We’ve been in Bangkok for three days, and it is dizzying here. During our first evening, wading through alleyways and streets of food stalls with Steve, I kept repeating, “I feel overwhelmed.” It’s been a while since we were in a Big City, and Bangkok is definitely that. It has soaring tall Sky Train subway systems, skyscrapers and giant, shiny square malls home to stores like Hermès and Miu Miu, and countless tiny streets and alleys through which people, cats, scooters, tuk-tuks, and cars race at every hour of day. And we kind of love it.
Today, near sunset, Steve and I stepped off the ferry at Haad Rin Harbor onto Koh Phangan, an island in southern Thailand, widely known as a backpacker haven and the home of the infamous Full Moon Party. We boarded a dusty blue truck (songthaew) with a few other travelers, and rode the dipping, screeching truck for almost half an hour over the hilly island before spilling onto Haad Yao in the northwest corner of the island where we were staying. Upon first impressions, Koh Phangan is gorgeous. Our songthaew took us over a dozen hills and valleys at breakneck pace, and at times, we could catch a glimpse of the sun setting over a glittering ocean. When we got into our room, the first thing we did was change into bathing suits and run down the road for the beach.
And it was endlessly gorgeous. Haad Yao is a long sandy beach that curves to face west, and we walked the length of it in the ankle-length water, savoring the sunset. The sun had just disappeared behind the low cloud cover on the horizon, but it lit up everything else. We kept looking up as we walked, as the sunset changed by the minute, tinting the delicate, thin clouds at first a dusty pink and lavender and then changing to saffron, orange, and red. I couldn’t get over how incredibly wide that sky was above us. I didn’t bring my camera because I deliberately wanted to absorb that first sunset, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have known where to begin taking pictures. I wished that I had a large enough lens to capture the entire horizon of the sunset, because you have to see the full spectrum of that sky, from the silhouette of tall palms against that muted blue all the way to the fiery red that underlined the horizon, to appreciate what an amazing view it was.
I have spent the last week contemplating a pair of pants. These pants are just a length of colorful, soft fabric. The elastic waist is one-size-fits-all, and the pattern is complex but not elaborate. They are simply a pair of pants, but they bring to mind so much about our experience in Thailand and our travel thus far. But first, an overview of the first week in Chiang Mai that has sped past. So far, Steve and I have…
… watched a Muay Thai boxing fight
… visited a vast night bazaar full of clothing, bags, and food stalls
… sung karaoke (mostly Spice Girls) with a passel of fellow hostel guests
… undergone/ enjoyed an hour-long Thai massage
… watched a Thai ladyboy cabaret
… learned how to make massaman curry and hot and sour chicken soup at a Thai cooking class
… spent an afternoon reading and napping in a hammock
… had a jog along the old city walls
… enjoyed a bucket of gin and juice
… and made friends with people from a dozen different countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Uruguay, and of course, US).
Night is the Twilight Zone
When you are on a plane, in transit between cities or between countries, a funny thing happens. You also find your mind between places. It is not exactly occupied with the regular things you think about while heading to work, nor busy in contemplation of where you are going and the days or weeks to come. For me, the strangest thoughts drift through my mind – conversations from years ago, childhood memories almost forgotten… just as I am in-between places, so are my thoughts.
Flights, especially ones during the middle of the night, lend themselves to different experiences. You have never truly appreciated solitude until a stewardess has hawked luxury perfume to you at 2 am when all you want to do is close your eyes to oblivion, but sleep will not come. The alertness reminds you of other late nights, where there is no noble objective to be achieved, like a paper to be finished or someone to be taken care of, but simply to plod on and on until daylight. To simply endure.
Flights are boring. You are strapped to a snug seat, and asked to revert to your best behavior as a ten year-old (smile, follow directions, and do not ask questions). We are cattle, we are burden simply to be transported. The babies and small children have not yet learned that it does no good to cry about it, and if it did offer some small comfort from the cold and the boredom of this horrible stupor, we adults, too, would be howling.
I hardly know how to express our first glimpse of Taiwan. Since touching down on Friday morning, it has been almost rainy nonstop, thanks to the end of the typhoon season. Taipei has been a whirlwind of good things to eat and, well, humidity and rain. Since we plan to stay in Taiwan for several months, Steve and I spent the last 48-72 hours madly searching for an apartment online, cold-calling Taiwanese landlords, and riding the Taipei MRT to the ends of the earth (okay, just to Xinbeitou, but it was like 45 minutes out!). Though we found quite a few interesting places, met some nice people, and considered seven different places, the overall rent seemed rather high for what we knew other people were paying in Taipei, and we spent not a few hours hotly debating the merits of various apartments, the point of staying in Taipei versus other cities in the south, and essentially, subtly questioning each other’s motives for being abroad, period. I mean, what are we really doing here?
This morning, we made a trek to see another very expensive apartment, made an appointment to sign a lease for a place, had a change of heart about the cost, cancelled it, and at noon today, found ourselves sitting in the Taipei Main MRT station with all our luggage, back at square one, wondering “what do we do next?”