Readers' Submissions

The Big Disconnect

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • November 11th, 2006
  • 8 min read


By BKKSW

Sometimes something totally routine strikes you as extraordinary because of the way you notice it, this submission is my example of how this recently happened to me. You’ve all heard comments like “in tune with the city” “plugged in to the city” and our all time favourite “one with the city.” “City” could be substituted with any number of things but for the purposes of this submission ‘city’ works as I’ll be talking about Bangkok and how I realized how ‘disconnected’ I’d become and how I got ‘plugged back in’. Sit back and take a drive with me..

The big disconnect. It’s 0120 on a rather dark cloudy night and I’d just dropped a friend off at her parents' home somewhere past Don Meung. We’d spent all day, the night, and part of the previous day in my condo a few hundred feet up in the sky. Because we were rather active and it was warm I’d shut the big windows and cooled off the place to a chilly (for Bangkok) 75 F. It was fun to actually get under the duvet for a change vs. laying on top of it. With the windows closed and the AC on we soon forget where we were and just enjoyed the moment. For most of the evening I had turned on the surround sound and put in my “sounds of nature” CD which is a collection of sounds of rainstorms, lightening, and light rain which totally sets the mood of being isolated in a cabin in the woods somewhere. The cool air made it more convincing. Alas, all good things come to an end and because she had to be back at work the next morning it was time to drop her at her parents' home and resume my normal existence. In other words the dream was over (for the moment).

Going downstairs to the car park we ignored the much warmer hallways and garage and once in the car she reaches over and punches the AC temperature setting down to 25 C and the fan to high and soon the car is colder than the condo. Putting in an MP3 disk with soft music we completed blotting out all outside stimuli save for the visual which I needed to drive. After dropping her off and watching her safely go inside I drove off in my SUV with the AC on max, soft music playing, and interior lights dimmed. I wanted the moment to last as long as possible. Going up the ramp to the Don Meung Tollway entrance I rolled down the window just far enough to give them my 20 baht and back up it went, and down the expressway I drove, 0120, dark, cloudy, and comfortably isolated from the noisy, hot, muggy city we all love to call Bangkok. I should mention once again that I had the windows of my SUV tinted to a dark colour which works out great in the day time, but restricts vision somewhat at night. It was in this environment that I felt lucky I saw a trail of sparks perhaps 500 meters ahead of me and began braking. Soon I came upon a serious accident.

Multiple cars were laying upside down, on their sides, and in various states of destruction and there were emergency vehicles already on the scene. The sparks I saw came from a wrecker dragging the hull of what was once a car (taxi) over to the side of the road. Several bodies lay still, covered, separated by 25-40 meters, obviously not moved from where they originally fell. I’m no stranger to such things having worked as a San Diego Police Officer for a number of years, but I was certainly glad it wasn’t my job tonight. I couldn’t shake the images from my mind so instead of staying on the expressway I exited at Victory Monument and pulled over to the first place I could safely stop the car. I turned off the ignition and got out of the car. Plugged back in.

As I exited the SUV the smells were the first thing I noticed, the familiar heavy sewer smell that usually appears more often and stronger after a good rain stresses the city's sewage system filled my nostrils in an instant which prompted a flood of situational awareness which for almost 48 hours I’d endeavoured to avoid. My eyes dilated from the extra darkness provided by the heavy window tint were suddenly filled with lights of all colours and intensities while a big warm wet hand of Bangkok air gripped my body and turned the cold goose bumped skin of my body to its more familiar wet and sticky state. All of this happened in milliseconds. I had been plugged in and the energy of the city was entering my body at maximum speed and full intensity! In rapid succession my senses kicked at full power but none as strong as my hearing. All of a sudden I could hear the thousands of cars, diesel busses, the whine of a bazillion motorsais, the buzz of the neon signs, hundreds of people talking, food cart sizzling, taxi horns, tires squealing around corners, soi dogs barking, sky train whooshing overhead, water running, and strangely enough my own heart beating. It was literally like someone turned on my power switch and I woke up in the middle of Bangkok.

I’ve been here this time for over a year now. During all this time the sounds, lights, smells, and energy of the city have been part of my daily life. I rarely close my windows at home, instead choosing to sleep with all the sounds of the city reaching my ears. The heat became my friend, the smells my memory, and the sights my beauty. The sounds brought it all together in some cogent manner I could define as life, the energy of the city was its heartbeat. I suppose after a matter of time you stop noticing all these things and they become “normal.” At least until you intentionally deprive yourself of your normal senses in a successful attempt to heighten other senses. For 48 hours my body was in Bangkok, but my mind and senses and the person I was sharing them with were all on a quiet river somewhere in Oregon where the forest is thick with Douglas Fir trees that you can smell 50 miles away and the rain almost always falls gently and the air is cool.. It’s astonishing how quickly came my return to Bangkok!

Locking the SUV I walked towards the roundabout and the monument in the middle and took stock of my city. Deteriorating cement buildings, big busses, countless motorsais, food stalls, bar girls, the boys in brown, and a child crying. At the sound of the child crying I turned to find a man sitting on the hood of a car that had pulled in behind me. He was covered in blood and was just sitting on the hood staring at the ground and a small child I presumed was his was holding tightly to his legs sobbing uncontrollably. I knew where he just came from and I didn’t need to be a psychic to know he’d just lost someone dear to his life. I kept walking.

Making the full circle I passed McDonalds, Starbucks, sirens, thousands of vehicles of all types, and knew that this was perhaps the busiest area in Bangkok this time of night/morning. Was it an accident I got off at this exit? Was I supposed to be “plugged in” at full intensity? Not just my senses, but my world. More of a shock than jumping out of a plane at 30,000 feet on oxygen and hitting that artic blast wall until coming back under 10,000 feet where you can breathe on your own and you hope body parts thaw out before the ground greets you in the rough way you know it will unless your fingers can release the lanyard holding up your drop bag containing an additional 90 pounds of weapons and equipment. 50 feet above the ground you release the lanyard, drop the bag, tuck in your knees, and THUMP hit the ground roughly and before you can even take a breath you’re flailing your arms at maximum speed gathering up the canopy before a wind gust drags you across the ground. Only when you get this done do you notice whatever bumps and bruises you’re abused body absorbed. Welcome to the world. Looking across the street I could see my SUV still where I left it but the man with the child was gone.

Getting back in my car I put in the key and immediately hit the power window buttons on all the windows lowering them, powered down the AC, turned off the MP3 player, and then leaned back in the seat with my eyes clothes and soaked in several more minutes of the sounds and energy and smells of Bangkok. Only when my heart rate dropped below 60bpm did I dare start the car and merge out into traffic soon to be startled by the blast of a taxi horn punishing me for the slow transition. Around the roundabout in the SUV this time, back the way I came and back on the expressway and home.

By the time I arrived home and drove up the multiple levels of my car park to my assigned space my heart was relaxed and I was “back in tune” or “plugged in” to the city. It’s been over 48 hours and I’ve been out every day, windows open, music off, brain engaged. It took this long to realize how much I’d been missing, perhaps how dangerous it is to isolate yourself from the sounds of the city while navigating a two ton vehicle through the maze of people and vehicles so common in Bangkok. Even though I went nowhere, in a way it was like I was coming home.

I enjoyed my trip. It was a fun vacation, the rain, the forest, the cool weather, and of course the companionship. And I enjoyed coming home. There really is no place on earth quite like Bangkok..

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

I really like submissions like this. Enjoyed this, a lot.