Thailand

Cigars for Burma

“I was lying on the floor,
This is what my mind’s eye said,
‘What an easy life you’ve had,
What a simple life you’ve led.’”

The room had the look about it of a hideout.

A large open space, void of furniture, save for a couple careless stools and a small TV in the corner. The walls were barren of decoration, random nails and hooks held lone hats and hand woven satchel-bags. A naked light bulb hung from the ceiling’s center, pale moths clinked and fluttered against its glass, despite the bulb’s efforts, the dull light still kept the corners of the room in shadow. I slipped off my shoes, as is customary in South East Asia and walked through the open door. The bare concrete floor was cool against the soles of my feet. They entered from the left. The three men approached us.

I held out my hand and greeted each of the rebel soldiers.
The room was a hideout.

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It had been a last minute invitation. I was about to turn in and go to sleep when my co-worker, Violet approached me. Would I like to join her in visiting her friends who were staying just out of town? Her “friends” were no ordinary chums and “just out of town” turned out to be a bumpy ride deep into the western Thai jungle. I clutched the side of the white rickety pick-up as we bounced and clattered down a dirt road. One U-turn and then another. Sporadic sharp turns and haphazard last minute changes in direction. Suddenly the truck skidded to a dusty halt and I could see through the back window of the truck that we appeared to be lost. Violet swinging her arm, pointing off to the right as the driver shook his head glancing this way and that into the jungle foliage. We swung around hard, I ducked as low-lying tree branches brushed past and we headed back in the direction we came.

We had driven for what seemed like hours. Twisting and turning through the nighttime Thai jungle. Finally, unceremoniously we came to a halt outside a drab and secluded concrete building. The circumstances in which it took us to reach the place made its aura of secrecy even stronger.

They were Kachin. An ethnic group of Burmese who lived up in the northern highlands of Burma or Myanmar as it is now called. Burma has had a tremulous history, military coups and tyrannical regimes have dominated the country’s leadership since its conception. The military regime has an appalling human rights record. Violently crushing protests, arresting journalists and activists, imprisoning countless people that spoke out against the military leadership. Civil war erupted and the country seemed to be plunged into never ending conflict. Until recently the Burmese military held an uneasy peace with the country’s various ethnic tribes. Signing separate treaties with each group so as to keep them divided and less likely to unite against the Burmese military. Fighting erupted again when the Burmese government sought to build a new hydro-dam in Kachin State. Evicting local Kachin from their homes, the local people knew revenue from the dam would go into the pockets of the Burmese leadership and the power the dam would produce would only go abroad. Rather than see their homes needlessly flooded and washed away the Kachin took up their guns once again.

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I shook the hands of each man, introducing myself. The shortest man gripped my hand sternly, smiling from ear to ear he clapped me on the back.

“Call me, Ako.” he said, taking me by the arm, he gestured that I have a seat next to him on a set of concrete steps.
He was stocky and barrel chested. Shirtless, he was tan with sun darkened skin. He wore olive drab cargo pants and a canvas belt with an oversized metallic buckle.

“Sorry, we’re late.” I apologized, “I think we got a little lost.”

He laughed, “Yes, we’re very hidden here.”

“The Thais don’t know we’re here and the Burmese don’t know we’ve gone,” he batted a mosquito on his shoulder. “We come to get supplies, then we go back to Burma.” He said this last part matter-of-factly. Like sneaking over international borders was just part of his day-to-day.

He swung at another mosquito and then looked me up and down, sizing me up.

“Where are you from? Are you married?” He fired off these two questions in quick succession.

I laughed at how up front he was. “I’m from New Jersey and no, I’m not married yet.”

“New Jersey.” he said the name slowly, betraying the fact that he had never heard of it before.

“Are you married?” I asked, reversing the question back on him.

“No, no, no.” he said in a serious tone. “Maybe every day will be the day I die.” he added solemnly.

“I would not want my wife to live like that, not knowing.” he brushed at a moth that had fluttered into his hair.

“When there is peace in Burma, I will get married then.”

“How do you stay brave?” I asked, “Aren’t you afraid all the time.” I felt foolish the second I asked the question.

“I try not to be scared,” he answered, a tone of machismo behind his voice. “The government has machine guns and mortars and artillery, we have few of these things, fighting is very hard.”

One of his comrades walked by overhearing our conversation, “Ako, tell him about that time you lost your helmet.” he laughed.

Even with his tan complexion I could see Ako was blushing. He looked down at his feet, gingerly rubbing the back of his neck. I could tell the story held some embarrassment for him so I decided not to press to hear it. I couldn’t help trying to put it together in my own mind.

I envisioned Ako crouched in the mountainous jungles of Kachin State. Bullets whipping through leaves, snapping branches and splintering trees. Mortar shells whistling overhead and artillery booming in the distance. Crashing explosions and the mechanical chattering of machine guns. Ako, scrambling to find a lost helmet in the brush. I would have been terrified into shock.

I looked down at my soft hands and clean boots. Ako and I were practically the same age, maybe only a year or two apart, but sitting next to him I felt like a boy.

“Ah,” he said, suddenly standing up breaking our silence. “I have something for you.”

He walked across the room and dug into one of the hanging satchel bags. Returning to me, he handed me a cigar. It was small and slim, tobacco tightly wrapped in a dry banana leaf. I turned it over in my hands. Ako must have taken my close observation for hesitation or wonder.

“It’s okay,” he said, “They’re cheap, I have many of them.”

“Thank you, very much.” I said, securing it in my chest pocket.

“It was nice to meet you, Justin.” he said, lighting his own cigar.

He set the book of matches down beside me. I recognized the gesture but knew I could not smoke the cigar. Heading back to the children’s home where Violet and I worked and slept I did not want to return smelling like tobacco smoke.

Ako puffed clouds of smoke into the center of the room. The wispy plumes adding to the atmosphere of the place. I looked sidelong at him, next to me on the step.

“When there is peace in Burma.” I said, “I will smoke.” I gently tapped the cigar in my chest pocket.

I immediately felt stupid for saying it, but he seemed to like the sentiment.

Ako smiled and nodded, “So will I.”

“We all will.”

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A Girl Named “La.”

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Ratchanee “La.”

Her full name is Ratchanee.

But she assured me calling her “La” would do just fine. She walked with a confident posture as she led me up through the foothills of her native village of Mae Lid Luang. Noting things along the way she thought I might be interested in, she pointed out piglets that scurried across our path, chickens that clawed at the ground, and tired eyed tethered buffalo. These things, while certainly adding to the atmosphere weren’t what was catching my eye. It was the village itself, the tiered bamboo huts, the misty jungle peaks, the way Mae Lid Luang seemed locked in a bubble far away from the rest of the world.

La is Karen, one of the six major hill tribe groups that comprise Thailand’s ethnic makeup. The Karen speak a different language, wear different clothing, and have a culture entirely separate from the Thais we know bustling about urban Bangkok. Mae Lid Luang was the tiniest of villages nestled in the mountainous jungles of Western Thailand. When I questioned La towards the village’s population she told me there were only around sixty households that made up Mae Lid Luang. La’s parents lived there, her grandparents lived there, generations of animal husbandry and rice farming kept the people of Mae Lid Luang content and isolated from much of the rest of Thailand.

At 22 years old, La had already seen and done much more than many of her relations in Mae Lid Luang. She spent much of her time away from her village, studying at university and working with foreign students. Teaching them about Thai and Karen culture and practicing her English.

Mae Lid Luang
Mae Lid Luang.

She pointed out ahead of us to a distant crest.

“That’s my family’s rice.” she said, squinting up at the hilltop.

I felt silly, clambering up the muddy slope, minding my footing in my expensive hiking boots only to have La gracefully trot up behind me, clad in a $3 pair of flip flops.

With jet black hair, a round face, and tan complexion, she was the perfect representative for the Karen of Mae Lid Luang. To me, La was calm, quiet, and stoic. She carried out conversation with me through what seemed like calculated thought and humble wording. This was all guised by the limits of language, though. The more I got to know La, the more I got to know her real personality. She jostled and teased with the other villagers, shouting and laughing to them as we climbed upwards. When I had some of her conversation translated for me I learned that La was witty. She was sarcastic. She was sassy. She was someone I wanted to be friends with.

What’s more, La and I had a shared sense of worldly curiosity. Earlier in the summer as we stood next to each other, passing bucket after bucket of sand, used for concrete mixing as we helped with construction at a local Thai school, La turned to me, swinging a bucket towards my arms.

“Do you speak any languages?” she asked, as I took the weight of the sand from her shoulders.

“I speak Mongolian.” I answered, swinging the bucket on to the next person in line.

As I turned back towards La I was met with a raised eyebrow and blank stare. Suddenly, as if having processed what I said she burst out with a small laugh. “Justin, teach me Mongolian!”

“Hurdlach!” I said with mock seriousness, looking down at the dangling bucket in her hands. Faster!

Ever since, when we’d cross paths throughout our summer she would greet me with a stern “Hurdlach! Hurdlach!” quickly followed by uncontrollable laughter.

La and I in her family's rice farm.
La and I on her family’s rice farm.

As we ascended higher to the top of Mae Lid Luang, La and I kept pace with each other.

“When was the last time you were home?” I asked her.

She thought hard for a moment and let out a small laugh, “I don’t remember, many months ago.”

“Well you must be happy to be back.” I added, keeping the conversation going.

La just shrugged, “I like school.” she said. “My village is boring, sometimes.”

What she said stuck with me as we reached the top. There on the summit of our hilltop grew La’s family’s rice. In neat little rows it blanketed the mountainside, grassy stalks waved and trembled in the breeze, the green blades sensitive to each tickle of wind. La’s mother was already there, crouched in one of the endless rows, her hands buried in the rich earth. The view from the top was incredible. The misty rainclouds churned and roiled around the mountains. The murky water of the lower rice patties stood out as perfect rectangles from our high perch.

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How could this place be boring? I thought as I knelt and buried my hands in the dirt, helping La’s family by pulling invasive weeds from the hillside crop. It occurred to me that maybe La and I were even more similar than I had thought.

After I returned from Mongolia over a year ago, my home in suburban New Jersey had taken on a new image. I felt like Mongolia had truly opened up my eyes and heart to the world, New Jersey seemed to be holding me back from taking more in. I felt sufficated. I yearned to explore more. To learn more. To seek out places like Thai mountainsides. Places like Mae Lid Luang.

What if Mae Lid Luang was La’s New Jersey? I wondered.

I let these thoughts tumble around in my mind as the sodden clouds finally relinquished a light drizzle. I knelt and pulled weeds until the air smelled like rain and my hands were stained with earth.

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“What’s your favorite color?” La asked, appearing next to me as we walked back down the path from the mountain, the afternoon weeding finished.

“Hmmm.” I thought for a second. “Green, I think.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged, “There are a lot of green things in nature so I get to see it a lot.”

She seemed satisfied with this answer.

“My turn.” I said, “What is your favorite animal?”

Without hesitation she brought two fingers up to her forehead, sticking them straight out, forming mock horns.

“Buffalo!” she said with a laugh.

I laughed at her performance. “How come?” I asked.

In Thailand the buffalo is far from being seen as a revered animal. It is even a common insult to call someone a buffalo as a jab towards their intelligence. La’s choice for a favorite animal intrigued me.

She thought for a moment. “I think because my village has many buffalo.” She spoke matter-of-factly. “So, the water buffalo is my favorite.”

The reasoning behind her words struck me like a hammer blow. So much so that I fell out of step, stopping for a moment to consider it all. You don’t have to be in love with the place you come from. It can be boring, it can be suffocating, you can relish when you leave and dread when you go back but no matter what its still a part of you. It shaped you, nurtured you, and engrained itself into the person you’ve become. As simple as having water buffalo as your favorite animal, even if you don’t realize it, your heart has a piece of where you come from in it. Recognize it and appreciate it.

I wanted to thank La, who unknowingly just instilled a major life lesson upon me. I couldn’t even begin to explain, Karen, Thai, or English aside. Before I could say a thing, La turned around to see me stopped in the road, a puzzled look on her face. Slowly her lips formed a smile.

“Hurdlach!” she shouted with a laugh.

I laughed and ran forward to catch up. We descended down the dirt path. The village at our front and the mountains at our back.

So, here’s to La.
Here’s to Mae Lid Luang
Here’s to the place you call home.

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The Eleven O’ Clock to Nong Khai

“No visa, no ticket.”

The clerk delivered this unfortunate news then dismissively directed his gaze to the next person in line.

I backed away from the ticket counter in frustration.  It seemed my journey to Vientiane, the riverside capital of Laos was over before it even started.  Unwilling to give up so easily I sat myself down on one of the bus station’s rickety metal benches and pondered my options.  Taking the bus directly from Udon Thani, where I currently sat, to Vientiane was out of the question now.  Flying in would grant me a visa at the airport customs but was too expensive for my budget.  I had over a week of free time, Laos was so close but bureaucracy and foreign policy made it seem so far.  I didn’t want to slink back to the Udon Thani base house and wait for my week off to expire.

I looked around the busy station.  Thai commuters, some with nothing more than a small satchel, others burdened by taped packages and overstuffed sacks scurried about the terminal, boarding busses and waving baht at the ticket counter.  My eyes fell to the timetable.  Cities and towns, many I’d never heard of illuminated the board, shuffling between English and Thai.  Their departure times remained steadfast off to the side.

Quickly, I drew a map from my backpack.  With my finger I found Udon Thani in the north east of Thailand and slowly traced along the road north.  Just before my nail reached the Mekong River, the natural border between Thailand and Laos I stopped.  The dot under my finger was the last Thai city before the border, Nong Khai.  I would take a bus as far north as I could and walk into Laos.  I would buy my visa at the border.

Pleased with myself I slapped my map closed with a happy pat and looked up at the timetable board. Scanning the different stops I finally found what I needed, Nong Khai.  Departure time eleven o’ clock.  Calmly I stole a glance at my wrist watch.  My breath caught in my chest as I watched the minute hand strike three minutes past eleven.

Shit!  I thought as I stuffed my map into my bag, slung it over my shoulder and pushed into the bustling mass of Thais.

Shoving my way down the platform I stopped under a sign for Nong Khai.  A man at a card table lazily handed me a ticket as I quickly pressed money into his hands.  The bus was still there albeit exhaust spewing, engine rumbling.  It would leave any second.  Rushing up I banged on the door with my palm.  The driver gave me a frown then swung a handle letting me in.  With relief I staggered down the aisle.  The bus was all but empty save for a couple older women, a long dark haired European and a monk.  I sat opposite the monk and caught my breath as we pulled out of the station.

The Thai countryside

The Thai countryside

As the bus crawled along north I already felt myself being lulled to sleep by the gentle bumps and cool air conditioning. Out of the corner of my eye I stole glances at the monk.  I knew part of the vows for taking the robes forbid monks from naps.  Oversleeping was taken as laziness.  How could this ride not make him tired? I thought.  Making my own personal game I became determined to stay awake and outlast him.

We drove and drove.  He sat with perfect posture, gazing straight ahead, only pausing from time to time to steal a peek out the window. My head and eyes grew heavier and heavier and I knew I had lost.  As my eyes closed and I drifted off I swore I saw him glance sidelong at me and smile.

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“You know you’ve missed your stop.”

The English woke me from my short doze.

“What?” I asked, surprised and confused.

It was the long haired European, spun around to face me from the seat in front of mine.

“Yeah, yeah.  You should have gotten off at this crossroads here.” he pointed to a map on his smartphone.  “You are going to the bridge, no?”

German.  I thought.  His accent was easy to place.

“I’m going to Nong Khai, I’m trying to get to Laos.” I answered him.  I didn’t like his tone.  He spoke matter of factly, like I made a stupid mistake.

“Yeah, me too.” he said. “But the bus should have stopped at the crossroads, I don’t know where we are going now.”  He traced his finger along some road on a map on his phone that I couldn’t see.

“I’m just going to wait until we get to the bus station in Nong Khai.”  I said, half certain that I hadn’t missed my stop.

“Didn’t you download Google Maps?” he asked, pointing to his phone as if introducing me to the technology for the first time.

“Uh, I just brought a map.”  I gestured towards my bag. “Like, one made of paper.”

I didn’t know how else to word it.

He gave me a strange look like I had some kind of infectious disease and his mouth moved into a half grimace as if he had just tasted something foul.

“Oh, well I think we should stop the bus.  We may be driving for awhile now.”  He made a move to gather up his things.

No sooner had he hunched over then the bus screeched to a halt under a faded aluminum sign that read, “Nong Khai Bus Terminus.”

I narrowed my eyes at him after he realized where we were.

“Oh!” he said with a small laugh. “We’re here! You were right!.”

He flipped his long black hair from his eyes and extended a hand beyond the seat for me to shake.

“My name is Max.” I clasped his hand in mine. “I’m from Frankfurt.”

As we stood on the Nong Khai bus platform I learned Max’s story.  He was an exchange student living in Thailand.  His two year graduate studies were at an end and he would be heading back to Germany soon.  With the common goal of getting into Laos we agreed to go across the border together.

“We should have a tuk tuk take us to this park.” he said, thrusting another finger at his beloved Google Map.

“We are here, you see?” he held the smartphone out for me and I could see that the phone’s GPS had transmitted our exact location down onto the phone where we stood at the bus station.  It made getting lost impossible.

“We should go to this park, the drivers think we want to go to the bridge at the border but if we say we want to go to this park instead they will charge us less.” He spoke in a very animated manner. Gesturing with his hands and emphasizing words to the point where the veins bulged in his neck.  I found myself giving him a wide berth while he talked.  Because Max had more experience in country I seceded this plan to him.

The humble tuk tuk

The humble tuk tuk

After the driver dropped us off at the Nong Khai park we hoisted our bags and began walking through the park, Max assuring me that bridge to Laos was just on the other side.  The noon time sun of tropical Thailand beat down on our backs as we walked.  My backpack grew heavier and heavier.  Sweat dripped freely from my brow and pooled around my shirt collar.  Finally we arrived at the opposite end of the park and were met with the sight of a concrete wall.

“This shouldn’t be here!” Max exclaimed, swinging his arm in exasperation at the wall.  Frantically he swiped at the touchscreen on his phone aghast that Google Maps had failed him.

We backtracked through the mid day heat back to the entrance and down the narrow side streets of Nong Khai.  Sweat poured in torrents down my back.  I drained my water bottle and gradually felt myself becoming more agitated for not just taking a tuk tuk straight to the bridge.

Finally, standing on a wide thoroughfare a sign ahead pointed towards the border and Vientiane. Unfortunately walking across would be no easy affair.  Thai soldiers blocked the way.  They stood, guns slung at their sides pacing back and forth and watching traffic.  We decided to hire another tuk tuk to take us through.

As we passed the checkpoint a soldier barked an order in Thai at our driver and we were soon dumped at a border customs office.  Paying the driver he pointed forward to a window labeled, “Visa On Arrival.”

Filling out the application card I paid the fee and smiled at the officer.  I felt like it was just something I was supposed to do, as if not smiling would incriminate me and deny me access.  He took my paperwork with disinterest and went about tossing the various forms into different piles, not bothering to read them.

I was ushered into a wide square room.  Void of any decorations, wall hangings or furniture, the space was only occupied by three small booths.  The only sound was the echoing thuds of stamps being implanted into passports.  I stepped into a queue and waited to see if I would be allowed admittance into Laos.

As I waited, I thought how much this part of travel meant to me.  Sure it was a headache and could be frustrating, but it was also challenging and fun.  Choosing to skip the easy route of flying and just being dumped where I wanted to go, I went through the rewarding experience of actually trying to get there on my own.  I navigated buses, read maps, and braved border guards.

I gazed over my shoulder at Max, head down, fiddling on his phone behind me.  With the challenge of getting from one place to another puts you into situations where you meet new people and can be brought together by the mere fact that you are both trying to undertake the challenge of getting to the same place.  Whether these people help or hamper you is just all part of the experience.  Every journey should be one worth remembering, the more challenging the travel the more memorable the journey.

I stepped up to the counter.  The guard eyed me up. Looking back and forth from me to my passport. He gestured I stare into the tiny desktop camera.  I stepped back put my hands at my sides and had another internal struggle whether to smile or not.  He planted a stamp on an open page, the action sounded like thunder in the hollow room.   Quickly he pushed my passport back across the counter.

Stepping back outside I took in my new surroundings.  It’s a funny thing crossing borders. One minute you are there. There, being a place with its own language, currency, culture, history and politics. Then suddenly you take two steps and you are transported to here. A place where all the things that defined there, are totally different.

People hustled and moved out of the office clambering aboard shuttles. Money booths advertised exchanging Thai baht into kip. A new flag snapped in the breeze. Blue and red with a white circle emblazoning the center. Signs displayed a new elegant but indecipherable script.

“Sa-bai-dee!” the shuttle driver greeted me cheerfully.

I let this new word for “hello” ring around in my ears.

I smiled.

I had done it.

I was in Laos.

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Still Smiling: Impressions After Thailand’s Military Coup

I descended into Thai airspace with thoughts of politics roiling in my mind. Thailand, the Land of Smiles as it is called, for its people’s cheery demeanor, was in turmoil. Seemingly overnight the military had staged a coup, overthrowing the government, and dissolving the country’s elected bodies. I was landing in a place of martial law and policed action. Protests and unrest. I didn’t expect to find many Thais smiling anymore.

I was surprised when I stood in the cavernous expanse of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and all was calm. No soldiers. No checkpoints. No men with guns or riot shields. I had braced myself. I had been warned that I was surely dooming my travels by stepping into a world of demonstrations and tear gas. A place on the brink of collapse and violence.

As I traveled north, away from the capital I gradually felt more at ease. Looking out a bus window just outside Chiang Mai I finally spotted my first Thai soldier. Holding his helmet in his hands he sat reclined in a red plastic chair along the side of the road. Sitting in the shade cast by a tiny guard post he looked lazy and tired in the heat. Repelling resistance to his superior’s coup d’etat did not look as though it were on today’s agenda.

Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai

During the staff training for my new summer job my boss addressed the issue.

“Do you feel unsafe?” He asked, spreading his arms, presenting the panoramic Thai landscape of rice patty and jungle behind him.

Without hesitation we all answered with an enthusiastic, “No!”

Later, we all took a trip to the market in town for dinner and drinks. Walking along side a local staff member named Vong I got nervous as I stole a glance at my watch.

“Will we be back at the rice fields before the curfew?” I asked.

The Thai military had imposed a nationwide curfew on the country, forcing everyone off the streets at night. Talk from Bangkok had the time being pushed later and later as restrictions eased but this was the latest we’d been out. The hour was gradually reaching the midnight limit and we still had a drive back to the base.

Udon Thani Rice Fields
Udon Thani Rice Fields

Vong shrugged his shoulders as if martial law were a trivial thing.

“Yes, maybe.” He answered. “We have to dance first!” He nodded towards a stage where live music reverberated from. I skeptically looked at the stage and then at my watch again.

Sensing my hesitation he clapped me on the back.

“We will be back!” He said in reassurance. “Don’t worry, Thailand is still a safe country.”

He patted my arm, “Thai people love falang!” He added, giving my Caucasian skin a poke. He dropped a pair of bright green knock off Ray Ban sunglasses over his face and smiled through his teeth. He gestured towards the stage again where our coworkers, locals and falang, foreigners alike were dancing and socializing.

Later, I climbed aboard a songthaew, the open air truck transportation that would take us back to the rice fields. My worries had evaporated with the night. Lost in socializing, I got closer with my coworkers and had felt safe and comfortable with the handful of locals that had unknowingly earned my trust.

As the songthaew pulled away I hung off the back and gripped the handrail. Just as we began to move Vong jumped up to stand and ride along beside me.

“Justin!” He yelled as we picked up speed. “I’m stoked to be the songthaew for you!”

I laughed, trying to imagine what he was trying to say.

Sensing my confusion he defined his new word, “Stoked! Very…like…excited.”

I laughed again, more for the fact that he was using the word than the way with which he stumbled over its pronunciation.

“I’m stoked to be on the songthaew with you.” I corrected him.

He nodded. “Yeah! Yeah!” he smiled, sticking his tongue through his teeth again.

His eyes lit up as another songthaew approached. Leaning out the back he waved one arm in the air.

“Stoked!” he yelled, waving his arm out at the passengers.

As we rode through the night and the streets of Udon Thani whizzed beneath me I couldn’t help but consider how lucky I’ve been in my travels. I have stayed safe and out of harms way through all of my adventures with only a few minor hiccups. Was this something frequent travelers take for granted? Or did I just happen to be doing it right? I only knew that life would be a lot more dull if I had hid in my suburban American room, afraid to venture out. Afraid to take a little risk, afraid to meet all the Vongs in this world.

Pulling into the rice fields me and Vong hopped off of the back of the songthaew. As we were about to part and head to our separate rooms he clapped me on the back again.

“Justin.” he said in a stern voice. “I’m so stoked to be in Thailand with you.”

With that, he raised one hand, and with a gesture that would make any California surfer proud he extended his pinky and thumb and rotated his wrist back and forth.

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Unable to keep a straight face anymore he smiled. Bigger than I’d seen him smile all night. Poking his tongue through his teeth.

I could only laugh and smile back.

“I’m stoked to be in Thailand with you too, Vong.”

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Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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