The used-bookstore owner asking her young assistant what year it was struck me as a joke. I’d handed over a slightly dated magazine, hoping to trade for a book. Surely this “what year is it?” business was just some kind of over-acted bargaining routine? After all, we were already on our third month of 2014.
The next day a clerk issued my gym pass and shattered my suspicions of a tried-and-true negotiating scheme. The pass expired 12-3-56. Yup. 12 March, ’56.
Google later taught me Thailand’s official calendar keeps count in the Buddhist Era – 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar most English speakers know. The Thai New Year falls in mid-April, so the year 2556 was drawing to a close.
Schedules and calendars, however, barely registered on my radar. I’d anticipated my Bangkok staycation for months. I was teetering on the brink of full blown depression. I’d been waiting for a very very long time to do the restorative things in life that our productivity-centered culture often calls “nothing.” Sleeping in, reading, writing, watching movies, drinking good espresso, going to the gym, calling friends and family, getting massages, eating good food, wandering aimlessly.
How can I travel to Thailand, then call the trip a staycation? I haven’t maintained a residence since April 2010. I fell in love with the Thai world in 2008, returning multiple times since. I think of the country as my primary refuge – the first place I’d go if my life ever fell apart. Riding the sky train from the airport always feels like coming home. Since I’ve seen and done most the major attractions and tourist activities, pressure-free enjoyment of life and Thailand’s little things comes easily.
Also, I needed to go to the doctor. Medical tourism is catching on globally as western rates skyrocket at the hands of politicians and insurance companies. I don’t dismiss that there is an ugly, colonialist side to this burgeoning industry. Am I a cog in the awful machine? Yes. (And so are you, reading this on your Asian-made device surrounded largely by possessions made possible by under-paid labor and over-exploited resources.) Am I relieved to pay a few hundred out-of-pocket-dollars instead of a few thousand for four different doctor visits, dental fillings, teeth cleaning, an eye exam, and new contacts? Yes.
The doctors gave my lady bits the okay, diagnosed and treated my patellar tendonitis, and confirmed that I am in medically acceptable condition to receive an Australian-partner visa… sort of the Aussie version of a green card.
I zombied my way around for the first two weeks, reeling from the shock of finally having control over my time and life. No work, commitments, or obligations. Just me, my “office” (an internet cafe with a/c), dozens of street carts vending cheap food, a few TV screens featuring English-speaking movies, a used book-store full of words to consume, a favorite coffee shop, delicious plates of authentic hummus, a sad little gym, a fantastic massage therapist, my baby laptop, and a hard, sweaty vinyl mattress under a geriatric fan every night.
My British-American friend Penelope arrived on a Saturday from Bhutan while I was at the hospital having my knee follow-up. After delightful forays into the restaurant world, a trip up and down Bangkok’s Chao Praya River, and a visit to the materialistic world of Siam Commercial Center, the morning of my Australian beau’s incoming-flight had arrived. We met him at the station (oh the rush of seeing your love after time apart!) and jumped in a van to meet Penelope’s friend-of-a-friend in a resort town to the south.
It was P’s first time making Nigel’s acquaintance, as well – a man connected to her Bhutan circle of friends thanks to his biological research into a valuable fungi that grows in the world’s happiest country. We watched the full moon rise out of the sea while enjoying the myriad restaurant dishes Nigel’s Thai wife had picked out for us. As it was St. Patrick’s Day, Nigel’s very mature teenage daughter stayed on afterward for drinks at the local Irish joint: Guinness, cider, and margaritas (hey – not everyone loves Gaelic booze).
In between discussions about the ethics of the old western men with young Thai women on their arms, we enjoyed a beach day, drinks at the posh Railway Hotel, and a trip to the night market – all very sweaty occasions.
Back in Bangkok, before saying our farewells, P and I had a lovely afternoon of girl talk in her hotel’s little pool and we all got to experience the fun atmosphere and delicious dishes of a restaurant tucked away at the back of an open-air general store.
Boyfriend and I spent the last twelve Thailand days negotiating terms for how to travel and be together more-or-less constantly. We also attended our first Muy Thai fight night, got haircuts, partied until the wee hours of the morning drinking cocktails by the bucket, ate weird gluten-free-vegan pancakes, watched awesome flash-mob breakdancers, and eventually gave each other some space. Then, I took a Thai-massage course with Boyfriend as my model. He took a Thai cooking class, and I got to taste the excellent results!
All too soon we were boarding a plane to Germany, saying farewell to the hot, humid, cheap streets of Bangkok. ♣
Hilarious Thai-English translations, ladyboys, and typical Bangkok traffic are all in this Facebook album.