THE WORLDWIDE BANE OF TRAVELERS;
'YOU SHOULDA SEEN IT WHEN ... '
"It may be a different paradise than the one you discovered 20 or 30 years ago, but soft white sands? Crystal waters? Fresh coconuts? Hey, if it looks like paradise and smells like paradise ..."
MEMO TO FELLOW WANDERERS:If I've never seen a place, let me enjoy its wonders without your disdain.
FOUR EMPTY RICE BARGES ride high in the water, linked together as they are dragged up the Chao Phraya River by a sturdy tugboat. Ferries churn back and forth, the landing packed now with commuters on their way home. A longtail boat brazenly cuts the wake of a dinner boat ferrying tourists. The scent of fresh orchids is heavy in the air as a couple watches the river from the terrace of the Oriental Hotel.
"You should've seen this 20 years ago," the man says. "It was beautiful. Now ... " he gives a dismissive wave of his hand. "Now Bangkok is ruined."
Bangkok is ruined.
Cairo is in shambles.
Mexico City is unbreathable.
Hawaii is gone, Tahiti, too.
Hong Kong? Paris? London? Rome? Forget 'em.
The apocalypse that destroyed all these sites is time, the frozen memory and stunted minds of returning tourists - usually and unfortunately Americans doomed to resent the present and the future as they embark on a ruthless search for happiness in the past.
The hardest part of touring is, really, other tourists. No matter where you go on the planet, it seems there's always someone who is only too glad to inform you that whatever you think you are enjoying at the moment is really not that great, and through oversight, neglect and personal poor planning you have arrived at least 20 years too late.
I have some advice for those returning travelers: Shut up. Stop whining like overindulged teenagers. Can it. Zip it. Take a plane home, OK?
Continents shift. Lava flows. Rivers alter their courses. Change happens. Cities rise, fall and reinvent themselves, just like people. Some pull up stakes to change their destinies. Some merely take a few weeks to change their points of view.
Yes, change can be unsettling. Disorienting. Once a city reaches critical mass - whether be Bangkok or Los Angeles, Cairo or Mexico City - nothing will ever really fix it. The demands outpace the ability of any infrastructure.
Each day thousands of travelers with fresh eyes are discovering Tahiti or Maui or Koh Samui for the first time, and they don't need a guide or brochure to tell them they're in paradise. Oh, it may be a different paradise than the one you discovered 20 or 30 years ago. But soft white sands? Crystal waters? Fresh coconuts? Hey, if it looks like paradise and smells like paradise ...
Is our glass half-empty or half-full? Yes, everyone complains about McDonald's and KFC franchises littering urban landscapes, but the folks lined up 20 deep are not being marched in at gunpoint.
I remember the old days, too. I remember splashing down in a float plane in Alaska and having an entire lake full of trout to myself. OK, now maybe you have to share a lake with six others. Maybe even a whole dozen. But does making something more accessible automatically ruin it - whether you're talking about skiing down a glacier or rafting down the Bio-Bio?
Change is not necessarily good - or bad; the years do not automatically signal an epic struggle of good and evil. Change simply ... is.
And no matter how you slice or slog your way through it, Bangkok is still an extraordinary world capital. Entire temples and palace complexes have been restored. If you're the kind of tourist who misses the "ruin" look, well, just wait a hundred years or so and they'll be back the way you like them.
My wife, Bo, and I return to Bangkok every year, to the city where she grew up. Last year, as I did on my first date with Bo so many years ago, I brought wine glasses and a bottle of cabernet and a corkscrew, and went to the dock and made arrangements for a long-tail boat. It was exactly like our first evening together, only now we were joined by two friends and our children and Bo's mother - so we added soda and shrimp chips to the menu.
Wat Arun - The Temple of Dawn - was still a rich glow in twilight, as we cruised the klongs, or canals, to glimpse backstage Bangkok as it was 50 years ago and still is.
We saw families cutting vegetables for dinner, men playing cards, boys fishing and children grinning as they jumped into the canals. Where others were disappointed by change, our friends were enchanted by the charms of the same scenery. If one man clearly ended his love affair with Bangkok, two more were seduced by the fairy-tale temples and monks chanting in saffron robes.
For everyone who swears "I'll never come back," thankfully others will appreciate the moment and have the wisdom to savor it. If change bothers you, the solution is simple - and much cheaper.
The rest of us are having a good time.
The Sunday Oregonian
Steve and Bo Kline own the
Music Credit to R. V. McLendon
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