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

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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Rob tells the story about how we met

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Some important building I should remember but I don’t

Rob and I got off the bus in Kuala Lumpur sometime in the pitch dark of early morning. We pushed past the cabbies, chose a direction, and walked until we found a KFC. It was cold inside and full of sleepy people. They were serving breakfast and everyone behind the counter spoke English. I took out the converter app on my iphone and figured out the new prices. It was one ringgit to every ten baht, so all we had to do was add a zero at the end of the price in our heads. Breakfast only cost us 30 baht.

“How long have you been in Malaysia?” asked the manager behind the counter.

“About twenty minutes,” said Rob.

The manager flashed a big white smile under a black bush of a mustache. “Well then welcome to Malaysia sir.”

Photo by Elliot Brown http://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/

Photo by Elliot Brown

After a meal of chicken and hash browns, Rob went of to look for some wi-fi so he could map out where our hostel was and I stayed with the luggage. Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” came on the radio and I wanted to jump up and point it out to someone, but there was no one to tell. The last time I had heard this song was a month before I left America, when my co-worker dropped the link to the video in our chat window. By the end of the week Macklemore was pasted all over Facebook. And now here he was, filling my ears in a freezing cold KFC on the other side of the world.

I decided I liked Malaysia.

To avoid paying for an extra night we waited until 7am to ring up our hostel. It was tucked into a tiny alleyway and up three flights of stairs. The proprietor was a quiet, meticulous man who gave us detailed information on tours, bus routes, and historical sites while we waited for our room to be made up. I was too tired to hear any of it.

When he opened the door to our room we both dove into the wide springy mattress. The pillows were big and fluffy, the mattress was soft, and the yellow curtain over the window gave the room a warm glow. We let the manager close the door.

“I think I want to get another pillow,” I told Rob.

“You and your pillows. What do you need another pillow for?”

“For hugging.”

Rob let out a dramatic sigh. “Well I don’t know if he’ll give one to you.”

“You can rent an extra one for 2 ringgit.”

“Oh can you?”

“I saw it written up in the lobby.”

“Well then I guess you can get one yourself then, can’t you.”

“Yep.”

I stayed in bed while he went down to rent clean towels. When I opened my eyes again he was holding a pillow up over my head. I must have squealed when I took it, and fell right back to sleep, clinging to it like a teddy bear.

When I woke up Rob was wrapped in a yellow towel, slicking his red hair back in the mirror.

“Get up, you,” he said. “Rossi’s going to be here to pick us up at two.”

I sat up and lurched towards a fresh green towel that Rob had hung up for me on the clothes rack.

“Oh, and don’t mention that story I told you about him and Asha in front of her. You might get him in again.”

KL bird's eye view

View from the KL tower

Asha and Rossi were waiting for us in a silver BMW outside the hostel. Ahsa was beautiful, with big full lips, almond eyes and black bouncing hair. Rossi had a soft round chin with wire frame glasses and slicked back hair.

I remember feeling small and nervous when we went out to lunch with them that first day. These were people who had some real connection to Rob’s life outside of Thailand. And I was just a girl he met while passing through Asia. But if they ever noticed my awkwardness they didn’t let on. Asha took to me like we were already best friends and I began to like her right away. She had a way of showing interest in your life as though every story you told fascinated her. And she treated me like I was Rob’s girlfriend even though I really wasn’t.

“You’ve gotten so big,” said Asha of Rob. She leaned over to me. “When we saw him last he was so skinny.”

“Really?” Rob had the shoulders and arms of a bear. It was hard to imagine him skinny.

“Yes, and clean-shaven.”

“Yeah man,” said Rossi. “What’s with the beard.”

“I grew it for her.”

“Really?” said Asha.

“I like beards,” I replied, blushing.

“It looks good mate,” said Rossi.

“So how did you two meet?” asked Asha.

Rob and I met eyes and started laughing. Asha and Rossi exchanged confused looks.

“You tell it,” I said.

Rob leaned back in his seat. “Actually she hooked up with the mate I was traveling with.”

“Who’s that?” asked Rossi.

“You know Argie’s little brother?”

“The gay one?”

“No, the other one.”

Rossi took a second and then started laughing. “You mean Pablo?”

“That’s the one.”

“Small world, eh?”

“It sure is.”

Photo by Bastian Stein http://www.flickr.com/photos/farbfilm/

Photo by Bastian Stein

“How did that happen?” asked Asha.

“So, Pablo and I had flown into Phuket from Phenom Pen just before New Year’s and someone tells us, look you have to go to Koh Pha Nagn if you’re going to be here for New Years. So Pablo books us this room in Koh Samui. Great place, right on the water. We get there and they tell us we don’t have reservations.”

“Oh no.”

“We got in around like ten o’clock. There’s no managers around, so we say, yes we do; give us a room. They say they only have one room available. We’re like, that’s fine, just let us have the one room. We get in there and this is like the honeymoon sweet.”

“It was really nice,” I add.

“Unbelievable. Great view of the water.”

“The bathroom was bigger than my whole bungalow.”

Photo by Flickr user "hussar" http://www.flickr.com/photos/husar/

Photo via Flickr user hussar

“Little private balcony.”

“They had complementary umbrellas in the wardrobe.”

“Well you at least got to enjoy the honeymoon sweet to its full extent.”

“Yes, I did.”

“So then what happened?” prompted Asha.

“So we get in around ten o’clock, throw our stuff in the room, and go out to some dance club. Anyway, Pablo picks her up.”

“I didn’t even notice Rob, didn’t even see him.”

Asha and Rossi laughed.

“So Pablo picks her up, takes her back to our place. And I come home around, I don’t even know when, I was hammered. I go for a little dip in the pool. But then I go to open the door and the key they gave me opens to a totally empty room. Now imagine it. I’m fucking destroyed. It’s three in the morning. I open the door and all our stuff is gone, Pablo’s gone, the place is cleaned out. I start freaking out like what the fuck is going on here. I think I’ve just been robbed and Pablo’s been kidnapped somewhere.”

“Oh shit mate,” said Rossi.

“Then, I knock on the door of the next room and there’s Pablo.”

“So you had the wrong room.”

“No, I had the right room, but they actually had given us two rooms, not one.”

“And this was when we first met,” I add.

“Right, so I go bursting in there, going on about how I had just walked into an empty room. She’s there. We meet. I get my things and go crash out in the other room.”

Rossi chuckled. “That’s quite an experience.”

“Oh, it’s not over yet.”

“Oh?”

“So the next morning we get up and get a call from the front desk saying you gotta come down here, there’s a problem with your reservation, and so on. We get there and it turns out, Pablo booked the rooms for the wrong month. That’s why they didn’t have us on file the night before.”

“And why your rooms were so damn cheap,” I put in.

“They tell us, you want to stay another night, it’s six thousand baht each.”

“Holy shit,” said Rossi.

“Yeah, so we’re like, nope we’re outta here. Here’s nineteen hundred baht for last night and we’re gone.”

“And they let you do that?” asked Asha.

“What were they gonna do? So we’re hanging out with her that morning, looking for a new place. Everything is booked and she says, why don’t you come back to where I’m staying. They have empty bungalows there. We get there. It’s nice and quiet and right on the beach and only five hundred baht for a room with a fan. All you really need right. And we ended up spending the rest of that week together.”

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Our bungalows in Mae Nam

“And you just decided to move in together?”

“Well, what happened is that Pablo was going to do his course in Chang Mai and then go back home. I had been wanting to do my Celta course up there as well, but being who I am, I waited until the last minute to get my application in and the course was full. So she says, ‘Hey, I can get you a teaching job out at the village where I live if you want.’ I came out there and the rest was history.”

Of course, I like my version of the story better.