Bangkok 2: The Return

We all know the dangers of sequels. Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place too often, and I think you’ve got to move beyond it, go the extra locker mile and have the courage not to just repeat the first one. -Colin Firth

Early this month we decided to return to Bangkok for a weekend getaway from Pak Thong Chai. Ben was busy working on his Master’s thesis, so only Hannah and I made the trip.

It began with a five hour bus ride. The bus to Bangkok ordinarily takes three and a half to four hours, but the traffic on the outskirts of the city was so terrible it took an extra hour to arrive. Once we pulled into Mo Chit 2 bus terminal, we had to navigate a maze of street stalls to find the Mo Chit city bus station nearby. There, we took a bus to the nearest BTS (Bangkok Sky Train) station. Finally we boarded the sky train to the middle of the city.

Unlike our last trip to Bangkok, we didn’t stay in Khao San, the noisy tourist district. Instead we stayed at in a quiet neighborhood, at a hostel called GLUR Bangkok, whose downstairs doubles as a café. Due to availability of beds, Hannah and I were relegated to separate dorms. Each dorm was a room with four beds (more comfortable than my bed in Pak Thong Chai!) with accompanying lockers.

temple

The view from the balcony at GLUR. This adorns the roof of the temple next door.

After settling into GLUR, we walked around the neighborhood and found a McDonalds, where we satisfied our cravings for American food. Then we returned to the hostel and spent the evening chatting with a friendly couple from the Netherlands who were passing through Bangkok as part of a grand tour of Southeast Asia.

The next morning we took off to Taling Chan—one of the much-rumored floating markets of Bangkok. The expectation Hannah and I shared was to find a market set up in boats on the river (people grilling prawns or mixing Pad Thai on the open water). Instead, Taling Chan was set up on the edge of the river.

Taling Chan

Hannah (bottom left) at the entrance to Taling Chan

Slightly disappointed, we took advantage of a sudden opportunity: for 99 baht (less than $3.00) we could take a 3-hour tour of Bangkok’s canals and stop at two other “floating” markets.

canals

A canal tour of Bangkok.

We took the tour on a long, gondola-esque motorized boat packed with about 20 other tourists. We soon left the river behind and were taken into the canal system. This was a whole new life from the one we’ve experienced in Pak Thong Chai. Here, the houses opened out toward us, with mailboxes sticking out of the water and steps leading up from the canal. We passed a garbage boat, and several temples, and little children who leaning off their porches to wave at the passing tourists.

home

Home on the water, nothing in the sky…

traffic

Oncoming traffic.

temple

A canalside temple.

Garbage boat 'a comin' around!

Garbage boat ‘a comin’ around!

After our tour we returned to downtown Bangkok and took a walking tour of our own design through Chinatown. Chinatown itself was similar to what you’d find in New York or San Francisco, although with a few more street stalls.

While we were there, we passed a massive crowd in the street outside a temple. The crowd was energetic and at some points it seemed violent—surely they couldn’t be there simply for a Buddhist or Taoist ceremony? We approached the nearest information desk. The officer inside opened the window and blasted us with cold wind from his air conditioner. He told us that, sure enough, the crowd was there to give merit to the temple, a common Buddhist event.

Passing back through the crowd we spotted some signs to confirm that information: practically everybody was carrying some kind of food as they waited to be let into the temple. Some were even clutching their food close…we figured out why very easily. A middle-aged man was passing through the crowd, holding his five- or six-year-old child in one hand, reaching out with the other and trying to snatch everybody’s food!

When we finished in Chinatown, we headed to a night market. Called the Train Night Market, it was a huge parking lot full of normal Thai market fair—Thai food and Thai coffee—along with stands that sold clothes, shoes, toys, temporary tattoos, and other memorabilia. Framing the market was a series of bars, antique shops, restaurants and even one barber shop. The bars mostly catered to the “hipster” crowd, which is difficult to define but if you know it, you know what I mean. One such bar was built into an old yellow schoolbus—the only yellow schoolbus I’ve seen in Thailand.

Hannah and I enjoyed spicy Thai noodles, beer, conversation, and a long stroll through the market before returning to GLUR and to our beds.

The next morning featured a return to Chatujak Weekend Market. I was looking for warm clothing to prepare for my upcoming visit to the Himalayas, but was out of luck. Last time we went to Chatujak, I spent an hour lost in the pet section. This time, Hannah and I spent two hours looking for the pet section. But despite the help of several maps, we couldn’t find it.

That afternoon we returned to Pak Thong Chai. It was a more relaxing, somewhat more cultural, and entirely more quiet visit to the big city than our last one.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.

So I’m Writing a Book in Thailand

Aside from a few general principles, there is no one way you have to do this. -Brandon Sanderson

I didn’t come to Thailand with the intention of writing a book. But these things happen. Looking back on it, I’ve written a book everywhere I’ve lived for the past nine years. There was The Magarisse, my first book that I self published when I was still in high school. Then Nameless, which I wrote at Binghamton University, then an untitled third book at my first apartment at Rutgers University, and then The Bard’s Cult, written at my second Rutgers apartment. So perhaps it was inevitable that a book would evolve here in Thailand.

And it has been an evolution. It began very naturally.

You may know that JK Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter series while sitting on a train. The story goes that Harry and Hagrid came to her fully formed, and by the end of the train ride she had a decent outline for the entire series.

Olympus Mons (tentative title for the project I’m working on now) happened similarly, although not so magically. I had been struggling over ideas for yet another rewrite of The Bard’s Cult when a conversation we farangs had over dinner sparked an idea. This was very early on—perhaps two weeks into my time here, perhaps less. That night I couldn’t fall asleep. I was thinking about it the idea all night.

writing

On the first day of writing, my Muses gave to me…
[taken at Wat Pa Nan Lourne]

I’ve found this is an important part of my process. It’s like a test. Every time I get a good idea it keeps me awake at night. If the idea still excites me in the morning, it’s passed the test. If not, it’s no good.

After Olympus Mons passed the test, it spent about a month forming in my mind—gestating. By the beginning of July I was ready to start outlining. I spent that whole month doing research and printing out articles, writing and rewriting

35,000

This is 35,000 words of “Olympus Mons.”

an outline until I had the entire book in fifteen pages.

This part was quite different from my usual process. When I usually write a book, I write from a summary that’s maybe one page long, and let the details come to me as they will. What this really means is that I spent a lot of time reading back over what I’ve already written to make sure I don’t contradict myself. And I usually fail at that a lot of the time.

Brandon Sanderson, my favorite writer, has a theory that all authors are either gardeners or architects. Gardeners start with a seed and let a novel grow from it. Architects labor over a ‘blueprint,’ or outline, and use it to make sure the resulting novel is to their specifications. For my first four books, I was a gardener. For Olympus Mons, I’m an architect.

By the end of July I had a thick binder full of research, chapter outlines, character descriptions, and notes. I probably could have spent another six months doing research and worldbuilding (Designing the setting of a novel. Authors of all genres do this, whether they’re creating a fantasy world, or a fictional town in the real world), but at that point I was ready to begin.

I wrote the first two chapters at Wat Pa Nan Lourne in the company of monks like Narong and nuns like Kingkeao.

encore

View from the office, encore.

Because my pre-writing phase was so different from usual, I decided my writing phase ought to be different, too. It felt right to change things up. So rather than just typing everything up as quickly as I can, I turned to the good old-fashioned pencil and paper.

I’ve found that writing the first version of my chapters on paper has forced me to slow down my thoughts—to be a little more careful about word choice and sentence structure. I’m still excited to get the words on the page, of course. After the chapters are handwritten I go through and type them up. I don’t consider the first draft of a chapter complete until it’s typed. Typing it from a handwritten copy lets my review my writing, change it where necessary, add scenes from the outline that I may have skimmed over during the handwriting, etc.

Ch.6

Sneak peek: Chapter 6

Another thing I’ve been doing differently is sending the chapters out! People who have known me while I was writing other books may know that I’m very private about my work. I usually don’t share anything with anybody until I have a complete draft of a novel, and then it only goes to a couple of people. So far I’ve sent the first chapter of Olympus Mons to a few friends, including an old supervisor, my latest and greatest creative writing professor, and of course my parents.

I’ve handwritten eight chapters of Olympus Mons so far, and typed seven of those. My outline has twelve chapters. My hope was to finish a first draft before I leave for India on October 1st, but September will be a busy month, and that simply may not happen. But that’s okay! There is time.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.