Tonight, I am twitchy with restlessness. My timing just seems to be off. I'm suffering a slight bout of world-weariness, finding it irritating how smitten my colleagues are with Thailand.
I love it, too, but I've got months of Thailand under my belt, and I can't help but see her for what she is. A tourist mecca along the Andaman coast that promises smiles and elephant paraphernalia galore, as well as underage girls for sale in shady show bars where they stand (looking all of 12 years old) in tall boots and sexy dresses, lip synching while looking as though they are trying not to cry.
It is enough to make even the hardest, most cavalier man break down. We wandered in the other night, mistakenly thinking that we had found a Karaoke bar. The beer was cheap, so we took a seat, and slowly realized what was going on. We were all uniformly horrified, and left quickly.
Tonight I felt stretched thin, still fighting a nagging tickle in my throat, still feeling a bit off kilter.
I wandered away from the bright lights and markets, wandered onto one thin, winding street after another until I was thoroughly convinced that I was lost deep in the bowels of this place. Slowly, I backtracked my way to familiarity, like a thread winding its way out of an enormous knot, dipping and diving, sleepwalking my way past open doors revealing old ladies in sagging dresses, Buddhist shrines, steaming noodle alcoves.
Every sense is razor sharp when I am lost, so that each detail stands out like a bloodstain on a white sheet: distinct and indistinct, a Rorschach test designed to reveal what I am really feeling beneath the stress of group travel and the pangs of senseless desire to disappear.
A mother watches a tiny little girl squatting in the grass beside a restaurant, peeing. A beautiful young man sits astride his motorbike holding a steel-gray cat with half a tail in his lap, petting it adoringly. Two homely, stocky lady boys riding a motorbike cruise by me, both smiling and staring. What in the hell is this white gal doing in our alley? their glittering eyes seem to say.
A woman at a noodle shop tells me that the soup is too spicy for me. This is all done with sign language, the unofficial, international variety practiced everywhere by non-native visitors and endured by their patient (and sometimes impatient) hosts. I assure her that spicy is "Dee Maak," or "very good." I sit to a bowl that looks as though it is full of tripe, and my heart sinks. Screw it. I'm hungry, and I need to not get sick. I recall my father once saying that menudo (Mexican tripe stew) is good for you when you are sick.
My first bite proves my bravura foolish. It is a chicken foot. A chicken foot for crying out loud! I don't eat chicken at all, and I happen to rather like the little buggers, having had 2 as pets for the last few years. I gag it down, and then proceed to eat the blood cake floating in the mind-numbingly spicy broth. At least my mouth is on fire, obscuring the taste of congealed blood for the time being.
I eat almost everything by transporting myself to a better moment, smiling wanly as I recall our perfect lunch this afternoon, and the Thai students we are working with when they told me, "Francesca, we like to watch when you eat, when you talk, it is like you are always dancing." I recalled myself presenting today, realizing that years of dancing must have left an imprint on my mannerisms. My hands are like eager little birds, painting pictures in the sky to illustrate my points. I watch my fingers lace when I say the word "unification" and I see them flutter apart when I say "the community was broken".
My hands chase one another as I describe tsunamis wrecking the coast, and I make my fists into houses to illustrate proximities and spatial relationships. Public speaking is a performance for me, it seems.
I watch myself in my mind's eye as I eat this impossibly spicy, revolting meal: I speak slowly and with great clarity, choosing my words for conciseness. I never say "um." The foreigners appreciate my presentations, because I pan around the room with my eyes, and on the lookout for comprehension and confusion.
I wonder what the future holds for a lady like me. A dancing, dreaming, public speaking pixie who never knows when to give up, who does not know how to admit defeat...
I wander through the spiderweb of streets, mournful Karaoke songs accompanying my every step, a lone star glistening beyond the concrete roof lines. Eventually I see, out of the corner of my eye, a familiar building at the intersection.
I walk toward the light, drenched in my own sweat, the swarming of manufactured sounds turning the heavy, hot air alive. I have found myself again, by losing myself to the night.