A spirit house repurposed for Christian souls, outside the ruins of a Portuguese church in Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ruined capital.
Small, landlocked, and lagging a long way behind rapidly developing neighbours, Laos has ambitions to put eight privately owned dams across the Mekong mainstream and, by exporting electricity, become the “battery of South-East Asia”.
Laos’ own power needs are still relatively small, so funding for Xayaburi was secured on the back of a promise from Thailand that it would buy 95% of its electricity.
“We see only three groups of people benefiting from this dam,” says Montree Chantawong, a campaigner from the Thai environmental group Foundation for Ecological Recovery - “the people who constructed the dam, the government who will get money from the dam and the banks who loaned the money to build the dam.”
Like Cambodia’s old capital, Angkor, nothing remained of Ayutthaya’s secular life. Its markets, workshops, warehouses and homes had all been built with wood, which the jungle had long since devoured. The jungle had also tried to strangle and pick apart its temples, chedis and shrines, but they were harder work, and Ayutthaya’s religious architecture had survived 300 years of neglect surprisingly well. Most of the paint and plaster was long gone, leaving bare bricks – slim and red, with black mould growing on the mortar, like scurvy on receding gums – stacked in improbably supple shapes.
What, then, are Ayutthaya and Bangkok? Capitals and primate cities, clearly, but also places so similar that they seem individually insignificant, as if another Thai capital, with its canals and its cast of foreign peoples, would pop up quickly enough if Bangkok was ever destroyed. They are reincarnations, one of the other, with the same karma, and it is not buildings or money but Buddhist icons that people maintain, as if they are symbols of the Thai capital’s soul. Of course, none of this occurred to me in Bangkok. I had to wait for Ayutthaya, where the link would appear to me across a river, in the shape of a Portuguese church.
I didn’t ever feel I could write about Bangkok. I was safe describing the water fights of Songkran or the Chinese immigrants on Yaowarat Road, because they were discrete places or occasions, isolated from my days in wider Bangkok, which I spent hopping on and off sky trains and river boats and taxis, looking for a coherent narrative. I started to think of the city like a badly edited compendium. It was short on space, written by too many people and divided into parts that did not discernibly begin or end. Its residents had scribbled in the margins, or washed away and scraped at words to clear a place for their own, and together they had authored a city like a palimpsest, where meaning was found accidentally, in interplay, as often as it was in isolated things.
Bangkok eluded me until I left it, without any plans to return, and took a two hour stop train to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya had been the Thai capital for more than four hundred years, with a population that peaked at almost a million people, placing it among the largest cities in the world, but it was now a just a modest town, with 50,000 residents, wide roads, 7-11s, townhouses in desperate need of paint and all the other trappings of Thai prosperity sprouting in its ruins.
— Bangkok Days, Lawrence Osborne
A Sunday Service Among the Akha: A Chinese church. A Thai town. A ‘hill tribe’ congregation. And us.
Chinese and Southeast Asian architecture in Mae Salong. A memorial to China’s Forgotten Army is on the right, just across from a Burmese-influenced Thai wat.
The city that dreams us all
this just made me fall in love with beijing all over again.
by OCTAVIO PAZ
news today and...
The Ten Commandments of Beijing
1. Thou shalt not praise Shanghai, nor move down to it, for Beijing is a filthy jealous mistress.