16 January 2005

(Pink Journal Excerpt - Thailand: Part 4)

We took the vehicle ferry across the way from Trat and drove the one paved road circumscribing the island. Ko Chang is much more touristed than I expected, but it was also because we saw the first beach off the ferry. The Lonely Planet is a touch out-of-date on the place, and of course there are now ATMs and money exchange places dotting the street alongside bars, massage parlors, and what seems like millions of "same same" bungalow resorts flooded with farang. We drove further along steep, blind turns, passing sangthaews and motorbikes, and found Chang Park Resort, where Peter and Lynn had made prior reservations. They were leery though, and had good reason to be: there had been signs for it on the ferry, and it was advertised on a huge billboard at the first intersection on the island! When we pulled in and passed elephant sculptures, I started singing "In Da Club" by 50 Cent; I think the can of Singha I had on the way there had gotten me a little slap-happy.

The bungalows- which looked mediocre at best- were spread around nicely maintained grounds. Peter and Lynne weren't thrilled with the place, but were booked there for the next four nights. We decided to go on to the next spot together. We found a beautiful beach with many travelers on it, but it was full.

I thought I'd have a bit of a problem trekking around looking for a place to stay while the two of them returned to their posh, forced resort, but I saw a friend pointing at me, squinting and smiling: it was Cyril- the boyfriend of the Swiss girl, Irina- who rode the bus with me from Pai to Chiang Mai! He was staying across the way at Gecko Garden, a brand new guesthouse 20 feet away that had bungalow accommodations. Although they were full, they offered tents for 100 baht right there on the ground of the lobby/bar/restaurant's balcony! I put my duffle bag in the tent, changed into my bathing suit, and started drinking and writing in a hammock. And now, after dinner up the beach with the French/Swiss couple at a guesthouse showing National Geographic sea documentaries followed by "Dumb and Dumber" mysteriously subtitled in English, I emailed for a bit at the ridiculously overpriced cafe on the beach. 2 fucking baht a minute!

I walked back in the sands and now am at Treehouse Lodge's awesome restaurant and bar having another Beer Chang and writing by candlelight. And what is the DJ playing? ANTIBALAS! This is so nuts. He was playing Mr. Scruff before this. The place is hopping with people and I am feeling shy, but maybe not shy enough. I love how small the world is and how it's becoming smaller.

*

It's the next evening now. I spent the day well, waking up early out of necessity to find a small bungalow in which to stay the night for 200 baht. I had an "American Breakfast" at that posh spot up the beach from Siam Resort, and met two very friendly Canadians. They had just arrived in Thailand and were very eager to explore. I was in search of Hat Wai Chek, described in the Lonely Planet as a "beautiful, secluded beach," and I'm not sure if I actually found it! I traveled with an Australian named Rowan, and we walked up Bang Bao Beach trying to find accommodations for him. He found a fairly ghetto spot ironically called "Poor Bungalow," and we passed nude sunbathers to find our path to the mysterious beach dead-end at Dolphin Resort. It was an upscale, private resort comprised of boathouses along a man-made road, and I pitied anyone who paid the 2500 baht to stay at that still-being-built tourist trap. We were totally confused about the whereabouts of our secret beach, and with good reason: each person we met told us something different regarding our own location in relation to it! After too much frustration, we found a nameless beach that may or may not have been what we were looking for in the first place, and enjoyed the clear green water and nude sunbathers.

I swam in the warm water, and ordered pork fried rice for lunch. There were small puppies with their mother, looking very hungry as they stalked dining travelers sitting nearby the makeshift restaurant on wooden benches, but they tended to ignore me as I sunned myself the whole remainder of the day. After Rowan left, I sat reading and reflected on my travels here as the sun set. Another Australian approached me, and bought me a beer after a five minute conversation. His name was Matt, and he and I wound up drinking free beer swiped from the restaurant's fridge. We shared dinner up the beach at his guesthouse, and our food arrived an hour after we ordered it! I felt badly, but I left before Matt's food even arrived so I could try and find my way back.

It was pitch-black outside, and only the silhouettes of palm trees interrupted the screen of stars. I trudged along the shore, astounded that there were absolutely no lights other than those across the ocean! The waves crashed to my left as I took one last Singha from the fridge and apologized to the imaginary worker. I had forgotten about all of the stray dogs, and they had forgotten me as well- or, at least they weren't able to recognize me, because they were barking and following very closely behind. I couldn't see them- I couldn't see anything, really- but I heard their paws leaving prints in the soft sand and felt their soft fur brush against my bare calves. I was talking to myself- and to them, I suppose- saying everything would be OK. I just kept moving, trying not to imagine one of the dogs becoming angry and attacking me.
I saw two people in the distance wearing lights on their heads, and I shouted hello, hoping this would somehow make the dogs decide to give up and turn around. My stranger saviors couldn't give me a ride to Lonely Beach, but helped to light my path at least for a short while. I blindly followed distant music up the steep roads, and was soon able to connect it with a location. A couple I had seen earlier that day gave me a candle to light my way home, but I decided first to stop in a karaoke spot.

One patron was incredibly drunk and kept shaking my hand, giving me swigs of his vodka Red Bull. I actually can't remember if I had a beer there or not, but I had a disgusting Thai cigarette. Anyway, I started back up the road with the dim glow of my orange candle, and a young guy picked me up on his scooter to drive me home. We zoomed up and down the slopes, his headlight projecting the web-like shadow of his basket ahead of us on the road. I gave him 100 baht, grateful I didn't have to waste an hour making the drunken walk around blind turns.
I returned to Treehouse and had one more beer before passing out in a hammock. I was too wasted, and so was everyone dancing around me. I got two bottles of water and started sobering up before my walk home. The problem was, I couldn't see a fucking thing and obviously couldn't identify which bungalow was mine! I was stumbling slowly and heard voices from just beyond a wall separating my resort from another, so I thought I'd see if they could get a light for my candle! I was lucky to find smokers who had a lighter, and I hoped my little guiding light wouldn't go out on its way back. I remembered my bungalow number was 20, and lit the first one I saw: 17. The candle lasted me my walk past the three bungalows, unlocking my door, and getting into bed- my head spun ever so slightly, but thankfully not quite enough to make me sick.

This morning I got horrendous brain-freeze from a banana shake and sunbathed the entire ferry ride to the beautiful island of Ko Wai. The water was a brilliant shade of turquoise and incredibly clear. We rode past two piers, and then I was fetched by a motorboat and brought to my guesthouse. I was shown my little bungalow, set up my mosquito net, and had pork with ginger and rice for lunch. I met a nice Slovakian girl named Ivana, and talked for a while about the nearby islands. Grabbing a snorkel and mask, I walked the island's rocky perimeter to a secret beach where palm trees lined the ten-foot stretch of fine white sands. A single boat was docked, but left only twenty minutes after I arrived, leaving me alone to explore the fish swimming among the coral nearby.

There was a French woman on the beach with me who was nice and very talkative. Her name was Guilaine, and I'd imagine she was in her forties. She spoke in a thick accent, using stereotypically perfect exclamations like "bah" and "phh," and told me about the island. I swam, soaked in the sun, and enjoyed her company on our private stretch of sand. And now I am back near my guesthouse, swinging between two palm trees on a red hammock. There are fishing boats docked nearby and, other than the dog that just started barking at me, everything is perfectly serene.

*

I lazed around until finally enjoying dinner, and had stilted conversation with a bizarre and almost rudely quiet Englishman joined by his 30 to 40 year-younger Thai girlfriend (whom he was undoubtedly paying to accompany him on his holiday). It was the 25th year he's come to Thailand. He asked me if I knew what Stonehenge was, the fucking twat.

I lied and said it was nice to meet him, then- with a borrowed flashlight- navigated carefully over rocks and a vague footpath towards the other resorts. I soon realized I was staying at the most paltry accommodations, and figured I could splurge a little more on my very last week. After emailing for five fucking baht a minute on a painfully slow dial-up connection- the only one on the island- I walked back to Pakarang Resort and made a reservation for the next night. It was there that I met a nice Canadian named Danny who was sitting outside of his room (the one I would take the next night). He was nice to show me inside, and it was light years nicer than the one I had for only 100 baht more! He invited me to join him for a beer.

We sat and sipped Beer Chang, and I realized that brand gives you a headache before it gets you drunk. Anyway, we spoke about everything from the plague and joy of being a writer, through traveling, infidelity, and the purpose of life. He was born to an illiterate Vietnamese refugee in Hong Kong, but soon moved to Toronto. Currently on holiday from his year exchange with Hong Kong University, he planned on visiting Hanoi to see the hospital in which his mother was born- a place she hadn't seen since. It was his goal to make a book for his family explaining their history- something they don't really know about or acknowledge- and would fill in the blanks as the only one to actually visit their homeland. This gift of heritage, as he explained it, was his purpose in life. I asked if he thought we choose our purpose prior to birth, if our soul has a lesson it needs to learn and thus aligned itself with the right astrological circumstances to do so. I asked because it's a question I've always wondered about myself, and one I feel may have been answered in this time I've spent alone in Thailand. I have started to believe my lesson deals with love and trust, as well as family. I thought of my extended family, but then of my parents' friends and their children, realizing they've always felt more like a true family to me. It's sad in one way, but wonderful in another, because it shows you the definition of family sometimes has little to do with blood and who marries into it; it is instead the people with whom you feel safety, love, and a sense of home.

The next morning during breakfast, I began reading the beginning of a "terrifying novel" which had been laying among the French books and magazines sitting on the counter, a book called "Sleepwalk." I didn't get far when Jose- a Spaniard staying at the guesthouse- gave me a week-old newspaper with a five-page story on the tsunami. I hadn't really been thinking of the disaster, and this was sort of a belly-flop into its epicenter. And meanwhile, I still hadn't told Shai (the guesthouse manager) I was going to check out and stay with one of their competitors. I waited until I had all of my food, then used the excuse that Pakarang had a fishing trip and that, since it ended late at night, it'd be more convenient to stay there. In fact, that was partially true, but I always feel bad about leaving places and people: it's like you're telling them they're not good enough. I suppose it's all inevitable though, and you can't carry guilt for making a change, regardless of the impetus for it.

When I walked to Pakarang's reception area, I recognized Etta sitting with another girl, eating watermelon and pineapple, and smiling at me with bizarre scabs all around her mouth. It was grotesque, and she barely made any effort to hide it; I don't know how she could have, really. She had gotten my email the night before and had come to meet me, and alongside her was an English girl named Kate whom she met on the boat ride. I set my bags down and joined them, unable to stop staring at the sores on her face. Though I didn't ask, she brought them up, saying they had been there for about a week and hurt when she smiled. They also seemed to be spreading.

We all walked together around the rocks to the secret beach, and waded in the clear blue-green waves dappled in sun. I clicked with Kate, and wound up talking a lot more with her than I did with Etta, but Etta and I soon had lunch together alone. Kate joined us afterwards on the beach, and the three of us were soon enthralled by a sad game of cat and mouse: a dog vs. a very frightened crab!

The dog continually nosed in, trying to bite the crab as it skittered nervously around with its pinchers sticking straight up, and would jolt back- either startled or in pain- from the minor retaliations the poor crab could muster. Eventually, the crab attempted its obvious escape of burrowing into the ground, but didn't make it deep enough. The dog was determined, squeezing his nose into the hole and recoiling over and over again, only to finally dig him out with his paws. I was rooting for the crab all along, but then started feeling sad for this overly-curious dog. The crab scurried out like a robotic ballerina on her toes, and the dog was ready. He caught him in his mouth, but softly let go. Trying a second time with a little more confidence, he managed to fling him a little. I started cheering for the dog, but immediately realized the crab was in deep shit! He snared down on him again, and this time really twisted his neck back to let him loose, sending the crab flying nearly six feet to land awkwardly on the shore. His right pincher was now broken, hanging sadly and crooked. The dog- no longer interested- sniffed his way to a new location, and his defeated prey burrowed slowly into the wet sand.

The three of us headed to Kate's bungalow for some beers after a quick rinse in the shower, then had dinner. After our meal was my night time fishing trip, and Etta came along- it was wonderful! We picked up some beer, and walked carefully along a plank connecting the boat to the pier. The stars were brilliant in the sky, and seemed to move ever-so-slightly as we drove out into the ocean to cast our bait. We strung slippery squid onto our hooks, their ink like blood on our fingertips, and let them fly over our shoulders, splashing into the darkness beyond. I started getting bites immediately, and caught five or six fish within seconds of lowering my line! Maybe it was beginner's luck, but who cares: I was on a roll! I enjoyed it so much that I remained after we docked at midnight, fishing for squid alone on the pier. I only caught one and had problems with my reel, so I retired after a half-an-hour to sleep.

I spent today with Kate. For breakfast, we had tempura banana and pineapple with honey, along with two of the fish I caught last night fried to a crisp, and washed it all down with tea. She and I went to Paradise Resort's beach and played frisbee in the water, then swam and collected coral further along the bend. For lunch, I had a deliciously spicy curry soup with coconut, and she had Tom Yam (hot and sour soup). We then hiked to a village that made rubber from the forest trees, and saw the sheets hung to dry on lines near the beach. The sun was beginning to set and we gave up on trying to find a way to the scenic sunset point; instead, we got the shit scared out of us by an enormous hopping cricket on our path back through the bucket-adorned rubber trees, and dipped in the water to swim off the sweat.

Right now, I am reclining and looking at the lack of a horizon line, the reflection of the pier lights dancing in the ocean. Thai girls are speaking softly in the next room, the power generator is humming nearby, and occasionally a gecko punctuates its drone with its kiss-like call. There is no breeze and the water is completely calm- almost as calm as I.

*

I had dinner sitting at a table next to Etta's so I could be closer to the television, and prepared myself to watch that night's movie: "Alien vs. Predator." With me was Reagan and Elizabeth- a Canadian couple around my age who were spending their long honeymoon in Southeast Asia. Kate soon took a seat next to me, and we provided sarcastic commentary on the horrendous and predictable film, waiting an hour and a half before inquiring just where in the fuck the food we had ordered was hiding. It had taken nearly that long to be brought my drink- Oishi brand ice tea with condensed milk- and finally, a flustered and embarrassed employee took our order again. We enjoyed our meal entertained by karaoke videos (all of which were laughably irrelevant to their corresponding song lyrics) and then by a second feature film: "Elf," starring Will Ferrell.

It was amazing how warm and excited I felt seeing footage of New York City- its subway signs, taxi cabs, skyscrapers, businesses and citizens- and immediately became emotional and homesick. It didn't help that "Elf" is a sweet and touching movie, but we watched it intently and laughed out loud. Except for one other table, most everyone else had paid it no attention and gone to sleep.

Will Ferrell's character Buddy went on a date in Central Park to ice skate and look at Christmas trees, and I thought of Sarah- how I missed being able to do those things with her over the holidays. Then of course, the hilarious scene where Buddy accompanies his father to work and gets sent to the mailroom: "it reminds me of Santa's workshop, except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me." And then the dwarf author who tries to help Buddy's father with children’s book ideas, only to be ridiculed by what Buddy doesn't realize are midget jokes. Finally, the touching climax of New York City regaining Christmas spirit, and Buddy, Santa, and reindeer silhouetted against the moon glowing over the caroling crowd in Central Park. I lay in my room alone, beneath the cocoon of my mosquito net, and had the first strong feeling that my trip was coming to an end... Yet with these memories of home, I almost began to welcome it.

In the morning I packed and once again waited far too long for my toast and pancake. Keeping me company was a South African named Simon who had been traveling for far longer than I had and who was eager to return home and work. Kate and I headed to the pier for our ten o'clock boat to Ko Kham, and I fell asleep on its deck with the sun beading sweat down my chest and back. Unbeknownst to me, an hour of rocking back and forth had gone by, and Kate wiggled my toe to ask if they knew we were, in fact, going to Ko Kham. I rushed down the back ladder to inform the boatsman, and his hasty U-turn answered her question and gave me a good laugh.

The island was tiny and beautiful. We got situated in our bungalows and rented snorkel gear and flippers, and then I realized I had stupidly left my sandals on the boat's top deck! I had removed them in vain as to not leave tan lines on my feet. It was no problem: the boat would soon return from Ko Mak, and I'd be able to retrieve them. Meanwhile, I found two books in English at the reception desk: "Total XS," a book about INXS' singer Michael Hutchence written by his brother Rhett who sandwiched the tale with his own boring junkie anecdotes, and ironically, "Morvern Callar," which I immediately claimed for my post-snorkeling afternoon.

Kate and I floated above green and yellow formations, ominous flowering spines of black sea urchin dotting the shallows like porcupine land mines, and followed silvery tetra schools to watch parrot fish dine on the coral. When Kate grew cold in her striped bikini, and when my goggles started giving me a headache, we lay on the beach, she reading her novel "Everything Is Illuminated," and I about Morvern. The book begins with her avoiding her boyfriend's dead body- sodden with blood in the "scullery"- and promptly heading to work at the supermarket. After a foursome that very night with two boys and her friend Lanna, she makes herself mixtapes by which she dismembers and buries him, then sunbathes on her rave holiday in Spain (paid for by a publisher's advance on her boyfriend's book she falsely claimed to write!). Besides her glaring dishonesty, Morvern Callar is my kind of girl, and I laughed thinking Sarah had dubbed me the movie's soundtrack right before I left.

With breaks for dinner and Backgammon with Kate, I read the novel solidly, reaching its conclusion under my mosquito net and listening to the generator humming louder than the insects, powering lights bleeding through the slats of my wooden bungalow. Only four more days, I thought... And today, I counted one more down, reading "Total XS" cover to cover in the sun, cooling off with short swim breaks. The same topless mothers surrounded me atop stretched sarongs- their babies and boyfriends nearby- and while boats brought small groups of tourists to what I decided was my beach, I ignored the camera-clicking crowds rather than let them get to me.

I am on my third and final beer right now. The breeze is blowing the patio's hanging lights back and forth. There are couples and families speaking Dutch, German, French, English, and Thai, and I am ignoring each incoherent conversation, allowing my eyes to close under the heaviness of alcohol and another day spent in sun. Tomorrow, I go to Ko Mak, and it's really out of necessity: I have to check email, pay a credit card bill, and just travel the short distance to another island before I make the day-long journey back to Bangkok. It's been nearly five weeks, and only three days separate me from home.

I had taken a break from reading today to daydream about my trip... If I thought the first two days in Bangkok felt like a welcomed eternity, they were now lifetimes behind me. I got tingles of excitement thinking of my plane's landing and the initial walk I took around Khao San Road, a place I would complain endlessly about yet still return to. Especially now, after making my last reservation at Green House (the first place I stayed), it feels like things are coming full-circle. I've tried not to think of home too much so I can remain entrenched in my current locale of sun, sand, and sea, but when you know something is coming to an end, you can't help but begin to let go. It's all a cycle, yet we are never the same upon our departures or returns. The trick is, we constantly look forward to both while honoring what fueled the desire for each: over and over again, it's growth, and then the need to share it...

*

I was awoken a little after 3 AM by the sounds of an island storm. I couldn't differentiate falling rain on the ocean from wind through the trees, all blending into one loud wash of sound which kept me awake. When I was able to slip back into a dream, a rooster decided to start the morning noise.

Brushing my teeth with the remaining water in my bottle, I had yogurt and a banana pancake with condensed milk for breakfast. I read a week-old Bangkok Post, then spoke to a lesbian couple who had just taken savings they had intended for a down-payment on a house in San Francisco and spent it on a year's journey around the world. They explained it was a "mid-life crisis"; I corrected them and called it a "mid-life adventure."

Under overcast skies, a boat took me to Ko Mak, where I ate an ice cream bar and waited for a computer to become available at the lab. I had a lot in my inbox, including two potential modeling jobs in NY. I didn't get to pay my credit card bill and even tried calling HSBC, only to learn I'd have to pay a fifteen dollar fee to do it over the phone! So, I did the most logical thing: got on a motorbike and sped off!

Down paved and unpaved roads colored gray and reddish brown, I sped through coconut plantations and rows of rubber trees, all lush from last night's rain. I found villages once again with rubber sheets hanging to dry, and little puppies standing guard. I rode faster and faster around bends, stopping to eat red curry and chicken in a coconut milk broth. I accidentally left behind my camera at the bungalow, and was upset I was unable to capture the imagery whizzing past me, becoming alternately brighter and darker beneath passing clouds. Feeling satisfaction from a long ride which left tiny black bugs dead on my chest, I returned the bike and indulged in a butterscotch sundae with scoops of vanilla, strawberry and rainbow.

I lay on the beach- the sun back out again just for me- then cooled off with a swim. I had some time to kill before the boat returned at 5 for a Swedish family and me. Once back at the island, I saw the lesbians leaving for a hike and decided to join them. The view was unimpressive and the path was both hard to follow and led nowhere; nevertheless, it was time well-spent. I enjoyed a nice dinner alone reading the New Yorker, finding I was being eased back into my life by the funny little twists many call coincidences. I had a couple of beers, and tucked my nose in my shirt to avoid cigarette smoke the breeze carried my way. And now, safely under the mosquito net in my bungalow, I am growing sleepy amidst the excitement of another dawn just beyond the horizon. I need to do something special tomorrow night: it's my last full night in Thailand.

*

The next day, I awoke to rain once again. By 7:15 I was brushing my teeth next to the toilets since it was the only area outdoors with a roof, then ate muesli (mispelled "moosley") with the lesbians and admired the rain. I wore my bathing suit and- not wanting to get my only clean shirt wet- wrapped my dirty towel around me, waiting for everyone to arrive for our boat ride and shivering ever so slightly. The clouds hung low in the sky, cloaking the forests of distant islands in thick, slowly changing grey shapes. The waves were choppy and pelted with raindrops, and the boat's exhaust swirled behind us. Three hours went by but all felt still as the sky reflected in the mirrored sunglasses of an Italian passenger next to me; time itself seemed like a reflection. We were nearly surfing the ocean at the mercy of the current. Once at the dock, we mounted a plank to connect our boat with another, but it slid back and forth precariously with waves that made both look like bobbing toys. I grabbed the hands of two men who helped me to cross, then scooted off in a sangthaew from Laem Ngop to the bus station at Trat.

Eating nori-flavored Lays chips and strawberry Pocky, I stepped on my bus to have my worst fears confirmed: the fucking air-conditioning was on full-blast and it was freezing! I put my jeans over my damp suit and slipped a sweater over my dirty shirt. I wrapped the two thin blankets in the overhead around me and tried to sleep across the seats in the back. Besides our break for lunch (I tried congealed blood for the first and last time), we drove solidly for seven hours, battling traffic on the way to Bangkok's city limits and losing terribly: we were practically at a stand-still. I tried moving the AC blowers away from me. It was futile.

I met an English couple around my age whom were both named Chris, and we shared a 3 and a half baht public bus ride to Khao San Road. I put my luggage away in my room at Green House, and walked downstairs to have a beer, write some emails, and watch Lindsay Lohan in "Mean Girls" out of the corner of my eye. I had another beer with dinner (at the place in front of Deep Bar) and listened to the music through its glass doors and windows. Especially since I was drunk, the one thing that had my curiosity piqued was the "special massage" parlors. You can choose your masseuse from behind a glass wall where they sit en masse, vying for your attention with waves, smiles, and hellos. I walked over to one of soldiers of the tuk-tuk army off of Rambutri, and told them what I wanted to see; being a tuk-tuk driver, of course he knew where to go. "No fucking, no sucking" I explained, and he looked at me almost incredulously. He asked, "Thai massage?"

"No," I replied.

I had heard of a bath massage where a guy sat in a hot tub, then two naked Thai girls sprung up from underneath and started massaging him. This, of course, was impossible to describe to someone who barely spoke English, so I just told him to take me wherever. "Beautiful girls," I said. "Ah, bootiful girl! Yes!" he beamed. "Same same."

Of course...

The first place was a Thai massage place that charged 1000 baht, and I walked in, then immediately out. "Beautiful girls," I repeated, and he took me to another spot. I was accosted by the manager as I entered. He grabbed me by the arm and led me to a viewing window covering the entire wall- floor to ceiling. And there they were: mediocre-looking girls all made up and wearing lingerie, all staring at me. "2000 baht," he announced. I just wanted to look, really, but started haggling him down. "1000 for an hour," I offered, and to this he laughed. "No, thank you." He shouted "1500" as I was on my way out, then rushed to me pleading, "OK, OK, 1300 baht." Nope. I walked in an identical place up the street and it was the same sad scene. I said no again and was followed out by another manager. "Beautiful girl," he said. Not really, I thought.

The final stop was a bar called "Star Dust." There was no viewing booth this time. All the girls- who were all finally good-looking (thank God!)- wore matching sky-blue dresses and sat on carpeted risers facing the tables. The manager told me the price of a beer (200 baht for a small!), and I asked what the story was with the girls staring blankly at me. "3000 baht," he said, and that's when I stood up. He started yelling at my tuk-tuk driver in Thai, and I was more than ready to throw in the towel and head back to Deep Bar. I had seen enough.

The bar was packed! I ascended the stairs amidst dancing and singing Thais and ordered a pitcher of Asahi for myself. I stood next to three nice bankers, one of whom spoke English really well while the others struggled or didn't try at all, and we raised our glasses again and again in cheers. They yelled along with the music, getting drunker with each toast. When the lights came on, they invited me out for more drinks and food, and the crowd filtered into the street. A tuk-tuk raced to our next destination, speeding in between cars and rounding corners a little too quickly.

I ordered a bottle of Sang Som for us, and snacked on soup with tofu, seaweed, blackened egg, hot peppers and cashews. Deep's staff joined us around the large table and, if you can't tell, I had too much to drink. The few L&M cigarettes I had didn't help matters much, but it was truly wonderful. I almost felt sad, my head spinning lightly with a permanent smile, sitting among those who were genuinely kind and going out of their way to welcome me into their circle. I wondered why we as westerners don't do that: when the hell would that ever happen in New York? God forbid you even talk to someone who's from New Jersey! I'm being sarcastic, but really, why is it different here? And it's not just Thailand- it's Asia in general. It's honestly a much different part of the world in many ways- ways I know I am going to miss. And it's something I thought about throughout my last day in rainy Bangkok.

I woke up to the light cloth curtains blowing as if in island wind, and I once again forgot where I was in my hungover haze. I showered to try and wake up a bit. I can't recall when I actually made it back to my room the night before; I just remember playing someone's guitar on Khao San Road and singing "farang, farang, farang" over and over again with an equally drunk Thai girl. The water was hot for a short while then sadly went cold, ending my basking a little prematurely. I dropped off my laundry next door, and bought a clean tee-shirt to wear, throwing away the black one I had worn for the last five nights in a row. It was drizzling and fairly cold, and erased any desire to walk around outside. So, I retreated to the Green House's lobby, won Tekken 4 as Law, then watched "White Girls" (with the Wayans Brothers) and "The Girl Next Door" with Elisha Cuthbert, who was somehow even hotter than she was in the first season of "24." The film was absurd, but nursing my hang over with a Heineken didn't make me too picky.

I ate lunch yet again at the place next to Deep Bar on Rambutri, sitting outside and feeling melancholy about my incipient departure. The street vendors fried noodles and cut vegetables, serving a mainly Thai clientele sitting on plastic stools; tuk-tuks buzzed noisily by, and the clamor of language filled in silences left between it all. I heard melodies broadcast from the opening door at a nearby 7-11, and watched more and more tourists burdened with huge packs walking in awe down the street, looking as wide-eyed as I had been upon arriving to the neon chaos of midnight on Khao San Road. I slurped coconut and lime soup, moving steamed rice to the side of my mouth with my tongue as I pulled out lemongrass and slices of galanga to place on the rim of my saucer. Flashes of my journey interrupted the "now" happening all around me, and letting them go while smiling in gratitude became meditative- the sweet and sour taste of my lunch the perfect companion for the yin-yang of my feelings, the bittersweet place somewhere between a tear and a smile.

I wrote at the granite tables outside of Green House and ignored the Akha women selling jewelry and skulking colorfully in the narrow passageway. My laundry was ready, and I placed the fragrant, folded items into my empty duffle, leaving in the florescent bits of yarn they used to distinguish mine from the rest. Becky and Montann decided not to join me at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, so I journeyed there alone at 5:30. It was almost dusk, and the labyrinth of candles, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, puppies, Buddha images, knock-off Diesel jeans and trucker hats was swarming with slow-moving shoppers. I found little things for Sarah and Jamie, then realized I only had 500 baht left in my pocket! I ran into Leila and her family picking out some clothes, and laughed at how seeing the same faces had become such a wonderfully inexorable pattern.

Outside in a brightly-lit open air restaurant, I ate a last meal of noodle soup, seated at one of the many tables crammed with baskets of green vegetables. Past the crowds surrounding sidewalk vendors spilling into busy streets, I descended to Bangkok's immaculate subway. Again, everyone around tried to help me get where I needed, or at least gave me a smile if they didn't understand. I departed only one stop later, and climbed the escalator steps to Central Plaza's elevated walkway. Once in the theatre, I bought popcorn and green Fanta, then watched "Meet The Fockers"- a sequel to a movie I've never seen ("Meet The Parents"). It was actually pretty funny and not too stupid after all (I had wanted to see "The Aviator," but it was too long and I would've missed my flight home!).

I took a public bus to the airport, feeling sad. Of course I was looking forward to being with Sarah and seeing friends, but I really wanted to stay. Things were just beginning to come more naturally and, besides not knowing the language and still being amazed by the Thai lettering on everything, I felt I was slowly fitting in and finding my way. It's always that way, isn't it? Endings do that to you. So, I paid a 500 baht exit fee and ate at KFC (the cheapest option in the international terminal). Besides, I had wanted to eat there all along. It was greasy and the sauce was bizarre, so I purchased some chocolate and banana Pocky and strawberry Lotte gum to mask the taste.

The sun is on its way up, leaving a rainbow across the horizon line and tingeing the edges of the rugged, snow-capped landscape. I have slept on and off. From Bangkok to Seoul, I could barely keep my eyes open and my throat felt sore from the aircraft's recycled air, but on this flight, I have had little time with my eyes closed. I read Time Magazine's report on happiness, ate gross airplane food and sipped pineapple juice, and watched "The Girl with the Pearl Earring." I should definitely close my eyes and remove the headphones softly playing "Classical Masterpieces," but I am too full of anticipation. I am scared of getting culture shock. I know it's going to be so strange stepping off the plane and feeling the cold air within the walkway, then groggily making my way to what will undoubtedly be an enormous customs line. But, wherever it may be after all the paperwork and logistics are taken care of, my eyes will dart wildly, looking for her looking for me; I get tingles just thinking about finally making eye contact and a smile. I've replayed it over and over again, and I know it'll still be different than it has been in my mind. There will still be spontaneity. It's actually going to be real instead of a daydream from the other side of the world....

And then, after whatever happens, calling my dad and hearing him smile, telling him I am safe and home. Who knows what the rest of this day will bring. We have an hour left in the air, and beneath a floor of clouds is a frigid Lake Huron. I want to dream and escape this last hour. I don't know what I'll focus on: the journey of my last five weeks, or the one awaiting me in the rest of time to come.