Sixteen Years Living The Dream
Today I was sifting through some clips of Bangkok that I had saved from YouTube very early in The Dream – a period when I saved everything I could find on video of my favourite city. I brought up a clip of the alleyway in Sukhumvit, that ran between Soi 5 and Soi 7 – the clip running for 4 minutes and 11 seconds. It has a good solid soundtrack, punctuated throughout by the words of Martin Luther King – “I Have A Dream”. That alleyway was demolished not so long ago – and, looking at all of the people working in those stalls or bars on the sides, along with the shoppers just looking for something in particular – or looking for whatever – made me wonder where all of those people are right now. Where did they go?
Maybe I have walked through that alleyway a couple of times – but, if I was headed for Sukhumvit Soi 7/1, as normal, I would have come via the BTS. There was never any reason for me to go to Soi 7. In that period, I was based around Silom and Sathorn and there were one or two beer bars that I frequented in Soi 7/1. Back then there was magic in the air – and that magic comes flooding back to me from so many of those older video clips that are no longer available on YouTube. I am so grateful that I took the trouble to save them while they were there. Seems as though anything that was shot in small format was removed from YouTube with the advent of HD cameras with a more professional look taking pride of place. Big is better, or so we think – but there was a lot worth watching in some of those old clips.
So, what was the dream like? It was the best I can ever recall and I would go back and do it over again and again, without question. I have no doubt there are many who will read this who feel exactly the same as I do in their own experiences of their dream. It is something you never wish to wake up from. But – wake up we must because this is a time of great change, with Bangkok growing and changing almost on a daily basis.
Do you remember how the anticipation of what it would be like, flooded our consciousness with every new arrival we made at the old Don Meuang Airport? How could you forget it! Hey, and what about those horrible times when you had to be back in Farangland … you wouldn't want to go through that again, would you?
My initiation was through a Thai lady (Jina) I knew in my home city in Farangland. Her memory stays with me always – and so many times I have wished I had not let her slip away to go back to New Zealand. Dummy that I was, forgetting to get contact details for her – and only thinking when it was too late. I often think that, if I had stayed in touch with her, I would probably not have gone to Thailand and perhaps ended up with her as my wife. I think I would have been very happy with her – perhaps the start of an equally-magic but different dream.
To new arrivals in Bangkok, the thing that grabs attention is probably that strange script that you see on street signs and almost every other place you look – the Thai language script, that seems to defy understanding by all but the most determined to understand it. It doesn't come easily – and neither does the spoken language with the sing-song tonality that is quite unique and pleasant to listen to. Our dear friend Dana has written a lengthy submission on those who embark on the journey of trying to learn to speak Thai – and it is well worth reading.
Back in the day, there were these enormous scaffolding frames dotted around some inner and the outer edges of the city, designed to hold advertising – some full and some empty – but the thing that worried me was what if a strong wind toppled one of them over to fall on some poor unsuspecting bystander or passer-by? I don't know if it ever happened – but the thought did cross my mind a few times. Still, I was probably over-reacting – because we all know that Thais are always safety-conscious and very particular when it comes to maintenance <tongue in cheek – I should go and give myself a good thrashing with the flagellation strap for writing that>.
Strange how things come into mind … last night I was remembering a place I would go every morning for breakfast in the times when I stayed in the Siam area, not far from National Stadium BTS station. Au Bon Pain was a coffee shop on the ground floor of Siam Discovery, facing Phayathai, Talking here around about 2002 or 2003, when Bangkok was a really exciting place to be – it felt as if you could reach out and touch it. The excitement seemed palpable. Many similar outlets of that chain are now dotted around Bangkok.
It's funny how some things stay with you over many years – even before I went to Bangkok, when I was deeply into the guitar playing of Norman Blake. There was one song that stuck with me, standing out among all of the songs I regularly performed at that time. The name of the song is Billy Gray – written by Norman Blake – but it still has a profound effect on me whenever I hear it. I came across it yesterday and was hoping to find a good clip of it on YouTube – but the ones there are not of good quality sound or video. This is the best I could find – but the audio is nowhere near as good as on the original CD “The Fields Of November Old And New”
Author: Norman Blake
Billy Gray rode into Gantry back in ’83
There he did meet young Sarah McCrea
The wild rose of morning, that pale flower of dawning
Herald of springtime in his young life that day
Sarah she could not see the daylight of reality
In her young eyes Billy bore not a flaw
Knowing not her chosen one was a hired gun
Wanted in Kansas City by the law
Then one day a tall man came riding across the badlands
Lying to the north of New Mexico
He was overheard to say he was looking for Bill Gray
A ruthless man and a dangerous outlaw
Well the deadly news came creeping to Billy fast sleeping
There in the Clarendon Bar and Hotel
He fled toward the old church there on the outskirts
Thinking he'd climb to that old steeple bell
But a rifle ball came flying, face-down he lay dying
There in the dust of the road where he fell
Sarah she ran to him just cursing the lawman
Accepting no reason – and knowing he was killed
Sarah lives in that same old white-frame house
Where she first met Billy some forty years ago
And the wild rose of morning she's faded with the dawning
Of each day of sorrow the long years have shown
And written on a stone where the dusty winds have long blown
Eighteen words to a passing world say
“True love knows no season no rhyme nor no reason
Justice is cold as the Grainger County Clay”
Yes true love knows no season no rhyme nor no reason
Justice is cold as the Grainger County Clay
I took the Martin 000M and two songs when I stayed at Thai Tina's house on my first trip to Bangkok – “Billy Gray” and “Last Train From Poor Valley”. In some ways I had hoped that something may have lasted with her, as we had an association of sorts back in Oz – but I guess it was not meant to be and I was overawed by the fascination I had with Bangkok. Many times I wish I could go back to that period and do it again – but the songs and the memories are everlasting.
Today I had coffee and lunch with my good friend of 45 years, Michael Bourne, and we discussed the pro's and con's of my returning to Thailand around July or August this year. Michael bought one of my earlier Martin dreadnought guitars back in 2005, when I was strapped for cash. He didn't need that guitar as he already had a good Guild dreadnought guitar – but he bought the Martin to help me out. That's the sort of friend he is. Michael edits a music website and magazine and that keeps him quite busy – but he has never been to Thailand, yet he seems to understand the strong pull that Thailand has on me.
Sometimes we make decisions that will have far-reaching effects on our future, without even considering the consequences or other options that may be available to us. Back in 2000, there had been some who suggested that I should go to see Chiang Mai – but I ignored those suggestions due to my fascination with Bangkok. In retrospect, I can see how something as simple as making that decision had compound effects on, not only me – but on other people as well. My lesson from that has been to always consider, very carefully, the choices that one makes in our everyday dealings in Thailand – or anywhere else, for that matter. So many times I now wish I had made that trip to check out Chiang Mai – doing so may have had a completely different result in the way my life panned out from that point onward. By the time I got there in 2004, the same circumstances were no longer in play and I guess it must be said that I definitely feel I “missed the boat”, so to speak.
Flicking through my 2011 diary today, I can see I was in BKK and staying at Furama Silom – formerly Tower Inn – over the July/August period. It was a very convenient location as it was an easy walk to Sala Daeng and, in the opposite direction, down to Silom Village, where my Sister-in-law and her husband had a shop close by. Silom/Sathorn and the Pratunam area are two of my long-time haunts in Bangkok – almost everything I have wanted is obtainable in both of those places. The rumours of shorter leases being touted for bar owners in the Patpong area makes me concerned that this very valuable parcel of land may be subject to redevelopment – forever changing what was once a unique area of Bangkok as a popular draw for many tourists. Perhaps another traditional market location may be lost to “improvements” in Bangkok. I wonder, in ten years' time, if the Bangkok that we all remember will be hardly recognizable. I'm only a relative-newbie with 16 years of great memories of Bangkok – but there are so many changes that I can see in what I call “my city” that I often wonder how it happened so quickly. Treasure it while it is still there – even if there are changes happening – because there will never be another place quite like it.