Friday, April 23, 2010

Pico Iyer on Thailand (in Video Night in Kathmandu)

On comparing Bangkok to other places:

"Bangkok, in fact, had a glamour and a sparkle that far outshone those of Bombay, Casablanca, even Athens; smartly done up in art nouveau restaurants chandeliered super-luxury hotels, it glittered with a fast and flashy style that would not have been out of place in Paris or San Francisco. Yet more than anywhere else, Bangkok reminded me of L.A. Not just because its 900,000 cars (Epiphanie's note: this was published in 1988) were forever deadlocked, or because its balmy skies were perpetually smoggy and sullen with exhaust fumes. Not even because  it was, both literally and metaphorically, spaced out and strung out, sprawling and recumbent and horizontal (where New York and Hong Kong, its true opposites, were thrustingly, busily, ambitiously vertical). Mostly, the "City of Angels" reminded me of Los Angeles because it was so laid-back (in topography and mood) as to seem a kind of dreamy suburban Elysium, abundantly supplied with flashy homes and smart-fronted boutiques, stream-lined Jaguars and Mexican cafes, fancy patisseries and even a wood-and-fern vegetarian restaurant."

On Thailand's openness to the West:

"[...] it began to seem no coincidence that Thailand, the most open and most complaisant of all Asian nations, was also the only one that had never been conquered or colonised. The one woman who never gives herself away, D. H. Lawrence once wrote, is the free woman who always gives herself up. Just so with Thailand, a place, quite literally, more ravishing than ravished."

Just when I think Pico can't possibly offer me any more insights - that the published works of his I have not yet ought to be a waste of time, for all the ultra-stimulating infotainment he has packed into The Global Soul and Falling Off The Map - he emerges triumphantly, with every phrase, sentence and paragraph knocking out any assembly of skepticism over his talent.

More than any pretentious academic it is this travel writer that makes me want to read works of the past, such as that of Jan Morris, Somerset Maugham and D. H. Lawrence. Alongside 'Video Night' I am currently reading 'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts, quite a captivating ditty with the length of a saga, which I regard as preparation for whenever my future plunge into India comes along, as well as a study of masterful literary technique.

Coming back to Sydney has been a joy... Bondi Beach twinkles seductively, day or night, I'm so thankful for the clean and fresh air I breathe, the way I have been made for this society and it has been made for me. My language barriers are with minority groups, nobody looks up to me because of my race and life chances, I can slip in and out of a multitude of social situations and have more than the vaguest of notions about what's going on around me, the ingredients in the products I'm consuming, which transport can take me where and for what price, etc.

CNN deems Sydney one of its ten Best (Most Livable) Cities in the world (along with Auckland, Honolulu, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Zurich and Singapore). The more I come back to this place, the more its attractions stand out. If you also want to check out CNN's list of Most Influential Cities, click here

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