One of the first things I noticed about Bangkok was the impressive patchwork of alleys and walkways that spiderweb through each city block. D.C.’s equivalences serve mostly as glorified trash pickup lanes with a few precious parking spaces, but here the alleys are teeming with street vendors, small tables, out of the way shops and residences nestled far from the busy city streets.
Here, it seems to me, hides the city’s true face. The bright lights of the developed roadways scream relevance and significance – ‘it is happening here.’ The restaurants and shops along these byways are highly visible, heavily trafficked. But they are a veneer; an entertaining night out, a weekend shopping visit. The substance of life lived resides instead in hidden spaces between these celebrated avenues, humble yet quietly satisfying.
With over 8 million inhabitants, Bangkok will never build enough boulevards to keep up with the complexity and color of its varied populace – something to remind myself of when I feel pressed towards increasingly narrow bands of accepted and encouraged forms of life, or feel the creeping sensation of missing out on any number of scenes currently christened by the nameless authorities of culture and value.
Thankfully, the human experience is not exhausted in the contrived spaces of popular culture, mass consumption, and the dispiriting demand to ceaselessly enjoy both.
There is room in the alleys.