Balanced on the Precipice – Then Surviving
The following is just a short snapshot of part of the time I have shared with Wan. I have told it just how it was but I am in no way blaming Wan, my wife in Australia or Thailand as the situation leading up to this mindset was pre-existing as a result
of events in Australia and largely of my own making.
August 2005: It's been two nights now that I have been unable to sleep and I had little choice but to arrive at the International Terminal very early today and had hours to kill before I could check in. So I tried to find a comfortable seat to rest and maybe try to read a little. It was impossible because I had that feeling that you get when you have had too much coffee or a couple of "No Doz" tablets – you know, eyes wide open and that feeling of adrenaline overload. It's a horrible feeling and nothing you do seems to lower the stress levels. By now I have lost count of the times I have sat waiting for flights to and from Thailand – but I must admit that this is the worst case of pre-flight nerves I have ever experienced. I had a couple of 5mg Valium in my pocket so I went and bought a can of Coca-Cola and popped one of the pills before check-in. I don't think it made a lot of difference. I never worry about flying and have never felt nervous in an aircraft but I can't describe how I feel right now as this is very likely my last few weeks – I believe I will die in Thailand – and I don't care. Although I have a small core of good friends here there's really no reason to stay in Australia – my Thai wife and I have agreed to separate and file for divorce, I have no home of any substance and it appears there is nothing here any more to keep me in this city. Truth is I should not be here – should be with Wan. The only reason I came back was to renew my visa. This time I have only bought a one-way ticket and I have a new Non-Immigrant Type “O” visa.
Time came for check-in and I passed quickly through Immigration and Security without problem. Wan phoned me at 1.55 p.m. and I told her I would call her as soon as I reach Krungthep this evening. I was now on the departures side and I suppose I felt the stress levels fall a little – or it could just have been the Valium taking effect. I found a quiet table and had a bite to eat and a Jack Daniels straight, followed by a Heineken and I started to feel a whole lot better. Outside, rain had started to fall and the raindrops falling into the pools of water out on the hardstands reminded me of the time I flew out of Don Muang so long ago after I left Thai Tina to fly back to Australia. Why am I always having to leave someone? I don't want to leave my wife, even though I know it is best for her and for me.
The flight over to Krungthep was terrible – nothing wrong with the cabin-crew service but the seat was cramped and the flight was noisy – the trip reminded me of an earlier flight on one of the old MD-11s that Thai were running back in 2000. Now they were a really horrible aircraft. My first flight to Krungthep with Thai Airways was a comfortable flight but full of noisy Italians returning home but, even so, I think Thai provided a far-better service than when I used to fly with Qantas. This time I am not transiting as I normally do to the Chiang Mai leg so, after clearing Immigration and Customs, I called Wan and told her I would see her at Chiang Mai Airport in the morning and gave her the arrival time – then I tried to find someplace to while away the hours in relative comfort until the time came for the Chiang Mai leg tomorrow. Taking into account that we had landed around 10.45 p.m. there were not a lot of options available for somebody who is not spending the remaining hours in a hotel until the departure of TG 102 in the morning.
I have never over-nighted in Don Muang Airport before so I checked the upper levels in Terminal I and decided to trolley my gear through to the Domestic Terminal and wait there – figured I was so tired I'd probably sleep through the departure time in the morning, so it was safer to be in The Domestic Terminal.
The walkway from Terminal II to the Domestic Terminal is probably not more than 300 metres long, covered and normally air-conditioned – but at this time of night the air-con had been turned off and it was a really long walk in that warm and humid environment pushing a trolley with baggage. When I got there the place was practically deserted except for a couple of security guards and a couple of cleaners. All the shops and food or drink outlets were closed so I asked one of the security guards if there was anywhere more comfortable to wait other than the plastic chairs provided in the main waiting area. He showed me to a carpeted departure lounge close by. "Here – you can lie down on the carpet if you wish and try to get some sleep.” I thanked him and found a spot in a corner away from the plastic chairs in the centre of the room and I used my cabin bag for a pillow and pulled my suitcase close to me and put my jacket on top of the cabin bag to make it more comfortable. A couple of other people came into the area and walked past to the far end of the room to find a place to do the same but I found it almost impossible to relax.
It's now 1.25 a.m. – the spot where I lay being close to a large glass window-wall that overlooked the hard-stands out where the tugs push the aircraft away from the Terminal and there was a constant stream of apron tractors towing baggage and freight trolleys back and forth so quite a lot of clattering noise was coming up from down there – and to make matters worse the temperature was rising due to the lack of air-conditioning. After another hour I abandoned all hope of getting any sleep so I got up, gathered my gear together and went back out to the place where I was originally. A small number of people were sitting in the plastic chairs so I decided to take a seat in the back rows to wait out the hours until Thai Airways staff arrived to open up check-in. Around 3 a.m. more people arrived – mostly young Thai women who were sitting in a group and talking, a couple of rows in front of me. They looked like they could be bar girls going back home for a break from Krungthep – I thought of making conversation with them but I just didn't have the energy. All I wanted was sleep.
Time rolled around to 5 a.m. and some check-in staff arrived for Nok Air prior to setting up and accepting passenger check-ins. Many of the people from where I was sitting went over and formed a queue but, as yet, no staff for Thai Airways had appeared – but I joined the line anyhow. Nok Air is a budget domestic carrier in Thailand and it is very popular. It is probably the Thai equivalent of Easy-Jet in The U.K. or Jet-Star in Australia but these days the flight schedules for Nok Air are very different to what they were in 2005. Most of their routing now is centred in servicing smaller towns in Lanna as well as some connections with Krungthep. By 5.30 a.m. some staff for Thai Airways appeared and the queue split into 4 or 5 separate lines and I was in one of the lines for Thai. I always fly with Thai but this morning I wished I was going on Nok Air because they checked in passengers for two flights before Thai even began to accept passengers – and I was starting to wilt and was feeling really rotten with a very sore throat and muscle aches everywhere. It was 6.30 a.m. before getting through check-in and then through Security and into the departure lounge. It was strange sitting there and waiting to be called to board the aircraft. I was bordering on 60 hours without any proper sleep by now and was starting to imagine that the floor was undulating under my feet and that I was riding some unseen amusement ride – a little bit like sitting in a small boat and the up-and-down motion that you get in a gentle swell.
By the time we cleared Don Muang and were into the flight to Chiang Mai, I was starting to get the shivers and I had to ask one of the cabin attendants for another blanket to wrap around me. I just sat there with my eyes closed for the whole trip, wishing it would end and we would finally be there. When the captain announced we were descending for our approach to Chiang Mai there was nothing to be seen outside but heavy cloud and there was quite a bit of turbulence – but we landed without incident to a gray and cloudy day with steady rain falling that was being swirled around by gusts of wind.
I retrieved my suitcase from the carousel then went out to arrivals to look for Wan. She was nowhere to be seen so I called her on my cell-phone.
"Wan, where are you? I am waiting at the airport for you."
"Sarmee, I leave home but water on the road in places. I be there in 15 minutes – OK?"
"OK darling, I wait outside for you. Take care – Ruk-Teur dta-laud-bpai my Teeruk."
The rain was still quite heavy and steady, blown along by squalls every once in a while and I wondered if Wan would be OK on her way to get here. She should be safe because Phibun has picked her up and he is a good driver.
They arrived about 45 minutes later and Wan jumped out of the front cabin of the sawngthaew and ran over to me – she was wet and her hair was hanging down and tangled. I gave her a big hug and we threw my things into the back and climbed in. Even the floor in the back of the sawngthaew was wet but Phibun set off to try and find the best way back to Thapae. It wasn't easy as most of the roads leading into Chiang Mai City were cut by water and we had to go out to the superhighway and come in via a difficult route that involved a couple of back-tracks to gain access. It was after 11.30 a.m. before we checked in at the hotel, paid Phibun, dumped our gear in the room and tipped Khun Kot the bellboy. Then we went down to have some breakfast and back to the room to shower. I have never been so glad to be with my darling Wan. After showering we fell into bed and made love like it was the first time. How can I imagine that I can live without being with this lady?
The next morning I looked and felt like death eating a cracker – my throat was still very sore and the aches and pains were still there. Outside, the rain continued although not so heavy after raining very heavily during the night so we are almost cut off in this area because Mae Ping has risen so high it has broken its banks and flooded all of the Night Bazaar area and the areas east of the river down to Sankampaeng. After breakfast we walked down toward the bottom of Thapae Road, under our umbrella, to look at the water. It was quite amazing as it had come up as far as Kampaengdin and the Royal Princess Hotel had to be evacuated on Changklan as the water had entered the reception area. The car park underneath was completely flooded of course and the main switchboard had blown out after water short-circuited it – they were totally without power and the guests and staff had to be taken out in boats. Wan called Phibun and he said we should be able to get down to have dinner with Mamma and Pappa this evening if we took a different way to get onto the Superhighway. I had my doubts as I know that Wiang-Kum-Kam, just south of the city, always gets inundated by Mae Ping when it floods, and Mamma and Pappa live close to there – but we decided we would give it a try and told him to come at 4 p.m. I thought it would be touch and go but we made it there OK and the rain seemed as though it had eased off considerably. Even so, the wind made things a little uncomfortable so we didn't stay at the restaurant as long as usual. We drove the family back home and picked our way back to Thapae over the same way by which we had come. I was so happy to be back with Wan and all I really wanted to do now was to shower and to fall into bed and sleep with her cuddled close to me.
Monday morning was still overcast but the water levels had gone down a lot and we could see the terrible mess that had to be cleared off the roadway down at Changklan – the road surface had been gouged out in places and there was a thick carpet of mud and silt over most of the road. The Army started to clear away the mud and debris but it was clear that it would take some time for Chiang Mai to recover from this – the worst flood in 80 years, I was told.
Several weeks have now passed and we have drifted back into our old routine but I am sensing that Wan has become more introverted and seems to want to do nothing but sleep late – and it is almost as though her thoughts are somewhere else most of the time. When I do coax her out of bed, about 11 a.m., we shower and dress then go down and have breakfast, after which we usually wander around looking at clothing shops and walk around Talat Wororot and Talat Lamyai. This is dangerous territory as I have to be careful to steer her clear of the gold merchants in this part of town. In the past when I have taken her to Krungthep she loves nothing more than to drag me along to Yaowarat and that can be an expensive few hours.
After we return to the hotel, we usually sleep for a couple of hours in the afternoon before wandering over to Loi Kroh Road to check the Internet for e-mails but I can sense an aura of sadness about her and I know, deep down, it is probably mostly due to my recent instability and lack of proper support for her and her parents. It is now almost a year since she spoke of marriage and nothing more has happened in that regard. Of course I am aware that this is also dangerous territory as one can never be sure whether or not there is a husband lurking in the background. Sensibility tells me I should engage a private investigator to check on her marital status but I figure if you stoop so low as that, then there is really nothing left of the relationship. Tried to explain to her that I would love to be married with her but I am not yet divorced from my Thai wife in Australia – and that will not happen until early next year, as that is when the court has set down the hearing. I'm not sure if she believes me but it is the truth. Over the last few months I have gone to a lot of trouble to get my insurance company to assign my life cover to Wan as beneficiary and it is now official, so I have given her the policy details to keep in case anything happens to me. Also tied this up in a new will and gave Wan a copy of that also.
Even so, things don't seem to be the same as they were. As much as I love to be with this lady, I have to say that this is probably the lowest point in our relationship (and in my life) – almost as if something is drawing the life force out of me. I am drinking more than I should – always two Bia Singa lek with breakfast each morning then each afternoon we have the same routine of having a few drinks at The Traveller Inn bar on Loi Kroh Road. That's another two or three Bia Singha lek and another two Bia Singha lek with dinner later, followed by a double shot of Mekong with coffee after our post-dinner walk. Wan does not drink alcohol and all she has is either cafǽ yen or orange juice. Back in the room each evening before bed I take a cocktail of two Mersyndol Forte (codeine and doxylamine succinate), two or three Xanax 1 mg (alprazolam) and an Avil antihistamine just to get me off to sleep. I'm beginning to think I have a problem.
Really bad sleep last night with lots of dreams. They were quite weird – I imagined I had adopted the persona of Jack Nicholson (of all people) in this one dream that had strong sexual overtones and were quite bizarre, involving multiple women. Probably a subconscious regurgitation of some scenes from “The Witches Of Eastwick” that I remembered from many years ago. At one stage, I thought I heard a knock at the door of the room and I thought I got up to go to the door to see who it was but I could feel some force holding onto my arm to stop me from opening the door and the next thing I remember was being back in the bed. Still not sure if I was awake or this was part of the dream but I woke up and I know I was fully conscious but I couldn't move my body, my arms or legs. I couldn't even speak – only uttering some gibberish noises. Wan woke up and she shook me and tried to help me move and then, after a while, I was OK. This happened about 3 a.m. It really scared the hell out of me. It is now clear to me that I have a big problem that needs attention and I know I won't get it here.
The date is Tuesday September 13, 2005 – the place is Krungthep, Don Muang International Terminal I, and the tug has just started to push us back from the air-bridge at the departure gate. Outside it is dark – just a whisker after midnight by now – but the tempo of this place never seems to slacken. I know it now like I know the life lines on my left hand. I didn't want to leave Chiang Mai (certainly didn't want to leave Wan) but I am plainly no use to her in my present condition – she deserves better than this. Flew down from Chiang Mai late this afternoon and will try to sort out my problems with some therapy back in Australia. If I don't do this I know I will die here and I don't want to put that heavy load on Wan – it's not fair to her or to my Thai wife. I will come back to Wan again after I sort this out – I must. Wan, how did I get to this situation?
[Thinking: My mind slips back years to a June 13 and that first trip to Thailand – the place Melbourne Tullamarine International Airport and, just the same, the tug had started to push back the Qantas 747 from the departure gate air-bridge. Outside it was late afternoon but still quite light as I settled in with anticipation of what lay ahead.]
That afternoon seems like half a lifetime ago yet both events are tied together by a Tuesday on the 13th of a month that shares the common thread of leaving in a state of high emotional flux for a destination that holds anticipation weighed down by apprehension and undeclared fear. But now this is Thai Airways Flight TG 983 – the direct service operating Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday to Australia. The aircraft is a Boeing 777 and very lightly loaded, leaving over 100 spare seats in Economy Class and an almost-empty Business Class Lounge.
We have stopped while the tug disengages and the flight crew now touch up the two Rolls-Royce engines ready for taxi to the runway approaches. Looking out the window you can see the apron and runway marker lights shine through the blackness and the orange glow from the streets around Don Muang is momentarily obscured as an Eva Air 747 cargo lumbers down the runway and rises steadily into the Krungthep night. I love this place – it feels like home and I would do anything not to be leaving here. But right now I'm looking at the marker lights as we slowly slip by and I feel lost as if in a time-warp that is somewhere between September 13, 2005 and June 13 so long ago – only barely-conscious that we have turned right and we are cleared for take-off as the engines spool up and the thrust forces us back into our seats.
A male cabin steward had advised passengers that we could move to more comfortable locations as there is plenty of space to spread out on this flight but I have already moved to the rear of the cabin and now have window and aisle seats to myself. As we reach rotation point and steadily begin to climb, I watch Krungthep slip away beneath us and it is soon lost in cloud cover – something like those misty, past years of my life. How and where does one begin to recount an odyssey so full of emotion, people and places that can never be forgotten? Today I have just left Wan – the love of my life – in Chiang Mai and I feel so sad I really do wish I could die.
It's never easy to say goodbye.