Bangkok, chumchon, and the excitement of life

Thailand

The world doesn't evolve around Bangkok, nor does it around Thailand.

Bonkai is a slum, located deep within the twisted roads of the metropolis; a "developed" slum of some sort, though many of my Hi-So (high society) Thai friends prefer to substitute the word "slum" with "chumchon" (which means crowded community).

For whatever reason (embarrassment and/or shy) they may have for such a word, the fact is Bangkok has many slums. The biggest is reported to have a million slum residents, living in concrete and wooden homes).

Six of my (Not-the-Hi-So-type) Thai friends sit in a dodgy, dirty part of Bonkai, however their hospitality, honest smiles and generous servings of Leo and food is a testament of how the working poor do their best to accommodate me. I find this humbling. We sit around a flimsy small table, on cheap plastic coloured chairs, talking and laughing; me inhaling my kretek at will.

Poverty in Bonkai is not uncommon, similar to bigger slums in the city. I've been to many last year, a few times in November during the Great Thailand Flood, though made fast friends in this part of Bangkok.

We spoke (and still speaking as I furiously type this on my BlackBerry) about poverty, the city's governance (and the lack of it), declining tourism and something that Thais would never evade --» national and provincial politics. We touched on the issues of drugusers, HIV/AIDS and the urban struggles of sustaining livelihood, and not to mention the migration of many Thais from neighbouring provinces.

The six men, shirtless with faint tattoos (which reminds me of prison tattoos) covering their bodies, are knowledgeable, and at times possessing critical views of the state of their people. Thais living in the slums are not ignorant, though they are shy to the point of subscribing to ignorance to avoid a lost of face or merely to avoid confrontation.

The discussion is building up, the momentum increasing as we talk about the plights and needs of migrant workers and the poor. I shall report later, my head swirls with abandonment, as sweat drips down my neck. Typing this is somewhat distracting. Indeed.

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