Tripping Through Thailand

A traveler's diary chronicles the rhythms of daily discovery

| Utne Reader July / August 2007

January: Transfer
Walk down the main street of your small Ontario town. A signboard outside city hall announces Coming Events! but its plywood face is blank. In the near-dark afternoon, snow blows into the open jackets of high school kids who smoke in the 7-Eleven parking lot. A salesman stands at the window of his empty jewelry shop as though waiting. Title the scene 'Reasons to Leave.'

The next night tiny words are whispered late. 'Don't go.' Hands slip under clothing, memorize skin. Reassurance that you will be missed. As tongues touch teeth your mind is already making lists, packing and repacking the mess you left on your floor.

And then. A flight to Tokyo, airport sunrise, a connecting flight to Bangkok. Disembark, alone. Sleep fitfully at the Comfort Inn. Morning, humid air, orange blossoms in the parking lot. On the train-station platform a stray dog with massive mammaries pees next to your bag. Board the train for Chiang Mai.

February: Learning
Climb onto the rickety bicycle you borrowed from Claudia. Get to the first downhill before you learn it has no brakes. Rattle through the streets, one foot hanging to slow you. Ride into the temple grounds where orange-robed monks are sweeping up leaves and burning them in piles. The smell of smoke is haunting, familiar: canoes and camping. The worn red bricks are redder in the sunset, like they're burning, too.

Buy a rice cooker and a kettle, unpack your things. Your small wooden house is raised on stilts and the kitchen has no walls. It is surrounded by jungle growth--a banana tree, palms, bamboo. Chickens peck in the dirt yard. The neighbor's dog bounds up the pathway and steals your flip-flop.

Today you started your job, teaching at a school for refugees from Burma. The students are almost as old as you are. They asked about the Canadian president and David Beckham and how come your mother let you go so far away alone. Their jaws dropped when you told them it takes seven days of driving to cross Canada. But teacher, they asked, doesn't Canada have roads?