Sitting on the subway one afternoon, my eyes passed over three ladies dressed from head-to-heel in white. At first, I took them as three Buddhist nuns, with shaved heads and austere white robes. With a bit of surprise, I realized that only the first two were nuns: the third was a lavishly styled Hi-So woman, wearing a white silk suit, a massive white purse, and glamorously oversized white glasses. Ordinarily, white isn't a color I connect with Thailand (where every day of the week has its own color), or Bangkok (where pollution and pastel-paint coat every building). But upon looking back on these three women, I realized the degree to which white reflects two disparate sides of the Thai capital. White is a color of purity and austerity, but it's also a color of luxury and refinement. It's visible in the folded lotus buds at a shrine, or the porcelain tea sets of an elegant cafe; it shines in the hallowed walls of a grand Buddhist temple, and in the columns of the Erawan's temple to commerce.