When I was about twelve I was cutting up a magazine for some school collage project and came across a picture of a hut over the water. I was in Catholic school at the time so my knowledge of geography and the world in general was, shall we say, limited. I had never heard of this strange land of “Malaysia” before, but my grandmother’s soap operas had taught me enough about courtship to recognize this as a very romantic location. I cut the picture out and kept it for at least a decade imagining some luxurious vacation where I would sway in a hammock over the crystal blue waters. In the exceedingly minimal planning I did for this trip I found out that these huts cost $300 a night. Ahahha I don’t love anyone that much. Thirty-two-year-old Sara still does not have the funds to support twelve-year-old Sara’s romantic ideals (better luck next time fifty-year-old Sara?) so a $16-a-night mosquito-infested cabin on the beach will have to do. But in any case yes, I am finally halfway around the world on the vacation I’ve been waiting to take for two decades.
Under 5’5” and an amateur contortionist, I sleep well on planes. I was looking forward to passing the hell out on our flight. The dissertation was due literally the day before we left for Bangkok. That means, of course, that I submitted it the morning of. I hadn’t slept more than a handful of hours for days on end—between the last minute editing, commuting to work on Long Island, my dad’s retirement party extravaganza, and the myriad chores and errands before subletting our apartment for a month. That flight was going to be the most rest I’d had in at least a week. All I had to do was park myself in the seat and sleep hard for twelve hours, layover in Qatar, and get on another aircraft for a relatively paltry seven hours.
Instead I got on the plane and sat next to a man who looked longingly at the chips I was shoving in my mouth and said he hoped they served dinner soon because he was hungry. Unfortunately my brain translated: “Yeah, so was I, that’s why I dropped five dollars on this bag of chips at the terminal” into “Do you want some chips?” He said yes and then took the bag from my hands and continued eating them for the next ten minutes, heralding a very long twelve hours ahead. At one point he asked ME if I wanted some chips. What at first seemed to be obliviousness to social norms later revealed itself as the first of many straight up dude power moves that went on to include this non-exhaustive list:
-asking the flight attendants for extras of everything
-complaining to me that the flight attendants were lazy, slow, and stupid (this did not go well for him)
-trying to take the trays from the flight attendants every time they brought him his “extras” even though they held onto the trays with death grips and reminded him that they needed the trays
-tapping me awake to tell me he couldn’t sleep (yep, seriously, lucky that he still has that finger)
-announcing loudly after Kevin and I jolted awake that he had been “holding it in” for two hours as not disturb us. But after we groggily got up he sat there and said he was fine
-when he finally did get up he came back with a flight attendant and bragged that he had gotten her to come clean up all the trash he had thrown on the floor
Between the whining, stealing my food, waking me up and telling me that he has to go potty when he in fact doesn’t I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what traveling with a toddler would be like. I will not be flying internationally until my future kids are old enough to dump at camp for a month.
The Hamad International Airport in Qatar is pure luxury- cavernous with dark hues and a soothing soundtrack. Oil money sure goes far! There were giant playgrounds for kids, a weird teddy bear sculpture, a hotel and spa inside the terminal, and very fancy dining options. What must wealthy Doha residents think when they fly into JFK—or worse Newark— Where you’re not trusted to turn water faucets on and off of your own volition and S’barros and harsh lighting abound?
We finally arrived in Bangkok on Friday morning, after heading out of New York Wednesday afternoon. We were in a delusional-hysteric state where everything was very funny or extremely dire. When we finally arrived at our hostel (Live it Up, Chitlom!) we were too tired too nap so we ate street food and got massages like diligent tourists until we were finally able to drift off into an unsatisfying sleep.
Except about thirty seconds after closing my eyes I remembered that we still had to apply for our Cambodian visas for the next leg of our journey. The online application requested a photo. Luckily one of the walls in our room was painted white so I sat in front of it and took a photo that frankly should have barred my admission to the country. Then I shook Kevin awake and propped him up in front of the wall (he later had no memory of this…). This is the photo of a man who has been woken up after ten minutes of sleep preceded by 30 hours of not sleeping, and told to stand in front of a wall. FYI Cambodia is a good place to go if you’ve committed a crime and are holding someone hostage, ‘cause they’ll let you in anyway.
After several snooze alarms we finally dragged ourselves out of bed to meet up with my friend Ted who came to Thailand on vacation two years ago and hasn’t left since. First we went to the local’s night market that featured discounted shirts with mistranslations like “world’s beast mom,” household products, and incredibly cheap food. Eventually we caught up with Ted’s girlfriend at the hipster version filled with Etsy-style booths, karaoke matches and beer towers. We finished off the night, god help us, in the “Williamsburg” of Bangkok and made it just in time for the last 30 minutes of I guess what could loosely be considered a DJ set in hell, if hell is full of young Australian men dancing to Ed Sheeran remixes. The music abruptly stopped when the Thai police mercifully came in blowing whistles to break up the party. I’ll likely never again be so thankful to see armed officers in action.
We ended the night wandering around Khaosan laughing at drunk people, being drunk people, hearing bad techno music blaring from crowded bars- it was beginning to feel like home. Only a matter of time until Brooklyn swaps taco trucks for blackened-scorpion-on-a-stick carts.