Tee’s words, “Keep on the inside,” as an explanation of why Thai people are always smiling, even when things maybe arn’t so good is one of the many things that I will take away from my experience at Rieng’s home – and today, it is coming in handy, as it is hard to say goodbye and continue to smile in hopes that I will again see my friends here. As much as I have intentions (hell, I’ll even say plans) to return to Thailand … who knows what tomorrow brings. It is not hard for me to reflect on my life and realize that something that was extremely important to me at one moment became a bit faded through time. But I guess in the same regard, my trip has shown me that anything is possible. Tee also taught me the Thai saying, “Mai Pen Rai,” which loosely translated means no worries, no problem, don’t worry about it, etc.
My last week in the Land of Smiles has been a plethora of last minutes. Last minute sight seeing with a trip to Kanchanaburi where the infamous Bridge Over The River Kwai and Death Railroad is, as well as a surprise trip to Ayutthya, Siam’s ancient ruined city. Last minute shopping for gifts and souvenirs at Chetuchak Market. And many last minute contemplations about a trip that has seen me touch the soil of 10 different countries over nearly five months of sometimes labourious, sometimes frustrating, but almost always exhilarating and educating travel. Perhaps I will return home in a little over 48 hours and through the ambition to again find my spot in my old life the changes that have occured in me will not be evident. I mean largely I am the same person I was before I left, and if anything, through the course of this journey I had always only hoped to improve those qualities that I had in myself before leaving Canada – to improve my ability to look at a situation not through biased eyes and to be able to approach things with an open mind. But I think I’ve not only improved on these things, but also gained a better insight to my strengths and weaknesses – of which I’ve had to both utilize and tackle throughout this trip. Travelling gives you the opportunity to not just be alone, but to be alone in unique situations – and I think it is in these moments when we really begin to build upon our character.
Anyway… after a quick journey on a VIP bus from Surat Thani (the entire time wondering if my backpack was being pillaged in the storage below), I found myself standing in the sticky 4:30 a.m. heat of Bangkok waiting for a bus with a Thai hooker whose conversational English was limited to “You want to kiss me?” My bus never came, her’s did and I took a tuk-tuk to the Southern Bus Terminal. I got to Kanchanaburi without hassle and found a suitable guesthouse on the River Kwai. When I say “on the river” I really mean ON THE RIVER… not on the bank like the phrase implies, but you could see water through the cracks in my room’s floorboards. Needless to say the mosquito net came in mighty handy, sadly, it didn’t keep out the ants and they swarmed my pack. The next morning I found my little dried banana gift the girl on the bus to Chiang Mai gave me, it looked like a cat had ripped through the bag and had its way with the contents.
After a quick nap I walked over to the war memorial cemetary for the foreigners who died during the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway by the Japanese PoWs in World War II. For those that don’t know, Japan occupied (with Thai “consent”) Thailand during the war, and basically used slave PoW labour to build a link through the very unappealing land between Thailand and Burma (we’re talking prime mountainous, swampy, malaria infested real-estate). Many, many, many died due to disease, malnutrition, over-work and abuse.
Beside the cemetary was a museum that Ollie (Jin’s friend in Bangkok) had told me was quite good (I was relieved it was the good one, as the JEATH Museum was far away… and from what Martin had told me – it sucked). The museum lived up to the good praise and gave a great rundown of events surrounding the Japanese occupation and construction of the railway.
From here I walked up to the bridge (about 3 km away) and waded through the Japanese (of all people) tourists that swarmed the site. Walking across the bridge I couldn’t help but focus on my fear of heights, but got lost in the memory of days gone by stumbling across Welland’s train bridge… sigh. I’ll have to remember to make a visit in the next week or two. The Bridge Over The River Kwai was a lot smaller than I had pictured, but was still neat to visit. On the opposing side you basically emerge in a very rural setting (aside from the precious stone dealers and Thai couple vying for your patronage to purchase food for their momma and baby elephant). I decided not to go back across the river (code of the traveller: never go the same way twice when possible) and instead walked down a old dirt road that loosely followed the waterway. I stopped and asked a toothless man standing in a field if there was a bridge up ahead so I could get back on the proper side, but well, my Thai and his English… he ended up letting me smell whatever it was he was growing and we did some demonstrations on how to eat corn (which he was also growing… or at least the farm was… perhaps he just liked to stand in fields, I’ll never know).
I eventually found the car bridge and watched the sunset from there with two Canadians named Dave and Beth (London and Guelph). We then went for dinner at a place that was showing the movie that made the place so famous, but with a crap VCD it wasn’t long before we paid our bill and left. I decided to catch a few more flics at a local bar that was showing Underworld and Stuck On You, both of which were entertaining, and the Chang was cheap.
The next day I escaped from the heat by taking advantage of the 20B/hr. internet and then headed to Bangkok where Tee picked me up at the bus station (after a bit of confusion on where we were supposed to meet). Friday… what did I do Friday? Oh, right, I basically just took it easy all day, but had made the commitment to demonstrate to my Thai family my new Thai cooking abilities (no pressure or anything). I decided on Green Curry as it was my fav. The meal was great, even if through the entire process Khak teased that he was going to have to call the hospital and reserve a spot for himself. Rieng was impressed that it was so good for my second time making it – and to tell you the truth, so was I, especially because the first time I had a teacher there to help. But really, Thai food is very simple to make.
Oh, so the other really cool thing that happened Friday was that Cass called me!!! Yup… we got to reconfirm that despite how our e-mails sound, we both do in fact have different accents! It was great to talk to her. I think we chatted for about an hour before her sister’s calling card dried up and cut us off. Good thing I guess, because I had to go cook and if history is any indication, we could have talked all night.
Saturday Tee offered to take me and Rieng to Ayutthya, the ancient capital of Siam that was sacked by the Burmese a few centuries ago. It is also their home province, and I think they were proud to take me there. It was really cool. Some of it got a bit repetative, because you can only see so many random bricks before it gets monotonous, but on a whole it was really amazing! Historically it was great to learn about and there are some huge pagodas and Buddha statues there. I also got to meet their oldest sister when she, her son and daughter and Ree showed up for lunch. It was nice to meet even more of their family.
Yesterday I was excited to head to Chetuchak Weekend Market in the north end of Bangkok. It has a few thousand stalls and so I figured I could find pretty much every souvenir and gift I wanted there. I was wrong. After a long bus ride, complete with missing my stop, I got to the market, was instantly soaked with sweat (I think it’s about 35-40 degrees in the shade now) and basically spent about 3 hours randomly wandering around finding very little. Most of the stalls have the same thing as the one beside it and if you are looking for some specific things (which I was) it is damn near impossible to find, because other than a map that gives you a rough idea what sections sell what “types” of things (household, animals, clothing, etc.) finding something specific is an exercise in futility (so now I’m waiting for Rieng to come home so I can run to Tesco Lotus and pick up a couple of things… call me Westernized but I LOVE Tesco Lotus [sort of like Walmart]). Then when I had given up and figured I should start heading home because I knew Ree’s friends were coming over for dinner to see me, I went to where the bus driver said to get back on the bus and waited. And waited. Chatted to a Thai girl about the heat, busses, the heat, English and the heat (Rawn Maak Maak! was the saying of the day). And waited… Finally I gave up and headed to the SkyTrain, took that a few blocks south to the Victory Monument and found the bus I needed. The ride home took the better part of two hours through Bangkok traffic but this time I cleared up with the driver to let me know when we hit my stop.
Though I was tired, hot and frustrated when I got home, the evening was great. We had a big spread of Thai food and though I didn’t understand most of it, everyone was chatty and it was good fun. Khak gave me a bottle of Thai wine, so I cracked that and chatted business with Tee (we are thinking of doing a bit of import/export) and then stayed up and waxed relationships/philosophy and general cultural differences with Rieng until about 2 a.m.
Now, with my computer about to melt (it and Thai electricity do not get along and it is beginning to smell funky), I am contemplating starting to pack, basically for the last time, and well… this is it. The next entry will be from back in Canada. What a weird feeling it is to do this travelling in reverse. When I was going to London, the night before I was “Wow! I can’t believe that tomorrow I’ll be in London.” The words are the same this time, but the inflection different. I can’t wait to see Maryann again, but it’s with sadness, because after tomorrow I don’t know when I’ll see her next. And then off to Boston, which I’ve always wanted to visit, but will only really get to see the terminal, then home for Wednesday night. I’m sure I’d be more depressed about this being the end if didn’t miss my friends and family so much and if I hadn’t had an amazing time and completed all the things I wanted to. There will always be more for me to see, and I understood that from the outset, so I don’t feel as though I’ve missed out on anything and anything that I wish I had seen is just a reason to return. So folks, start saving your money, because next time I expect some company!
These are kinda out of order, but I’m posting this with the car running and my bags packed.. so give me a break. I’ll sort it out when I get home.