For all intents and purposes, I was to remain in Thailand until I chose to return home so when I arrived at the airport in Phuket, the building process began to accelerate homewards. Choosing to return early was perhaps one of the most complex and arduous decisions of my life.
Leaving behind a slew of mysticism, elephants, to die for beaches, a totally new brand of decadence, beautiful people, both internally and superficially, temples, and life changing experiences, I arrived at the Phuket airport. Having flown over to Thailand on a one-way, multiple stop ticket, I would have to figure out a way back to the states.
My all too brief Thai adventure's curtains were closing so if you can appreciate the process I had to endure to get from Phuket to South Carolina, without a previously booked ticket, you might imagine the difficulty of such a task. I stepped out of the oppressive equatorial sun into the airport, surrounded by Thais, Aussies, Europeans, all bronzed including myself. But this brief glimpse of appreciation paled in comparison to the chaotic experience I would soon know and never forget.
3 Hours Until Meltdown
The airport was crowded in its own small way but nothing I couldn't handle. I quickly trotted towards the Thai Airways Ticket Desk, with my carry-on and luggage, knowing I would have to purchase a ticket to Bangkok in order to find a flight out of this peaceful country. The ticket was mine and I was off to Bangkok in less than an hour. I waited and boarded...
1 Hour Until Meltdown
The plane perched on the Bangkok runway and the Southeast Asian humidity gripped my body prompting languid pore flow. My tight black t-shirt and even tighter designer jeans clung moistly, as I hit the ground running. I snatched my luggage and started my trek towards the international terminal, starting up a brief conversation with an Irishman who pointed me in the right direction. We talked briefly, but I honestly can't remember any of the words we exchanged, for a rare sense of panic had seized my mentality. I stepped into the International Terminal, which was rife with diversity and illustrious dissonance; sounds coming out of every angle. I raced past Icelandic, French, Brazilian, Italian ticket counters, rapidly looking for Delta, American Airline, United, etc. I stopped for directions and was pointed towards a United counter, which was of course closed.
Minutes Until Meltdown
I sped back to an Informational Desk, and stood in line behind an irate Southern belle, believe it or not. She must've been pushing fifty and seemed quite disgruntled. She looked at me and said, "Good luck...they have no clue what they're doing." Any other time, I would have fired back a rebuttal insisting her cultural norms are light years from the serenity of the Thai folk, and she should not be so rude, but my mind was elsewhere. I simply smiled, distantly acknowledging the actual comfort it was to see an American. Alas, my questions were not answered to my satisfaction, so I grabbed my goods and began hiking towards the Thai Airways ticket office, my styled hair matted down from the sweat, my typical cool marked by trepidation.
Seconds Until Meltdown
Flustered and far from grace, I got to the Thai Airways desk and in what is probably the rudest, most blunt manner in which I've ever spoken but still with a finesse as to not be viewed as, God forbid, a typical American t..@%ist; I said, "I need the first flight to America." She hesitated for a second with a grimace of worry passing over her attractive face, but then glanced down towards her computer. After about ten seconds, which seemed like ten minutes, she gazed back at me and said, "I have a flight to New York, but it's not until tomorrow."
I exclaimed, "Tomorrow?! You have nothing sooner?"
"Tomorrow (pause) at 1:00 a.m.," she replied.
My demeanor pulled a complete 180.
It was 3:30 p.m. and when she informed me that there would not be a flight until tomorrow, I imagined 24 hours from now, at least. 1:00a.m. was only nine hours away and I could easily laze in the Bangkok airport for that period of time, given I hadn't slept in two days, with very little food. I purchased the ticket that would leave at 1:05a.m. and arrive in New York, 18 hours later, at 7:00 a.m. Point of fact, this flight was only done once a week...how lucky is this guy?
I sat down in front of a television broadcasting CNN International, hearing about blizzards in the Northeastern U.S., I thought nothing of it. I voraciously consumed two bad hot dogs and a Pepsi and achieved little sleep through five-minute intervals. Looking back on my state of panic that I had left behind, I realized it is no way to behave but at the same time, you must adapt such an outlook to make it through extreme situations like this one.
Trying to navigate through this jetlag-type trance was difficult. The rising tides of mental maelstroms made the arrival into clairvoyant consciousness all the more challenging. I retrieved a shopping cart luggage carrier and kicked back, placing my legs on the bench across the way, with one hand on my luggage, another on my iPod, I sunk into a sea of Asians and visions began. When you sleep in intervals, rest isn't really solid, but it band-aids the situation somewhat. Imagine...hunger is insatiable, but you're not really hungry; consciousness is marked my laps of desperation and extreme relaxation, and no matter how hard you try, you can't get comfortable. A very ambivalent state, no complaints in hindsight cause' inspiration is present. It may be cock-eyed and dirty, but it's there, alright.
The feeling of being completely and utterly anonymous is simultaneously humbling and ego-building. The thought of doing whatever you want and being stared at for it is quite tempting, but for now I'll watch the news and whoops...I just locked eyes with another white man in this ocean of indigenous peoples. He's got my number, and now he's seated right in front of me. My headphones do not prevent this pale, middle-aged balding man from talking to me. As I politely remove my ear devices, the sounds of "Woozy" by Faithless, fade and his Canadian voice becomes a reality.
I don't remember this gentleman's name, but his garrulous advances left my ears numb. I have to admit, a meek sense of patriotism emerges when another soul from my side of the world shows up. He unloaded a series of fascinating tales on his half-lifetime spent in Thailand. He had finished visiting his girlfriend, who is Thai. They balance visits in between Canada and here.
He told me about monsoon season and a bizarre encounter he had with a doctor after a third degree burn inflated his hand. During the rains, he told me how he witnessed 10 men pulling an anaconda from beneath a house that had been trapped during the monsoon. He told me tales of orange lizards in lush gardens. My sleepless state precludes me from the entire details of the conversation, but after he left to use the bathroom, I moved. I brand myself a socialite while traveling but I wanted nothing to do with anyone at that point.
I sat down in another foreign sea of faces, continuing to watch CNN International, munching on some sort of nuts and lime Fanta. Across from me was a teen-ager with perhaps the largest ears I'd ever seen.
After several hours, I was finally allowed to check in at 9:30 p.m. Went through security, immigration, and into the shop area, where Duty Free Shops and souvenir boutiques situate in an endless fashion. With all its chaos, the Bangkok airport is a place to remember. Beautiful mayhem with intoxicating aromas.
I trotted along into a Duty Free Gift Shop determined to bring my mother back something. After much delay, I selected a metal vase, with elephants and Thai lettering inscribed on. I took it to the counter, where at least five young Thai women (18-22 years old) stood, bursting with ebullient enthusiasm. Their "extra-teeth" smiles prompted blushing on my behalf, as they asked aggressively where I was from and whom I was purchasing this for. I said my mother, and they exploded with "Awwwws" and "We Like...we want your picture...you have picture of your mother...we want to come back to America with you...Will you take us?"
I gave them my credit card and they took it into another room, returning with several more girls and it was safe to say, my blush evolved into stark embarrassment, but oddly pleasant. I walked out with my purchase, leaving behind an array of enthusiastic, friendly females that have never before or since been matched by any other women I have met.
And I was leaving, why?
Upon entrance into the gate area, my mind seemed completely at ease, with relief overcoming my being. I was able to reflect; coming to terms with what I was leaving behind and I felt weak in the knees: sunrise at Ko Samui, boat journeys through caves, back flipping into the ice-colored water at Phi Phi Leh, $5 Versace shirts, elephant expeditions, waking up in jungles next to boas, tales of opium trade in the Golden triangle, Pad Thai...plum wine...and the Bangkok skyline, Singha in 100 degree weather, always emotional possibilities, the depth of the Thai sky, inspiration at every angle, discussions on the civil unrest in Southern Thailand, danger in the jungles outside Chiang Mai, parasailing with a visible Malaysian border, equatorial sunlight, endless paradise, and mostly, the overwhelming aura of the Thai people; one of kindness, spirit, and hospitality, that I haven't felt sense Morocco, and never before Morocco. I have discovered and accepted now as fact, that the people of the poorer nations on this earth, have the capacity for spirit, congeniality, and warmth, that is severely needed and conspicuously absent in first world countries.
I boarded the 18 hour flight, settled into my seat, next to an Indian businessman from New Delhi, who insisted I must visit his country. "The Indian hospitality is like none other," he said. "I'll get there one day, if nothing, but to take your advice," I replied.
The flight was freezing, and we landed into JFK International in the midst of the aftermath of a snowstorm. Terminals were packed with sleepers, fuming businessmen and businesswomen, angry flyers and delays and cancellations were everywhere. My panic mode resumed. I miss Thailand already.