Bangkok, Thailand

March 27, 2016

Welcome to Bangkok

Brussels. Sometimes I feel like my job with these letters is to engage with the hard stuff. Other times I feel like it’s to give you a spot of relief, a break from the barrage of a heartbreaking world.

This week, I’m going for the latter approach. Besides, I think I've already said the only things I know in my letter just after Paris and Beirut. So today, I’m going to tell you about a taxi ride.

Specifically, the taxi ride from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport to my apartment.

I’ve lived here before, taken this same taxi ride at roughly the same time of day. But today, I got the crazy guy - and it was just the welcome back to Bangkok that I needed.

See, you’d think that the infamously loco taxis in Colombia or Mexico would have kept me sharp. But they’re not really crazy. Not Thai crazy. See, everything is turned up to 11 in Thailand.

When I stepped into the cab, it was late afternoon, and Bangkok traffic was its usual snarled self. I expected to be stuck in it, passing the next hour in the sweltering heat and watching the meter hopelessly rise.

But not this time. This time, I got the insane guy. And I mean insane - even by Thai driving standards. We pulled onto the freeway, into the dense traffic - and he floored it.

We weaved, dived, swung across all five lanes and back again in the span of four seconds. We’d punch for holes between two cars that weren’t there when he swerved toward them, and opened up just at the last second. It was frenetic, intense, and in the back seat, I felt...

Calm.

Really, oddly, calm.

I was living through one of the truths I picked up last time here. Either I was going to die in this taxi, or I wasn’t. Worrying wasn’t going to change that.

We all know that death can show up any given day. But most of the time, we can forget that truth, in the day-to-day sameness and safeness of routine.

Not in Thailand.

It’s a place defined by contrast. The smells of the best food you’ll ever eat mixes with the aroma of sewage. A filled-to-bursting city with a dark undercurrent is dotted by temples, total tranquility waiting just past their walls. It’s vibrant, changing, awake every hour of the day and night - and it’s the quietest place I’ve ever lived.

The last couple weeks, I’ve worried about my Thai. I was doing flashcards in Rwanda, but nothing would really stick. Eventually, I gave up, and just figured I’d have to learn it again from scratch.

But amazingly, on that cab crazy drive, it all came flooding back. Words. Numbers. How to put sentences together. I told the driver where to go, figured out the payment, and found sentences leaving my mouth before I knew what I was saying.

The next day, as I wandered the city getting groceries and essentials from my favorite markets, it felt like putting on a long-lost favorite jacket, pulled from the attic.

It just fit.

I walked into my everyday restaurant - a place I haven’t been in fourteen months, and the cook recognized me instantly - and I her.

Wandered around my neighborhood, went to the wet market, and noticed the couple new people and businesses, and everyone else right where I left them.

The woman who sold eggs was still addicted to soap operas. The couple who made fresh noodles was still packing up by noon. My favorite rice seller, vegetable stand, and coffee cart, were all still around, each looking a bit better for the time that’s passed.

I wrote you last week about the Sonoran desert - a place that comes with me, wherever I go.

It's one kind of home. But here in Thailand, there's another. Here - I belong.

And I can't wait to take you with me. :)

Have an amazing week,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw all week might be just what you need. It’s a TED talk about why we laugh. And yes, it’s hilarious. :)

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