Bangkok: The Game

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I’ve spent many moments wondering if I hate Bangkok. At initial glimpse, the city suggests that it has long ago lost it’s soul. The sex industry, the countless westernized bars, the hookers wandering through your hotel lobby during the breakfast hour… Bangkok has a personality I have never met before. It is no longer a question in my mind whether I like it here or not. No other place on this journey has conjured up so many topics for me to write about. I may not be considering it home, but I am fascinated by this city.

In 1986 a musical called Chess hit the stage in London, and subsequently on Broadway. The musical was sadly missed by many, but one song remains infamous. You probably know most of the lyrics and have no idea it’s from a musical. Your ignorance disappoints me, but that’s not my point. The story was set in Bangkok. I never understood why it was the chosen city until now. Bangkok is a metaphor for everything the game of Chess stands for. Bangkok is a game of wit, strategy, and intellect.

As in any city, you have to bring with you a harshness and be prepared to be beat up a little. But in Bangkok, you have to anticipate every move: Bangkok has to be played with a strategy. If you succeed, you’ll see the side of the urban edge that is compassionate, culturally rich, and harmonious. Unfortunately, few make it through the puzzle. My initial mistake was to not view it that way. Now, passing through this city for a third time, it is becoming more clear.

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As a tourist you have to be a step ahead of every scam, research taxi prices before going anywhere, and never once trust the advice that anyone gives you- not even hotel staff. It gets tiring if you view it as a chore, and energizing if you look at it as a test of cerebral fitness.

Bangkok will push you in so many directions that you’ll start to wonder which way is up. People dye their dogs in different shades of pink. Street stalls sell live squirrels dressed up as lumberjacks and nurses. Drunken middle aged business men slur their words as scantily clad lady-boys sit on their lap and feed them shots. People cut you off in line, overcharge you, laugh in your face, and always operate with ulterior motives. Just as you start to give up- just as the harsh world of enslaved sex industry workers, child pick pockets, lying hotel concierge, and scam artists start to get to you, you’ll decide you hate the place and pack your bags.

This is exactly when you Shouldn’t give up.

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One day you find yourself riding the impeccably clean MRT sky train through a business district of towering glass and steel. The train stops. A police officer offers his elbow to a blind man, lovingly places his hand over his and leads him onto your train. The man grabs the guide pole. A woman puts down her groceries to rush to his side. She grabs his arm and leads him to a seat- making sure he is comfortable and cared for. They are strangers. You’ll look out the window as the train starts back up to find the pristine Arts Center to your left, the tree lined streets below, and a billboard advertising tomorrow night’s charity event for underprivileged children. All the greasiness on the streets is a revolting facade for a culture that has a spirit, a pride, a soul. If you make the right moves the city will will open it’s doors to you, and the thick exterior will evaporate back into the isolated pockets they belong in.

Open your eyes. Find the beauty. The rest is just a game. Don’t let the shenanigans blind you.

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