Bangkok is one BUSY city. I don’t really know what I expected, I guess my biggest image of Bangkok was informed by the movie The King and I. There were definitely many opulent temples and palaces to admire (more on that in another post) but the thing that struck me the most about this city was its D-E-N-S-I-T-Y. The drawing above was made sitting on a corner in Chinatown, just adding all of the pedestrians, tuk-tuks, bicyclists, cart-pushers, cars, and buses as they went by in an hour. Did I leave out mopeds and motorcycles? I did, but they were there too. And the back drop of all of this mishegas is a layered city of old structures, older temples, and electrical wires everywhere. See drawing above as a case in point. The various configurations of electrical wires are almost as lyrical as the Thai alphabet – amazing. And dangerous too, I would think? I was rather obsessed with them while I was there.
I made the Chinatown corner drawing on my way to meet a few Bangkok urban sketchers at Wat Trimitr, one of the temples of Bangkok that happens to be in the middle of Chinatown. Again, some super density, with gold leaf hammered on top! The street level of the temple was an awesome display of monks, vendors, and local people milling about, mixing with the tourists and generally trying to make a living, through praying, cooking, or selling. All were present at the steps of the temple, and the top of the steps was crowned by a picture of the King of Thailand. No one in Bangkok passes his photo without stopping to give a motion of thanks, known as the wai. It’s hands together, as in prayer, accompanied by a slight bow. I found it a beautiful gesture, although in the crush of people it was sometimes hard to accomplish, ha ha.
Next door to the temple was a school. The children were having some kind of a play, and I laughed to see how the little boys in the audience were mimicking and making fun of the little girls dancing on stage. Culture may be different the world over, but some things stay the same. I had to draw these kids, they were so cute! Check out the boys wrestling in the top right corner of this drawing. The monks were having a hard time keeping everyone in line! My Thai friend Pramote told me that the principal was making an announcement (in Thai, of course) over the loudspeaker that the children should be respectful, and leave the artist from New York alone to do her work. As you can see from the photos below, the children had trouble listening!
(photos courtesy of Luis Simoes)
After we spent the morning at the temple, Pramote took us to a wonderful corner stand to have lunch. There are outdoor cooks working like this all over Bangkok. We had the most delicious stir-fry I’ve ever had – flat noodles with shrimp, pork, and mixed vegetables in a small personal frying pan. So good, and so fast, and so many people around eating it. Again – dense! I enjoyed watching the chef, and making the drawing below while we ate.
After lunch, we all walked over to the main Chinatown gate to draw. Pramote and the other Bangkok Urban Sketchers were so nice and full of hospitality. They seemed to think that I was a little nutty when I wanted to sit right on the edge of the street with all the activity, but politeness won the day and they all sat there with me. Such wonderful people, and what a nice time! Plus, the Chinatown Gate was also sufficiently dense, and busy, to allow me to continue my drawing theme of the day, which was, WOW, and I thought New York was a busy city! I love Bangkok!
It’s amazing how all the people on bicycles, in cars, in tuk-tuks (an open air kind of bus, very precarious looking to me), on foot, and on motorcycles all manage to co-exist and race around this corner at a breakneck pace without any collisions. Even the dog (lower left) was in tune with the vibe. Bangkok dancing machine.
After we finished at the Chinatown Gate, Pramote took us on an interesting walk through the back streets of Chinatown to the river, where he had a plan for us all to eat dinner with a beautiful view for sunset. Guess what, the river was just as busy as the streets are! The long boats you see in the drawing are commuter boats that go up and down river, stopping at various ports along the way. People stand at the docks of these ports blowing whistles, and the folks running the boats blow whistles back – some kind of code, I guess, to let them know when to stop, but it creates quite a racket! Whistles seem to be a thing in Bangkok, there are a lot of whistle blowers at the aiport too, to get your baggage, a cab, whatever. I guess with all of that density you need a whistle just to be heard!
I definitely enjoyed Bangkok, and the people I met there. But honestly, I was always happy to have a little quiet time back in my room at night. What a place! Hope to be back soon. ;)