And here I am, wrapped in the sweat and the sweetness of the Big Mango. It took 20 hours of flying and more than double that with no sleep, but all of the jaggedness melted away in the 30-degree heat and wilting humidity of what has been labelled The Hottest City in the World, temperature-wise.
I am smitten with all that I remember about this gritty oasis: Crooked taxi touts at the airport, the turbo-charged purr of the tuk-tuks as they blast between car lanes, the smell of grease smoke from the cart vendors and the joy of cheap SIM cards; and all that I had forgotten that I remember – crowing roosters, brushing my teeth with bottled water, taking a guest house room on a higher floor (most don’t want to climb all the flights of stairs with their overloaded backpacks, so high-floor rooms are a bit cleaner and less worn overall); fritzy air conditioners, 65-cent fruit shakes. I embrace it all.
Less than an hour after checking in I was perched on a tiny plastic stool on the side of the street as my artist friends Uto, Ton and Dit, and my new Korean friend Sun Ha, toasted my arrival with cold cans of Leo. “I remember you,” Uto says. “Same hair, but last year bit fatter. You skinny now!” Uto drinks a lot. Sadly, Ong is way in Ayutthaya. We spoke on the phone.
Leo led to Yon Gang (no clue how it’s written), a kind of Thai moonshine made apparently from herbs. Yon Gang is chased with innocent-looking but angrily bitter and dry little fruits that are dipped in hot spices before they rob the inside of your mouth of every speck of moisture and then set it on fire. Why not? Never try, never know.
So much for dinner. Talk, laugh, shoot Yon Gang, watch tourists go by. Not enough tourists, however, according to my artist friends. Very quiet this year; no business.
I forgot my camera in my room and was too hot to climb and retrieve it, so no pictures to share of this welcome night. Maybe the lower-floor people are onto something.
I floated off down the dirt- and dog-laden street, climbed the 10 flights of stairs to my hot, humble little room and slipped into the cocoon of my silk sleep sheet (not taking any chances with bed bugs), smiling as sleep hit. How could only my first 2 hours in this crazy city be so totally satisfying? I am filled with joy to be here again, and already sad that I’m leaving for Bali in 2 days.
Life back home seems very far away indeed. One thing is sure: I was made to be out in this world; meant to travel.