I grew up not liking Thailand.
You heard that right. Born, bred and intoxicated as a Singaporean, my psyche was not programmed to be backwards-compatible. Though I had been to Phuket when I was a child, my recollections, and therefore my impression of Thailand stemmed not from that inaugural trip, but by, what else, media.
Well, okay, my Phuket trip was not without memories. Sea bugs having a buffet on my legs while I swam at the beach, topless Caucasian women lying around while I depressed sand in the shape of my feet, and watching an uncensored movie about the legendary black magic of Thailand. What stuck with me through my growing years, however, were images collected sporadically from scenes in Hollywood movies like Rambo Part III where John Rambo was trying to live out his days peacefully in Bangkok after coming out of Part II, working part-time as a construction worker as well as earning baht as a Muay Thai fighter before being embroiled once again in gun-totting rescue missions, which, for being John Rambo, is where the real money’s at. Shuttle my life story for the next twenty-over years and place televised or screened visuals of different scenes of whichever part of Thailand here, there and everywhere, and you’d get my drift. The scenes of go-go bar girls in, uh, go-go bars, ladyboys, neon-lit streets with signboards in Thai and bad English, mobile stalls along the roads… need I say more?
Juxtaposing those visuals against the reality that was Singapore really brought out the contrast in the two countries’ development. One is a clean and green, white-washed glass-and-concrete cityscape, while the other still had one foot stuck in the past with dirty streets, chaotic city traffic routes with buildings of various designs lined up along them, among which stood many old buildings left to age even more, and not-so-urban transport system that was the lifeline of a city in motion. Inaccurate as the descriptions might sound to anyone who’s been living in Thailand or has been there more times than they could count, they are what had been swimming in my head for that many years. Everything looked and felt backwards when compared to the environment I had been so used to.
So, what was it that managed to turn a twenty-over year-old preconception around?
Age, I guess. Some who might be reading this who are in the know might attribute it to a certain awakening, that one moment in time where a certain encounter sort of changed my life from that point onwards, somewhere at the end of 2005. I wouldn’t say they are wrong, but neither would I say that was it. That encounter, which will be unveiled in an upcoming installment, played a significant role in why this blog was able to climb its way out of limbo, but it tells only part of the story. That, and it was but a surface depiction, though it was no less memorable for me.
What has age got to do with anything, then? Biases do change with time, as will perspectives and preconceptions. What precipitates in a younger brain and an older one will be different, though things were seen through the same pair of eyes. Life experiences, the lack thereof, and the acquisition of thereafter, make all the difference. And a single, willing step out on different grains of sand was all it took.
I cannot begin to make anyone, myself included, understand my interest in Thailand, or Northern Thailand at this point in my life, since that’s the only part I have been to so far, without a little introspection. So, here we go on a chronologically-incoherent cerebral journey through my experiences in Northern Thailand (photos included where possible). Hope you enjoy the ride.