How Rob and I met – 4. The Full Moon Party

The water is warm and dark and comes up slowly. It’s reaching my thighs and sucking at the tops of my shorts. The music on the beach is a far away noise. The boats anchored in the water are silent. Warm water sucks and soaks in all my clothes and salt gets trapped in my hair. There aren’t any stars up above because the moon is too bright. The boys are on the shore and can’t see me, but I can see them, the electric lights behind making them look like shadows.

Photo by flickr user Roslyn

Photo by flickr user Roslyn

This feels really fucking awkward—sitting here with this middle aged man with his black blazer and slacks and surrounded by raver girls with crop tops and feathers in their hair. I suck on those sugar and booze Bacardi drinks that taste like flat soda with a lemon twinge and wonder if this is how all those twenty-something Thai girls in tight dresses feel when sitting next to an old white lummox. Except I’m white and he’s Thai and I wonder if we make a curiosity display when I squirm under the eyes of those Euro-tongued raver girls. But hell, we got on the speed boat for free and everyone else forked over thirty dollars one way.

We got on the beach for free too. All neon skin and fried food and noise, sandals and water and sand and garbage, and that warm warm December air. The crowd, the crowd, perhaps I can loose him in the crowd. I’m being ungrateful. But no, no, I have to get free inside the crowd. He grabs my hand and I tug on it, tug tug into the crowd. Tan sweat bodies press and funnel—booze and buckets and straws and shouting, ice and neon and sticky wet concrete, sticky wet feet and agonizing bathroom lines.

Photo by Flickr user Roslyn

Photo by Flickr user Roslyn

The music’s getting louder, getting louder. Funnel funnel go the bodies. Letting go of the hand and feeling it grab mine again. Try to lock arms—no, let’s hold hands—the full reach of my arm is the space in between us. Pumping pumping music and pock marked British boy faces with neon green swirls and girls in every shade of bleach blonde. The funnel, the clog, where the road ends, push through, push through, can’t see above heads and harms, the beach, the beach; we’ve made it to the beach—a strip of wild noise with the inky silence stretching forever in front of us.

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Photo by flickr user Roslyn

Shitty electro music, beats with no soul. Avocado and Mitch and Big Red, falling forwards and backwards and losing each other. Let’s all dance. Micheal and I split a mushroom shake to make the music bearable. He’s never had mushrooms before, but this isn’t a trip; it’s just a body high. He’s disappointed and orders more. They thin them out as the evening gets later. A young Thai guy with a neon bandanna and crazy eyes. The boys shout out. They know him. He holds up a blunt. No one has a lighter. Blue dance pagoda with less shitty music. I take it and find boys with cigarettes and share. Too blasted to finish it all. Give it to some English girls. New friends. They ask where I’m from. Swedish asshole wants to know why I say, “America,” and not, “United States.” I start to explain, but his mouth is on a girl and he’s not listening.

Photo by Matteo Pieroni

Photo by Matteo Pieroni

It’s that time, that boring time, when Mitch suddenly notices I have breasts and Avocado’s kissing Big Red and then climbing on his shoulders. No, not Mitch, shoulders like bricks. That leaves only Michael, tall and long limbed. I don’t want him. A boy runs up and grabs my hand and asks to make out, skinny and pale. He looks surprised when I say “No,” shrugs and scurries off. I need a place to sleep or a way to get home. If Michael grabs a girl then I’m wet and alone with twenty dollars rolled up in my bra. How much does it cost to get home? How do I get to the pier? What time in the night is it? Can I sit on the beach until dawn? Michael is an okay kisser.

Photo by Dav Yaginuma

Photo by Dav Yaginuma

The bathroom the bathroom is splendid! Oh those blue tiles and oh that hot hot water! There’s even a curtain, a curtain! The water doesn’t spill onto the toilet. Fresh fluffy white towel, divine. He says to take as long as I like; he’s a nice boy. I do. Oh how I do. Only, drying and now I’m naked and now, and now, what’s expected I know and do I want to and not really and how should I and oh drat I suppose I will. Kisses mechanical and tasteless. Limp nervous laughter. He says we’ll try in the morning. The bed, the bed oh sheets, oh clean white sheets divine!

Morning breakfast on the beach with bleach blonde girls and mango fruit shakes and Mitch and Big Red order shrimp cakes and salads and there is that Thai guy with the blunt last night bringing the food and no he didn’t get any sleep last night, just partied until six and then clocked into work and no a 100 baht tip is measly leave him 500. And we laugh and talk and they pay and what good friends I’ve found on this first day of five days. Overpriced too tight shorts and clinging shirt at the shop around the corner to replace salty wet clothes and Michael has a motorbike and he’ll take me to the pier. To the pier and gone. Gone.

There’s no one to talk to now here on the boat just watching the couples and the friends watch the water pass and talking in their own tongues; and there’s no one to talk to now here in the van just a little girl full of stickers and she’ll give some to you; and there’s no one to talk to now here on the beach just the sand and the water and the families like little specs at the resorts down the beach. And there’s no one. There’s no one. There’s no one. There’s no one.

Photo by flickr user Joe Stump

Photo by flickr user Joe Stump

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How Rob and I Met – 3. The Journey

Bangkok feels like this.

Bangkok is a neon, crumbling, madhouse.

 And Victory Monument is the worst cluster fuck of it all. You tumble out of the mini van and into the middle of a traffic nightmare that makes Manhattan look like a prairie town. You have two hours until the last bus leaves to Suratthani, and you are going to be on that damn bus.

To cross the street you have to climb up to the sky bridge, slammed with a rush of people pouring out of the BTS. School kids in white shirts and black skirts hold out boxes for orphanage donations, a burned man with bubbling pink skin holds out his hand for change. You curse the man taking up space on the bridge trying to sell tee-shirts and kids toys. Everybody moves too slow.

Across the street from MacDonald’s the queue for the taxi is a string of people crowded onto the curb of the sidewalk, running at the first taxi that stops. Twenty taxis pass by with their lights on before a single one stops. You jump up and ask for the Southern bus terminal. He waves dismissively and takes off before the person behind you even has the chance to jump in. This happens four times in half an hour. It’s no good. You’re going to have to take the train.

The sky train is freezing. Why is it always freezing? It’s the only damn time you ever feel cold in Thailand is inside the goddamn sky train. It’s packed so tight with people that there’s not even space to grab onto a pole. When it lurches up you bend your knees to keep from knocking into the people surrounding you.

Three stops, a transfer at Siam, then five more stops—eight total. You look at the clock on your phone, though you know it’s not going to make getting there any faster. It will be 7pm by the time you reach the river. When do the boats stop running? You don’t know, but you hope it’s not before seven.

When the train stops at the last stop you run. You’ve been here only once more than two months ago, but everything looks familiar. You run to dock give a handful of coins to the woman at the plastic folding table with cash box. She gives you a paper ticket and you board the skinny little express boat.

Bangkok night riverThe river is the most beautiful place in Bangkok. It’s the only place where the buildings fall away and you finally get to see the sky. At night the river turns black and the boats all look like floating lanterns. The air here is as fresh as it’s going to get in this city.

It’s just a few days after Christmas. You were only supposed to get a four day weekend for New Year’s Eve, but you finished grading your exams early and got the thursday and friday off too. You graded like crazy all day Wednesday with a phone stuck to your ear, calling every damn hostel on the island, looking for something that wasn’t already booked. It took four hours to find a free bungalow. You spent Christmas alone, grading papers and drinking wine coolers in your empty apartment, crying because you still just miss your kitten. But New Year’s won’t be like that. New Year’s is going to be fucking epic.

You run off of the deck and it’s 7:40pm. The last bus leaves at eight. No time to catch a bus; you need a taxi—now. But the street in front of you is empty. You run to the main road. A motorcycle taxi sees you and stops. He doesn’t know what the Southern bus terminal is, but when you show him the map on your phone he understands. You hop on the back and fly.

Motorcycle taxis in Bangkok are like those fair rides that you were too afraid to go on as a kid, only way more dangerous. You fly in between trucks on the freeway, praying that you don’t clip your knees on a car mirror or fall over the edge of the highway barrier. You hold onto the back of the seat and try to stifle little cries of fear. You try closing your eyes but that only makes it worse, so you keep them open as the wind plasters your face and try to watch the traffic ahead.

Then you get there; you finally get to the bus stop just 7 minutes before the last bus leaves. You want to hug the taxi driver—who’s pretty cute, by the way. But instead you just give him a tip and run into the station. You run up and up and up and around, you find the counter. “Surrat Thani please!” But of course they are all sold out. They are all sold out for the next day too. You should have known this. It’s New Year’s after all.

But then a shady looking guy pulls you aside and a pregnant woman writes you a ticket for Phuket. You’ll be going in a mini-van—a very crowded mini-van. It’s a ten hour drive. Your jammed up around a wall of luggage. Its worse than the worst airplane flight you could think of. Then the woman in front of you leans her seat back—all the way back. And so the night ride begins.

The ride itself is uneventful. The air conditioning is too damn cold, but you expected that. You take out a towel and spread it over yourself. And you try to sleep in the cold darkness.

At three in the morning you stop at a 7-11 and get out to use the squat toilets, and you’re bleeding. Fuck. You forgot about your period and now it’s here—two months late but right on time to come at the worse time. You buy some pads at the 7-11 and accept the fact that you’re going to have wet, dirty underwear the rest of the trip there.

At four am your van stops at the same place as a bunch of other buses, and for the first time two months you see scores of falang kids pouring out of the buses, buying mangoes and fried chicken. You feel a rising excitement. I’m getting there. I’m getting there. Soon I’ll be on beaches surrounded with people—people I can talk with, smoke with, drink with, have sex with. You feel the isolation lifting. You’re so excited that you want to say something to them but you feel shy and awkward like you’ve forgotten how to start a conversation. Then you all get back into the van.

You’re smart enough to not let your phone die in night. You might need it for something. You keep it turned off to save the battery. Every few hours you turn it back on and check where you are on the map. The progress is slow.

When dawn comes you haven’t slept more than a couple hours all night. You open up the map on your phone and see that you’ve finally made it. You’re at the border of the province of Surat. All they need to do now is turn due east and you’ll be in Surat Thani. But there’s a problem—there’s always a problem.

This driver isn’t going to Surat—he’s going to Phuket, and suddenly half the Thai people in the van are pissed because they bought tickets for Krabi, not for Phuket, but you’re the only one headed for Suratthani.

This is when experience kicks in. You could get really pissed off, feel powerless over the situation, ride the extra three hours to Phuket, then turn around and take another minivan back to Surat, or you could find a solution. There’s two bilingual Thai people in the van with you. You’re stopped at a gas station and there’s two double decker buses also filling up, buses full of white people. You walk over and ask where the bus is heading, and English man in brown sandals and white socks says Suratthani—they’re all headed to Koh Samui and Koh Pha Nagn. Jackpot.

The driver doesn’t speak English so you run over and ask one of your fellow passengers to help translate for you. Through him, you ask the driver if there is any room on his bus. There aren’t any passenger seats left, but there is the seat next to the driver. He says you can sit there and ride with them.

And you’re off again.

The sun is coming up and you can see the landscape now—banana trees and straight, straight roads. There’s a rising feeling of triumph. It’s several more hours still until you reach Surat, until you get on that boat bound for the island. But you know now that you are going to make it, that everything is going to work out. At the dock, the bus driver refuses the cash you offer him. That’s the way Thailand is –for ever tout who screws you there’s someone who goes out of their way to help you for no reason.

By the time you make it onto the boat the sun is full up and beating down on you, lighting up that water to the most miraculous shade of blue you’ve ever seen. It’s the color that would have been your favorite as a kid if you had known that it existed. The boat is crowded with tan falang kids in sunglasses and tank tops—everywhere you see legs and flip flops and tanned toes. You sit on the side of the boat, take off your shoes, and swing your legs over the railing. For two hours you watch the water churn up in big waves of white foam and little lumps of land come into view and disappear. And then you see it, the island you set off to find 20 hours ago is growing larger and larger in front of you.

They usher everyone off the boat straight into minivans bound for different beaches. You’re going to the north, to Mae Nam. You’re the only one who get’s dropped off and your guest house and for a moment you panic because all you see when the van drives off are ruins of orange walls. Then you walk through the rubbish and see a line of neat little wooden huts with concrete paths and tiny gardens full of sand and skinny trees and pots of aloe vera plants. And to your right is the ocean—the empty, quiet, ocean.

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How Rob and I Met – 2. Simahaphot is a Misery And they Stole my Kitten

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The day had that kind of heat that I didn’t imagine existed before I came to Thailand, and this was only October. That was the day when I found her, sleeping beneath a folding table where the old woman sold lottery tickets on the sidewalk by the market. She was skinny and colored white with tan brown spots. She had big pointy ears, long skinny legs, and big eyes. I saw her and squealed. She looked straight up at me with her big kitten eyes and meowed. I picked her up and she begin to purr. I was in love.

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Look how stoked they are about my kitten!

The old woman selling lottery tickets and the woman who made fresh waffles with bits of corn both laughed at my romance. My dad saw the expression on my face and knew that it was over. He used an electronic translator to try and find the words to ask if the kitten had an owner. They shook their hands and motioned for us to take the kitten away. They laughed when he bowed our thanks. Dad drove the motorcycle home and I clutched my kitten with one hand on her back and one hand on the seat handle. I bathed her in the bathroom sink and dried her with my own towel. She fell asleep on my lap, purring.

Every moment after this only confirmed that this kitten was the coolest kitten that the world ever made.

The precious is sleepy

The precious is sleepy

She ate whole fish from head to tail until her belly looked like a golf ball with legs. In the mornings she would climb up on Dad’s shoulder and sit there while we drank our coffee. When she showed a proclivity for climbing the curtains we quickly bought her a piece of string and tied a heavy tassel at the end. She would hide behind the arm of the sofa, watching, and then pounce.

When I came home from work she would be waiting for me on the front porch, meowing. Except, of course, for the one time she climbed the neighbor’s roof and then was too frightened to come down. I had to climb the tree in in his driveway and tug her while she clung to the roof slats with her tiny claws.

At first I would put her outside at night to avoid the possibility of her peeing on something. But after Dad went back to America I started letting her sleep in my bed. Every night we fell asleep together.

I would stretch my arm out and she would stretch her head or paw over my arm. In the morning she would meow and nibble at my face until I got up and dished out another fish.

It stopped bothering me that I had no friends in this town. I had a cat that was a hundred times better company than any of those douchey Brits.

Then more bad stuff happened.

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The very best kitten

Sam was my English speaking liaison for the school. Sam wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t really any kind of official liaison. He just happened to speak English better than most of the Thais, and he was a friend of the head monk who was my reference for working there. Sam had good intentions, but was a terrible listener.

One day Sam told me that I had to move from the house where I was currently staying to a different one. This was only four weeks since the terrors of the first grade, and two weeks since a visa debacle that I’m not even going to get into.

“Can I bring my kitten?” I asked.

“I dunno, you know, I have to ask the owners. You know cause it’s their decision, you know.”

“Okay, well just let me know.”

I didn’t hear anything more about it until the night when Sam and his friend, whom I’ll call The Driver, came to pick me up and help move my things to the new house. Once the last bag was packed Sam said, “So you know you can’t bring the cat, right.”

“No, I didn’t know that. No one told me that.”

“Yeah, well you can’t bring the cat.”

I remember distinctly standing in the living room with the last bag in my hand, struck. I suck at dealing with conflicts. But this was one thing I did not want to duck out on. I said the next words slowly.

“Well if that’s the case than I don’t want to go.”

“Lauren, it’s not my decision you know. It’s the owner. The owner he allergic.”

“Why does it make a difference if the owner is allergic? The owner isn’t going to be in the apartment, and I can keep the cat outside of the house and feed her outside. She can be an outdoor cat.”

“I dunno but he says no cat so you can’t bring the cat.”

“Sam, do I have to leave this house?”

He paused. Something I would quickly learn about Thai culture is that if a person doesn’t know the answer, most of the time they won’t tell you that they don’t know; they’ll just make a guess and stick to it.

“Yeah.”

“Do I have to leave here tonight?”

“Yeah, you got to leave here tonight.”

“Well what about my cat? I can’t just leave her here!”

“You can bring her to the temple and can feed her there. We have many cat at the temple.”

For a second this seemed like a perfectly reasonable answer. I brightened up and agreed to carry out the last of my things. In my head I was already formulating a plan. If I couldn’t keep her at the new apartment, then I was making enough money that I could afford to rent my own place where I could bring my kitten and live as I damn well pleased. Until then I could keep coming to the temple every day to check up on her and bring her treats.

They wanted to throw my kitten in the back with the luggage. Appalled, I insisted that Sam hold her in his lap in the passenger’s seat. I handed the kitten over to him, then got on my motorcycle and followed the truck to the new house.

That was the last time I ever saw her.

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Once all my bags were inside and went out to accompany my kitten to the temple. But when I came outside Sam was the only thing there. The Driver, the car, and my kitten were gone.

“Sam, where is my cat!?”

“I dunno. I call my friend and find out.”

“I have to see her! I wanted to hold her! I wanted to say goodby to her! Tell him to bring her back!”

“Yeah, okay, okay, okay.”

I watched him picked up his phone and then sat down outside the apartment and started sobbing furiously.

Now in America, when a girl sits down and cries, you ask her what’s wrong, you show concern, you try to fix the problem. The Thai approach to problems it usually try to make you feel better by making light of the situation. So when Sam explained the problem to the other people around, he laughed, then ignored me.

After half an hour of this I was starting to get really pissed. I realized that no one was going to get back to me about where the fuck my cat was. I stood up and found Sam, who was chatting away with some neighbors.

I asked him where the fuck my cat was.

“Oh,” he said, “my friend left him by the school.”

“He what?”

“Yeah, he put him outside by the school.”

“He didn’t even feed her!”

“Oh, you know, he can run around and find food.”

“So he just opened the door and threw my kitten out into the street!?”

I was fucking livid.

I went into the house, grabbed a can of tuna, then got on my motorbike and drove off in the direction of the school. When I got to the empty campus I popped open the tuna can and started walking around, crying out “meow.”

A scrawny black and orange cat smelled the tuna and followed me with a high pitched yowl. I walked around in the dark for the next two hours, calling out with less and less hope as the night went on. At midnight I sat down on the pavement of the basketball court with my head in my hands, and let the black and orange cat eat the rest of the tuna.

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The story of how Rob and I met – 1. Simahaphot is a misery

The first sunrise in Bangkok

The first sunrise in Bangkok

To really appreciate the story of how Rob and I met you should probably understand just how miserable those first two months had been before I crammed into that minivan bound for Phuket. And it’s going to take a couple of posts just to convey that misery.

I had arrived in Bangkok in late October, just days before the Giant’s won the World Series. I spent two nights in Bangkok, waking up early to watch the games on the hotel tv. And on the third day I was picked up and driven off to Simahaphot–a flat, empty town of rice patties, a hellish sun, and no shade.

The beauty of Simahaphot

The beauty of Simahaphot

I had an adventurous optimism to fuel me at first. That was what got me through the heat and the weird toilets, the food that I couldn’t eat and the feeling of being simultaneous hungry and nauseous all the time. When all my friends raved about what great food I must be eating, you have to know that rural central Thailand is nothing like the manufactured backpacker paradise of Southern Thailand, where you can eat beef curry and and drink a beer while watching the sun set over the ocean. For breakfast, there was soup—hot broth to start out a day where you’re already sweating at 7am, or sweet fried pork with rice that tasted like chewy meat candy. There was no curry anywhere to be had, except for a spicy green soup that was filled with cold noodles, balls of liver, big chunks of something that resembled eggplant.

And then there was the company. There were three other British boys there around my age that were starting out their first semester teaching. They had all been placed there by the same agency, whereas I had arrived through my connections with the school’s head monk. Of course, I assumed we were all going to be great friends. But that whole notion was smashed to pieces the first week into the semester.

At first they wanted to put me with the first graders. I assumed because I had taught pre-school before. What they didn’t tell me is that they had tried to put six other foreign teachers into their first grade English classes. Six in just the last semester alone.

Drawing on everything I knew I tried to make a lesson appropriate for a group of thirty six year olds. They all seemed well behaved enough, sitting at their desks, reading out loud as a group, practicing meditation for a few minutes after lunch. Then it was my turn.

The Thai teacher in charge asked if I would be okay on my own; she had an English lesson for the teachers to attend. I assured her that I would. She shut the door and all those eyes widened at me as I stepped up to the front of the class with my books and my papers. I don’t remember what I was trying to teach. I just remember one little doe-eyed girl with her hands clasped asking if she could go to the toilet. Then there were five of them surrounding me, tugging at my skirt. And then—chaos.

How to describe the chaos of thirty six year olds going crazy. Imagine that scene from South Park’s “Critter Christmas” when all the adorable woodland animals decide to celebrate the coming of the antichrist with a blood orgy. There were children at the window, children running out the door, children hitting each other, but the worst were the quiet kids with expectant eyes who were just waiting for me to teach them something.

“Everybody stop!”

They did nothing.

“I have a song!”

Still nothing.

“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”

Slowly they turned to me, fixated on the dancing falang girl.

“Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”

They were standing still now, looking at me. I motioned for them to do it with me. Half the class put their hands on their heads and they other half got it by the time we got to toes. I sang the song a dozen times—in a regular voice, in a loud voice, in a monster voice, then going faster and faster and faster until they were all shrieking with laughter and couldn’t keep up, then finally in a whisper voice until the whole room was silent.

“Okay, now we are going to—”

“Bwaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!”

And the chaos resumed.

They only look adorable

They only look adorable

Remarkably, I made it through three days of this, teaching English, Math, and Health. Then on thursday I was supposed to teach English and Social Studies.

The English text book read like this: “Vase, Bowl, Spoon, Plate. What is that? This is a spoon.”

Then I opened the Social Studies book and saw this: “Democracy means the participation of every member of society in the governing of that society. Write a paragraph on what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. List examples from your own life.”

I closed the book, went into my room, laid down on my bed, and cried.

Lord Buddha help me not to strangle these children.

Lord Buddha help me not to strangle these children.

When the head monk came to me the next day and told me that I wouldn’t be teaching the first grade anymore, I did an internal victory dance and assumed that a Thai teacher would be taking over my old schedule. But instead what happened is that someone thought it would be a smart idea to just switch my schedule with one of the British boys who was teaching the eighth grade. Because if the curriculum didn’t make sense to me or the six people who came before me, it certainly was going to make sense to the eighth person that they threw at this class.

Of course, no one informed me of this plan until I had a seriously pissed off Brit confronting me in my office. I won’t go into details about the ensuing conversation, but let’s suffice to say that he was a huge fucking douchebag about the whole misunderstanding, and it was pretty clear that neither he, nor his two boyfriends, were ever going to be friends of mine.

After a lovely exchange of expletive filled accusations with the Brit, I found the head monk and begged him not to switch our classes and to put someone who could speak Thai to those adorable little demon monsters in charge of that class. Then I relayed this information to the slightly less douchey douchebags of the trio. But the damage was already done. The only English speaking people in the entire province all hated me.

Coming next: They stole my kitten.