Return to roots

Yikes. I didn’t leave you on the most positive of notes, did I? Last you heard from me I was holed up in a friend’s apartment, unable to get to mine because bullets were flying blind in my darling little neighborhood. My, a lot has happened since then.

Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we? I did return to my apartment several days after writing that dismal last post. I got word that everything was a-okay, nothing to worry about, so I packed my bag, hailed a cab and was dropped off on the outskirts of my neighborhood, which was still blocked off to vehicles. Military officers patrolling the area pointed me in the best direction. I was awkwardly lifting my bag over a low chain barricade when I heard my name. Oh hi Mike, my fellow teacher, in this city of 10 million. What’s up? Well, says Mike, I was walking down the street, finally returning to my apartment, when I see a bunch of officers run for cover. I duck behind a trash bin and hear a loud boom. Now I’m just running in to grab a few more things and getting the hell outta here. Great. Precisely what I wanted to hear. But being stubborn, I continued on for a tense, surreal and luckily uneventful 15-minute walk. The main street, usually bustling and cacophonous, was nearly silent. The wheels of my bag clattered over the craggy sidewalk as I hustled down the street past closed storefronts. I saw seven people during the entire walk, five being security guards. Finally, I rounded the corner of my small lane and was soon inside the apartment gate, welcomed by the security guard’s wide grin. For some reason, we both started laughing – a natural response I suppose to such an unbelievable situation.

The next day saw more normalcy, with people spilling on the streets happy to be outside again. Boojie and I met up in the central shopping district to see for ourselves the charred remains of some of the buildings. Zen Department Store at Central World:

Siam Theatre (and apparently the oldest escalators in Thailand):

The numbers from that period of protests and riots go something like this: 40 buildings burned, 80 people killed and 2,000 injured. After two months as hostage, the city was a mess. Thousands of volunteers turned up to clean the streets, bodies and brooms working in tandem:

One of the most interesting things about living in Bangkok during that time was comparing my first-hand experience with the media’s portrayal of the events. The more widely known sources showed a definite bias toward one side, reporting things that just weren’t true. I don’t think there was a full understanding of the situation, though the coverage seemed to improve over time – and criticism.

I remained in Bangkok another month before leaving. My move back to the States had been planned for a while and had nothing to do with the riots. After three years of living 12 time zones away, missing weddings, births and birthdays, it was just time. As much as I love Thailand, and I do, I knew I couldn’t stay forever.

That last month was hectic, meeting up with friends, eating here or there for the last time, doing this or that for the last time. It was tough knowing I was leaving behind a way of life – not to mention sticky rice and rambutans. Tougher still was not knowing if and when I would see my friends again. Email and skype make keeping up easier, but of course it’s not the same. Moving was the epitome of bittersweet – I was as sad to leave one place as I was excited to return to another.

Readjusting to life in the States hasn’t been completely smooth. Even the trivial differences can lead to uncomfortable situations. At my parents’ house one rainy afternoon, I hopped on the treadmill for a little exercise. There’s me, watching the speed gauge, my finger hard and fast on the up arrow. The problem was two-fold: 1) I was still thinking in kilometers and 2) you’re able to get that number really high before the treadmill catches up to it – but that happens quickly. There’s me again, flying off the back and wedged beneath a china cabinet, legs scraped and bruised. Still don’t know how I fit under there.

Other aspects of everyday life that take some getting used to:
-Eating fork to mouth. It seems harsh now, unlike the gentle spoon.
-Putting TP in the toilet. Our pipes can handle it.
-Wearing shoes in the house. I think about the dirt I’m tracking in. But it’s funny – if I’m in a house of shoe-wearers and I don’t have shoes on, I feel somehow lazy or not as together.

Those are the small things. I think the biggest difference is that once you’ve lived abroad, you can’t look at your home country the same way again. It's as if you’re walking around viewing everything with a new pair of eyes. Some things appear negative, others positive, but mostly they’re just different, from the way we’re protected from ourselves, to all the choices we have, to what we’re willing to throw out. We’re all such products of our culture, it’s hard to imagine doing something a different way - and that the other way might be better. I won’t bore you with a new worldview – we all take what we can from our various experiences.

All in all, moving back to the States has been a really positive experience - partly because I’ve kept myself so busy. I’m particularly excited about a new business I’m starting with my friend Jen. You may remember our rain-drenched afternoon when she visited Bangkok. It wasn’t long after I moved back that we got to talking about our entrepreneurial aspirations. We share an interest in a lot of the same things: traveling, different cultures, good design, beautiful colors and fabrics. All these things have come together in our new little baby, SOMA Goods. Check out our website if you get a chance. I’d love to hear what you think.

Now that I’m back - rooted for a while at least - this little blog should make its final curtsy and run along to live out retirement alongside all the other archived travel journals. I have a few other things I’d like to get around to posting, though, so I won’t release her just yet. She is, after all, a tie between me and Thailand, and I’d like to hold on to as many of those as I can.