I am in between houses. I am, as they say, about that hotel life. I’ve read in books and short stories that this is supposed to be “the life”: living out of suitcases, walking under city lights, staying up until dawn. The reality is far less glamorous. At my age, I feel deeply the discomfort of not having my things in place. Instead of partying the night away, I’m trying to speak with my loved ones before hunkering down for the night. I find myself tinkering with the hotel room air con quite a lot. I’m supposed to be young and hip, but sometimes I feel like a thermostat adjusting father of three. Jesu.
I have found a place to stay permanently, but moving into an apartment in a new country is a much slower process than in the US. While there are online postings, some Thai people consider a speaker blasting music into the street while an inflatable man flaps in the wind to be a good form of advertising. And when I tell you that’s how this neighborhood of townhouses was being advertised, I kid you not. Needless to say, word of mouth is important. Finding the apartment is just step one. Step two is negotiating the price. In Thai. Okay great. Luckily for me, my colleague’s wife is Thai. She has been graciously talking to the owner for me, then talking with her husband, who then speaks to me. We have never met. Feel free to insert upside down smiley faces here, if you wish.
But still. Things are happening.
Housing is a challenge, but the biggest issue for me, by far, was getting my belongings out of customs. Ya’ll. I imagine that most new employees bond with their bosses over faculty meetings or those weird team building exercises some jobs make you do. Well, I bonded with my boss when he opened his wallet while we were seated inside the back of a customs truck atop my boxes and said, “Here. Take my money.” It was a good moment and a good conclusion to a harrowing day of under the table dealing and bureaucratic channels.
Here is a rundown of the day:
- We arrive at Customs and solicit the help of a man who works there. We negotiate his fee.
- We pay for our passes inside.
- We go from office to office, passing paperwork and baht through windows. My boss was always gracious enough to explain to me what I was buying, but I never got a handle on what I was buying.
- Even though we are waiting on them to process our paperwork, we end up paying an additional fee because business hours are over. To return tomorrow would be to repeat the entire process. Jesu.
- We travel to cargo. We wait, but end up paying a bribe to skip the part where we get taxed by the government for bringing our socks and books and face moisturizer into the land of smiles.
- We and our boxes are encouraged to jump into the back of a truck and ride out into the dusk back to our car.
Here is a sketch I drafted of the old guy who helped us all day:
With a Thai newspaper neatly rolled and stuffed into his left back pocket, silver rimmed glasses pressed to the edge of his nose, a graying combover made buoyant by a full head of hair, and a gait that was one part shuffle and two parts hustle, this unimposing man somehow moved us around the sprawling complex of customs. I studied the wild, gray hairs growing madly from his eyebrows and even counted the stripes on his shirt, but I never caught his name. And yet, he too, is a part of this story. How I came home to Thailand.
And here is a sketch of the woman who drove the cargo truck:
She powdered her face. Twice. The color whitened her. She positioned her frizzying hair neatly behind her ears. When she adjusted the air condition vents, she flicked her wrists as though enacting a spell. Be thou chilled, farang*. Her pink t-shirt and jeans perhaps belonged on a much younger woman, but it was evident: she was experienced. She handled the hulking manual transmission truck with such agility and deftness, it was clear anything extra was for my benefit alone. Turning into tight spaces, ignoring the steering wheel’s cries for relief, pointing the vents in my direction, powdering her face, and speaking to acquaintances through the window…she was all the magic in Thailand.
*Thai word for foreigner.