As I revealed in part two of this “Mental chaos half across the world” series, I have no recollection of my flight to Bangkok from Hong Kong. So, I’ll just say that one day I showed up in Thailand and went directly to Sukhumvit Road, a popular area for expats in Bangkok. I found a $5 a night shed room (yes, shed). Sorry, I tried to find some photos online, but all the “sheds” were just too luxurious comparatively. Of course I never took a single photograph during my trip. I don’t even remember if I brought a camera. As a reminder, this was mid-1990s, one had to use a camera to take pictures. I had no cell phone.
The shed “room” I rented just had a fan, a small light on the ceiling, and a very narrow bed on the cement floor with a mosquito net. The size was maybe 6 feet long and perhaps 4 feet wide with a 6 foot ceiling, and no windows. It was April, the weather was a torturous 100+ Fahrenheit (40 + Celsius), and very humid. I remember settling in and realizing I had the wrong clothes for this place. I needed something skimpier. So I took a stroll down Sukhumvit Road and found plenty of merchants selling sarongs and short halter tops for next to nothing, after bargaining, of course! I recall living for a few days strictly on frozen watermelon shakes. I ordered one after another in an attempt to lower my body temperature. The waitresses laughed.
I immediately hooked up with a guy. This time it was a Brit. I remember meeting him in a café while eating Tum Kha Gai soup with fragrant white rice. It was my first real meal since leaving Hong Kong. The British guy introduced himself, but I’m afraid I’ve since forgotten his name. He said he had just arrived from Tibet. That fact thrilled me. He invited me to explore the town with him, and then we hung out at his hostel, which seemed like a 3 Michelin star hotel compared to my cave. Later that night, we decided to visit the spice market. It was fragrant and beautiful. Everything seemed utterly lovely!
Coincidentally, the Songkran festival was held that day in celebration of the Thai New Year. Part of the festival’s tradition is to have water fights and throw powdered chalks. So, when a group of kids saw us, they delighted in attacking us. We were both completely soaked, which was actually more a relief from the heat than an inconvenience. At the end of our night out, British guy invited me to join him and some friends for a trip to Kanchantaburi in a couple of days. Hell yes! I was up for anything! Kanchantaburi is a small village along the river Kwai, slightly northwest of Bangkok. This village is well-known only because of the legendary 1957 British-American epic war film “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.
We arrived in Kanchantaburi in the afternoon, and gathered in the “resort’s” little restaurant, drinking Sang Thip, Thailand’s famous whisky. Later, we put on our swimsuits and jumped in the river. Ahh, heaven! After the dip, back to the dock where someone started to pass a joint. Believe it or not, it was my first and last experience with marijuana. But the sky was dark with stars and the mood was relaxed and romantic. I shut my eyes, and for what seemed like an hour I heard no one. All I heard was the sound of what I thought were frogs, one by one jumping into the river. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Their continuous plopping started to terrorize me. I opened my eyes and the sound of chat suddenly turned on again. I stood up, abruptly left for the room, and changed. I lay on the bed with my mind racing, until British guy came in. We shared a room.
We lay staring at each other for a few moments. Then for the first time since I left my Romanian love in Berkeley, I had sex. Just days after meeting him. Bipolar hypersexuality kicked in and it was thrilling to feel like I was cheating on that “malefactor” who dumped me so brutally. Gone was all my reserve.
Much of the remainder of my time in Kanchantaburi is a blur. I do remember getting extremely angry when British guy seemed to flirt with another young woman. That anger kept brewing in my head, because after we returned to Bangkok, I stayed with him another night and then ditched him.
I was thrilled to be back in Bangkok, because I yearned for the night life. I craved the dance clubs, drinking Sang Thip whisky and dancing with whomever was willing. In one club I started to dance with a particularly handsome blond fellow. He was a great dancer, rivaling me (a former ballet dancer) so we hooked up. His name was Martin Keller from some town I’ve forgotten in Germany. Strangely, he’s the only person whose name I remember from my entire journey to Hong Kong and Thailand. I guess I repeated it in my head hundreds of times, or was it because he made such a big impression in my rapidly whirling brain?
Martin Keller was a dream of a gentleman. The first man I felt rather excited about since that Romanian jerk in California. It was an instant infatuation. He was romantic, courteous, and appeared to adore me, too. When he asked me to spend the next day touring Bangkok with him, I accepted enthusiastically. I didn’t sleep at all after he walked me to my hostel. I spent the hours until we were to meet again in an awaken dream-like state, thoughts racing. Lack of sleep is very common when manic, and my sleep had been little since Hong Kong.
Martin Keller and I spent the entire next day wandering around. We visited temples, Chinatown, where I impressed him with my Chinese, and wove our way through a labyrinth of streets, stopping occasionally for an icy beverage or heavenly banana fritters. At night, we went back to the dance bar where we met. I was in a state of utter euphoria, dancing seductively with this German god. And it was there that he first kissed me, as skilled of a kisser as a dancer. He asked me to return with him to his hostel. I was drunk with passion, but managed to realize his place was the same hostel where British guy resided, and as we walked down the dark corridor we passed the British guy’s best friend. But I didn’t care. British guy was past tense!
I was reeling with joy all through the night and next morning with him, but I had to return to my hostel for a shower. Just as I stepped out of Martin Keller’s room, I heard an old man shouting at me in Thai mixed with broken English “You leave whore! And never come back here!”
Sleeping with two men within a few day period was definitely a whore-like feat, and normally the sheer thought of it would have embarrassed or shamed me. Instead, all I could do was laugh hysterically. I laughed all the way back to my hostel and in the shower, just as I had laughed when the Korean girl chased me out of the restaurant in Hong Kong. Boy, I was not myself. I am actually a somewhat prudish type. Martin Keller was after all, only my third lover, and I was 24 years old. I thought about that briefly while laughing.
Martin Keller was, unfortunately, a very short-term fling. He told me he was moving on to Vietnam soon. That was sad, but like everything else in a manic mind, a fleeting emotion. When he left I perused my guide book and set my mind on visiting the island of Koh Samui.
Koh Samui is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus. It was a very long bus ride, requiring a transfer and then a ferry ride. The ride on the bus was the first time I slept more than a couple of hours in what seemed like weeks. It was as if my separation from Martin Keller calmed my mania a bit. The first transfer was in a sleepy little town, and required a walk to the proper bus station. I recall getting off the first bus and being disoriented. The only person around was a young Asian woman, whom I assumed was Thai. I didn’t even have to say a word before she asked me if I was lost. I was relieved to hear her speak good English, plus that she was on her way to Ko Samui. What a good luck! She said she was originally from the Philippines, but traveling around Thailand on her own, like me. She was instantly likeable and a comfortable travel companion.
We chatted on the bus for a while, but when the bus arrived at a station, my new Filipina friend said she was unsure if we needed to transfer again. She suggested I ask at the bus depot and come back to let her know. I agreed. She suggested I leave my bag with her, so I did. I asked the depot clerk about a transfer and he said I was on the right bus. I returned to the bus and found my new friend missing, but was relieved to see my bag in place.
It was just a short bus ride to the ferry station and the ferry ride turned out to be pleasant. I sat on top deck and felt the cool Gulf breeze on my cheeks. A Western man started to chat with me. He was from Holland. He was pleasant and curious about where I was staying. I told him, and he said I was welcome to stay with him at a small cottage he was renting. I refused. My mood was stabilizing a bit and I had better sense at that point.
I took a taxi to my resort. Actually, it was more like a rickety truck. It took almost an hour to get there, but I was more than pleased with what I found. It had a lovely beach with cottages, and a resort restaurant nearby. The manager said I could pay upon check-out, putting any meals and drinks on a tab. The inside of the cottage was delightful. It was clean and had a beautiful queen-sized bed with mosquito netting. It had a private bathroom with a shower and a clean toilet. I went to the restaurant after settling in and enjoyed my first big meal in a while. The Gulf was peaceful and I recall a full moon. I returned to my cottage and had a full night’s sleep. The next day I spent hours wading in the water and lying on the beach. I kept a watchful eye on my cottage just in case. The manager suggested that.
That night I looked for a book, and decided to check my cash situation. At first glance, I saw some cash and my envelopes full of American Express Travelers Cheques. Yes, back in the 1990s travelers checks were still the recommended source of currency for travel. I had a credit card, but it was no use in most of Thailand, at least where I went.
At second glance, my money supply seemed off. Frantically, I counted my Thai Bhats and the equivalent of about $80 U.S. was missing. I sorted through my AMEX checks, and $400 worth was gone. I stopped breathing for almost a minute, then out burst the loudest shrill cry I ever produced. I was robbed! It had to have been the Filipina “friend!”
Once I settled down from my terror, I went to bed, knowing I’d have to deal with the theft the next day. I told the resort manager the story and he said I’d have to file a report in Bangkok. I guess I can say the Filipina was a gentlewoman of a thief since she left me with enough Thai Bhats to pay for my one day on Ko Samui, and trip back to Bangkok.
I made the long trip back to Bangkok feeling awful. As soon as I arrived, I went directly to the city police office. Once I filed the police report, I was able to go to the AMEX office to get my travelers checks replaced. I was lucky I knew exactly which were missing by the receipts I kept in a separate bag.
After the highway robbery, I decided it was time to return to Taiwan. A few days later, I used the open ticket to return. I decided to go to Taipei (Taiwan’s capital in the north) instead of Taichung. I considered finding another teaching job, but after another week or so, decided against it. I finally gave my parents a call and told them to expect me home in a few days. I hadn’t been to New Jersey in almost two years. New Jersey was my Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara.
Before I returned to New Jersey, I stopped by to see my old boyfriend Mihai, and pick up the last of my personal things. He was still in the midst of his graduate studies. I was still wearing my skimpy Thai sarong and halter top and shocked him with my almost 20 lb (9 kg) weight loss. I remember him taking me to a party at one of his Physics buddy’s houses and all of the guys complimenting me on how great I looked. I think Mihai was more than impressed, too, and might have even got off on my story of sleeping with two guys during my travels. We had what was pretty wild sex that night, for old time’s sake, but it was clear to both of us that the relationship was over. The next day I boarded the plane to New Jersey. I remember shedding some tears knowing I may never see him again.
In New Jersey, I fully stabilized and felt quite grounded. I only looked for temporary work, thinking that I would later return to Taiwan in better shape and finish the continuing studies that I started.