Bangkok is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has been home to me on two separate occasions, for a total of four years. It was where I came of age, where I became an adult, learned to be independent, met and understood people from different countries and backgrounds, learned a new language, and a new culture. Ten years later, it was where I developed to stand on my own as a professional.
One of my favourite things about Bangkok is the Chaophraya River. It doesn’t look much; a slow-moving, silty, brown river. But for centuries it has been the lifeline of this city, and still today, in the 21st century, it provides Bangkok with a port, a transport system, and a tourist attraction. People live alongside and over it, they bathe and do laundry in it, they travel on it to get to school, to work, and to the temple. One of the great hotels of the world, the Oriental Hotel, sits beside the river, and guests can watch the barges, river taxis and long-tailed boats ply their trade 24 hours a day. Tourists travel the river, loving the intimate view of the city, the stunning temples and the simple dwellings. And the river is a great place for a party, too.
On 8 November 1980, I partied on the Chaophraya. The local AFS organisation (I was there on an AFS Student Exchange) arranged a Homecoming party. I didn’t know then what a Homecoming party was, and to be honest, I still don’t. I know it’s an American high school or college thing, but that’s about it. Still, it was a party, and that is what was important. It was to be held on the Oriental Queen, the cruise boat of the Oriental Hotel. My AFS friend Sharon spent the day with me, as we fussed around getting ready for the party. We enjoyed getting dressed up, wearing new outfits and make-up – a nice change from the dark blue and white school uniforms we lived in normally. Many of our fellow exchange students were there, as were so many of our friends and mentors amongst the Thai returnees, who had helped us so much during our days in Bangkok. It was a happy reunion, the students now relaxed and confident in this strange country, so very different to that first week at Orientation. We danced and laughed and talked all night, and when our feet needed a rest, we sat outside in the gentle, evening wind that, in November, is almost cool, and so welcome to the long-suffering inhabitants of Bangkok. The Oriental Queen cruised up the river, and the lights of the city sparkled on either side of us.
I’m returning to Bangkok soon, and although I won’t be staying at the Oriental Hotel, I will be paying homage to the Chaophraya; I’ll eat and drink beside it, ride the river taxis, feel the wind in my hair, and smile.