I suppose Lawrence Osborne's memoir, Bangkok Days (2009) isn't for everyone since the Bangkok it describes is that of single middle aged men running away, hiding, searching, or just living out their last days in a vital and potentially decadent city: "Bangkok is where some go when they feel they no longer can be loved, when they give up." It is also a city that I have returned to many times over the years as I have used it as a base to travel to other countries (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam), attended conferences in or in Thailand (Khon Kaen, Chang Mai), and have visited friends who briefly lived there. One of the many characters Osborne meets makes an observation about the lack of cleanliness in Bangkok: "I have also hated clean cities. Cities should be as dirty as possible. Dirt is the sign that they are healthy. Not trash-that's something else. We don't want pizza cartons and Big Mac wrappers everywhere. That's obscene. no, I mean decayed fruit and swill and pig bones and spittle." Bangkok was the first Asian city I visited outside of Japan and the firs tone that felt truly Asian to my imagination of what an Asian city would be like, that had that lack of cleanliness and the old world decay that I saw in my mind.
My stomping grounds are similar to Osborne's; Sukhumvit and the many Sois of pleasure and commerce along that stretch of road. The author first arrived as a medical tourist to get his teeth fixed, but he found himself returning and spending long stretches of time in the city. Osborne has a very fluid and informed style in which he makes astute observations about the people he meets, Thailand ("However conversant in Thai culture, he will never get close to the bottom of it."), Buddhism, Bangkok, life ("We respond with instinctive bitterness to this loss of visibility, but we also recognize the first taste of our future extinction, and we accept it.") and himself ("Do we head to places which we know will undo us, take the long hand of our clock and bend it backward?") throughout the book. I am a sucker for this kind of memoir since it is not only a personal memoir, but a love letter to Bangkok and a kind of analysis of the kind of people who find themselves living in the vibrant city. i have been waiting to read this book after spying it in a book store in Bangkok, thus another visit to Thailand this year has inspired me to finally read it. It was exactly what I was looking for in order to bring the city alive before I actually go there.