That day my comfort zone has died – How to survive in the Bangkok slums

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My studio. A shitty, dirty, nude, mostly cracked room on the second floor of a decrepit building in one of the slums of Bangkok. The only place I’ve heard people saying that it’s dangerous. However, just for the record, people say a lot of bullshit.

Once I woke up very early in the morning. That’s kind of a special event. Going downstairs to piss, I noticed that the little and useless gate of the building was open. Smell of incense through the stairs. It didn’t feel that bad actually, as the usual smell in the entrance is stale piss mixed with something even more acrid and pungent, of which origins I’ve never bothered to investigate. The voice of woman, cacophonous in her tones and way of speaking. She is reciting a mantra, I guess.

Voice is important. At a subliminal level, humans judge others and shape the way to act towards them from their voices. A low-pitched voice in usually and unconsciously supposed to belong to a man with more testosterone, while a high-pitched voice to a weaker one. Reproduction needs drive our world. Academic heroes die for the sake of Science. People just want to fuck. However, that one voice was just unpleasant, and unfortunately I knew whom it belonged to.

A sunny day is always glorious, even after a drinking night and, consequently, during a sacrosanct hangover. Coming back from the little stall at the corner, where I usually get coffee and something to eat, I sit down on the dirty stairs in front of a little pharmacy, halfway from the nomad coffee shop and my studio. Noodles, some chicken, a big cup of ice coffee and no interactions with anyone else for at least 30 mins, my favorite recipe for breakfast. Sipping at my coffee, I look at the street ahead. The traffic, the motorbikes carrying entire families speeding in the wrong lane, the red pickup transporting people and the young ladies with their sunglasses on. That’s what I call inner peace, contextualized to Bangkok’s slums, of course.

“You farang house near my house!”

Please someone spares me this, I think without looking at her.

“You have girlfriend. If you no girlfriend, I do massage. Massage for you”

I stop sipping at the coffee. I feel anger growing towards the one who broke my very needed little private moment.

Then she sits beside me. I look at her through my sunglasses. She’s at least 60 years old, no teeth apart from a couple on the left side of her old mouth, half covered with saliva. Her grey hair cut short. Her pink dress with undetermined and aged stains all over it falls without shapes on that old body. Her skin is dark and burnt by the sun. Her arms are fat and wrinkled.

This can’t be true.

“Go away, I don’t need anything” I tell her in Thai. She stays. Obviously.

“20 baht. 20 baaaaaaaht!” Go away please. This is worse than the hangover.

“I give you massage, like this” and she starts pinching my left arm. Her hands are humid. My brain just can’t help but wonder why her hands are humid. My breakfast is ruined. She keeps going. I shake my arm in order to get rid of her.

“20 baaaaaaaht!”

I stand up and head home. She goes the other direction telling bystanders that I live near her place.

That’s what is like being a Farang in Bangkok’s slums.

The sunny day is ruined. I smoke a cigarette and go back to sleep for the rest of the day.

That same scene comes to my mind when I hear the mantras and the voice reciting them. At the end of the stairs there’s the same chubby old woman, naked, wearing only a towel larger than life around herself. She has just taken a shower in the filthy shared toilet we use for the whole building and now she is there, sitting on the stairs in front of a toilet, easily comparable with the one in that Trainspotting movie. She moves a little bit so that I can pass and go to piss, without stopping her mantra. I feel like I’m in a noir movie, once again. I even manage to piss with her in front of the door praying. Luckily, Buddhists totally accept all kinds of natural instincts and needs, so I can continue my morning business.

I climb up the stairs again and say goodbye to the surreal situation. I even laugh at it when back in my room, telling myself that for sure I have a lot of stories I don’t want to tell to my grandchildren in wintertime, in front of a fire.

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