As you come into Bangkok in the direction that I came in, you fly over Burma, you fly over some very, very wild country. The kind of country that, if the airplane ever went down, they simply wouldn’t hear from you again. That’s the end of the ballgame. When you come in over Burma, you fly over mountain ranges, you come in over several river deltas.
The pilot who was flying us had a sense of history. He got on the PA system a couple of times, describing the country over which we were flying, and one of the places was the Irrawaddy River, that flows down through parts of Burma and it was part of the world of Joseph Stillwell, the general. I had just finished reading a great book and I recommend it to you. Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman. Fantastic story. And you’ll understand a lot more about why we’re in problems in China and Southeast Asia. A lot of battles of World War II took place in and around the Irrawaddy River, including battles that included Merrill’s Marauders. It’s the Burmese jungles is what it is. It’s the same country that The Bridge Over the River Kwai was about. I had read a lot about that world just before I flew into it, so it was really interesting to hear about it.
We come into Bangkok airport which is rather small for a modern airport and it lies on the outskirts of the big, flat city. Coming in, you can see water glistening everywhere. This airport is in a state of total chaos being rebuilt. Being rebuilt in an oriental way, which means that you walk through great puddles of mud that they have boards laid over, great lakes of mud that you think if you fall in you’re going to be eaten by leaches.
There are a lot of GIs going through the airport. You can tell them all the time, even though they’re wearing civilian clothes. A GI always looks like he’s vaguely dressed by Sears Roebuck.
The road that takes you right into the city is a long, narrow one and on each side are rice paddies and tea paddies. And the first thing that hits me are these trucks. The people in Bangkok decorate their trucks magnificently! They put what looks like hammered silver on the fronts of them. They love their trucks. (In the Orient, as a matter of fact, they pay homage to machines.) Their trucks are yellow and green and blue, and they put what looks like great big silver eagles on the sides. Enormous silver scrollwork on the hoods and the dashboards. Every four or five miles you see seven or eight trucks filled with Thai soldiers.
The Thai soldiers are very small. Thai people are very small. You feel like you’re a giant when you’re in Thailand. Tiny people. Not many are much more than five-feet three or four or five. The girls are tiny and absolutely exquisite, they’re magnificently beautiful girls.
A large part of the population of Bangkok lives on water. This is the place where the famous floating market is, and one of the great tours, in fact, one of the great experiences as a tourist—take that morning trip that leaves around six o’clock and they take you along though the canals and along the rivers and past all these houses.
So I’m taking the “limousine” into town. It’s a little truck, actually. We’re riding through the town. It’s such an exciting place to go into because there’s great life among the Siamese and the Thai and they’re very happy. The whole feeling of the city is upbeat—it’s a happy place.
The Thai people are among the world’s most felicitous. I just doubt whether you’ll find people anywhere in the world that you will more instinctively and immediately and continuously like than the Thais. They have the kind of attitude and the kind of personality that, I suppose you might say, you would associate with the Hobbits. And you’ll think you’re living in Oz, and the country is a little bit like Oz, especially Bangkok. Everywhere you look are these beautiful temples and strange, other-worldly, Oriental qualities. Not the Orient of the Japanese or the Chinese, it’s almost so theatrical that you tend to begin to believe that it was put up there for you to see it—for tourists! After a while you realize it’s true. Everywhere you look you see little hanging mobiles. They love hanging things that just hang with the breeze blowing them.
I couldn’t recommend a visit to Bangkok too highly, but I’m afraid that in a few years it’ll be—with the influx of great numbers of people going through and various wars and invasions that are happening in the area—the Thai people will join the rest of the human race. They’ll become like the rest of us. It’ll have to be. Knocking down a buck whenever you can and the whole bit, which you find in the Orient pretty much. But at this point now they have the genuine nature of “flower children.” They really are—beautiful people.
And the movie houses, by the way, are incredible. Huge posters—giant, lurid posters of movies. They all look like illustrations from really bad True-Detective-like magazines. Painted in yellows and reds. The one I remember specifically is of a guy beating another guy who’s lying on the ground in incredible pain, and the other guy’s beating him with a bicycle! Now that’s a curious, Oriental touch. Maybe it’s a big scene in the movie.
They wear exotic costumes when they dance. Old embroidery. And almost all of their dances involve their hands. Their hands fly like birds and when three or four dancers are dancing together—two girls and a man or three men, or three or four girls, their hands float like whole flocks of birds.
Birds chirping—the tropics right in the middle of the city. Here are night sounds from a tape. The sounds of the deep night in Bangkok. I’m glad I have it on tape. The sounds of Thai music. And the sky is like velvet here, not far from the equator. It’s warm and lush. You can smell flowers just drifting in and you can smell the river and in the middle of the city you can smell just the edge of the rice paddies. An occasional car off in the distance.
Have you noticed that the sounds of a thing bring it to life much more than pictures? Just hearing that sound of nighttime in Thailand. It’s eerie how you can sense—you can practically feel that you’re there. No picture could ever do that. And people are out walking. And the Thai men are all dressed pretty much the same when they’re on the way to their offices. They have snowy white shirts—spectacularly white. Very starched, and they wear black, very tight pants. That’s it. They walk very efficiently on their way to work. The heat. You can smell the flowers. You see pictures of Siamese fighting fish everywhere. They are one of the symbols of Siam and they have mobiles in the shape of fighting fish and you see windows full of silk, and you see these strange, little, odd, happy people, who are curiously worried now.
Stay tuned for the news.
The newscast consists of reports of clashes and casualties between North and South Vietnamese. The U. S. Defense Secretary says additional air and naval units are being sent into Indo China as insurance against a communist takeover of South Vietnam. President Nixon urges the world’s major powers not to encourage aggression by other nations.