The ring of the alarm clock in an unfamiliar darkness jerks me off the sleep and the warmth of the blanket. In a slumbering haze I see the faint outline of my wife getting up to start her daily chores and hear the deep breath of my son still sleeping peacefully hugging his Spiderman pillow. To escape from reality I again nestle myself in the blanket while the sounds of pots and pans constantly ring in my ear and pricks my conscience with a sense of guilt of keeping a pregnant lady working alone in this early morning. Gathering all my courage I jump out of the bed and look through the window at the pale hue of early dawn. A chill shudders through my senses as I touch the misted glass pane and that’s how morning comes everyday to me.
Where we live is a small valley in east bay, hill cradled, sparsely populated, and provincial but not lacking any of the amenities of a city. San-Francisco is only a half an hour drive from here on a traffic free day. Now it is winter. All the mist from bay flows in overnight and caps the valley from the warmth of morning sunshine. Everybody starts their life in a pale gloom as if it’s their shadow, not them. Morning brings a cold silence as opposed to a peaceful serenity of pastoral Thailand. Weekdays are all alike, a photocopy of each other.
On my way to the office I drop my son off to his school, a kid who is still a fish out of water among his new friends here in the US, and then reflect upon my life while driving up to my office. The road strewn with fallen leaves flows smoothly up to the foothill then winds up through the thick foliage on the slope. Stripped off trees on the roadside with their naked branches looking skyward remind me of a post apocalyptic scene from some movie. On my left the lever colored hills are lulled by low hanging mist. Deforestation by the California farm owners left them treeless; in their somber grassy surface they look like mummified hump of prehistoric dinosaurs.
“Maybe it’s the winter reminding me of Thailand so much. After winter spring will come the summer and with that probably things will get better. This place is so lifeless it seems all the people are transformed into wax dolls by some magic wand” I say to myself.
Memory refuses to die. I remember one night before leaving Thailand for USA, my friend V (he says V stands for vagabond) and I were having dinner at our favorite roadside noodle shop in Khao San Road. He just returned from his trip to South America. When I asked “How was your trip?” he just said “I didn’t find any smiles there, not so well for my inner journey.”
Vivacity in the atmosphere was fascinating. The wafting aroma of food, fragments of conversation, fanfare of lottery and fake identity card vendors amidst a constant flow of people turned this place into a carnival. The used book stores where I used to spend hours browsing books are one of my favorite attractions of this place.
“How are you doing?” he asked. He hadn’t changed much since we had last met a year and a half earlier except he had put on a couple of pounds of extra fat. But that playful smile in an aura of serenity was still there, like a faint glow of silver moon on an inky night sky. How he maintains such tranquility is still a mystery to me. “One has to come to understand that life is insecure and there is no way to make it secure, no way at all so stability is nothing but a perception” he had once said in which probably lies the key to his such unperturbed attitude.
“I am fine but soon we will be going through a very new experience” I said.
“Ngew is pregnant.”
“Congratulation on bringing a new life onto this planet.”
“It is interesting to see Ngew’s excitement when she talks about a life growing inside her or feels the baby’s heart beat. Bringing a new life on to this planet probably is truly a mystical experience” I said.
“Path will have to be walked all the way; remembering the story of Siddhartha”
“How long will you be staying in Thailand this time?” I asked.
“Realizing nothing can be taken for granted including how long I will stay here this time and where I will go next. Are you still sharing your time between Bangkok and Udon or have you moved back completely to Udon?”
“I still spend couple of weeks a month here in Bangkok but soon we will be going back to US.”
Although he fixed his gaze at me, it appeared to me that the mind behind his dusty eyes was drifting away from here, beyond this space and time. For a while he was quiet then awakened by his own laughter he said “Hope you don’t stay long enough in US to forget the smile of Thailand.”
“I know my heart well; I know we will come back one day.”
He was silent, observing with his usual playful smile for which it is difficult to guess what’s going on in his mind. A waft of cheap perfume drew my attention; two girls came out of the tattoo shop giggling reminded me of Guinness-drinking experience in a pub during my first trip to Ireland; the white froth on top of a frosty chocolate beer in a slender beer-mug on which I had commented “An Issan girl with her thousand watt smile.”
“Connection is so strong that as if it is from another life” I continued “Ngew will be there with me probably that will make things easier”
“Living with a good Thai lady is not same as living in Thailand. When I am away more than the people I know I miss the people whom I don’t know, whom I just met on the road side over a casual yet heartfelt conversation” he said.
I thought to myself maybe that is what is so magical about Thailand. I feel for many of us Thailand is the remedy for the most brutal disease that is loneliness. Every little communication in daily life brings about a feeling of warmth which permeates our soul. I still cannot remember a single day on the way to my favorite restaurant for lunch without a warm smile and greeting from a street vendor.
“You are right. But there is another side to it which can bring very painful experience. Do you remember that Thai-Chinese man, my boss in my last company? When I joined his company I negotiated a handsome yearly bonus (which would be based on profit sharing) in lieu of a high salary; at least that’s what we agreed upon. Back in Valley when I started my own company or joined other start-ups I always took a lower pay for a larger stock option so back then being naïve I thought here also similar protocols are followed for small startups. We did really well that year, meeting all our targets with a record high profit in the company’s history. So I was expecting a reasonable bonus which according to my contract should be 5% of the net profit but I was aghast when I opened the envelope and looked at my bonus check; it was half the amount I was expecting. When I asked him directly he told that he had to clear up his past bank loans for which net profit had shrunk. I was furious and asked him why he didn’t tell me of his debts before me joining the company. He was quiet for a while then said ‘We can do everything properly from this year’. I was speechless at such shamelessness.”
“What was your wife’s reaction?” he enquired.
“My wife told me not to further pursue the rest of my bonus which I was deprived of for it might risk my existence in Thailand since that man has strong connections with police and immigration officials. She also said that he will suffer for sure for his bad karma which is probably her Buddhist way of consoling me but one thing she said is interesting – ‘At least you only have to deal with your unhappiness which is transient but he will have to live with his greed all the way up to his death which surely gets reflected in every relationship he has.’ So working here with the locals can be really frustrating and a sore point in one’s daily life” I said.
“Shame on you V, you are listening to the tribulations of life when there is a disco so nearby” he said, slapping himself. “Unfortunately Thailand is full of such people and they cannot be avoided if you choose to live here but they can be identified easily and can then they can be dealt with. From my experience, I can tell you such people don’t have their garbage collector thread running so their virtual machine will soon run out of memory. Sometime I wonder about those people who keep on accumulating at any cost all through their life as if they will never die. But let’s not waste any more time here; Nan is probably waiting for us in the disco by now. It is time for a celebration.”
“What’s this celebration about?” I surprised.
“We have one more night in our life in Thailand to dance and go wild” he laughed “Isn’t that a good enough reason?”
At that very moment I know Richard, Marc and George have already started their day at the office. Probably Richard and Marc are deeply engaged in a technical discussion whereas George is making his first fresh pot of coffee. When I will enter they are going to throw a casual smile with a nod, a smile as bleak and lifeless as this pale morning. I will take a deep breath before turning on my computer. Then another life will start.
The aroma of food, scent of cheap perfume, buzzing of a hot sultry day, flashing neon lights in an ocean of darkness and a soft nostalgic voice of a sing-a-song lady remain somewhere between an illusion and hope. We all probably carry the same fear of a child deep in the womb of our mind-fear of death at the very root of it probably is the only notion of time. I feel at this moment Thailand is not a fleeting moment in my life which will die like a shooting star in the darkness of past. It is much more real than memories; it is part of my breath which keeps me smiling, which keeps me afloat.
I loved this quote, “I feel for many of us Thailand is the remedy for the most brutal disease that is loneliness”. I really think this says it all.
There is something awfully deep about this submission, and I think you touched on a part of the Thai psyche very nicely.