Road Trips

A friend from college has just got her first farang boyfriend —an American. ‘Ploy’ and I had lost touch since we both graduated from Chiang Mai University; she moved to Japan to work for a firm of architects and I wound up in Bangkok to be a writer. Even though we were Facebook friends, we rarely communicated online. Then one day she had had enough of her Japanese boss and life in Japan and had caught the first plane home. But those were not the true reasons for her hasty exit.
When she was on the verge of moving to Japan, Ploy met a boy in a dreadful nightclub in Chiang Mai that happened to be the only place she could go after 1 A.M. They fell in love despite the limited vocabulary for both of them. I had known her since freshmen year and never seen her eyes look fixedly at a foreign boy before. Not even once. So this discovery—as she reveals their photos on her phone—came as a surprise.
Tim, the American, works as an English teacher in Phrae, a desolate province in northern Thailand, 200km. from Chiang Mai, and he often goes there on the weekends. For my friend, a few months working in Japan has netted her an architectural career in Bangkok in no time. The shorter distance—from seven hours flight to one hour flight—feels like a blessing.
They managed to meet each other every other weeks. One week she went down to the fullmoon party in Koh Phangan and came back with tanned skin and stories about how amazing being surrounded by the fun-loving westerners was. Another week her American boyfriend would be in Bangkok and she would disappear from my reach until he went back. Whenever I met Ploy, I seemed to notice the slow but steady transformation of someone I knew, a regular Thai girl who would never categorized the disrespectful farang as fun-loving people and who was proud of her fair skin.
There were times when I tried to convince her to have vegetarian lunch with me when we were in the university and I never came close to bringing her there. And here we are, because, ‘He says being a vegetarian purifies your body. Plus the human body is made to be a herbivore.’
We always had limited choice when it came to what to eat. Hot-pot, 199 baht all you can eat buffet sort of thing and street foods. But with her new American boyfriend her eyes were opening.
‘Let’s try that Mexican place next time.’
I thought I misheard that sentence. I was like ‘Are you trolling me, honey?’ The Ploy I knew wasn’t into Mexican food at all, no matter how hard I tried. But now the Indian food that used to smell awful is fine and the smell of Turkish food is mouthwatering.
When you’re in love with someone you dedicate your time, bring all your effort to be with the person you love. That’s understandable. Sometimes you go blind under the spells of love. I also understand that change is the true nature of things and it’s derived by the variety of events and chance encounters. Thus people change. A Thai friend who vowed to never have farang boyfriend is now in a relationship with an American guy.
I was open minded to the prospect of change until one weekend when we were both packed and sitting in her car for a road trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai I began to develop my own suspicion that this, perhaps, had gone too far.
The road out of town on Friday evening was maniacally packed. I made the CDs for our road trip , we listened to all of them and when the last track faded out, we were not even out of Bangkok.
This was our first long road trip together. When we finally made our way out of traffic it was 8 P.M. There was no time to stop for a proper dinner so I asked her to make a trip to a McDonald’s Drive-Thru.
‘What do you want?’ I asked her when we were at the reception speaker.
‘Sam, I’m vegetarian.’
‘Oh yeah!’ For some reasons I forgot what she was. ‘I’m sorry but I still have to order this otherwise I’d be starving to death. How long have you been a vegetarian anyway? Four weeks? Five weeks? Hope the smell of meat isn’t disgusting to you yet.’
*
My road trip mixes were played the second time around when I took her place and drive. The road was adequately bright but some parts of the road were dark. We drove past the large, three-story tall milepost monument in the middle on the intersection which we agreed had no reason to dissolve our taxmoney into such cockamamie like that.
‘What would you do if I was busy and couldn’t come here with you?’
‘Then I would drive by myself.’
‘Aren’t you scared of having to drive around here all alone at night?’
‘Not at all, I’ll be fine. I’ve done this many times’
‘What if there’re criminals?’
‘I’ll never stop a car for anybody.’
My journalism career has taught me that anything could happen. A few years back there were many incidents where drivers were killed by gangs that threw stone into oncoming cars at full speed and then robbed the drivers. But life has told me to shut the fuck up and just drive.
After one hour behind the wheel we were passing her hometown when she said she wanted to be the one driving because I was too slow.
‘I can still see that fucking milepost from here for heaven’s sake. Let’s me drive. I want to see my boyfriend tonight.’ She said.
Our destination for that night wasn’t Chiang Mai but Phrae—the town in the middle of nowhere where her American boyfriend was living—just for a night. Tim was moving to Chiang Mai and she was going to help him move his furniture in her car the next morning. She said I could stay at his place but I didn’t want to out-welcome anybody so I opened Booking.com and looked for somewhere to crash.
She drove fast and furious like she was moonlighting as a transporter or a professional stuntman in her secret life. It felt as if I was sitting near a salmon that was swimming against the strong current to find a mate.
We drove past something that look like an electric pole but it was  bent. She slowed down the vehicle and pointed her finger at it.
‘Here is where my high school friend crashed her car a year ago. You see the pole there? It’s still  bent. No one cares to fix them.’
I tried to tighten my seatbelt as she resumed the velocity. The road was getting darker and darker and in the dark—with only our headlights to shine the way—I saw where our tax money should have gone. If they had spent it on street lights, our friends could seen the road clearly and wouldn’t hit the electric poles. But that giant nonsense milepost in the intersection is what we get.
I found a hotel near her boyfriend’s rented house, 500 baht a night with breakfast. The rooms and lobby were generally clean and they were hosting social events every now and then. These pictures of people celebrating ensured my satisfaction of the hotel facilities, I could smell the odors most three stars hotel have, so I booked it.
By the time we arrived it was three in the morning. The hotel was nothing like the picture I’d seen on the web. Ploy looked at the horror on my face before she said, ‘Maybe it looks better in daytime.’
When I saw a couple of hookers hanging outside the hotel and casually flirting with the security guard, I knew I had made big mistake. But Ploy wasn’t in the mood to drive around town to find me a decent hotel to my standard anymore so, in the end, I found myself trying to avoid eyecontact with the women there while I was checking in.
The hotel was one you would expect a serial killer to show up and there’d be a 90 minute session of cat and mouse hunt before the credits roll over. A cracked window, you could see it even in the dark, a cum stained carpet. Had I arrived before 3 A.M. I would have run like hell and asked for a refund. But, instead, I threw my bags on the floor, lay down on the bed and let the fatigue creep in.
Even then I couldn’t sleep. I started to hear noises. The loudest was my neighbor’s television. It was a TV Direct channel. My friend was in her boyfriend’s house and they were probably fucking each other while I was lying down in a dodgy hotel in the middle of nowhere, all alone, only accompanied by the unclear existence of my neighbor who’d probably fallen asleep in front of the TV while the man on it was describing a vacuum cleaner with his feigned exuberant voice of a cheating husband.
‘If you call us within ten minutes, you’ll receive a special gift. OUR VINTAGE APRON!!’
Yes, in case somebody out there was in the mood for ordering a vacuum cleaner at 4 in the morning.
*
The next morning I woke up to the terrifying reality of my hotel room. It didn’t look too bad in the low light but in the broad daylight the details were horrendous. I skipped the shower and grabbed my breakfast coupon, I placed it near the ant-line on the counter top and went for breakfast. It was supposed to be the primetime for breakfast but I was the only one there. So there was no buffet, instead it was kind of choose your own faith sort of thing where you have three options on the menu; the two eggs, rice porridge and fried rice. But when I glanced at the dessert table where they placed all the glasses and saw a cockroach chilling by himself, unaware of the risks he has taken upon himself, I went outside to 7-11. It was then that I bought my first pack of cigarettes in years.
The hotel was so bad it had driven me to smoke again. I would later tell Ploy when she picked me up at the hotel. Her boyfriend and his belongings were on the back seat and there was no handshake, no fist bumps and no exhilarating introduction I had expected when meeting an American who my friend had praised so highly.
The trip to Chiang Mai resumed with Tim sitting quietly in the back seat and it felt as if there were only me and her. I couldn’t blame him for not participating, part of the problem here is how Ploy still didn’t understood how not to alienate a foreigner by speaking English even though the  conversation was between two Thai people. But Tim didn’t seem to bother much. He had been living in Thailand for two years, but he must have thought silence was for the best.
It doesn’t require a long conversation or a long road trip to understand someone like Tim. I had lots of friends from America and I couldn’t help but put him into a mold where he seemed to fit perfectly. A tiny American boy who’d been bullied a lot in school, who can’t cope with the reality of life in the US; a loser, so he decided to move here where he can have it easy and everybody seems to see him as a guy who has something important going on in his life.
Of course, my friend Ploy, like most Thai women, didn’t see him that way. To her, Tim was a magnificent figure for whom she willingly turned into a vegan, ate Mexican vegetarian dishes, used only pure natural beauty products and adjusted her schedules according to his needs and had to drive all the way back from Chiang Mai to Bangkok through the night, by herself, on Sunday night and go straight to work on Monday morning. All because he asked her to take him to see his boss to discuss work on Sunday afternoon.
I didn’t want to interrupt her happiness and I understand that love is devotion. So I backed off and let the two of them have some alone-time and flew back to Bangkok instead.
*
Two weeks later, we meet up in Khoa San road, me and her. It was the first time the two of us were in this backpackers’ haven, in the heart of the old Bangkok, together. For many reasons I loathed this place and for many different reasons she loved this place.
For me, it’s the place where if you’re not interested in partying and are just there observing you will see how weird things are. A woman encouraging a drunk tourist to buy a scorpion and eat it in front of his friend, a man who looked like an old traditional Chinese pharmacist moonlighting as a DJ.
We sat at a bar but the music from the neighbors were clashing and I couldn’t comprehend what song I was listening to except it was one big loud noise.
Coming here was Ploy’s idea. But the idea of the meeting was mine. I had to deliver some bad news to her.
I found out that her boyfriend, Tim, has been cheating on her with someone I had known for a long time. I knew this for quite a while and thought it was just a one-time thing and maybe better to let it go. But it wasn’t and the final straw was when I found his text message saying my friend Ploy is ‘just another Thai girl who he can end the relationship anytime he wanted.’
So I had to tell her about my discovery. The only way to give heartbreaking news is in person.
I tried to cheer her up at first. I bought her a drink and pretended to be extra fun. A drunk Dutch girl was dancing near us and I began talking to her at first before Ploy felt like she wanted to practice her English and joined our conversations. It went well, they were dancing together, exchanging short one word question-answer. It seemed like us were making new friend until Ploy drunkenly asked the Dutch girl one question.
‘Are you alone?’
It came off as creepy as it gets. The woman looked at me and then her. ‘No, my friends waiting for me at another bar.’ She said. She danced, politely, while steering away from us. I took a minute before I realized that it made me look bad, too. Like I was conspiring on a rip-off campaign because I was with her.
Ploy lit a cigarette. I had never see her smoke in my life and this development was a shocker so I shot her a look.
‘Fuck it. My grandpa lived till eighty and he smoked like mad man.’
And I looked. At a frustratingly wrong-headed Thai girl having her first serious relationship with an American boy and smoking her first cigarette at a bar full of westerners.
She cheered up and seemed to have a lot of fun. I didn’t know how I could break the news. Should I quickly tell her all at once or should I slowly drop a hint along the way? I’d debating it with myself, drink after drink, and I got hammered and fell down the stair.
It was  then I realized it wasn’t the time. The police came to shut down the place at 1 A.M. and we found ourselves on a cab ride. Me with my head down between my knees trying not to vomit and she was on a Skype call with Tim.
I raised my head, felt the pain around my hip and saw that we were riding on Thonburi side.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked the driver who answered with the destination we gave him in the first place. I navigated the driver to my condo from that point forward while calling an UBER to my condo for Ploy to continue the trip from my place.
I remembered our conversation when she first moved here.
‘I don’t know why I didn’t move here in the first place.’ She told me.
We both situated ourselves in upscale neighborhoods in Bangkok. My apartment is in Sathorn and hers is in Sukhumvit. So the convenience of the city living is satisfying us.
‘You shouldn’t underestimate your home country too much.’ I was once has a thought of leaving Thailand, too, before I discovered Sathorn, the prestigious neighborhood with high rise building and five star hotels and restaurants, 15 minutes’ walk to the greenery of Lumpini park where I can run and row  boats on the lake. Then I decided that living in Bangkok isn’t so bad.
But living in Bangkok can turn you into an untrustworthy monster. I’ll tell you. Delinquent taxi drivers are a good example why we have to create our own self-defense that will ultimately hurt well-intended people by accident as well.
The meter was 350 baht while it supposed to be less than 100 baht. So I paid the driver what he’s supposed to get. The driver was angry at first but when he saw the security guards at my condo he’s quickly dropped his temper, let out a few quiet curse words and  went.
The UBER was waiting for us. And when I told Ploy to continue with this ride she started to act weird.
‘No I am not getting into a stranger’s car!’ She yelled.
‘What’s up kitty?’ Tim’s voice came out from her mobile. They were still Skyping.
‘Sam is trying to get me into this stranger car.’
‘It’s an Uber.’ I said. Hoping Tim would hear it and explain to her.
He did. And she finally stepped into the car.
‘Shit! I need to withdraw some money for the cab.’
I smiled. ‘It’s fine. It’s for free.’
Her eyes widen when I said free. This is me. I’m always take good care of my friends, at least I  try to. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and find that she had been ripped off by that taxi or got raped and killed and her body has been dumped in the sewage. I sunk on the floor, in front of my condo, as soon as she left and the security guard came to help me.
‘Are you okay, boy?’
I got up on my feet, even though I wished I could lay there until I see the sun. I still hadn’t told  her the news. They would say goodnight and she would go to bed and sleep soundly. I made my way to my room, shut all the curtains and kept my eye on the Uber car I called for her on the nav, thinking there’re lots of things I’ll have to tell her when she wakes up.
_________________________________________________________
Sam Nathapong is an independent writer and journalist living in Bangkok. Twitter @samnathapong
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4 thoughts on “Road Trips

  1. Awesome post mate. Really captivating. I recently took a road trip to Chiang Mai too so I actually LOL’d at the remark about where the tax money went. They really do need to place some street lights on the way there.

    So what happened with your friend at the end? TBC?

    Like

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