Yes to everything: Thailand Part one, (very rough chapter for book)
The flight to Bangkok (from Chennai) was at 10pm. Unlike the UK, it goes from ‘Security,’ to ‘Boarding,’ with no ‘Go to gate.’ I got in a panic at the last minute, thinking we were late, but there was a big queue at the gate for Bangkok. We met a group of young Indian men who were going there for a long weekend, like people from the UK would to Paris.
One of the young Indian men sat next to me on the plane, it was his first flight, he was next to the window, me in the middle and my husband at the aisle. He took a selfie with us.
From the window I watched the lights of Chennai, so pretty. I only realised how higgledy piggledy Chennai was when we saw the lights of Bangkok, laid in straight lines and orderly patterns.
It was the most cramped flight we’d been on, ever. My husband couldn’t sit with his legs straight, there wasn’t enough room for his knees.
There was a bit of turbulence during the flight and on landing there was a short runway and some G force on landing. ‘Very exciting for you,’ I said to the man. He said, ‘Yes and very nice to meet people like you two.’
Thinking about being more mindful in the moment. On the plane I pushed past a man to get out of his way and let him on, actually that was more rude, as he wasn’t ready, he was still putting up his bags. I should have just waited, and moved when he was ready.
The chain on my Om pendant is a bit small, I knew it was but didn’t say anything at the time. This can be rectified.
I got up to go to the loo, and sat straight down, even though my legs were still fidgetty. ‘Do you want to get out again?’ My husband asked. ‘Thank you,’ I said and got up and walked the length of the plane, feeling the slight turbulence through the thick springy soles of my flip flops, walking steadily, balancing between the rows. Rectified.
Next time, pause. Pause before taking action. Any action? Is this possible? Pause before every action. Be aware during every action. Would time expand to allow this? Would the pauses increase in length as we used them, or to allow us to use them, or in response to us using them? Like a more positive version of how everything slows down in a car accident? Try it, Rachel. Try it, and report back. Our actions are important.
Being in polite countries, Thailand, Japan, should be good for that; using a soft no, not criticising, always smiling, not raising one’s voice.
We arrived at 3am. We got confused and thought we had to fill out forms to get a visa, this was so hard on no sleep; we had to change cash, change more cash; we panicked about not having enough as there were no ATMs in that bit and you couldn’t pay on a card. We got passport photos done, the passport photos were actually good, for passport photos and for no sleep; the first thing that struck me was my green eyes and steady gaze.
In the queue I went out to the loo and ended up, stupidly, waiting for ages; a loo had become free but a Thai woman had been in and recoiled. I checked, it was a bit blocked, but really, ‘I’m from India,’ I wanted to say, ‘That doesn’t bother me,’ but I went along with everyone and waited; luckily I didn’t miss our turn in the queue. We queued for ages before finding out we didn’t need the visa forms after all.
I kept thinking we were in Japan; I was a country ahead. At check in I’d had to show them my onward flight to Tokyo, in a panic as my battery was low and I wasn’t on the internet, having forgotten to download it, forgetting in my panic I could have accessed my emails easily on my husband’s phone. (For Tokyo I downloaded everything, screenshotted it all so I could just get to it with a couple of clicks and slide to all, flight details, onward flights, bank balance as proof of funds, AND had everything printed out.)
We needed to pass the time before the earliest we could arrive at the guesthouse, which was seven am. We sat at a little cafe and had green tea, chocolate brownie and bananas, then we got a taxi to the guesthouse.
The roads were quiet, no beeping. There were more cars and less bikes, and a lot more people on the bikes were wearing helmets. There were amazing buildings, like the best new buildings in London, skyscrapers and even a Gherkin. Big brand names on the skyscrapers, Samsung.
Police stopped a driver who had stopped on a zebra crossing, unthinkable in India! Big wide roads, toll roads. In India on the way to the airport there was a toll road, the toll booth man wasn’t looking so our driver just drove off! I don’t think that would be done in Thailand.
Washing hung up on balconies but on hangars, so it took up less space rather than spread out how we do in the UK. Washing obviously dries easier in Thailand. There was no rubbish. Later, I saw some rubbish bags, put outside shops to be collected, it was still very early. Everything looked so clean, seemed so ordered, and so quiet. Clearly money was spent on infrastructure.
It wasn’t as much of an assault on the senses as India, things matched, buildings were coordinated, there wasn’t as much colour.
I could see why people who have been to India could feel superior/could be annoying- but I’m not any better than anyone else, anyone* can buy a plane ticket and go- and have the experience, but it is a different experience to for example, Thailand.
*health and plane fare permitting
Our guesthouse was in the old town, quiet. There were washing machines on the street, that you could put coins in and use! I met a man with tattoos, my uncovered tattoos an icebreaker, and it felt safer talking to strange men in Thailand. I felt hyper and friendly to all. There was a little cafe as part of another hostel that was open. She was very friendly and served us jam and toast and coffee. It was sort of self service, with a kettle and toasters on a shelf, although she brought us pretty little china plates and packets of jam.
We sat on a narrow long bench like table facing the front window. I greeted a man outside on the street with a lighter, and asked him for a light in sign language/English, and had a cigarette. I felt tired and spaced out. I needed the loo and to lie down. We clock watched, waiting for seven am.
At seven am we rang the bell, we actually rang a medium sized bell hanging to the side of the door, as instructed by a sign on the gate, ‘Ring bell, then wait.’ Another sign said, ‘No Thais please.’ (I don’t know why.) After a few minutes a Thai woman came out, in night clothes crumpled from sleep.
The guesthouse had dark brown wooden floors, full wooden bookcases like an old study and rich dark wooden staircases. Our room had pale wooden floorboards, a metal four poster bed but without the curtains. Mosquito mesh windows looked out onto the garden thick with plants, a wooden fence and beyond the quiet street.
We got into bed and slept. A bed, any bed, feels so good under those circumstances. A loo, a place of your own to rest and shower. It didn’t matter too much that it was a rather thin and uncomfortable mattress, and didn’t matter at all that it was a shared bathroom.
It rained, we listened to it while we were cosy in bed.
When we woke up we went to an easy Westerner cafe, full of tourists, with a pool table. It was expensive but so nice. Soft flat big noodles sexy in the mouth. Hummus and tahini drizzled in olive oil. Puffed up pitta bread. Pretty coloured pickles. The hummus was creamy and delicious. The pink pickle and olive oil made beautiful swirls on the plate like a work of art.
There were big screens showing people doing amazing stunts, at the edge of buildings on skateboards, parkour, rock climbing, gymnasts, extreme yoga, and foot stamping Zumba music. I could have watched that all day. Are those people magic pixies put there for entertainment, or perhaps they are a metaphor re what a person can do?
We went to a department store and bought an adaptor, always one of the first priorities after arriving somewhere new. The streets seemed so quiet, we wondered, was Monday a holiday? (It seemed to be the quiet day in Thailand)
I went out by myself. There were layers and many wires at junctions, birds nests of wires like in India.
Crossing the road, although much easier than Chennai, zebra crossings work, not same as UK but much better than India, I was still a little hesitant, I thought, can I cross with you, will you help, a woman appeared and I crossed with her.
The wonders of the 7/11!!! Everything, vests and t-shirts in black or white packaged like baby gros. I bought razors and talc. Everything wrapped in plastic, even shampoo and lighters.
I went out in a black cotton dress, sleeveless, just above the knee, my hair long and loose, bare shouldered, no stares, free, light, bare legged, feeling the breeze.
I’d gotten so used to covering up in India that it just seemed normal. Feeling the sun on my bare shoulders and the air on my legs was light and lovely.
People’s Instagram pictures of themselves in very short dresses with low cut tops, seeing thighs and cleavage had started to look weird.
There was a little shop nearby, I bought any drink out of the fridge, it turned out to be a Red Bull which I didn’t realise until later.
In the little courtyard garden of the guesthouse, a huge aloe vera plant on roof terrace hanging down, in Pondicherry we’d seen aloe vera plants in pots on doorsteps, what looked like bamboo, little pots with plants hanging down from the terrace roof, wooden framed with plants growing through and around, metal table and chairs. A bird, a lizard, a squirrel smaller than UK ones with big fluffy tail and a white belly like a stoat or a weasel.
I sat at the metal outdoor table with my water, notebook, Red Bull, cigarettes, writing, writing, writing. This is what I do now. This is me 24/7. There’s no distinction between work me and me me, I work just as hard, hard enough to deserve success, after all, I do this all the time, noticing, observing, noting, then typing up most days for a couple of hours. Not Red Bull, ahhh!!!! But when in Rome…
‘I love it here,’ I said to my husband. ‘What’s not to love?’ He said.
We went to a Thai place for dinner and ate peanuts, tofu, broccoli. I had a beer and afterwards we went for a walk, just like we were on holiday.
I would recommend anyone travelling to India for a year to take a few weeks out and go to Thailand for the food and vitamins especially if you are vegan.
It was like visiting the R&R planet on Startrek, my husband’s reference, I am more familiar with the relaxation spaceship of Battlestar Gallactica.
Walking around in the evening we saw a rubbish truck and workers in hi vis with gloves, sacks, and raffia baskets sorting through the waste and recycling. At our guesthouse they had big green bins like in UK, I’d asked which bin for which, the man at he guesthouse said to put all in one, presumably the rubbish collection staff sort it, not householders.
We walked down the Khosan road, once the hippie backpacker area, now barely a hippie in sight. Bars opposite each other played very loud competing music, the whole place was crazy busy.
Most exciting for me, I saw a Boots! I didn’t really need anything, I just wandered around looking and enjoying the air con.
We sat at a small table on the street outside a bar and had an orange juice. People watching. In an environment like that it’s so easy to remember to be in the world but not of the world; no interest in it, no competing, no envy. But it was kind of nice to know that all that is there to drop into, the Boots, the hair and nail salon next door to the bar, if I wish.
A nice looking black and white cat came over, it went over to my husband’s side under the table. ‘Stroke it for me,’ I said. He whipped his hand back fast. ‘Good job I’ve got quick reactions,’ he said as it tried to scratch him.
We walked down a road with a line of trees beautifully lit up with matching gold lights. It was so beautiful, the whole road lit up and all coordinated. The road itself clean. It was only lit up that one night, there’s a photograph of us under the lights.
We had breakfast at a Thai place by the canal, muesli and fresh fruit and yoghurt, perfect proportions of all, with lovely fruit. It was cheap, and next to a laundry. I arranged my laundry, we greeted each other then the laundry woman got restaurant staff to translate. Everything was so fun and friendly. ‘It’s like every encounter is a joy.’ I said.
We got a rickshaws to the station, to pick up our train tickets. The rickshaws were completely different, bright pink with fancy metal work and grand looking reclining padded seats, no luggage space behind the seats, not functional like Indian ones.
The front of the bun shop at the station was decorated with ‘love messages,’ ‘from your roti.’ We ate at a noodle place opposite the station. I had iced yoghurt drink, very cold and absolutely delicious. A man complimented me on my tattoos, he was either one of the staff, or a friend of the staff. He gave me some fruits, lychees, or like lychees if not. He said, say this to your husband and told me a Thai phrase. I repeated it back, then told it to my husband, and everyone fell about laughing.
That’s another difference between India and Thailand, in Thailand one can potentially have more of a laugh. Thai people generally are playful, and Indian people sometimes struggle with the British sense of humour, tending to take things literally, meaning that several of our jokes have fallen very flat.
We met M, my stepdaughter, at the airport, she’d flown direct from London by herself. We took her out for dinner at the nice Western restaurant we’d gone to when we arrived; had cocktails and took her to the Khosan road. As well as the signs for cocktails and cheap buckets there was one saying ‘We don’t check ID,’ which made us all laugh. The competing music was on again. Little street stalls sold interesting things including scorpions, I think roasted to eat, although I didn’t stop to look closely. In the middle of all this, ‘What’s going on’ was playing.
The next day we took M to Wat Po by rickshaw, that was the main thing she wanted to do, go in a rickshaw, and we chose Wat Po. Although we’d decided we were over tourist stuff in India, seeing the enormous Reclining Golden Buddha was a wonderful experience. I had to go round again, I didn’t feel that I had absorbed the sight. I still don’t, maybe its just not possible.
That evening, we got the night train South to Surat Thani, that is where you get the ferry onto the island of Ko Phangan.
I am in Japan, by myself! I left my guesthouse in Thailand at 11am on Sunday and arrived at my guesthouse in Tokyo at 12.30pm on Tuesday. I have been getting dinner, coffee, exploring on foot, been to a gallery, been speaking, getting more coffee, and writing in communal area. Here are some pics of my hostel, I have a little curtained capsule in a twelve bed mixed dorm.
Trust the process, the things I notice, the conversations I find interesting, are the things to write about, even if some seem more or less interesting; everyone likes different things, some the food, some the spiritual bits.
Thank you very much for reading.