To read the first part of Peter’s story, please click here.
I am adding this postscript about the now almost 40 years I have lived in Bangkok. We arrived here in 1985 when I started working at one of the university campuses on the far side of the city. For most of the early part of our stay here transport was a major problem, and I regularly spent seven hours a day or more on the commute, often clinging to the outside of a massively overcrowded bus or stooped over on the inside because the low roof made it hard to stand. After a year in the small Religious Studies programme at the university, I was asked to help set up a new English-medium international college on campus, and worked there until my reluctant retirement (compulsory retirement age) in 2014. During that period, the college grew massively from a few dozen to several thousand students. I was also asked to set up a Social Science Division which I chaired for 15 years, and for a few years I worked as the equivalent of academic dean. A busy time.
During my time in Bangkok, I was also able to publish a few books related to Bahá’í Studies (1. The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions: From Messianic Shi’ism to a World Religion [Cambridge]; 2. The Bahá’í Religion: A Short Introduction to its History and Teachings [GR]; 3. A Short History of the Bahá’í Faith [Oneworld]; 4. A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith [Oneworld]; and 5. An Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith [Cambridge]), edit a couple of books, and write over 40 articles and reviews. I would have liked to have written more, but circumstances were not on my side.
For the first decade here, the pressures of long commutes and a lack of air conditioning had a negative effect on my health, and I lost around one-third of my body weight, my skin acquired a greyish tinge, and my energy levels dropped drastically. I did actually feel like I was dying – which is an interesting experience in itself. After that I recovered dramatically, and apart from almost going blind a few years ago (cataracts), have managed to survive relatively unscathed. Luckily through the kind support of some friends in the UK I was able to get the necessary eye surgery done – I wouldn’t recommend almost going blind to anyone, but the experience of recovering one’s sight is really quite amazing in terms of appreciating something most of us take for granted most of the time. It also makes walking down the stairs less of an adventure.
Bangkok has changed out of all recognition over the past two decades or so, with the construction of a mass transit system, mega highways, and an increasing number of shopping malls; the destruction of a lot of the old shophouses to make way for condos; a tightening up of various regulations – so no more hanging on to the outside of buses, although the insides remain dramatically crowded; more foot bridges making crossing the road less exciting for rooky foreign tourists (several visiting friends long ago were utterly terrified when I simply took them by the hand across the busy main road); and the departure of many of the formerly myriad street vendors. Much also remains the same, including occasional severe floods – the first year we were here, we had flood water (and a few little fish) inside the house, and another year I had to wade home through the murky waters of knee-deep flooded pavements and roads. There have also continued to be occasional visitations by termites – very good at eating through those old books and papers which have not been damaged by flood water. I will leave the excitement of having rats and cockroaches running up one’s legs to another missive.
The main delight of the period has been to see our two wonderful children grow up and start families of their own.
Note: I have an entry on Wikipedia which summarizes my life here to a limited extent.
Bangkok, Thailand, March 2023