Outside the modern comfort of apartment life, the downpours sweeping through Phuket become more frequent and increasingly heavier. This final week of July, 2011 C.E. / 2554 B.E. has marked the start of another rainy season, which soon signals the Siamerican’s 28th birthday.
Along with the renewed reminder of mortality comes the realization that a decade in Thailand has gone by in lightning flash. Ready to endure his eleventh rainy season, the previous nine seemed to have been meshed into a blurry streak of storm clouds. Perhaps due to the law of primacy, however, July, 2001 remains vivid in his memory banks like it was yesterday.
The Siamerican first ventured to the birth country of his late mother exactly ten years ago after he was awarded a scholarship by a Thai-American cultural-exchange organization, Inside Thailand. A one month trip, he joined a 13 member group of eight highschool students and five adult chaperones for a one month culture trip with Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Uttuaradit and Koh Samed on the itinerary. The group landed down in Bangkok one late night in late June. The Siamerican logged:
We arrived in Bangkok at about 1.30 in the morning. Most everyone had been exhausted from such a long flight and were looking forward to a shower and relaxing in a hotel bed. I, on the other hand, was wide awake and attentive to every detail; enthusiastically storming to immigration at Don Muang International Airport with all my bags…
He had been looking forward to the trip all his life — ever since his mother used to tell ‘once upon a time in Thailand’ memoirs, topped with obsessive readings through his second hand Southeast Asia encyclopedia picture books. And it was at the wane of his minor-hood, on the verge of his 18th birthday — nearly five years after his mother had passed — in which his life long dream finally came true.
That initial trip passed as quick as it came. After a few days exploring museums and adapting to the alien yet familiar concrete conglomerate that is Bangkok, several days of temples, an elephant jungle trek, night bizarre shopping and sufficient time to soak in the experience relaxing in Chiang Mai, finally, the group went to settle for homestay living for a few weeks in a rural village, Baan Pah Leuat – Blood Hill village – in northern Thailand’s Utturadit province.
Situated on the banks of the Nan river, the small village of no more than fifty families living on one of two streets harnessed a traditional Thai way of life where the heart of community life centers around the temple. Aside from morning alms offering, dusk and dawn chanting and meditation sessions, and lively village celebrations, other highlights included English teaching lessons in the village library, river bathing, swimming and bridge jumping, geckos, squat toilets without toilet paper, and bicycle rides through the sub-tropic country side were all elements in the country side Thai culture crash course that formed his initial impressions.
The trip climaxed with a dengue fever outbreak that infected and effected a few members of the group–the dilemma was coupled with some drama that resulted from the Siamerican’s stubborn yet determined drive to track down and discover his roots when the Siamerican attempted to run off from the group without permission in order to track down his long lost relatives in another province, which was not part of the itinerary. It angered his group but he has no regrets for doing what had to be done.
The final week saw ample relaxation and reflection time in Koh Samed and Bangkok to soak in the experience. Having met one of his Thai aunts and uncle after much perseverance despite sabotaging trust of the organization’s chaperones, it was a sad return to the US celebrating his 18th birthday on the airplane. A seed had been planted and six months later, the Siamerican had returned to Thailand on a one way ticket to fulfill the rest of his destiny.
Ten years later is now. Coming at the end of his three month probationary period for local newspaper, he has resided in Phuket now for four months since embarking on a brief two month return to the US following a hard earned completion of University in Bangkok. Time continues to be the only consistent, almighty glory: progressing on relentlessly and unstopable. We can turn back the ticks digging deep into our memory banks, but we can not physically relive it or change it for that matter. Hindsight is 20/20. Ten years from now, will one be able to look back and think ‘the good old days…’? One could only hope.