Let me begin with an apology for the delayed posting. I had some fits and starts with the internet in my guest house in Chiang Mai. And I was also having a lot of fun with friends old and new, so it wasn’t convenient to interrupt the fun to find a reliable connection, sit down and write a blog post about all the fun I was having. Ya dig?
This Thailand trip really reminded me why I started this blog in the first place. If you haven’t read the ‘About’ section above, then you may lose track of my point. I don’t write to flaunt my frequent flyer miles or to expose some underlying truth about contemporary affairs. I’m not merely writing so my friends and family can hear more about my travails from afar. I write about what I love and what I know. Both of which are deeply connected to always being in a state of ‘in between,’ always in transit between two destinations that, in and of themselves, have power and appeal. This place of filler between sites is the battery in my back. The going, moving, on the way to… is the place I’ve always felt most comfortable and whole.
I dig driving 90 mph on the Jersey Turnpike heading north from exit 2. Why? Because I crave the process of being a passerby, not of any particular obligation, viewing the world pass me by at a pace I willingly submit to and only intersecting with the view outside my window for the split second we have together. It’s the same reason why I always ask for a window seat. Who wants to be in the nose-bleeds at the playoffs?
Hence why, as I peer outside of the seat 35K, over the right wing of the plane, into the darkness of a night somewhere between Bangkok and Delhi, I’m reminded that this quirky experience that most people dread or fear is actually the water that keeps my blood flowing. It’s what kept Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the driver’s seat even after logic would tell him that his seatbelt could break too. It’s not adrenaline. It’s not a rush. It’s an essential element. It’s what made Lauryn Hill create Miseducation… out of a circumstance of needing to prove to herself that she, herself, was capable. It’s what would then lead her to perform Unplugged to prove to the public that she, herself, had nothing more to prove.
I can’t quite give a face to what it feels like to be one of a herd of people passing through customs, and knowing that that individual stamp in my individual passport is the only souvenir I will ever need to prove to myself, or anyone else, that I know myself. I imagine it’s like what a parent feels like sending off their first born to her first day of school. It’s pride from afar; a silent protectiveness rears up from the underbelly. You think, “This is unnerving, but this is what it’s all about.”
I take my passport envy seriously and it’s the only kind of jealousy that I openly retain. Since I heard Chuck D bring up the term almost a decade ago, I never once forgot its resonance. And it’s been almost ten years since I’ve really spent any time with the high school friend I hung out with in Chiang Mai. Call it a blast from the past or just a reminder of what’s always been right in my life – but I felt all weekend that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Eating. Laughing, Listening. Learning. And being – without a map or an agenda, just an internal compass that said ‘soak this shit up!’
I spent the first night in Thailand alone in a bed and breakfast in the old part of Bangkok. This was the only thing that was actually planned about the trip – staying at Focal Local. I have ulterior business motives for stopping through guesthouses and such, and I have no problem learning from the best by walking a mile in their guesthouse shoes. Needless to say, as much as this place gave me exactly what I needed to fuel my business energies, it wasn’t in the center of town, turned out to be more expensive than I’d expected and thus left a bit to be desired for the girl who decided she wouldn’t read a single guidebook before boarding a Thai Airways flight on Indian Republic Day.
When I arrived, the sun had already set and guilt and sleep deprivation from a work project the day before left me exhausted and craving the warm innards of a cozy bed. I got to the guesthouse and it was tucked away in a nook of a residential part of town. I only saw two other foreigners near this neighborhood and both were buying Singha beers for a nightcap in their room at Focal Local.
I took the advice of a Delhite friend and headed to Mango Tree for a Thai dinner. She seemed so convinced it was the best restaurant ever. But while hanging out at an India Art Fair event on the night before my departure we bumped into my new Indian eye candy and his friend, who blurted out something along the lines that her recommendation to go to Mango Tree would be the first line in the unwritten book “Thailand for dumbass tourists: Visit 101 over priced tourist traps.” (I secretly wished that I could meld Sahab Eye Candy and Sahab Smart Mouth into one person.)
Needless to say, I went to Mango Tree. It was late. I didn’t want to stay out all night and everybody who knows me knows that I love Thai food like a fat kid loves tater tots. Sahab Smart Mouth was on point. The food was good, though not great. But since the entire restaurant was full of tourists, it was a nice little transition into being in between actually staying in this all Thai neighborhood (I don’t speak Thai) and being a traveler on my first real trip to Asia (India and Pakistan don’t count).
I spent the next day putting out some work fires, chatting on Skype, and walking around the 20 block radius of my B&B. Minus the work part, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the vacay.
At about 5pm on Friday, I flew to Chiang Mai and I was ready to be social. My friend and 2 of her friends met me at Thae Pae Gate. She looked exactly how she looked when I last saw her. She had the glow of a woman who enjoys smiling. Turns out I’d met one of her friends before, and so on we went to Burmese food right near the gate. I selfishly devoured dishes that were supposed to be shared. I did some Delhi bashing and some Thailand hailing, and then we were off to browse the town before heading to slumber. There were bars full of expats and tourists and lady boys and comfort women and reggaeton and pop music you’d hear on Z100 FM. I went to bed satisfied.
The next day was Saturday and it felt like we should really be getting into some shizznit. And so we did. We went for a breakfast that was really a lunch at a cozy little place that actually underwhelmed on the food front. But the service was good and I had my first juice since I got to this continent. My insides screamed Mazel Tov! (My juicer is about to get the business after I get off this plane.) We bought tickets for the next day’s Jungle Flight – 22 ziplines, 1 spiral stair case, 3 free falls and 2 maybe 3 suspension bridges in a canopy in the mountains – and got Thai massages, which are a lot more active than I was expecting. And at some point we split up for a few hours. I went to my guest house for what was supposed to be twenty minutes, but became two hours. I think we did yoga at Namo when I went back, but I can’t remember which day that was.
I do know that we met up later that night with a few new members and were off to dance. Long story short, we ended up in the Nimmanhaemin section of town – near Chiang Mai University and I’m pretty sure that the next time I stay in Chiang Mai this is where I’m heading. There were short skirts and spikey gelled hair everywhere, cute coffee shops and boutiques peppered with young, educated Thai artsy folk. Not quite Soho, think more West Village; not quite H Street, think more the stretch of 14th street between U St and Logan Circle. Not exactly Newbury Street, think more Back Bay.
So we went to Infinity, which is a proper club (not a bar), with girls showing too much skin and tugging at the elbows of guys who were so damn lucky to be born in Thailand that they should suck on the Buddha’s big toe (because otherwise these gorgeous girls would have been, should have been, probably still are out of their league). We were the only tourists there. We means me, my Trini- Boston 5 foot 7 friend, her Chicagoan come English teacher in Lamphun friend and the Chicagoan’s 6 foot 5 British scientist researcher friend. We were a sight, if ever there was one. And we were really loving it up until this sad ass, droning ass, Thai heartbreak music band started playing. It was cool at first when they turned off Jay-Z and Alicia Keys and this 5 dude boy band hit the stage. “Hey, there’s a live band,” I screamed upward towards the direction of the Brit’s far off ear canal. His face read dry British wit, “This poor girl doesn’t know what’s good for her.” So, after about 40 minutes, the equivalent of 4 songs with 3 breakdowns each, we headed back to the center of town for bed.
The next day we actually did something active, and un-city like. After almost vomiting on myself from extreme car sickness resulting from the driver sending the back-end of the car into a series of tailspins because speeding through the narrow curves heading uphill into the mountain seemed like his idea of fun, I fully understood that I was stuck. There was no going back, and no going forward except to strap on a harness, check my carabiners more than once, and jump through the trees. Oh those lush green trees. I haven’t seen that kind of wet, full, hydrated green since I moved to Delhi – so the canopy was a highlight. After heading back to town 4 hours later, I went off alone for 2 massages and a walk before meeting up with my good company once more for some shopping at the night market. If you asked me where I bought your souvenirs, have no doubt – I bought them off the street, right near the moat, probably just above an open sewer, and in the throws of crowds so thick they could’ve been churned into spicy thai chili butter.
The next day was a day for my friend and I to catch up alone. It was the first stretch of time we had alone since I’d gotten there and it was awkwardly familiar. Remember how Troy felt when she got down south, saw her high yeller cousin for the first time and chased behind her parent’s car as they drove away? I wasn’t exactly running at full speed, but I was looking around thinking – without all the filler around us, what exactly is the bond? We rented a scooter and headed out to a lake, and chatted about life and love and this beautiful lake and it felt like we’d grown older but not apart. We kept saying to each other, “I can’t believe we’re in Asia!” We giggled like two schoolgirls after seeing Queenie spring stiffly from the pull out couch. We ate, we shopped, we phoned home to give shared bday biggups to our friend Tanya Everett. She fell asleep with her phone in her hand, ended up sleeping side ways in the bed ‘til I woke her for a readjustment. I gave up on packing, finished reading Toure’s “Never Drank the Kool Aid” and started Suze Orman’s “Women & Money.”
I woke up around 5am to hand her the blaring phone. Then I woke up again when I gave her the last bad breath, sleep induced hug I would give her. She went off to her village to teach English to Thai kids, and I went back to bed before returning the scooter to the rental place, paying the 30Baht for the loofah I’d bought in the guesthouse, getting a facial scrub, eating one more time at Aum and heading out to the airport. And with that, I said ‘so long’ to Chiang Mai.
Rarely am I ever shocked by anything that happens on an airplane. Turbulence raises no fear, just a well-deserved rush. I say a short prayer to the God of small things, and give nuff respekk to ancestors and deities of varying origins, and I try to fall asleep before the plane even takes off. On my flight from Bangkok though, I stayed up for some reason and when I realized that they really didn’t bother to even go into the safety procedures in any detail, my attention shifted ahead to the big screen at the front of the economy section. What could it be that would catch the eye of this buxom brown-skinned thang, but the view from a night vision camera on the nose of the plane? What a wonderful world! This isn’t the peripheral vision of a window seat, blocked by the plane’s bulging body. This was the clear shot from the nose to the sky, with nothing but grey renderings of the white spots dotting the night. Every bit of the present, on the ground in the sky, in the trees or on the tarmac has something to offer. If that ain’t a reminder of the process of getting from one great experience to the next, then you, my darling, simply haven’t lived in my in between.