Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Bangkok Who?

Monday, December 29th, 2008

I came to Thailand initially to travel, like most people I guess, and decided to stay and teach English for a while, like many more, and finally decided to come back and study, like virtually no one. I’ve been here studying for a few months and I now see why no one comes here to study.

I am relatively young still, though soon to move into Florida’s ‘Young Professions’ category, and had not yet taken on the task of deciding what, and where, to study. Until recently when I decided that as I liked Bangkok so much I might as well just study here, anything, I had put off for several post-high school years what I knew was important to my future, getting some type of education.

This is truly a case of place trumping all other concerns as I unconsciously ignored all negative research results and advice when considering the move to Bangkok for school. But I just love Bangkok, and decided that I ought to be able to get some gainful education here.

It’s at one and the same time a wonderful city and a terrible city. Most of the city’s ills are born of the internal combustion engine: traffic, smog, noise. Never have I sat in traffic as I have in Bangkok, and according to the old timers it’s worlds better than it was a decade or more ago. And try talking on a cell phone on any given Bangkok street and the huge diesel bombs and high-pitched two-stroke screams drown out most of the conversation. And a good month in the city always seems to leave me with an ailment akin to smoker’s lung, a condition I dub ‘Bangkok Throat’. Don’t touch or lean up against anything outdoors either, it’s coated in layers of black soot despite perpetual efforts by cleaning crews.

Aside from these problems and the problems many of its residents have in making a decent living, Bangkok has a lot to offer, especially to someone coming from a more prosperous economy, as it can be very affordable and there are a lot of good deals to be had.

Thai cuisine is of course world famous and there’s no Thai food in the world like Thai food in Thailand. Thai culture is also unique and resilient to the domineering Western culture that eats up so many less resistant cultures worldwide. Thai people, while at times opportunistic and ambitious, are indeed warm, friendly and welcoming. They’re also adverse to outright displays of hostility or violence, and Thai society and Bangkok in particular are very safe, especially for foreigners. Thai society must rank extremely high on Florida’s Bohemian-Gay index as well, as anyone who’s been to Thailand will note, there aren’t many places in the world with gender lines as fluid as in Thailand.

These points of attractiveness hold for the whole of Thailand, but there are many things particular to Bangkok that make it a really special place. It comes in dead last, but still makes it onto the world mega-regions list in Who’s Your City?, and it’s home to about 20 million people.

The core of the city is a mash-up of a few different financial districts full of skyscrapers, high rises and malls home to international chains and high end shopping, cut up by busy streets and light rail transport lines, mixed into that are smaller garden-like neighborhoods some ethnic in segregation like Chinatown and an Indian town with historic period buildings and traditional Thai buildings and temples, as well as the governmental and Royal seat and all their ornate buildings, surrounded by a myriad of outlying shanty towns and non-grid warrens all tied together by tight canals and bordered on the far west side of the city by a large river with its own particular maritime culture.

The city almost seems to be founded on outdoor dinning and night living and there is a deep rooted street culture that is at once typical of Asia but also unique in the quality of cheap food on offer anywhere, at all times of the day and night, as well as to the extent that one can really buy just about anything from impromptu street stalls throughout the city.

As for the arts and aesthetics, there are many venues for performance arts, both classical/cultural and modern/musical, as well as clubs and bars to suit all tastes. Not to mention a number of non-conventional ‘entertainment’ venues that range from saunas and massage spas to what I’d euphemistically call sensual exhibitions. Here again, the city must be somewhere near the top on the Gay index.

There are also a number of parks in the city, some with cultural significance, all well maintained, in which to enjoy the year long warm weather.

A number of areas in the city have a distinct character and there are always shows to see, places to visit and relax in, great food to be had, busyness and excitement on the streets, all on the cheap an all distinctly Thai.

But, back to the original plan, to study. I’ve long been a fan of Bangkok, so when I came back a few months ago and started school, my initial impression of the school wasn’t too great. Disorganized, not professional, not as advertised. This was supposed to be an international school, entirely in English, recognized abroad. But the school turned out to be merely a department in a large Thai university, a very small department.

My feelings changed briefly after the first course, taught by an American professor, wherein I learned some of the finer points of English syntax and sentence structure, but again I was let down when my next class turned out to be ‘English Pronunciation’. Needless to say, this isn’t something I expect to be taught at university. This turned out to be as elementary as what I taught high school students during my three month stint as an English teacher here in Thailand three years ago.

Confidence busted, I’ve decided that, as much as I love Bangkok for all it’s soot and noise and smells and great food and beautiful areas and nice people, and as much as I want to stay, the advice I received was probably right on: a Thai education is useful in Thailand, but your diploma isn’t worth much outside of Thailand.

So, I’m looking for a new city to study in, a place with good schools that will hopefully accept at least a few of my Thai credits, a city open to different types of people, hopefully with a strong Asian feel to it, one high in openness, one high on the Bohemian-Gay index, one with at least mild weather much of the year, one somewhat affordable.

Any ideas? San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle?

Sent by B from Bangkok