Back to Bangkok

Two years after my last visit, I find myself back at the Swan Hotel off of Charoen Krung Road near the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. Coming back to this city for the 4th time, as a jumping off point for further travel to Indonesia, Malaysia, and parts unknown as of yet, I’m struck by how different this city is from my first visit nearly 7 years ago. Steel and glass high rises have replaced many of the low rise concrete buildings. In place of small soi’s (side streets) filled with bustling restaurants and mini-marts are now bigger plazas catering to western tastes.

It would be easy to write a commentary on gentrification, and commercializations as a vehicle to drive out the working class (especially feeling that pinch in Chicago, and the USA right now), but in Bangkok, you’ll still find the two in harmony in much of the city – for now. I’m happy to just be in the midst of a global community, seeing the new mixed in with the old, and so many people wandering, exploring, and smiling at the wonder that is Bangkok, and the promise of adventure in travel.

What seems like minimal baggage on departure.

We arrived late Thursday, January 12th after a 13 hour flight to Tokyo, followed by a 5 hour flight to Bangkok. Immediately upon exiting the plane one is hit with the sticky humidity that becomes a part of life in Southeast Asia. Warmer layers piled on in Chicago, and during the flight are quickly shed and stuffed into carry-on baggage.

Our first stop was an Air BnB off of the Phra Khanong sky train stop.

 

We booked more out of curiosity of expat Bangkok high-rise living more than out of a necessity for western comforts (the dated 60/70’s style Bangkok hotels you find everywhere, like the Swan, are just fine). However, it was nice to have a full apartment, kitchen, refrigerator, and washing machine at our disposal for the first five days.

Talking to a local Thai chef, Ying, the next evening we learned that many of these high-rises are about 70% empty, which is why it’s easy to rent for Air BnB.

Rooftop views Sukhumvit Soi 71

One amazing thing about travel is that you still run into people you know from all over the world. Our first full night here included drinks with Ryan Wizniak, the drummer for Elephant Gun (and just played with 5 days before my trip) Sky Train Jazz Bar, at a great little place near Victory Monmument. Sangsom flows, the music is good, and Ultraman watches you pee.

Bathroom views at Sky Train Jazz Bar

The first weekend was filled with that Bangkok right of passage, Chatuchak (known as JJ) market. A labyrinth of stalls selling everything from clay Buddha amulets to massive pieces of furniture, as well as any piece of clothing you could ever buy (need a fur coat in 90 degree heat, they’ve got you covered!).

Long days of walking, buying, and sweating lead to early nights of sleeping and trying to shed the jet lag, which holds on a little tighter every year that passes.

Now, sitting poolside at the Swan, we contemplate our next move, whether Myanmar, or an island, before heading south so I can collect memories, photos, and visas not yet obtained.

More updates soon, and some saxophone trouble is sure to follow.

Michelin Man Cowboys

BKK Low Rise

BKK High Rise Plaza

Why do I travel? This overused Mark Twain Quote sums it up quite nicely:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

 

 

Music is my answer

Thursday night gigs can either be great, or a drag. Most musicians walk that tight balance between day job and passion, and much too often, the day job takes away so much energy and joy. That Thursday night hit at 11 is something you look forward to all week, but you know that your 6AM wake up call is looming in the not too distant future, and that no amount of coffee is going to help you recover from four hours of sleep. That’s the truth as I write this!

So, how do you get excited for a drag of a show with a small crowd at a bar that’s charging too much for cover, in a part of the city nobody wants to venture to on a 5 degree night in Chicago?

You play. You play your frustration. You play your emotion. And, you play for those 15 people who happen to be there.

I had this type of gig with Four Star Brass Band last night. I was admittedly having a not so great day.

Looking for full time employment is tough, the rejection letters are coming in (finally some word – it’s frustrating when you’ve applied for over 200 jobs and had zero feedback!), and I’m finding it hard to see silver lining in my current hunt and frustration.

However, the truth is I am doing what I love. I’m playing music.

I wasn’t in a great mood when I got to the bar. I was tired from a late night rehearsal/lack of sleep from the night before, and honestly just looking forward to playing the set so I could go home and sleep. But then something amazing happened. I pulled out my saxophone, warmed up a bit, and walked up the stairs to the stage. There was an energy that changed from that top step to stage. I went from dragging my feet to smiling ear to ear. From those first warm-up notes to the last fortissimo fermata I was totally entrenched in the music, the crowd. People were smiling, dancing… I was smiling and dancing, and singing from the depths of somewhere I’m not sure I knew I had in me.

And now I sit, despite four hours of sleep, riding the high that comes with those flashes of energy, beauty, and the purest way I know love and life exist. Music is my answer.