Bangkok, November 8-9, 2017
After leaving (sadly) Chiang Mai, I head towards south, towards the famous tropical beaches of Thailand. Before that, however, there is time for another quick stop in Bangkok, to break the long journey.
In fact, there was still one more place on my list, before leaving Bangkok for good. It’s a place that has a strong connection with this journey, somehow. The idea of this long adventure borned in fact also between the pages of A storyteller told me, where Tiziano Terzani, a famous italian journalist, tells about the year he spent traveling across Asia without taking flights.
And so, I felt I need to honor the memory of the person that has probably inspired my journey more than anyone else. So, I visited Turtle House, where the journalist lived from 1990 to 1994, the oasis of tropical splendor amidst the jungle of concrete of Bangkok, as it was described by himself. It’s been a very emotional visit, probably one of the most intense moment of this journey. I ended up going there twice, and in the following I will tell you why.
It’s almost two in the morning, when I arrive at the intersection between Soi Phrom Mit and Sukhumvit 49, number 18. There is no panel “to sell” outside, contrary to what I expected: I knew in fact that the elderly owner of the house was trying to sell the property. I hang around for a while in front of the wooden gate, since I don’t know if there is still somebody inside. At some point, a man sitting in the opposite corner of the street shouts me something. He comes and he pushes the door of the gate (which was simply open), he calls somebody inside, and he goes away.
A little, smiling man appears.
” Hello! “. He introduces himself: “Kamsing”.
At this point, something should happen in my mind, but it’s been a long time since I read A storyteller told me, and so I don’t remember the name of the original keeper of the house anymore. Neither I know his face. So I ask, if it’s really him, the keeper who lived with Terzani when he was in Bangkok. He says no, he says the old keeper left some months ago, while he (Kamsing) arrived later. At least this is what I understand, since from time to time I have troubles in understanding his english.
” The property has been sold, ” he tells me.
” A chinese man bought it, he already payed the deposit. In March, they will come to build a hotel, as everywhere in Bangkok, and Turtle House will disappear forever.” A blow to the heart.
He takes me for a visit into the house. It’s empty inside, there is only a bed and two shelves with Terzani’s books and some photographies. Memories of a far past, not forgotten yet, linger in the air.. He takes me around the pond, where there are still some big fishes swimming, while the centenary turtle has been moved to another park in Bangkok. I stay for ten minutes or so, then I say goodbye to him and I go, a bit sad for the fate of this place and also because I didn’t meet the keeper who lived with Terzani.
In the evening, in the hostel, after some searches on google, I realize my unbelievable and unforgivable defayance. The photography that was on the shelf in the house (of which I took a picture) is a confirmation: the man I met was really Kamsing, the gardener of Terzani, the original keeper of Turtle House.
Feeling incredibly stupid, I decide to come back again the next morning. This time there are no misunderstandings: he confirms me, it’s really him, Kamsing, who lived with Terzani for five years. He tells me that many italian people go to visit the house, one just left a few minutes ago.
We sit in front of the pond, I’ve already visited the house, so I just stay for a little talk with him. He seems really a good man, very kind, inspiring symphaty. I would like to ask him some questions, but those that come in my mind are very trivial, so I let him talking. He tells me that the house was full of flowers: orchids, especially.
” We used to buy new ones every week, but today none are left.”
He seems very attached to the big fishes in the pond, he tells me that he will bring them all away before Turtle House will be destroyed, as it was done with the turtle.
” He was a good man “, he says interrupting a moment of silence, ” and his family as well “.
I try to offer him the lunch before going away, but he refuses with his contagious laugh. Anyawy, I leave him some money for the time he dedicated to me, even though I would like to do something more for him.
Before leaving and saying to him goodbye for the second and last time, I ask him where he will go after March, when he will be forced to leave the place where he lived and worked for the last 35 years.
” I will stay in Bangkok for three more years, until his daughter will finish her studies, ” then I will move in the north, close to Chiang Mai “.
And so, the last piece of Turtle House will also leave Bangkok.
There is an online petition, maybe it’s too late, but it’s a last attempt to save Turtle House from the demolition. If you are interested, you can sign it here: