Bangkok rooftop view
The window to our room in the hostel The Overstay
I stormed out of the sweltering room and quickly descended the four floors of stairs. I slowed down only to avoid slipping in a puddle of water that sat at the bottom of the steps of the first floor. The dark and smoky essence of the entryway, that consisted of several couches, pool tables, and a full bar with several bar stools, was a relief from the heat on the upper levels. However, I was too upset to stop and enjoy the cave-like room and briskly made my way across to the front door.
Once I opened the door, the heat of the city hit my face like a ton of bricks. Reminiscent of New Orleans summers-where it is hard to find any sort of relief from the humidity-filled my mind. However it was short-lived because after a few moments I realized there was absolutely no wind. No breeze blowing, not even the slightest waft of hot air that would make you smile on a New Orleans summer day. I struggled with the thought of returning to the cool cave and ordering a cold beer to quell my frustrations but instead I ran into a friendly face.
“Can I help you?” a British boy asked.
“How do I get into the city?”
“Well, just go down on the corner there and get on bus number 203. It’ll take you right across the bridge and into Bangkok proper. I’m Patrick, a manager here. See you later!”
I smiled, thanked him, and walked to the corner to wait for the bus. Within seconds, 203 pulled over and I boarded. Luckily I found a seat and paid something equivalent to fifty cents for the ride.
I enjoyed sitting on the bus with the air blowing on my face from an open window. I watched the traffic and contemplated riding the bus until the last stop. However, I decided to get off where it seemed the majority was exiting the bus. I had no plan or agenda or even a map. So I just walked. I found a narrow street that looked like a small alleyway. Food stalls and open-air restaurants lined the street procuring some of the most amazing smells. I noticed a very tall man, a foreigner, possibly an American walking my way.
I have to explain that after a long time of being in a place where you physically look very different from everyone else, and on the extremely rare occasion when you run into another foreigner, it is hard not to feel as if you know them or recognize them. Those features, more similar to your own, have a strange familiarity and even though those features have not been present in a long time you still remember them.
We locked eyes as we passed each other-like every time I passed another Westerner-and tried to conjure some sort of recognition. However, like every other time, I had never seen this person in my life. So I continued walking and quickly went back to breathing in the heavenly smells surrounding me.
I chose a restaurant that sat directly on the river. I took a seat at a table by the water and watched massive fish nibble away at leftovers floating on the surface. Boats rowed, drove, and paddled by. The city runs in an organized chaos. After a few moments of reflective dazing I looked around the restaurant and noticed the same Westerner I passed on the street eating at a table across the room. At this point, I didn’t think much of it. It is common, not only when you are traveling, to see the same person in one day. I went back to dazing and watching the fish in the canal. When I looked up he had left.
I paid for my meal and continued exploring the area. Patrick, the manager from the hostel, showed me how to get to the infamous KohSan road and so I started making my way in that direction. I walked a few blocks toward the traffic circle where I made my way to the crossroad. As I was walking to the light, I again saw the same Westerner walking from the other direction. We met at the crosswalk and looked at each other with a smirk.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey,” he said.
The next thing I knew I was walking with Mark; a guy from Mid-West America who was living in China, teaching English, and in Bangkok for vacation. He was heading towards the train that would take him back to his hostel. From his map it seemed far away, so we decided it would be more interesting if we walked there together. Talking to strangers instantly appeared to come natural to him.
Almost immediately we ran into a hawker who was trying to sell us something. These situations are always a little awkward for me. However, it seemed Mark was used to it more than I was. Somehow he made a whole joke of the situation without being insulting, awkward, or exhibiting any usual tourist qualities. In the end, the hawker pointed us in the direction of our destination. We continued walking and talked about pretty much everything under the sun. There wasn’t really enough time to remember that this was a complete and total stranger I literally met on the street. Neither of us were in a hurry so we slowly strolled along the canals walking into places every now and then to double check that we were heading in the right direction.
We continued walking and talking until the sun disappeared and we ran into more hawkers selling rides in rickshaws.
“I’ll take you anywhere for good price. Where do you want to go?”
Mark stopped, put his hand on the man’s shoulder and said,
“We want to go to your house.”
The man furrowed his brow in confusion.
“We want to go to your house. Is your wife a good cook? I’m hungry! Will she cook us a good meal?”
The man looked at him and slowly began to smile. A light went on in his eyes and he understood. He laughed and wagged his finger at Mark in a way that translated, “Ah, so you’re a wise guy.”
We all laughed and Mark and I continued our way down the street.
“That was hilarious,” I said.
“You should see the faces in China when I answer them in Mandarin. No one ever expects that.”
I looked up at the tall, dark haired, Caucasian man next to me, and thought, “Yea, I can see how that would surprise them.”
Soon after, we finally found the road that would take us both home. Mark was going left and I was going right. I am uncertain of the exact amount of time that passed but I’m fairly sure it had to have been at least 4 or 5 hours. Somehow, in what seemed like no time at all, I had walked with this stranger around half of Bangkok. It was a feeling of complete elation to have been able to make such a genuine friend in a short amount of time.
We exchanged information, said our goodbyes, and walked our separate ways.
On my walk back to the hostel I reflected on this new friendship. I smiled to myself and thought, this is exactly what they teach us NOT to do. Talk to strangers on the street that is. However, I overcame that initial fear and went with my gut feeling to trust this person.
It had been a while since I had been a participant in such a spontaneous and instantaneous connection (almost as random as the story in New Orleans with the guys I met on the street who became my dearest friends throughout college.) Mark and I had laughed and talked like we had known each other for years.
On my way back to the hostel, with no certainty of where I was or which way I was going, I looked around and noticed that the Bangkok nightlife had come out in full force. Although even in the chaos, I did not feel nervous or threatened. Somehow, with Mark’s help, I had made Bangkok a familiar place. Whereas only some hours earlier the city had been overwhelming.
I found myself back at the crosswalk where Mark and I had started our tour. Across the street I saw a pizza place hiding behind the overpass. It had been months since I had eaten a pizza. It certainly was not a commodity in Mongolia or China. I had to have some.
While I was walking to my bus stop, I was carrying the large pizza box and eating a slice. This must have been a very interesting sight. Little foreign girl, fingers dripping with grease, walking and eating pizza in a dingy corner of Bangkok, Thailand. However, it didn’t seem that strange. I looked around and saw several people laying in the park. Some were giving massages to people who were laying on cardboard boxes and others were loitering around eating or drinking unidentifiable things. What was like Mardi Gras for me seemed a normal night for a local.
I was completely oblivious to my status and I did not care how I looked. I just walked eating my pizza and thinking about the wonderful day I had.
Now it is Mardi Gras time. Where no matter where you are in this magical city, there are strangers to meet who have the capacity of becoming some of the greatest friends one can find in a life time. We all have the opportunity to share these extraordinary experiences together. So let’s celebrate!
Happy Mardi Gras everybody!
Let’s have some adventures this Carnival week!!!
Laissez les bon temps rouler!