I realized today that I haven’t been around that many people in the last week. Working on the computer for long stretches to take guitar and potty breaks has cut into both my once vibrant gastronomic and social calendars.
Tonight there was a rooftop double-birthday party with a pimp and hoe theme. I didn’t wear a costume, as my limit is one costume party per month. But I did go.
The setting was the top of one of two interconnected condominium and apartment towers that appear from nowhere and illogically from the surrounding more modest buildings. The first tower called Hillside 4 was built first, maybe in the early nineties. It feels like a grand real-estate experiment that didn’t work out. (This happens a lot over here.) The lobby floor and the two above are cavernous spaces, with decorations and finish like a mall. The were supposed to function that way too: as a vibrant and bustling commercial area to support the thousands of tower residents as well as being a popular place to come and meet. But except for an upscale Japanese restaurant that always seems to have live music despite only one table of dinners, the floor is basically a retail grave. Abandoned stores line the walls. Information desks sit empty. The lighting is dark, the space echoes. The two floors above are even more barren.
What makes this more fascinating it not just that its abandoned, but that the place feels like it’s dying. Coming across a gutted or collapsed building is entirely reconstructing a memory from the skeleton. But a semi-occupied building that seems in the process of being abandoned is another feeling indeed. It is like watching a person die, and the somber feeling colors all of the activities within.
Chiang Mai has many such buildings, all in varying states on abandonment. The street I live on even is about one quarter empty. Many developers go overboard and overbuild with the hope that the space will be filled. But as soon as the tenants start moving out, a momentum builds and others leave. No one wants to live in a ghost town, after all. So there are whole housing developments that maybe have a few occupied houses. The rest get swallowed by vines and tall grasses. Whole thousand-unit towers sit abandoned and rotting, obviously built in an undesirable place. It is as if some rich land owner took a trip to Bangkok and only came back with the idea of building something really big. He may respond to a doubting-Thomas: of course people will want to live there, it is so big. But looking around at the modest and practical Thais, you know that developments like this are doomed from the start. Hi-density housing only has a chance in Bangkok because it’s so crowded. It isn’t that people want to live in a high-rise, it’s that they want to live where the high-rise is.
The party was fun. I knew a few of the people and had an easy time meeting others. As the night wore on, me and most of the other guests ended up swimming and dancing in their underwear. Luckily I wore my non-tattered boxer-briefs. I ate some cake and had a bit of a mildly-erotic cake fight, I was taught how to tread water by two underwear clad ladies. It felt like I was in beer commercial or some alternate version of college. But rather than being the guy in the toga who lowers his shades to get a better look at a hottie walking by, I would be the guy who chuckles to himself about the chaos around him. He enjoys the time but only because it’s fleeting. And like so many experiences before, he knows that this debauchery is something that he can never fully surrender himself to.