Reflections From An Odyssey
It is now 6 months since I wrote a submission for Stick's Readers' Submissions – and I had decided to make that one my last, with the impending departure of Stick from Thailand. Still, there are events from the many journeys that keep bubbling to the surface – so I will share a few of them with you. These are random extracts, not in any chronological order.
This was my second bite of The Big Mango and I was living with Natalise in our apartment in Soi St Louis, Sathorn – a Sunday afternoon, strolling along together on Thanon Sathorn Tai, heading East. A relative "newbie", I wanted to draw from an ATM but was clueless of where to find one. Natalise led me to this enclosed structure attached to The Bangkok Bank – and, for some strange reason, that image remains in my consciousness. Nothing earth-shattering or salacious – just a simple memory of one of my early days in The Kingdom.
Shopping at Makro, for the things we needed to set up home in the apartment, was an exciting time in picking out the items we would need to function as a normal home together. The apartment was new and well-furnished with refrigerator, television, phone connected and a very comfortable Queen-size bed. It had a modern kitchen and was air-conditioned, of course, and there was also an elevator provided – along with a 24-hour security guard. If I remember correctly, we made two trips to Makro that day and brought all of the purchases home by tuktuk. This was an experience I was to repeat 5 years in the future, in a city I had never visited previously – Chiang Mai, The Rose Of The North and the Capital of The Old Lanna Kingdom.
Memories give such a rich contrast of emotions – ranging from the relatively-mundane, up to the always-confronting issues of the heart. Many of those experiences were examined in the relative sterility of departure lounges at airports or waiting in an airport bar for the time to go down and check in for the journey.
One departure for Thailand:
Darkness had closed in already on this June evening in 2005, as I waited at the front gate for the taxi to arrive. Natalise had decided to make herself absent this time – and I can't say I blame her. She took the kids over to May's house until after I had left. There have been far too many goodbyes for us in the time we have been together – and how I wish that had not been the case. In the quiet of the night, my thoughts went back to the time when we first moved here – and it seemed so full of promise to be settling down in this place, after all the turmoil had passed with the battles to get her Residency and the sleepless nights – but that was all behind us now and things should be different to how they are tonight. I feel so alone – and a failure.
The taxi came but I don't recall much of the journey to the airport – my thoughts lost somewhere between October 2004 and now. Part of me is with Natalise – but the other part of me is with Wan, in Chiang Mai. The reality is that I believe my future is with Wan – and all that I have to look forward to is the joy of being once more in her arms. What more could I want? Not much – other than to be rid of these feelings of misgiving over poor choices and loss of sight of the big picture. I would not be where I am tonight if Natalise had not decided she wanted to be on her own – and I still do not understand why. It was almost impossible to live with her toward the middle of 2004 and the only solution seemed for me to move out to save Nat from having to move with the kids. After my having been away for two weeks, we did agree to try to get back together again – but nothing had changed. The anger was still there from her side and nothing I could do seemed to make any difference. I had to move out again.
I passed through Immigration and Customs and now I'm having a drink on the flight side while trying to get my head straight. After giving Wan a call, I settled down to wait for the boarding call – knowing that I have the certainty of Wan waiting for me at Chiang Mai airport in the morning when I arrive.
Chiang Mai Domestic departures was the usual route I chose out of the city – always a very harrowing experience for me to be leaving Wan. She would always accompany me to the airport each time I left – and that was nice – but it came with the price of high emotion to be leaving her, once more. It happened too many times. Once the goodbyes were said, I would go through security and sit in the departure lounge, questioning myself why I was even contemplating leaving. If I could go back and have that time over again, there is no way known that I would have left her under any circumstances. But you know that guilt and misplaced allegiances can corrupt the logical thought process to the point where logic doesn't exist in the mindset of confusion. So many lost chances for no good reason.
I liked Chiang Mai Airport as it was before the extension to the south to provide the new International Terminal. Jumping on a domestic service down to Don Meuang gave me more freedom to roam the terminal in Bangkok and to enjoy the comfort and mood of the beer bar on the upper level of Terminal II. So many times I sat there at one side of the bar, lost in thought with my Bia Singha and half a million memories that were, mostly, out of any logical sequence. Mostly, I never engaged in conversation in bars – there was too much in my head to be bothered with trivia – stuff that should have been sorted out but never really was.
Natalise and I married and stayed together until October 2004 – at which time we separated due to conflicts in direction that each of us wanted. There was no animosity – just that lingering sadness that something, that showed so much potential for good, had been lost along the way.
The joyful times were the flights to Thailand and the early-morning arrivals at Don Meuang – and doing the security check into the transit lounge, to wait for the Chiang Mai leg of the journey. The smell of burnt jet fuel and the whine of jet engines ruled the early morning hours, as we all sat there, each with our own set of memories and reasons for travelling. I only had one reason – knowing I would soon be back with Wan and the joy of sharing what life we did have together. It was all that mattered to me. Yes, I say that – but was it really true? If it was, how could my thoughts still have been with Natalise? And how could I have left Wan – even once?
Sometimes confusion set in, unexpectedly, as on one of the return journeys from Thailand. All that I write about here will be centred on the old Don Meuang International Airport – and one incident was in a departure lounge, where I ran into an old acquaintance who had run a business close to the one operated by Nat when we were married. Dave was his name – a really likeable old rogue that I have a lot of time for. We sat chatting for a half hour or so before being called for boarding. It was nice to run into Dave – but I was left with a rash of memories that I had convinced myself were put away and mostly forgotten. Yeah, life is not that easy, is it?
That journey back home left me with visions of early-morning risings to get both Nat and I on the road to drive north to set up a regular weekly market stall at one of the very-popular venues. On those drives north, I remember songs playing on the CD player – some Thai and some Farang – but the over-riding thing was the fact that we were doing something together. I really didn't care about the money factor – the sharing was the important thing for me. It took me back to the early days when I first brought Nat from Thailand – and we were living in this little flat – and life was simple. We would sit watching Thai "soapies" on disc in the evenings, from our local Thai video shop – and the closeness was nice, even though I sometimes got lost in the plot and Nat had to steer me straight.
Relating this now, almost seems as if I am describing two totally-separate halves of my life. I wish it were so – but the reality is that there was so much overlap that keeping things separate was practically impossible – and therein lays the problem.
Returning to Wan, in January 2005, was the absolute best – and I went through the same exercise of setting up house with her – just as I had done back in Bangkok with Natalise. This time it felt different – more intense and a feeling of commitment that this was the right person to be with. The evening of that first day back in Chiang Mai, Wan wanted me to accompany her to The Winter Fair – so, of course I did so. I would never have imagined Chiang Mai could get so cold at night – but I almost froze out in the open area where the fair was held. Of course we had to stay late to see all the beauty parades on stage – but all I could think of was getting back to The Sheraton, showering and falling into bed beside Wan. That was always the best there was.
Of course, I always had a Non-Immigrant '0' visa and we made the journey up to Mai Sai, so that I could cross over to Tachiliek and return to get a new visa stamp for another 90 days. We hired a late-model car and driver to take us up there from Chiang Mai – and were back in Chiang Mai by mid-afternoon. It was relatively cheap – around 2500 Baht plus lunch for the driver and ourselves. That was so much more convenient than using a visa-run service.
I have lots of piccies of Chiang Mai Airport as well as Don Meuang Airport – but there are two piccies that still make me sad to look at. The first one was a shot of the security entrance to the departure gates at the Don Meuang Domestic Terminal. Even though she is not in the photo, I can still see her walking away from me through Security, on the day I sent her back to Chiang Mai after sharing almost 2 weeks in Bangkok together. I did that because I knew I had to be back in my hometown for the Christmas period. Many times, since that event, I have wished I had not sent her back to Chiang Mai – and, instead, had gone back there with her. That was what she really wanted. The other piccie that saddens me is the stairway that leads from check-in, on the ground floor of Chiang Mai Airport, up to the departures level. Wan and I walked up that stairway so many times – and I so much wish that I had never done that, even once, to leave her.
A friend of mine suggested that what both he and I need is a time machine to take each of us back to the periods where we wish we could still be. Could we change anything? I don't know – but I sure would love the opportunity to try to do so. I don't know if my friend would wish to change anything in his past – but, for me, if I had the chance, I would go back there without a moment's hesitation, to try to put things right between Wan and myself. It is the one thing that occupies a lot of my thinking, each day of life.
The strange thing is that, even though Natalise and I are no longer married, we are still good friends – and I am grateful that has survived. I only wish I could say the same for things between Wan and myself. My lesson has been "do not doubt what appears to be the obvious course of action to secure your happiness". That was my biggest mistake – and I pay for it every day of life.