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 citywide 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 are 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. I felt 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 why I’d been gone so long.
“I went home,” I said.
We make small talk, and he smiles, shakes my hand, and tells me not to stay away for so long again. “I’ll come back more often,” I promised.
I move on with my day — there’s a lot to do. Walking into my old hair stylist’s, I ask how much for a cut. “150 baht,” she says. Same as last year.
“Where have you been?” she asks me. “It’s been a long time.”
She remembered my face better than I remembered hers. I feel a bit embarrassed.
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’s 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.
She laughs. I laugh.
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.