Chapter 5 - Thailand

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Adam Levine - Lost Stars 

29.10.14 - Phuket, Thailand

I’ve come to really like it here. We’re staying in our own apartment, the most luxurious one I could imagine and we’re only paying a total of 13$ pr day. We got lucky though, Eddie just got the listing up on Airbnb the minute before I found it and so we got an intro price. The place is completely new. So new there’s a sticker in the sink. And so new that a few essential things like… Anything that is not plates and cutlery is missing. Also the location is bad in that we’re on the middle of Phuket island rather than Phuket town (Authentic mess) or Patong Beach (Touristy mess). To be honest that doesn’t bother us that much. Every time we go to one of the above we’re overwhelmed with the chaos and tourism. We only went a couple of times though, since driving our scooter around these crazy roads is beyond dangerous and there are no busses. We did it a couple of times and truly almost died so we agreed to lie off on that. Not worth the risk.
          I couldn’t imagine a better place to be stuck though. Our apartment complex has an infinity pool and a gym and we have amazing air-condition and WiFi. Right next door is a 7-eleven, a coffee shop and an authentic restaurant. Pretty much all you need, right? We spend our days exploring a bit (but not too much since there’s not much but buggy rainforest and dangerous roads without sidewalks out here), working out and working late. Because of the time difference we go to bed around 4 am and wake up at 12 pm. I actually almost like it although it feels like the days are passing by really fast. I wouldn’t mind living here. We’re eating really weird stuff and I love that. Tamarind candies and roasted seaweed are examples of our favorite snacks. I really love the whole seaweed flavor and at this point it doesn’t even seem weird that they’re using seaweed flavor for teas, crisps and popcorn. It makes everything awesome. It does suck that there aren’t many chocolaty snacks though, and everything is overly sweet, even when they aren’t sweets. Like their coffee and bread. An Americano here can be like syrup. Their selection of pre-made food is not the greatest either. Let me break the 7-eleven down for you:

Prepared/microwavable meals: 
With the exception of burgers, you can choose from rice dishes, noodle dishes, cup noodles and prepared bread-with-stuffing (the bread is as sweet as cake even when the stuffing is tuna or beans)

Savory snacks: 
Seaweed/seafood flavored chips, 100 types of roasted seaweed, dried fruit and nuts.

Sweet snacks: 
Pure sugar in different forms (candies, chewy candies, hard candies, drops) and different flavors (fruit or milk).

A huge selection of juices and teas. A large selection of flavored milks. A small corner with beer and soda, one shelf of overly sweet iced coffee

So what’s missing here? How about müsli bars or chocolate bars? How about sugar free sodas? How about salads and sandwiches and salted peanuts? Chocolate? Coffee? Baby bites, cookies and muffins? I’ve kinda substituted my eating habits a bit…
Coffee – juice
Chips – roasted seaweed
Soda – tea
Sandwiches – rice dishes
Cake – any snack that looks so weird I can’t imagine what it tastes like (pumpkin in coconutcream, ricepudding with milk, spicy tamarid candies)
         Hmm, I guess overall these snacks do look healthier than my previous alternatives. And we have been working out a lot. I think we’re generally at a bit of a calorie deficit here and I like it as I know I reached a higher weight than ever in Istanbul. Didn’t go on the scale but I just know. It is really really nice working out, makes me feel so much better in general.

In a few days it’s Halloween. The second one Alex and I will celebrate together. That really satisfies me for some reason. It feels like we’ve been together forever; I know him better than myself and visa versa. It feels as if I have this extension of myself that happens to be able to satisfy all the needs I couldn’t satisfy on my own. Like company, artistic inspiration and human touch. I don’t mind that there is nothing left to explore, I feel like I saw all there was to see of this person and I saw nothing that could even begin to scare me away. I only saw beauty and passion and so I will nestle in here in his embrace, having found my perfect place.

Our bed is as hard as a rock. They’re building a road right outside our window. Every night the strays bark like crazy. In the distance, clouds of humidity get stuck on a mountain. The lock turns twice. Alex learned how to use the hose in the bathroom. There’s no toilet paper, we steal it from the pool area. The guards say kah-puhn-kap. We have a serious ant-problem in here. We keep running out of straws but started to not care about touching our lips to the cans. There’s a flattening iron and a hairdryer but no stove or water-heater. Leftover microwaved eggs are hard to wash off a plastic plate using only a cloth and body wash. Thai babies all know how to say bye-bye. We get stickers when we buy stuff at our 7-eleven. Our red towels are so new they cover our bodies in red threads. It took us a day to figure out the warm water. The elevator doors close aggressively. There’s artificial (wet) grass on top of the gym. Electrical chords regularly create the sound of fireworks in the distance. We already love Thailand. 

03.11.14 - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Why is it that it is so hard to be anywhere but in the country you were born in? Chiang Mai is perfect. Perfect for us with all its busy streets and chill coffee shops. It has life, passion, warmth and cheap stuff. Everything we need. People are smiling and speak surprisingly good English. In addition, there are approximately one expat for every 10 Thai people (at least in the old town) making it easy to feel at home and finding fellow travelers to talk to. Attending the lantern festival we were randomly approached by another blogger couple and have since then run into them once more. Chain Mai seems to have accommodated well to the large expat scene by integrating 24-hour coffee shops with good WiFi and nice modern décor. The old city is dusted with cheap guesthouses and used bookstores. Surrounding the city are endless green hills with elephant camps, tiger farms and hiking tracks. If it’d had a beach I might have been tricked into thinking I was in paradise.

Having already spent 3 weeks in Thailand we made our way to the Chiang Mai immigration office a few days into our stay here. Alex had laughed at me for insisting on being there at 6:45AM (the office opened at 7.00AM) but as we approached the scene he became utterly silent. A wall of people materialized as we turned the corner. Making our way to the end of the line I curiously looked at everyone and found only tired and impatient expressions on the faces of all ages and sizes of both foreigners and Thai people. When the tattered looking doors to the building finally opened and seven different people started handing out small and big pieces of papers and navigating people into non-existing queues, an air of confusion and desperation unfolded. This bewildered atmosphere persisted for the three hours we spent there asking ourselves questions like: “Why is our number purple?” “Why is that girl not in our line?” and “Where did they take our passports?” Escaping the scene with the correct stamps in our American and Danish passports, we felt relieved to have another month of legal stay in Thailand. It occurred to me on the unbearably hot walk from the immigration office to the city (paying 5$ for a tuc-tuc didn’t seem worth it at the time) that it had been an ‘easy’ round. Thailand had fairly open visa regulations and it would be much harder to stay anywhere else for long.
          “Do you realize that we can’t keep doing this?” I asked Alex in an uncertain voice. I knew he would disagree and surely he immediately put up his guards. He seemed to flinch every time an end to traveling or a commitment to any occupation or location was mentioned.
          “Of course we can! There are millions of travel bloggers out there and they’re all doing the same. When we can’t stay here anymore we’ll just move onto somewhere else.”
          There were several aspects of this statement that concerned me and recently they’d all been rumbling around in the back of my head. Having just left the immigration office I grabbed for the closest one:
          “You saw how hard it was to get a single month in Thailand. It’s going to be like this everywhere; we’ll be able to get a month of visa-free entry for each country and possibly less for some. And although the world is big, there are only so many places we can go when we need the security of permanently accessible Wi-Fi. We can only be in Europe for three months. Then there’s Turkey, South-east Asia and Australia, which is both too expensive to go to and too expensive to live in. Then there’s South America and god knows what visa rules they have over there.”
          “Come on Tamara, you know there are endless places to go…”
          I knew that he was somewhat right, but I also knew that we couldn’t afford to go endless places. I only had my savings and although they could technically last for another year, maybe two years, I would need money for whatever came after. After. Above funding, above visas and above missing having a home I was concerned with the ‘after’. Thinking about it formed clusters of worry in the pit of my stomach and made my head swirl so much it made me dizzy.

          I didn’t know. Not only did I not know what we’d do after traveling, I also could not think of any possible solution which would involve not leaving Alex’s side. Discussing our options on a few occasions we’d jokingly agreed that marrying was always a last resort. But although we’d said it jokingly, the truth was that marrying wouldn’t even be a solution. I’d have to be 24 for the marriage to validate Danish residency for my spouse. Alex didn’t qualify for any other type of visa for my country. And visa versa. There was no last resort. Other than traveling until I was past 24. Being 21 years old this honestly scared me. But I knew that Alex secretly liked this excuse to keep going. I knew if he had the option he’d travel until the day he died. This scared me even more.
          I clenched his hand hard and shut my lips tight, holding in the worries that were about to spill like a waterfall from my worried heart. He knew it and I knew it, no reason to grind salt into the wound. The only solution was to wait it out, keep traveling and not worrying until… later. Telling myself over and over not to worry, I settled the storm and tried to ignore the growing knot in my stomach.

29.11.14 - Somewhere in the jungle, Thailand

Alex had two days off for thanksgiving and the bus not leaving from Chiang Mai to Bangkok until Saturday evening gave us three full days of WiFi-freedom. Determined to take advantage of this vacation, we decided to take a little retreat to the jungle; getting away from bustling cities for once.

The little cabin guesthouse was a fairytale world. With 5-6 out-rented cabins scattered around a large complex of organized jungle in the middle of a very gigantic, wild and disorganized jungle, the guesthouse felt like a beautiful movie setting. Inside the grounds were wooden swings, small stone paths, waterfalls, fountains and pet rabbits running wildly. There even was a yoga hall, which was the point; we wanted a short yoga retreat in the beautiful jungle. Our cabin was otherworldly. Completely kept in wood, it was hidden in a cluster of palm trees and wild bushes. As the hut was in shadow all day it was filled with cold humid air that smelled like freshly chopped wood and green leaves. Opening the door to the bathroom I exclaimed, “Honeeeey! Someone let the jungle into out bathroom!” in a joking British accent. I meant it literally though. Branches from the trees hung down from the ceiling, which consisted of a holey plastic sheet. The floor was made of big stones dug straight into the dirt ground and in the corner a palm tree was growing out of it. The showerhead was literally tied to the trunk of tree and I literally drew vines aside to look at myself in the mirror. We loved it. We had our own bed in our own little jungle cabin. What more can you ask for?

On our single full day in the jungle we set out on a trip to a nearby waterfall. Located 7 kilometers (4,5 miles) from our house, we knew it was too far to walk both ways. So of course we decided to hitchhike – Thai people are the most helpful people of the world; if everyone was as willing to help hitchhikers out as them we could save the ozone layer! The first car we encountered stopped and took us halfway to the waterfall. The second one stopped too and took us the rest of the way. The waterfall was bigger than we’d expected and I had a lot of fun counting my steps (we reached the top of the hill after around 900 steep steps). Eventually the steep path was no more than a tiny streak of trotted down grass in between bushes covered in spider webs and we decided to head back down. At that point we were way above the waterfall anyway and it was only about an hour or two until sunset. Making our way down, we named our spider-stick (the stick we used to wave in front of us to avoid walking into any spider webs) Jerry and embraced the 7 km walk home through the silent jungle, making loud Tarzan sounds and throwing leaves into the air.
          Looking up at Alex’s face while walking next to him down the little back road surrounded by jungle, I smiled widely. He looked so beautiful in the soft evening light fluttering through the leaves and scattering over his content face. I couldn’t wait to cuddle up with him in our own little fairytale cabin. As I looked back at the road, the head of a large sand-colored dog appeared from the bushes. Before I even registered what was happening, three other dogs had emerged from the dark branches and Alex had made the two of come to a halt, letting out a quiet “whoa…” Next thing I knew the dogs were starting towards us looking anything but friendly and Alex was tugging my hand. Walking as fast as we could without running, we made our way back the way we’d come from, continuing until we reached a little piece of road which was still soaked in sunlight and from where we could see the next turn of the road where the dogs had disappeared around the bend. It seemed we had out-walked the dogs since they still hadn't appeared after a few minutes. We looked around us confused for a second and then a feeling of anxiety very similar to claustrophobia suddenly paralyzed me. Fixing my eyes on the turn of the road, I listened to the endless silence and my breathing picked up.
          “Now what?” I said, my voice betraying me and showing distinct hints of panic.
          “Now we wait for a car” Alex said, sounding way more calm than I was. I looked around us, at the worn out little road with a faded white stripe in the middle but barely space for two cars to pass by each other. I knew as well as he did how few cars we’d encountered on our way out here. Only one or two more than the ones we were riding with. My panic increased as my eyes once again shot towards the sun, which was now disappearing in between the branches.
          “What if no one comes? We only have half an hour before it’ll be completely dark out here” I really wasn’t exaggerating. My panic wasn’t unjustified. A few minutes before we’d had our bodies, our legs capable of walking in case no cars turned up. I’d felt completely safe, knowing that no matter what we could always walk home. But now we could no longer continue down the road as the pack of wild dogs surely wouldn’t take it lightly if we tried to cross their territory for the second time. Speaking of the dogs, they might as well have popped out from the jungle from a different angle at any moment. I felt trapped. Our phones didn't have any signal. There was nothing behind us other than the waterfall. No city, no exit. In front of us were sharp teeth and fearless jungle strays. The shadows got longer as we spoke. As Alex waved Jerry around the air, aiming for an invisible dog I yelled at him;
          “It’s NOT funny! Don’t you see, there’s nothing we can do? If no car comes we’ll be stuck right here in the dark with wild dogs luring all around us. The sun is almost gone! How can you take this so lightly?”
          “A car must come…” he answered, but a tinge of hesitation and fear leaked through his otherwise confident demeanor. “Pick up a stick too” he commanded. I didn’t move but looked to both sides a couple more times before sitting down on the warm asphalt, whispering “No… I don’t know what to do.” I felt a lump in my throat and could do nothing but surrender to the feeling of claustrophobia. For the very first time ever I sincerely feared for my life and I could neither fight nor flight. Running wasn’t an option. Facing the dogs was downright stupid. We could do nothing but wait there in the last rays of sunlight, hoping that someone, anyone would pass by. Luckily someone did.

          The car was packed and going in the opposite direction of where we were trying to go, coming around the corner that I was still watching like a hawk. This didn’t stop us though. We waved them down and the nice driver stopped and asked us where we were going. Holding back tears of relief I explained our situation to him; how we couldn’t move any further because of the dogs and were stuck out there. I hoped with all my heart that he’d offer to call someone or maybe let us ride with him to the next town from where we could arrange a ride ourselves. To our surprise the family discussed something in Thai for a few seconds and then the three old women in the back swiftly jumped out of the car. “We’ll drive you back,” the old man said. We were both confused and extremely thankful as we watched him turn the car around while the old women sat down at the side of the road, sharing a bag of dried fruit.
          Alex kept the chitchatting going while I was recovering from the intense fear I had just lived through. The man drove us all the way home, 20 minutes through the tiny, steep jungle roads and never asked for anything in return. His family waited for him in the woods, apparently happy to breathe a bit of fresh air and see the waterfall while waiting for him to come back. Apparently old Thai ladies are not afraid of aggressive jungle dogs. In any case, I was more thankful than ever that night when I got to cuddle up next to my love, both of us unharmed, in our enchanted hut.

01.12.14 - Bangkok, Thailand

And then it was December. And we were in Bangkok. Do I feel inspired to write? Well I don’t have an Internet connection, so I guess I’ll have to leave off the social media, chatting and browsing for a second. I really don’t like Bangkok. The bus ride from Chiang Mai was 10 hours of luxury (leaning seats, air-condition, free Oreos and almost WIFI) followed by an hour of pure hell.
          We were supposed to arrive at 9am. During the night I had noticed that the driver was driving rather recklessly since I kept waking up form large bumps and extremely sharp turns. I hadn’t anticipated that it would make us 2,5 hours early though. So when someone screamed into the microphone “LAST STOP BANGKOK EVERYBODY OUT, OUT, OUT” at 6.30AM I was still asleep. Confused and disturbed I opened my eyes to the sight of Alex collecting cookies, water and stuff from his seat, throwing it into his bag while rushing me to get out. Whoever was screaming kept going, repeating “OUT, OUT, OUT, FASTER, FASTER!” Still half asleep, my body was scared into a state of alarm and I collected my stuff and almost ran out of the bus, not realizing that I had no reason to hurry. Outside a man was immediately in my face, asking, “Where’s your hotel?” in a persistent, aggressive voice. My eyes were still getting used to being open and in the morning light I could barely see his face through the sheet of blur that seemed to cover my vision. I was confused about his question as I was pretty sure the bus stop was at the other end of the city, and it surely wouldn’t drive us to the door? I answered “Loftel 22” under my breath and looked around, trying to remember what my purpose was outside of the bus in a hub of screaming men and drowsy travelers. In a state of half sleep I absentmindedly watched a pile of bags and backpacks grow larger and larger in front of me when I heard Alex call my name. Searching out his face, I saw him looking at me with an annoyed expression while pointing to my beige backpack at the top of the pile. Remembering how to move, I picked up my bag and said “Loftel 22” to the third man asking me the name of my hotel. Following Alex out of the crowd he asked me why I was even answering those guys who were obviously trying to scam tired rich white people into paying twice the actual price of a tuc tuc to get to their accommodation. I hadn’t actually realized that was what those guys were doing until that moment and felt a bit stupid.
          After walking a few meters out of the crowd my brain slowly rebooted. Okay, so we were in Bangkok and our hostel was across the city. There was no metro. What was the next step? Wow, that was an incredibly large road. Wow, I was incredibly tired. After quickly stating that our only way to get to the hostel was a tuc tuc or walking, Alex said he didn’t want to deal with those drivers. I really didn’t feel like it either so we silently agreed to walk the 50 minutes to our hostel. My backpack is not made for walking. Needless to say, Bangkok isn’t made for walking either. Everybody seemed genuinely surprised to find us walking down the streets, one tuc tuc driver after the other convinced he’d found a costumer and looking very confused when we claimed to not need a ride. We could barely breathe in the smoggy air and in spite of the fact that it was 6.30 in the morning people were setting up food-stalls with boiling grease and rotting seafood already. The buildings were run-down and dirty and so were the people. After 30 minutes of walking our shirts were soaked from the humidity and our sweat and after 45 minutes we could scrape black stuff off of our faces. By the time we reached our hostel, a nice and clean property in the least clean part of town, we agreed that we’d reached new levels of grime.

Despite the fact that we’d promised ourselves to never judge a city from our first impression, we were pretty convinced that we hated Bangkok. We managed to find an unclean but empty bunk in a dorm with a door that was left open and snuck in to take a nap before making our way to the lobby to actually check in at 12. Then we went straight to the weekend marked where I bought a dress and decided that Bangkok is nothing but grime on top of grime with tourists on top. Great. At least we found a big and clean mall and had fun hating ourselves for being such white people. But seriously. Sometimes it is all right to love a mall.

03.01.15 Ølstykke, Denmark

And then christmas was gone. I just said goodbye to my family again, as we're headed to South America. The month in Denmark was lovely, cozy and interesting. Interesting because I don’t know what happened to me, or to us. I didn’t feel like me, and we didn’t feel like us for some time there. Being in my old house with my family was both comforting and weird. A bit of the new me, a bit of the calm, understanding and patient person I consider myself to be, crumbled under the roof that I used to scream and cry under as a teenager. Interesting how you can so easily fall back into familiar personality patterns in a familiar environment. 

It was also amazing, heartwarming and beautiful. I got to spend Christmas and New Years, not only with my family, but also with my family that I choose: Alex. Showing him all the traditions of my country was the peak of my Christmas. Other peaks to be mentioned are; holding my sister tight and telling her that our mom is just not always right and that she’s a good and beautiful person. Teaming up with Fred in a snow-fight against Alex. Explaining to Alex that my grandma thinks yelling just one Danish word really loud will make him understand it, and hugging her because she is such a sweet human being. Carrying my baby-cousin, Caroline, around the room making airplane noises. Seeing my cousin Sarah’s eyes light up our travel tales. Watching my stepdad John hugging Alex’s arm saying it’s too bad the poor guy doesn’t speak Danish. Having coffee one last time with my dad after already saying goodbye to him in a teary silence because he though we’d not see each other again for a year. Holding my mothers hand and finally feeling like we're on the same level. Telling her that I love her and telling her to shut up when she claims the opposite. Talking to her for hours without flinching and leaving in silence rather than in screams or tears. Seeing how Jonas has turned into a real young man, a confident and outgoing character without stutters and strange grammar. Watching Tobias’ advanced fireworks show in my honor at my birthday.

Kissing Alex on top of the Viking hill while fireworks were exploding all around us, lighting up the entire landscape. Kissing Alex a million times in my very own bed. Hearing him yell “DU HAR STORE BRYSTER” on stroeget to the point where people turned around and pointed after us because I’d told him it was a compliment and meant “you have soft hair” when it really means "you have giant boobs".  Folding Julehjerter on the floor. Watching VSH tapes of poor quality. Patting his back while he vomited into my mother’s vase after having a great brunch and going to the movies. Finding him huddled up next to Fred in Fred’s bed, playing LOL.

And watching the pain on Frederik’s face when he came silently up to me on that last night, asking if he could please sleep on the floor next to my bed tonight. If he could please, please. He held my hand while falling asleep and I watched his face grow peaceful in the moonlight. In the morning I left. I'm realizing that when you love someone it's a million harder to say goodbye the second time, after already having been gone and having come back.