An old man on an old bike. He was wearing a cap, his face straight from a cartoon, crossing the road in slow motion. Somehow he was oblivious to me bearing down on him at 100 kmph. I can’t remember if I slowed down or sped up. I shifted my weight left and blew by within six inches of his front tire. Just beyond I clipped another bike crawling along the shoulder and registered the sound of cracked glass.
Where to from here? Pretty sold on the idea of visiting China for a few months once my Thai visa expires in June. But until then… I’m caught between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I’ll need to choose one or the other, and soon. I think about the advice I offered a reader earlier today: if you have trouble choosing between two options, might as well just flip a coin and go with it. It’s only when the sides are mismatched does a decision come easy.
I’ll crack this fashion nut eventually, looking forward to the day I’ll feel at ease throwing on any item from my minimal wardrobe. I’ve come quite a long way in Bangkok, learning from well dressed chaps such as Peach, Middleton and Ward. Today I splashed out on three shirts, all patterned to mask the inevitable sweat patches this city evokes. Dude at the store showed me how to roll up my sleeves just right. It’s a hundred little things.
Two weeks, no exercise. Time to get back at it. Steps again. Forty flights. I’d never beaten the six minute mark, and I didn’t expect to this morning with my walking pace. And yet there I was reaching the summit within a half dozen. How did that happen? I always figured tabata sprints would get me there faster. They do deliver a better workout perhaps, but slow and steady wins the race.
It’s approaching midnight as I freshen up in the restroom of the Happy Times Bar. Two attendants approach from the rear with nothing more than a sawadee-khrap and move their hands quickly to my shoulders. I don’t freak out, having heard from a friend of these pouncing restroom masseurs. I walk out a minute later and seventy baht lighter, but with a loose neck and a wide grin. Happy times indeed.
Abandoned skyscraper, redux. Half-assed security accept 200 baht a head, but that only buys us passage to the eighth floor. Stairways are barricaded from there and they refuse to unlock the gates, even amid more bribe offers. We figure they don’t want to risk trouble with the authorities, until we meet two farang coming down from the top just before nightfall. Why allow them and not us? Because we’re in Thailand, where 2 + 2 often equals cabbage.
I feel overdressed. Most of the guys here are sporting shorts, flip flops and beer bellies. The girls are in much better shape and much less attire. I head upstairs and walk around, on the lookout for a good spot. Voices coo and fingers reach for me as I pass curtained entryways and barstooled ladyboys. Everything and everyone has taken on a red hue. I stop and snap photos for two young Korean dudes with smiles like Disneyland.
We bump into each other moving through the crowd at the Thao Mahaprom Shrine. We’ve only met once before, but the recognition is mutual. Smiles are exchanged and we chat for a bit. Somehow the conversation advances quickly to love lives. She’s not having much luck. “I want a man who won’t try to change me,” she says. “They always want to change me.” I tell her she’s fine just the way she is, but I’m not sure I believe it.
We sit across the street at a high table and watch him through blurs of break dancers. Bald and wrinkled, sipping a glass of red, dressed like a gent. He’s got a slow motion smile and a gleam in his eye. Occasionally he leans forward and stuffs a royal face in the underwear of the girl pole dancing before him, a girl young enough to be his great-granddaughter. I sit and I watch and all the while I’m thinking: I hope that’s not me in fifty years. I hope I’m better than that.
Just got off a Q&A session with Cody McKibben and his DNA crew. I think I’ve gotten a lot better with that type of stuff, interviews and the like. Toastmasters and the video blogs have definitely helped with storytelling and articulation. And my confidence has grown over time. Nowadays I feel that I actually have some good, practical insights to share when it comes to travel and self-employment.
I head downstairs to the second floor, poolside, to the water vending machine. I pop in too much change and fill up six bottles. I always try to leave a little extra credit in the machine. I never hang around to see how the next visitor responds to the surprise, but I like to think it brightens their day a little, to know there are people roaming around dropping random gifts for the benefit of strangers. I hope I leave this world like I leave that vending machine.
It’s 3:30 a.m. as I crouch in an aisle, trying to arrive at a good decision. Wings, no wings, scented, unscented, thin, long, cupped, organic, hypoallergenic? Fucking hell. And I thought us guys had it tough choosing a razor. After a minute’s deliberation I opt for a couple of packages that don’t look like they’ve been designed by blind men. At the counter I meet curious eyes above a mouth that announces, “For lady.” I nod in agreement. “Yes. For lady.”
“It stopped raining.” Sunday-morning drowsy on the couch, I look over as she steps out to the balcony and note how my shirt looks much better on her. I watch hair, back and legs for a long moment as Nina Simone sings about her poor heart not made of wood. Before it’s even done unfolding, I recognize the scene as one I’ll recall with clouded edges and a warm fondness for a long time to come.
It’s weird. Barely a hint of hesitation slapping down a few hundred for an iPhone or a GoPro, while splashing out serious money for a personal trainer gives me pause. Most likely, you’d flinch, too. But why? Isn’t our physical well-being worthy of significant investment, of both the monetary and time varieties? I have to remind myself regularly that gadgets come and go, but I only get one body. Maintenance isn’t optional.
We sit and chat at a Lebanese restaurant, likely our last meal together. She leaves Bangkok in less than 24 hours. As per usual, much of our conversation revolves around her troubled situation. Born into a religion she didn’t choose and a nationality she can’t excuse, she’s left with a family intolerant, a passport unwelcome, a dream destroyed. I can’t help but think that her world is a vampire. What have you got, when you feel the same?