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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
about Seiks in Thailand,
great guides & culturally correct clothing...