Mattia is a New York based freelance writer,
photographer, and the American Correspondent to Scuba World Magazine
in the United Kingdom. While she prefers the quest for marine denizens
of any size and temperament, her curiosity is sometimes rewarded
with great material on land as well. Denise recently visited Bangkok
and found an intriguing part of the city she thinks might interest
other JourneyWomen. She writes...
would be worth going to Bangkok just to see its cloisters; then
there are museums, galleries, theatres, restaurants and street pageants.
Apart from the array of sights and activities the energetic metropolis
presents, there's a Bangkok few visitors experience. But chance
had an appointment with me the morning I took a private tour to
one of its busiest districts, where an unprepossessing building
and a few pieces of bread held the key to this undisclosed city.
file is the only way to navigate the tightly clustered troks (streets)
of Bangkok's market sector. Sidewalks are showcases for produce,
dry goods, fish, meat and clothing that are sold from narrow shops,
and the endless parade of pedestrians competes for space with pushcarts,
bicycles, motorcycles, and three-wheeled motorized tuc-tucs.
walked behind my guide, Seree, as we crossed Thanon (avenue) Chakraphet,
to the Indian neighborhood, where I momentarily slipped away from
him, turned a corner and stopped in front of a building. A group
of men standing on a porch at the entrance noticed me, smiled and
indicated I should go in. Seree caught up and we entered.
in silk saris...
the wide corridor, an enthusiastic group of women in elegant silk
saris distributed platters of steaming vegetables and unleavened
roti to the congregation of similarly attired women, and to men
wearing turbans and long white shirts over white pantaloons. The
servers dispatched their trays, gathered empties, and disappeared
behind a door which, when opened, released a homey fragrance of
onion and cilantro. I imagined a kitchen somewhere beyond.
were led to an elevator...
one paid us the slightest attention when we followed the diners
into a great hall, where my attention was drawn to the large cloth
covering a marble floor. Here, surrounded by woven baskets, women
sat on the tarpaulin or on chairs, casually peeling and chopping
green onions, string beans and cauliflower. I approached and made
hand signs for permission to take photographs. Nodding in agreement,
a few women posed, while others continued their tasks. When a man
hurried toward us, I expected to be ushered out for intruding. Instead,
he led us to an elevator at the rear of the hall, wrapped our heads
in bandanas, signaled for us to remove our shoes and, indicating
four, pointed to an elevator.
carpets, crystal chandaliers...
chandeliers augmented the natural light filtering in from thick,
arched windows along the sides of the main gallery on the fourth
floor. Oriental carpets flanked a gleaming center aisle of inlaid
marble; a crowned sanctum and a shrine lay beyond. Within the rectangular
cupola, defined only by brass stanchions topped by a suspended umbrella,
kneeling men and women took turns reading aloud from tomes. Again,
no one challenged our presence, even when I photographed the scene.
I rejoined Seree near the elevator, but noticed the wide spiraling
marble staircase and suggested we walk down.
rushed towards us...
bypassed an open, unlit room off the landing on the third floor,
descended to the second, and caught a glimpse of men lounging on
pillows in the chamber there. They caught me peeking in, and suddenly
rushed toward us, shouting and waving their arms. I ducked behind
Seree. In some countries, women do not invade a man's private domain;
I assumed this was the case and I had committed a major faux pas.
After much conversation, Seree translated. They belonged to the
Sikh sect and wanted me to take their picture. I'd misinterpreted
their zeal for anger. Happy to oblige, I shot several frames, wishing
I could have captured the ebullience of six robust men galloping
toward me in the quiet stone stairwell.
at the first floor, an English-speaking member told us that this
building was Sri Gurusingh Sabha, the second largest Sikh temple
in the world (India boasts the largest), and that we had come during
the celebration of the recitation of the Holy Scriptures.
worked their culinary magic...
the simple, white-tiled communal kitchen, located below the great
hall, I watched as women performed their routine, in anticipation
of serving langar (meals) throughout the night. Some kneaded dough
made of flour, water and finely chopped green herbs, or rolled dollops
of the mixture into flat disks. A
dozen more women circled two barrel-shaped open stoves and grilled
the aromatic roti to a light golden brown. At the far side of the
room, a giant wok of spiced ghee boiled on a burner. A plume of
perfumed steam rose in the air when the creamy liquid was drizzled
on the grills. It was easy to work up an appetite here, and difficult
to conceal my curiosity about the roti's taste. I could have asked,
but didn't need to. It's customary for Sikhs to share food, and
we were each given a generous portion wrapped in napkins.
left Sri Gurusingh Sabha and crossed Chakraphet. Suddenly Bangkok
was more than an exotic Southeast Asian showplace; it was a city
with a soul. Forever engraved in my mind were people of many origins
and backgrounds living, working and making strangers feel at home
in this big international neighborhood that's Bangkok. On the way
to our next stop, I savored the delicious roti to the last morsel
appreciating the bread and the city for its wonderful, diverse flavor.