace is the Wat Phra Kaew (“Temple of the Holy Jewel Image"), the home of the holiest Buddha in Thailand. The buildup to this particular Buddha is amazing. You learn that it has a rich 2,000-year-old history that has seen civil wars and strife and Lord knows what else from Sri Lanka to Laos to Cambodia to Thailand. You may not wear shorts in its presence. No tank tops. No flip-flops or bare shoulders. Then they confuse the heck out of you by making you take off your shoes and saying that if you make the mistake of pointing your feet at the Emerald Buddha, you’ve managed to offend 500,000,000 Buddhists with one simple gesture.
As a result, I was expecting the Buddha to be mind-blowingly large, like, say, this one. Instead, what I got was a diminutive jade green figurine smaller than some of Hannah’s stuffed animals. Granted, the wee ankle-biter was sitting atop a hulking gold throne that stretched to the ceiling of a beautiful temple, but still: Dude looked like an oompa-loompa up there. Most everyone in the temple was praying, and those who weren’t were trying desperately to get Hannah’s attention. I’d say it was about half and half.
It is feared that if this lapdog prince were to be removed from Bangkok, such an action would signify the end of the Chakri dynasty. Though, really, Hannah was creating enough of a diversion that I probably could’ve put the thing in my backpack and run for it. Of course, I would’ve had to go back and find my shoes.