Rolling Clouds to Smoke-filled Streets

I can’t quite explain the feeling of boarding the AirChina plane, looking at the monitor on the back of the seat in front of me, and realizing I had a 13+ hour flight ahead. I’m still not sure why this came as such a shock. I had booked the flight… I restarted the monitor, and checked the time again. 13 hours to go. I closed the application, checked again. 13 hours!? I was crammed next to four people after trying to board the plane last and get two seats to myself. I’d managed to find three and sprall out, satisfied with myself, but in a few minutes, I was politely asked to move. I was in First Class… Ah, only me.

Me, pre-getting-kicked-out-of-First-Class

The next 24 hours of flying can only be described as a Hunter S. Thompson mixed with Lewis Carroll time warp, though with none of the perks of Carroll’s lovely wonderland or Thompson’s briefcase of drugs. Each time I woke up from 45 minutes of sleep, I checked the airplane monitor and swore it hadn’t changed a minute. I’d walk to the crowded bathroom and feel the world actually spinning around me, trying to remain in a zombie-like state so I could fall right back asleep in my seat. I felt like I was in a nightmare, and I couldn’t stop questioning my decision to come or dreading the flight back (which was 24 days ahead of me). I started to practice staying in the moment, mindfulness. Everytime I felt myself traveling to the future with dread and apprehension, I’d consciously pull myself back to the packed-full airplane, the strange boxes of rice and yogurt, the woman practically lying on my shoulder beside me. And I’d fall back asleep.

When I landed in Beijing, it only got worse. The airport was cold, both figuratively and literally freezing. I was yelled at during security for my portable charger (which they took, two of them), I couldn’t find Wi-Fi or decent food, every person I tried to ask for help either couldn’t speak English or pretended not to, and I was stuck there for 5 hours. I kept wondering what possessed me to book a 24 hour flight. I kept second-guessing myself. A bowl of burning hot curry and a nice man’s personal Wi-Fi source literally saved my layover and my sanity.

The next plane ride, only 5 hours, felt like a joke in comparison, and I was in Thailand in no time. And absolutely lost. I had an email from the owner of my first hostel explaining how to get there by two different trains, and all of the sudden I was very aware that I was not in America anymore. But I stayed calm, asked around, and arrived at Phrom Phong station with directions that I had a “two minute walk” from the platform. There were four to chose from. So off I went, one large backpack on my back, and one smaller one on my front, sweat poring from every part of my body out of nerves and the startling heat of Bangkok.

And as I descended the stairs from the platform into Sukhumvit Road, I wish someone could have taken a picture of my face. There were three lanes of traffic FULL of scooters and tuk tuks and cars, weaving in and out of each other at alarming speeds. The streets were lines with carts and carts of street food and vendors and Thai people, like ants hustling from their hills. I had no map. I had no internet connection. The culture shock had me shook. Still more questioning: Was I making the right decision in coming here? Was this impulsive? I found myself longing for my bed at home by my window with its stacks of books and overflowing ashtrays. Longing to feel the heartbeat of my loved ones right next to mine. Longing for the easy streets, the corners where I know the lights stay on and there’s a house nearby that I can run to and knock on. All of the sudden, the routine I’d ran from back home didn’t seem too bad… Longing for comfort.

First view of the Bangkok skyline from the train ride into the city

But aren’t we always in moments of fear? Our mind always takes us there first…where can I find it? Like a savage animal. Where can I find it? From what? From who? When I was younger, my comfort was my mother and my sister. I couldn’t even sleep in the room across the hall without them. There was always something to fear — out my window, knocking on the closet door, just right below my toes… I’d hold myself so still that perhaps my pulse actually stopped some nights, petrified by fear. Just a silhouette. Until I’d cave and run to the other room, always something behind me, and lay down beside them, falling asleep to their light breathing in peace.

By 13, I found myself needing much more than that to sleep at night. I found that I’ll use anything when I’m seeking relief. Anyone. Too quickly, I reached for bottles and lines, day in and day out, and less threateningly, food and books and art to try to distract myself. Obsessive. Gluttonous. Tunnel vision. I found myself wrapping up in humans, their rib cages like cubby holes just for me, no room for their own hearts, unknowing that they were only a source of light and warmth. And then leaving gapping voids when I wasn’t cold anymore and ready to move. Always.

I spent years seeking only comfort. Dark, selfish, deep comfort. Our search can be incessant. But I always, even in the most shadowy rooms, felt a stirring buried deep inside, swirling like a cookie mixer, my stomach kneading the dough until I was sick. I knew it wasn’t the life that I wanted, but I knew no other way. A desire to move, to open, to run from the dusty basements, but no power, no inner guide, no lantern to light my way out.

The BTS Sky Train ended up being my main form of transportation during my stay because I was thrown into the pool from the airport’s gates. And between the sky train (BTS), the underground train (MTS), and their unique, badass ferry system, Bangkok felt like a giant playground. There was so much to see. I swear the streets themselves were alive.

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lorde

I’ve found, over and over again, fear is only a reaction, a perception. It’s not real. My fears during my long travel to Asia and my arrival in Bangkok were just my mind playing tricks on me, trying to push me back to shore. I was exactly where I was supposed to be because I was there. I could have ran home. It actually crossed my mind once or twice. But I’d be running to comfort, and I know that path. I know that path, and nothing grows there. It’s long dried up for me.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” -Paulo Coelho

I found my hostel in the back of a coffee shop (Barn & Bed Bangkok! If you ever visit, this place is perfect), checked in, and threw my bags on my top bunk. The space was tiny, but clean and modern and adorable. It was 7 or so in the morning. With my only knowledge of Bangkok being the popular Grand Palace, I walked downstairs to ask the owner how to get there. She was beyond helpful, my first angel on the path. BTS, Sathorn Pier, ferry. I walked out the back door, hit smack in the face with the relentless smell of fish and chilli peppers, thick and unpenetratable heat, and a language I didn’t know a word of. But all the sudden I knew the way.

Originally published at to our depths .

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