It’s been 18 months since I was last here. As I rode the new train into the city, I wondered what else would be different. The last time I was here the political parties were fighting. There were protests, bombings, and city wide violence that turned one of my favorite cities into a war zone. Since my last visit, many of my friends have moved on to new destinations or returned home.
But as I listened to the people around me and looked at the faces on the train, I felt at ease. I was comfortable. I knew I was home. Though I’ve been away a long time, Bangkok and I were as close as ever.
I checked into my guesthouse, dropped my bags and practically leapt out the door. I needed to explore. I needed to be outside – in my city. I wanted to wrap it around me like a blanket.
I had errands to run. I had food to eat. I had friends to see.
As I made my way down the main street of Sukhumvit, I marveled at the new buildings. There was surprise at seeing that derelict buildings, after being there for more years than I can remember, had finally been torn down. Bangkok was changing.
But it still felt like home.
The sights. The sounds. The smells. The pace.
Everything was familiar.
I was practically skipping down the streets.
I moved to familiar haunts.
I ate near my old house. Fried rice never tasted so good.
The guy I buy movies from gave me a big hug and asked me why I’ve been gone so long.
“I went home,” I said.
“I’ll come back more often,” I promise. We make small talk, he smiles, shakes my hand, and tells me not to stay away for so long again.
I move on with my day – there’s a lot to do. Walking into my old hair stylist, I ask how much for a cut. “150 Baht,” she says. Same as last year. She remembered my face better than I remembered hers.
I feel a bit embarrassed.
“Where have you been?” she asks me. “It’s been a long time.”
It would be hard to explain my last year. I simply tell her I went home. It’s partially true.
“Oh really? You go home to work?”
“Yeah, I work on the internet though so I can work anywhere.”
“Why don’t you work here?” she presses.
We make small talk in a mixture of Thai and English. I’m impressed she remembers so much about me.
She compliments me on how good my Thai still is, though I think she is just being polite.
It feels good to speak Thai again but, as I stumble over my words, I know I’m rusty.
In typical fashion, she asks me if I have a girlfriend.
No, I say. I’m not looking for one.
She tells me Thailand is a perfect place to find one.
As my haircut finishes, she admonishes me. “If you don’t come back more, I’ll raise the price of your haircuts. Thailand is your home.”
Later in the evening, I head to my favorite bar, Cheap Charlie’s. It’s the home of many good memories. “Sawadee Krap Satit”, I say, “I’ll have a gin and tonic.” Looking up from his CDs, the bartender smiles a big grin. He too remembers me. Of course, he says.
That night as I have drinks with friends, I can’t help but think that my hairdresser was right – I am home. Part of me belongs here. Like a piece in a puzzle, I fit perfectly. There’s nothing unfamiliar about Bangkok and every part of it feels normal to me. It always pulls me back.
We may not remain in a place forever, but sometimes places forever remain in us.