En Route to Myanmar
Last I wrote, I was on a bus from Kota Bharu to Penang and I didn’t know how I was going to get to Bangkok to catch my flight to Yangon in Myanmar (Burma). Long story short, that bus broke down and took eleven hours instead of five, I couldn’t bear to get on another long bus ride (scheduled seventeen hours) to Bangkok, so I booked a flight from Penang so I could hang out there for a couple days and relax in a really comfy air conditioned bed-bug-free dormitory bed. In other words, I spoiled myself.
Penang is a lovely little tourist hot spot. I ran into Alex who I had met previously in Melaka — I had heard someone come into the dorm and when I pulled back my curtain I saw a familiar face. It was a nice surprise. It rained for a lot of my stay there so I was lazy. Did the state and contemporary art museums, went to the botanical gardens with Alex, ate noodles and banana leaf plate lunches, slept, got lost, read, partied a little bit, and otherwise just lived in the moment.
I also ran into Romel. Malaysia, it turns out, is a tiny world, and when you are a minority there is very little anonymity. There is probably little anonymity even if you aren’t a minority. He was sitting with another person outside my hostel and, at first, I was terribly afraid he would try to convince me to join him on his yacht, but when I walked by him we smiled at each other and pretended not to know one another. I didn’t think much of it after that. My focus was on Myanmar. I heard amazing things of it from people who I seemed to understand and who seemed to understand me. I was ready for the next country, the next culture, another new world. So when I booked my ticket to Bangkok, I also extended my stay in Myanmar.
The journey over was uneventful. I took two Malaysia Airlines flights without telling anybody I was flying Malaysia airlines except for Alex. It turned out she did the same. People will worry we both thought, but they can’t change it, so why speak of it? Alex and I had laughed about it on the bus to the botanical gardens. After all, they barely stop the buses for boarding passengers in Malaysia and we both knew we ultimately could die at any moment wherever we were. After the Malaysia Airlines flights I was in Bangkok, it was 11:30, and I had thirteen hours to kill. The excitement of being in another new country lured me into reading about transport to and from the airport, but things allegedly closed in Bangkok (surprising), and I didn’t sleep much the night before so I decided to call it a night.
At first, I found a bench on the floor with the ticket counters and tried to pass out with my small bag under my head and my large backpack supporting my legs. I figured out later that I didn’t try hard enough to find a darker and quieter space, plenty of which existed. The only trouble I had in BKK was on that bench when I woke up after about forty-five minutes (my spine was not bent right because the bench was actually a series of connected seats with gaps in between each one), I opened my eyes to meet not the ceiling or the air that one usually expects but another set of eyes just a few feet away from the seats behind mine.
It was now 1:30 am and this man proceeded to talk to me despite my completely annoyed and hostile demeanor.
Excuse me, where you from?
I removed my ear buds.
Excuse me, excuse me, where are you from?
At this point, the man came around to my front on my side of the benches.
How long you in Bangkok?
I don’t know.
I don’t know. Six hours maybe.
Oh ok. I’ve been here for three days. This is my luggage (points to luggage cart with several bags — but there were other people sleeping near by). I lost all my money in Bangkok and I’m stuck here with no credit card until I can come up with the $200 for a ticket home.
I sized him up: he was in a neat tailored suit, was clean, fairly well-spoken, but his eyes were dishonest and he seemed rushed to get his story out, like a waking passenger could ruin it for him, and I was pissed that he was so insensitive to my obvious exhaustion and completely disregarded the respectful act of not watching another human sleep or wake so determinedly.
I’m sorry that happened to you. I hope you are able to find the money to get home.
At this point, there was a blank stare and he repeated his story as he walked back to the other side of the benches.
I’m sorry that happened to you, it’s unfortunate, but I’m sure you’ll find the money to get home.
All I need is $200.
I stared at him for moment. Then I turned away, rolled onto my side, and put my ear buds back in. He spoke to me again, but I didn’t hear what he said so I took out my ear buds and stared at him again. If I had lasers or lighting eyes he would have been dust.
Maybe you can just give me $100?
I put my ear buds back in again and he kept talking and I just kept saying no until I couldn’t hear him anymore.
I couldn’t sleep and I had felt him leave the the bench so I got up to find a new spot away from prying eyes. I noticed the luggage cart was still there with a sleeping person next to it. I went down a couple floors and walked by the guy as he was hassling another person. We made eye contact.
You left your luggage upstairs.
He just stared at me, and I contemplated telling the airport authorities that I saw a man leave his luggage unattended and that I thought he was a suspicious character. I wish I could say I didn’t because I thought of the trouble it might cause for the true owner of the luggage, but really it was because I couldn’t be bothered to find someone. I just wanted to sleep.
I found my spot, this time on the floor so I could straighten my spine out. I laid out my tiny traveling yoga mat and covered myself with the sheet I bought thrift before I left. I put my bags between me and the wall, my ear buds in, and I fell asleep quickly, soundly, and wonderfully for five hours. It was enough. I woke up, ate some pad thai and mango with sticky rice, and read until I could check-in. I was starving because I ran out of ringgits in Malaysia and all I could afford at the airport was a package of chewy strawberry candies. So I ate again, ramen this time, and tried to connect to wifi until boarding. Hating airports almost the entire time and wishing I was on a bus. Grass is always greener.
The Bangkok Airlines flight was fine. They play elevator music as your board and get off. I tried to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t finish it in time. I hate Michael Bay. I hate how much I hate things when I’m on a plane. Am I in Myanmar, yet?
I hadn’t booked a place to stay in Yangon, but we made it at 2:00 pm with plenty of time to find a place before it got too dark. All of this would fade into irrelevance when I exited that plane, but I didn’t know that yet.