Over the years my mom and I talked about returning to Thailand. She had gone back many times: for her mother’s funeral (due to poor medical treatment), for the death of her youngest brother to AIDS (due to a cheating wife) and for the necessary pilgrimages that most immigrants feel once they’ve landed on US soil.
It was not an easy thing to coordinate, although it seems simple enough. More often than not money was the problem and it became a frustrating hurdle. I longed to return, to see Thailand again, to see how it changed and to see how I had changed.
For some people there might never be this desire to visit the country where your dad died, where you don’t speak the language, where the culture is so very different but for me it seemed I was holding my breath ever since I left. I felt submerged in the world of waiting.
But then the moment arrived.
“I’m going to Thailand,” my mom announced over the phone.
“Um, March.” In 2007.
It had been 18 years since I last saw Thailand. There was no way I could wait any longer. My mom explained that she was having a new home built and she also said there would be a temple opening in Lamphun. It felt like the right time. It was the right time.
“I’m going with you.”
At my job I didn’t ask for the time off I told them I would be leaving for three weeks. I was ready to quit if need be. But it didn’t come to that. Once I made the decision everything fell into place.
Although I was concerned about Brad, he was untested and I wasn’t sure if he would sink or rise to the occasion. He was born and raised as a Baptist in the rural South. His overseas experience was relegated to living on Base in Okinawa. And the closest experience he had in a developing country was visiting Baja California one day while dropping off donations to an orphanage for the blind.
During our second date which involved coffee at a café I learned of Brad’s unshakable belief in Creationism.
“You do realize,” I said, “you’re talking to a former archaeologist.”
“Yes,” he sounded unsure. I briefly wondered if he knew what archaeology was but chose to ignore this.
“How can you believe only in Creationism? There’s scientific proof! A whole discipline called Geology is based upon this. You can see the layers of sediment. Hello, carbon dating!”
“I don’t believe in all that crap. You don’t believe that God created everything?”
I continued to stare. The men I had dated either disregarded God all together, strict Evolutionist or even worse completely wishy-washy on the matter so this was new territory. “I believe in God, I believe he created everything. How could anybody not believe in a higher power but I also believe in Evolution.”
“You can’t, they don’t go together.”
“Sure they do. God just got the ball rolling; He got things started.”
“That totally disregards everything in the Bible.”
“No it doesn’t. The Bible was written by man which means it is inherently flawed. It’s not even complete. They’ve found other books of the Bible. Anyway I believe there needs to be a marriage between God and Science and until there is one, we’ll keep debating this subject and never find the answers we’re looking for.”
“Well I’m glad to hear you don’t believe in the Big Bang theory.” He eyed me suspiciously, “Do you?”
“Oh, heck no. I remember the first time I learned about it was in astronomy class, I thought this is it? This is the best we could come up with?”
We laughed but I now knew that the immediate issue was addressing Brad’s feelings on homosexuality before we went abroad.
“I’ve told you about my cross-dressing uncle. You will behave. Heck, I’ve got cross-dressing uncles on both sides of my family. Not a peep Brad. He’s a person just like you and me.”
“I know, I know. It’ll be weird that’s all.”
I stared at my boyfriend of three and a half years trying figure out how he would react. We had had many discussions regarding this topic. There were times when I was flat out discouraged by his narrow view but something told me to hold on. Some of my friends were flabbergasted by my ability to tolerate Brad’s negative feelings but I believed in him. This wasn’t a woman’s stubbornness to change a man; it was simply a woman’s ability to see what was good in a man.
“And remember,” I said to myself mostly, “this is not a vacation. This is an educational excursion.”
As the bus left the safe haven of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, I looked out the window hoping to see a familiar sight. But there was nothing, 18 years was simply too much time in the life of a city like Bangkok. It grew in leaps and bounds like Superman conquering new heights and tickling all the 12 senses: smell, taste, sight, warmth, sound, speech, thought, ego, touch, life, movement and balance.
As we carefully stepped off the bus, we came in contact with Bangkok. The air was polluted with the noisy, smelly traffic, the people stared; it was hot and the dirty sois (streets) contrasted the massive supermall, high rise buildings and pedestrian bridges looming around us.
I was afraid to touch anything and felt very vulnerable, but the smell was familiar, after all these years, I remembered the smell of Bangkok.
“Which direction? Which way do we go?”
“I don’t know. What street are we on?” Brad started to look through the guide book. There was no point in trying to blend in, we didn’t.
I looked around. “I can’t find one.”
Brad peered at the tiny map in the book and looked around, repeating this step several times. “I think we need to go that way.”
We had previously picked out a soi in the Siam Square district that had many guest houses or motels in close proximity to the light rail system and shopping centers.
I was glad that we had packed light, each of us carrying school-sized backpacks much to the surprise of airport personnel and friends, but already the bag felt heavy. It had been an exhausting “day” involving a flight delay in Seattle, complete with confusing stopovers in Hong Kong and Taipei and finally our arrival at the new and spacious Suvarnabhumi Airport. The sun was setting. I was hungry and nervous about finding a hotel room. Against my planning nature, I allowed Brad to talk me out of booking reservations. I cursed my mom for not teaching me Thai but took refuge in knowing that my mom would be arriving tomorrow.
As we turned down the street which looked more like an alley way I immediately felt a sense of déjà vu. Then I dismissed it because surely a lot of streets in the city must look alike, especially when you have no idea where you are going. There was no way that we were on the same street that my family had stayed at the last time I was here. I looked at the guest houses and stared at the one that felt most familiar. Then I turned away.
“Which one do you want to check out?” Brad asked. The street had guest house after guest house. These were small establishments located on the same street where ice was cut and Nissan cars grew.
“I don’t care. You make a decision,” I took off my backpack and stared at him.
“I want your input.”
“But I don’t care. I’m too tired to care.”
We walked up and down the street trying a few places but every place was booked.
“I knew we should have made reservations!”
We walked all the way down the long street but there was nothing. I started to panic and think about where else we could go. We had deliberately chosen this street because there were so many choices.
“What should we do?”
“There’s a hotel at the end of the street,” Brad pointed to the tiny sign in the distance.
“I’m so tired. You go and see if they have any rooms. I’ll wait here.”
Brad walked back, “They have rooms.”
“How'd they look?”
“I didn’t ask. It looks like a nice hotel.” Then he added, “It’s 1000 baht.”
“A 1000 baht?”
We stared at one another. I knew what Brad was thinking, too much, no way, are they trying to rob us? He was an instinctive miser and before our trip was over he would have a chance to flex his bargaining muscles. But now was not the time.
“Just for tonight,” I pleaded. “Let’s go. It’s getting dark and I really don’t want to hop in a cab and find another place to stay.”
After we checked into a room, we walked to the nearby mall in search of dinner. I automatically knew that I had been here before. The feeling was so strong that I sought out the information desk to find out what mall we were in.
“Mahboonkrong,” The woman replied.
I smacked the counter and looked back at Brad, “I knew it.”
“I can’t believe out of all of the places we could have ended up in Bangkok we ended up in the exact same place I stayed at when I was 16. We came to this mall everyday when we were in Bangkok. That street must have been the same place where we had stayed as well. Unbelievable.”
As we walked around the busy and crowded mall, I sensed God’s unseen hands guiding and protecting us, keeping us safe. It was so overwhelming to be in foreign country and to know that I was standing in the same spot I was eighteen years ago by accident was amazing. But I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in miracles. I relaxed. Our adventure had begun.