A Breath in Time: Final Thailand Days


June 18, 2013
The breath streams in, pressing deep through the chest before releasing hard into the core. Tension tears but the body grips to its balance. Each second passes— still, silent.

Our teacher guides us with a liquid lightness, curling her toes onto the edge of her mat. Her arms rise swiftly like knives slicing stillness in two.

Twenty hands follow.

The canvas of the room’s only window frames her fiery red hair, jarred by the aluminum domino view of Bangkok’s skyline. Twenty six floors up and life outside seems so distant.

Inhale. Outside, where each passing moment chips at our last few hours in Bangkok. Where later that day we’d shuffle into our last cab, sweeping through the rich curves of the city streets.

Exhale. Where the taxi would stall in the congestion of Bangkok’s traffic, eventually drawing in to the gateway of our exit.

The plane would tear through the runway that night, soaring over shrinking pieces of a downtown view, no care for my aching desire to cut the breath, to hook the sensation and keep it, just a moment more.

Inhale.

Wisps of hair graze my shoulders, clenched between folds of pressed skin. I follow our teacher’s lead, lowering the hands in prayer, softly scanning forehead to heart. I separate my lips to heave out a bellied “om." The breath skirts upward, fluttering up before disappearing out into the space.

I shut my eyes, falling into the breath’s patterned cycle. Time relaxes and all is still, just for the moment.

Bangkok, Thailand

****
June 14- June 18, 2013
Caitlan and I flew into Bangkok from Koi Samui that Friday morning, stumbling back into the hotel we’d stayed at our first week in Bangkok. But of course our room wasn’t ready until the 2 p.m. check in. “I’ll see what I can do,” the lady at the front desk said stoutly, whisking us away. It was just barely 9 a.m. so Caitlin and I curled onto the hard floor of the waiting area, too dazed to note our discomfort.

We’d registered for high tea at the swanky Shangri-La hotel a few days later.  A heavenly buffet caved in our corner of the lobby’s lounge— a steaming porcelain pot serving our centerpiece for our little table for two. We were the few white faces among the majority upper-crust Thai families.  The women, I noted, were pale, their coiffed hair permed. Couples—husbands with their wives, elderly women with their troupe of male dancers and the token older gentleman with his notably younger female counterpart— sashayed the afternoon away on the ballroom floor, gracefully tapping in tune to the band’s live music.

I had a made us a list of the must-do itinerary that turned into the never-happened bullet points. (Museums reservations at a counterfeit museum were overbooked; Our dress code, at one bar, was off.)

But what I did manage to get was a fake designer watch at a Bangkok night market, after weeks of egging Caitlan to stop at each watch stand we passed. I had managed to get us pulled into a shady alleyway in Chiang Mai, an enclave concealed by a velvet curtain where stacks upon stacks of watches were piled. Four businessmen huddled in the narrow corner eyeing us deftly. I, naturally, got the giggles.

Kapkoonka, but no thank you,” we spit out, scurrying back out into the flurry of Chiang Mai’s bustling market.

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

****
A tuk-tuk ride was on the itinerary that last night in Bangkok.

"Where to?" Caitlan asked, eyeing the clothes strewn among our hotel room. We’d be leaving the following afternoon.

"Anywhere," I responded.

And so after a kapkoonka (or ten) and a bigger baht fee than anticipated, we haggled a driver into giving us a round trip tuk tuk ride. Caitlan and I gripped the steel poles as we winded from the backpacker strip of Khao San toward the Grand Temple complex, streaming toward spokes of jeti golden tips towering overhead.

The breeze whipped our faces as the tuk tuk rattled on, memories and moments of the month rushing forward. We had walked those steps our first day in the city, dodging the tourist dupes of “friendly men” keen to explain the Grand Temple was closed, “but we can get you in our own tour.”

And it was in that moment that I let go. Let go of my search for the story I’d been chasing that month. Let go of the anxiety of returning to the states (post-grad jitters to attend to, internship to begin, new lease to start). I let go, forcing focus on the moment and my appreciation for the time spent sharing this experience with one of my closest friends. Because that’s what our month, this story was about: guiding each other through the unknown of both our worlds, the changing pace of life post-grad and the adventure of a pause in between.

Caitlan says she watches movies for the moment. I travel for the moment. For the moment it clicks, for the rush of the feeling, the step back from life— the freeness it breeds and the greater clarity it allows.

I’ve been playing with the idea of time since reading Jess Walter’s book Beautiful Ruins. He leaves off the novel with a note addressing the place time as a concept has in developing a story's meaning.

Time didn’t define our trip. It shaped it. It enabled it. And so what place does time have in the story and memories we've taken away? Time has every place and no place in memory. Time permits experience. Experience provides memory's basic plot of time. And the story folds over once meaning is found.  



****
The taxi draws into the airport’s departure gate, stalling as it parks. The driver unloads our carry-ons, packed in more tightly than how they’d arrived.

It all blurs, the check in to security to the hours waiting for the flight. The yoga class that morning seemed as if it had happened years back.

Inhale.

We board, the two of us seated at opposite ends of the last row. That had been my luck on my flight back from Australia. On a positive, it meant we were closer to the bathroom.

Exhale.

Seven months later and Thailand has settled in as another chapter to life’s bounty of experiences. We’ve taken away the memories—stories of bartering down taxis, zip-lining our life down the slopes of Chiang Mai’s rattled ropes. Of curling up on an overnight train and booking a flight from Koi Samui to Bangkok 13 hours before take off.

Our story was of paying that extra $7 for air conditioning in our Ko Phi Phi bungalow, only to awake the following morning to a power outage. Of the time I ran from a dog, thinking it were a bug while in Pai (don’t ask) and subsequently crashing into a tree, scraping my gum on the bark. Caitlan rolled her eyes each time I struck conversation with a taxi driver (who never spoke English), and I can’t count the times I mistook a customer for a waiter.

What place does time have in memory? Time, as a concept, gave us the moments. Time in numbers: one month. Two girls. Ten cities.

Inhale.

One incredible adventure.

Exhale.

And that’s the story. Really, no more than that.

Grand Temple, Bangkok, Thailand



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