This post was written as an assignment for a writing course I am currently doing (and enjoying): 15 Days of Writing True.
Category: A reason to love
This photo of my husband and I was a ‘selfie’ snapped on a recent trip to Thailand, on a khlong boat en route to Pratunam in Bangkok.
I hadn’t wanted to travel by boat. It was hot, muggy, and I wished my husband would just hop into a cab with me. I resented our different views around money and convenience in that moment.
We were in Bangkok, where I’d spent some time in previously. It was my husband’s first visit to the city. I hadn’t seen *everything*, but I thought I knew something about getting around.
On this day we had just checked in to this apartment, with a few hours to go before we were due to go for dinner on a boat. I had made a reservation online and was anxious that we get there on time. At the apartment, I realised the BTS (train) station was further away than I’d thought it would be. I sent a message to the guy who owned the Airbnb apartment we were staying at to ask him what the best way to get to our destination was. He made a few suggestions, including catching a ‘ferry’ behind our condo.
I’d never heard of any other boat service which operated outside of the ones on the Chao Phraya River, and looking around it seemed unlikely to me that there would be boats of any sort around where we were.
But we walked out to find it, and we found it quicker than I expected us to. It was a little dirty and confusing. I saw no clear signs, certainly not for English speakers. No staff. No foreigners. No ticketing system. I looked online for answers which I did not find. A boat arrived, and then another … from the opposite direction. The boats were so speedy, the people who got on and off so nimble. A lady we approached told us in halting English the direction that we should take and that it would take roughly 40 minutes to get to where we wanted to go (after which we would still have to transit to other mediums of transport).
It felt too hard and unnecessary – so I suggested trying out the boat another time. (Secretly, I didn’t mind if we didn’t).
We took a taxi to the BTS station that night.
The next day, my husband suggested a walk by the water. So after breakfast we walked back there, passing a live fire drill (complete with real fire and extinguishers) on the way. This time we crossed the bridge to the other side and kept walking alongside the canal.
My ears felt strange. Then I realised it was quiet and peaceful. Just across the road were tall skyscrapers, luxurious condos, the sound of traffic … here, life by the river followed an entirely different rhythm. We walked past a few street hawkers, who didn’t interact with us as hawkers in more touristy areas do – they simply stood by their stalls without trying to sell us anything. We saw men working with electrical equipment, efficiently but seemingly totally relaxed – some had no safety goggles on. Every few steps we experienced something else. A plant garden which took me by surprise. Beautiful graffiti. Rubbish floating in the canal. Little eateries, with delicious aromas. Makeshift homes.
I think now of the best word to describe it all, and unexpectedly the word that emerges is ‘harmony’, which is not to say that I don’t think people there struggle or face challenges. But somehow, the air carried no feeling of tension or strife.
I saw people who lived and worked peacefully, quietly, hidden away in a corner of this huge metropolis. I wondered about them, and I wondered about what I’d do, how I’d live, in their shoes. I gazed at the lovely bunches of pink bougainvillea which someone had thought to line the sides of the smelly canal with.
Beauty in the midst of imperfection.
I walked on, next to my husband. I was enjoying the walk by this stage, but I knew that if I’d come alone, I wouldn’t have had the courage to keep walking on.
Eventually, we got to the next jetty, diagonally across the road from the one we’d walked to the day before. When our boat arrived, it was surprisingly easy to get on. It was entirely fuss-free, despite the clear fact that no one here spoke fluent English, and neither of us spoke Thai beyond a few very basic phrases. The boat was fast, yet calming. Most on the boat appeared to be locals, and accepting of us as foreigners. Whenever the water level got high, people at the sides pulled on ropes to raise plastic sheets on both sides of the boat up, keeping us all dry. I marvelled yet again at the resourcefulness and simplicity in this city. We got to the central area in 15 minutes. The ride had cost us, in our local currency, 50 cents.
My husband grinned quite a lot. He loved it. And I realised what we had almost missed out on when I was focusing on convenience, what I thought was best, pride, etc. I realised I had enjoyed the boat experience too … a little adventure I would never have discovered and experienced without him.