A cold front came through my immune system, and I felt an incredible amount of "build-up" form in my throat and nose. Delicious. Throughout the bus ride from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, I attempted to sleep off the imminent sickness, knowing I wouldn't get to shut my eyes until at least 6 or 7am the following morning. Transit days…there's nothing like 'em.
It took a solid day, and a border crossing on foot, to make the overland jaunt to the Southeast Asian hub of economy, excitement, shopping, etcetera. I planned on finding a place to throw my bag for a couple hours and enjoying the backpacker alley known as Khao San Road to the best of my sickly ability.
The street was a pedestrian strip akin to a lively Spring Break destination or a modest Hong Kong/Las Vegas stretch. Overstimulation, indeed.
Thanks to some quick guide book perusal the night before, I knew where to eat if I wanted something authentic, albeit established. Sitting on the floor of Mama Something-or-Other's, I blew my nasal brains out while waiting for a hot bowl of broth and a cold lassi. The comfortable ambiance of sitting on floor cushions made me feel welcome enough to camp out here all night, updating blogs on the once-again functioning Blackberry and developing Christmas lists for family and friends, the items on which to be purchased on the streets below. I resisted the temptation to hang for a little adventure.
I had four or five hours to wander and roam, and so I committed massive chunks of time pushing through racks of locally made punk t-shirts, finding the perfect patch vendor and picking his brain for advice on taxi-to-airport scams, and indulging in a Thai massage.
For roughly $12, I received a wow-inducing foot rub and Thai body massage that nearly knocked me into a state of sub-consciousness. My head rolled to the side and jerked back up into reality while my feet received powerful knuckles of pressure release. Upon going upstairs to a communal quiet room for body cracking and loosening, my nose became a gushing falls during wet season. It was all I could do to avoid making a mess on the cushions or create a nasty nasal symphony in this place of meditation. I got by with a monster handful of napkins from my dinner joint.
I continued to wander well into the wee hours and kept my wits about me, often looking back to make sure no one was following me or going to peek out from a nook in the alley. However, I felt incredibly safe in this atmosphere, regardless of the lingering teens around hotels and bars, the constant police sweeps, and certain extra attention given to me by a healer on the street.
A man with a flashy belt buckle, a Robin Hood hat, a cut off slim t-shirt, and the tightest denim shorts I'd ever seen sat gawking at the passersby from his perch on a self-brought folding chair in the road. He was roughly 60, and his comments often involved the "F" word, some mentioning of an individual's energy or chi, and a loud cry guessing what embarrassing thing that person was off to do. I'd quote him now to give you an idea, but I think I was in shock of this crazy man.
He called to me as I passed by, telling me I should smile more and to come sit down by him for a while. He wants to talk to me, help me out…F this F that I don't want to take your money. Who do you think I am?
He seemed fun. I sat down.
As he continued to watch the people going about their nightly business, he discussed with me why he thought I was upset and full of acid (not acid the drug, mind you). Two liters of acid I had in me; that's what he said. He was a tantric healer, and since he had already made his day's pay, he would give me a cleansing for free. Only 45 minute.
Naturally, I was skeptical and shook my head "no" every time he offered.
Another woman walked by, a Croatian, who remembered this man from nights previous, heard his calls to her and came over. He began telling her all the things he remembered of her since she had come to Khao San Road. He'd seen her walking with friends, boys and girls, and asked about all things personal and shameful. After concluding that she had even more liters of acid than I had, the much more courageous woman allowed him to heal her there on the street. It was 2:45am.
I won't give you a play-by-play of his techniques, but the one that made me want to cry, scream, and vomit simultaneously needs to be mentioned. The tantric healer sealed his mouth over her nostrils and blew as hard as he could into her sinuses. Her face turned a purple beyond red. Her mouth open, she immediately began coughing up a storm and spitting beside her chair. I believe she even let him do it one more time.
For one brief moment, I sniffed up the build-up still in my nose and considered getting a quick purge from Mr. Chi here, but before that idea became a thought bubble he could possibly detect, I shivered at the thought and held tight to my "no" head shake.
His explanations of what was wrong with me went on, and I guess I like to think there's some mystical Eastern power that presides in the gifted few that make this their profession because I found myself almost believing him. I was not about to let him make out with my runny nose, though, or perform any number of the tricks that happen off the main thoroughfare in his "studio"; I left him to his work and went for noodles.
Bangkok was a quick excursion and one that instilled in me an intense longing to return to Thailand for at least months. There were beaches and mountains and jungles and alleyways to soak in. This country would be a quick escape I would plot in the back of my mind while working in a gray cubicle on the 10th floor of an art deco building in Somewhereville, USA.
That is…if I could survive the ride to the airport.
I used my recently obtained knowledge to get the right price on a cab to the airport, a newly-built facility that measures almost a kilometer in length. The driver asked if I wanted to take the city streets or the highway. I said, honestly, "Whatever's cheaper. I only have this much." I had the perfect amount that would account for a fair fare and a decent tip. He proceeded to book it on not just the highway but the roads leading to the on-ramp.
I kid you not, we were approaching stop lights going 80 mph.
Our top speed was around 100 mph on the highway. The speed limit was around 60, to accommodate the scattered waves in the pavement that sent my stomach into my bowels.
He traversed the straight, multi-lane highway like it was a winding road, making sure he wouldn't get behind a car crawling at speeds of 50 and 60 mph. This would have been the moment where you and your travel buddy exchange looks that say, "We may die tonight." Instead, I sat alone in the back middle seat, grasping my seat belt with white knuckles, and staring into the rear view mirror with saucer-like eyes.
This was the last night of my solo journey before boarding the flight that eventually took me to all sorts of home. Home with a layover to see familiar faces, home with a layover to reconnect with my bloodline, and home to my actual geographic region of birth. I was jones-ing for morsels of the familiar, but with such a homecoming comes the complete termination of my fantasy world no one from home knows about: my travels.
I accepted this sad reality, reluctantly, with heavy eyelids and a massive sigh into slumber, stretched across four seats on my flight to Tokyo.