September 16, 2011

Stop Over 2 – Bangkok – Part I

There is a place in this world, unknown to most, where the King and the Queen still reign supreme. And the people love them and adore them and celebrate the monarchy. It’s not the mountains of Bhutan or the Sultanates of the Middle East or the loyal subjects of her Majesty the Queen. But in the farthest corners of the Eastern World, there is a country which has never been colonized by any western power or Japan. In the days gone by, the maps of the East India Company used to call the land – Siam.

Having never faced the humiliation of a foreign rule, the Thais are a proud nation and yet the most respectful amongst all the races I have come across in my life till date. While Japanese demonstrations of respect are well documented by Hollywood, the Thais can match up to the best of them.

At times, I feel ashamed as an Indian, who considering himself a global citizen, always extends his hand out for a firm handshake. And yet, I feel a strange sense of joy when complete strangers in a corporate setting or outside, fold their hands together, bow and greet the traditional Thai way – Sawasdeeka.

Namaskar might be dying in India, except perhaps during weddings and family gatherings, but in a country far far away, it lives on. I love the concept of Namaskar as to me it embodies the very best of the Hindu way of life. It tells the person you are greeting, “I accept that there resides a God within you, and I bow to that Supreme Power.”

Coming back to Bangkok and the Thais, I sense an inner struggle so very common to India and many other nations which are grappling with a changing world view. The best example of this confusion is perhaps the Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is a beautiful airport, one of the better ones that have been built in recent years across the world. As soon as you enter, you will come across relics of the Budhha and huge statues straight out of the pages of mythology. And once you are done with immigration, while travelling out of the country, you will be greeted with one of the most amazing scenes from Hindu Mythology – the churning of the Oceans. And you will feel excited that this airport perhaps has something unique to offer, something that you can take back and treasure. Yet, in an effort to entice the global travellers, the airport loses itself in the standardization that is slowly becoming a curse in this world.

You might be wondering why a post on travelling to a new city is about an airport. I have realized over the last 2 years, my priorities in travel have changed. From the wanderlust backpacker, as I grow old in my job as a marketer and start having my first grey hairs, I have become a student of human emotions. I like nothing better than to understand a country from her people, from what they think, do, love, like, hate and eat. And that’s why I spend weekends in consumes’ homes learning about them, observing them and finally falling in love with my job all over again.

The city is surviving better than the airport. The Orange robes of the monks are often noticed, so are the evening chants from a temple in a busy street corner. Bangkok may be a modern city but it seems to have not forgotten itself in the process.

The Thais are of course the best cooks in South East Asia, in my humble opinion, but perhaps I am a bit biased being an Indian after all. The Thai cooking is full of herbs and flavours and the fight over whose mom makes the best Tom Yam Soup is still a bone of contention amongst friends. If there’s a recipe that can create a symphony in your palette, it must be Tom Yam.

You must have made multiple versions of “authentic” Thai green curry, but to me having a green curry at a roadside restaurant in Thailand is almost the same as seeing The Taj with my own eyes, rather than on the internet. But there are 2 dishes I have fallen in love with – first the Thai Omelette. Extremely unhealthy and supremely delicious, it can give Egg Bhurji, the Indian favourite, a run for its money. The second is the burnt coconut. Apparently, the Thais burn the coconut while it’s still in its shell and then peel the outer coating out. This gives the water a strange but brilliant flavour and while I have drunk almost litres of it, I am yet to put a finger to it – Barbequed Coconut Water is what I call it for lack of a better expression.

Till I figure it out, happy imagining the burnt coconut water, chilled in the freezer of Master Chef of KSS Thailand, Penrung, slowly moving down your throat to the ultimate goal it was destined for – your stomach.

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