If you’re thinking of travelling alone, don’t you dare be worried it’ll stay that way. Whenever I have ventured out ‘on my bill’ (as my teenage self would call it), I meet someone within days, sometimes hours. Step 1: Put your phone down and say Hello. You’ll learn more about the culture you’re surrounded by from the people than any tripadvisor review.
I needed to get the airport express into Bangkok and here I met my first ‘person’. I was checking I was getting the right train and ended up talking to the guy for the whole trip. He was an airport engineer by day and a bar manager by night, getting 3 hours sleep between one shift and the next. Here was a man using the same avoidance tactics as I have referred to in previous posts – quite simply – not stopping to think.
There were pauses now and then whilst I took in the changing scenery, the skyscrapers and tower blocks growing and multiplying as we sped into the centre of the city.
I decided to try and explain my job which was perhaps a mistake…trying to gesture your way through the description of a midwife to a man living in a country that doesn’t even have the role, proved hilarious/ disastrous. His response to my flailing hands depicting pregnant women and something coming out of them was met by a blank stare and a meek ‘ I’m single’….Oh dear.
The silence following was a bit longer….He then pulled a locket from where it had been hidden under his t-shirt and told me, a barmy stranger on a train, that his wife had passed away from a brain tumour 2 years before. Strangely, it’s actually easier to express how devastated you are to hear such sad news through sign language and facial expression than it is through words. We spent the rest of the train journey looking through photographs of her, a beautiful dark skinned Thai woman gazing beyond the camera at the man now sat next to me, broken. We communicated that however hard it may be, sometimes it’s important to make yourself stop and think.
We parted ways with me having written down the name of his bar and wishing him all the best, asking him to slow down one day. He said the same to me.
To all the people out there avoiding their own thoughts….remember to let the water rush over you’re little island now and then. Remind yourself what it might feel like to swim to shore, and wade in when you’re ready.
The second Thai person I met was a small, 76 year old homeless woman with rickets. Her knees bowed outwards and she walked with what I can I can only describe as a painful looking waddle. She dragged around an old shopping bag and careered with terrifying intent towards anyone who dared sit still. I bought some fish food and gave her my second apple. Lucky thing?! In hindsight the poor woman probably would have preferred a bacon sandwich but, coeliac I am! We sat on the little bench I’d chosen, feeding the monstrous coy carp and talking, surprisingly, fluent English. We must have looked a pair! Turns out she had been to a top university to learn English, but become ill and lost her way in the world.
We were in Lumpini Park, an oasis for Thai people trying to escape the hustle, bustle and stink of Bangkok. Our bench overlooked the man-made lake which was bordered by skyscrapers, an urban frame to the greenery. Young couples paddled around in plastic swans, bothering the terrapins and Lizards that had set up home there. From the opposite side of the Lake came the boom of bass, the backing track for a hundred fold exercise class in the open air. Lines of Thai stretching in sync.
The 3rd Thai I met was sat on the bench near ours and joined in our conversation when she heard the English. An woman in her late 40’s, her Mother was an inpatient in the large angry looking hospital building that loomed over the right side of the park. She often came to the lake after visiting. We discussed how the park, plonked into the madness of the city, called out to anyone looking for peace and space to think. I’d definitely sought it out for the same reasons….but this post isn’t for me.
This woman also had a sad tale. Her mother was dying. She had 7 siblings who all felt that the life support machines should be switched off and they shouldn’t pay for the next treatment. She explained that her mother was in a lot of pain, but she was the only one who didn’t want to let go. She felt alone and responsible having given up her career to be a carer. She asked me how it worked in the UK, what my job was and why I was in Thailand. We talked at length in broken English, with long pauses for thought, about the ethics and emotion of her situation. She wanted me, again, this stranger in the park, to tell her what I would do. I thought of immediately of my mother who, infuriatingly at times, never tells me what to do but instead teases out my own feelings with open ended questions…I tried my best to do the same.
About an hour later we parted ways, no conclusions arrived at but a tangle of thoughts lined up in rows.
It’s odd, somehow, knowing that you will never see someone again makes baring your soul easier. There is no judgement and no need for trust. There is no need for small talk, to get to know each other first or skirt around the deep stuff out of politeness or avoidance of the taboo.
An impartial opinion. A fresh perspective. An unexpected, temporary friend.
Let them find you.
Put your phone down. Turn off the Internet and fix it so you can’t possibly make it through your day without interacting with another (shock horror) beautiful human. It might be the therapy you need.