What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stranger

Excruciating Extravagance February 3, 2016

Last post was about the strangeness of being in a store in the Beijing Airport where they didn’t seem to be afraid of people stealing things.

But then I got to Bangkok, and it was very, very different.

Please don’t think I’m saying that Bangkok is filled with thieves or anything. In fact, most of the people I met were lovely. Apart from one person masquerading as Tourism Police — the people who are supposed to protect tourists from scams, not arrest the tourists — and some cab drivers who like to price the fares exorbitantly for tourists, everyone was really lovely.

And Bangkok was beautiful.


At least the historic district. When you took the train out of the city or even went a little off the beaten path, you could see people living in shacks without windows. Some by the train tracks, some literally on stilts over the river. Now, I’m not deluded enough to think that poverty isn’t a problem in America. It most certainly is. But seeing people living with piles of trash outside their doors in homes that were falling down…. It was startling. And very, very sad.

The husband’s luggage had been lost on our flight to Thailand and has never been seen again. So after a few days of scraping by with clothes he bought off the streets, we decided we needed to find him a proper pair of pants.

The hotel pointed us in the direction of the mall, and off we went. It was the biggest, shiniest, most expensive mall I have ever been to. There were porches for sale and a full blown aquarium. But being in a city filled with stray animals and barefoot people, there was something about that kind of excess that made me a little nauseous. But the husband needed pants, so we stayed and shopped. We went into what they called a department store, though it was bigger than any I had ever seen even in New York. And when we found something we wanted, the woman took it from us. We told her we were still shopping, but she insisted that she had to bring it to the counter so we could pay before we could move to the section not ten feet away.

And she literally carried the swim shorts we wanted to the cashier, who rang it up, put it in a bag and taped the bag closed.

For a second, it felt almost rude. Like we specifically weren’t being trusted. But then I looked around and realized that was normal. You couldn’t carry a pair of pants to the next section of pants.

Maybe it was meant to be really great customer service. But it felt like fear. Fear that we would rob the rich department store blind. I suppose that when you’re displaying extravagance in a city of want, that must be a certain fear that comes with privilege. You could sense it in the overly-filtered, air conditioned atmosphere, which teemed with quasi-judgmental overtones.

Even the husband and I weren’t wealthy enough to invade their oasis of riches.

I was glad to get back out onto the streets even though the air was muggy. Somehow it was much easier to breathe.


2 Responses to “Excruciating Extravagance”

  1. My first trip out of the country was Mexico, nothing prepares you for the cultural exposure and the amazing learning curve that comes with travel.

  2. […] everything in Thailand (apart from the things at the one mall that was crazy fancy) — food, transport, and massages — is all super cheap. It’s a twelve hour time […]

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