On location: Bangkok 3 (It’s the little things)

One benefit of being ‘on location’ to do field research for my new novel is that the landscape is filled with ‘Show, don’t tell’ moments. For instance, I could write pages about how revered Thai Budhist monks are in Thailand. Or I could simply describe the priority seating signs in airport waiting lounges and on the Skytrain:

Or maybe I could describe the supermarket shelves of ‘Temple Ware’ offerings for monks, conveniently packaged in saffron-coloured Tupperware:

I could further elaborate on how Thai Buddhism is grafted on to older animist traditions, the world believed to be inhabited by spirits who must be appeased. I could explain how little sarn phraphoum are built wherever a new buiding is erected so the land spirits will not get jealous; that the spirit house must be situated so that the shadow of the main house does not fall on it; that the spirits must be fed daily with offerings. I could explain how diferent spirits require cigarettes, or sweets, horses or dancing girls. Or I could describe watching a person arrange the offerings on a spirit house at the start of a new day, as I did in Phuket: the lighting of incense and candles; the care taken to open packages of food and bottles of soft drink, making a special trip for drinking straws to put in the bottles; the time taken to drape various statues with fresh garlands of jasmine and marigolds.

I could talk about Bangkok’s polytheism and multiculturalism. Or I could make passing reference to different kinds of shrines in shopping centres and on the streets:

Even something as simply as a ‘no durians’ sign on the door to a restaurant  in Chonburi speaks volumes about the place.

imageIt’s the little things that set a place aside, showing the particularities of culture, religion, geography, even climate. It’s also comforting to focus on the little things when the bigger picture in Thailand is so uncertain, as it is at this time.

I saw a sign outside a department store the other day that said, ‘Shop, eat, drink and be merry’. I’m sure it was meant to encourage consumerism and possibly enjoyment of the festive season, rather than to invoke the other half of the Biblical saying ‘…for tomorrow we die.’ Whether unintended or not, it captures something of the anxious mood in Bangkok.

Perhaps this mood also accounts in part for the voluminous offerings made to appease the spirits, the frequent pauses made by passers by to wai at the various shrines.

Little things provide hope when the big picture is overwhelming.

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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7 Responses to On location: Bangkok 3 (It’s the little things)

  1. Oh, Angela, you’ve chosen such terrific examples that show a little of what the Thai culture is like. That’s the thing, too, about culture: it’s complex and even overwhelming. Those little things woven into daily life show that much more than a lot of words would…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Haydiho says:

    Dear Angela your beautiful post and photos make me feel so nostalgic…all those little details which are exclusively Thai.Also enjoyed your visit to Jim Thompson House ,an oasis in frantic Bangkok and one of my favourite places in Bangkok.xxxDADxxx

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Olgamary Savage says:

    I am so enjoying your posts. I think this might be my favourite – your eye for detail is wonderful. I hope you can use these observations in your novel
    Mutti

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mutti. I hope I can use them in the novel, too. There really is no substitute for being here when it comes to location research. Nothing beats purposeful observation xxx

      Like

  4. Rebeca says:

    Thai people is very superstitious! You can see it with the spirits houses you show. So different right? I recently blogged about their beliefs besides Buddhism. Nice to find your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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