Ever since I first picked up that book on the Thai language, back in 1990, I had always dreamt of going to Thailand. It consumed my thoughts. One time, the navy ship that I was stationed upon had a stop-over in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. I spread out a tatami mat on one of the upper levels of the ship to sun myself. I was accompanied by that ever-present Thai language book (by now a creased and curved companion). As I lay on my stomach on that mat, I looked out on the bay (I can still smell the Banana Boat tanning oil). The palm trees in the distance were some of the first palm trees I had ever laid eyes on. There was no wind, and that tropical heat was like a heavy blanket on my body. It was even hard to take a breath, such was the humidity. The sun was a small hot dot in the hazy sky. This was something that I was not used to, coming from the northwestern part of the US.
When I looked off at those distant palm trees, I tried to pretend that I was in Thailand, and I imagined that this was how it probably looked. For just a brief, achingly brief moment, I think I tricked myself into believing that I was truly there. I wanted to be there sooo very much. I know how Wit feels, as he waits for his first trip to Thailand. It seems like it will never come; you feel as if you’re missing something. You know in your heart that that is where you truly belong. Yes, readers, I really felt these things before I ever set foot over there. These feelings were only reinforced tenfold after my first visit. The desire to live there is stronger today than ever before. Unbeknownst to me on that oppressingly hot day in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, my maiden trip to Thailand was still nine long years away! 🙁
During the first US invasion of Iraq in 1991, my ship (The USS Virginia-CGN 38) went to the Mediterranean Sea, and we sailed around in circles off of the coast of Egypt. Once in a while we would head up to the mouth of the Suez Canal and launch a tomahawk missile or two into Baghdad. My job allowed me access to a navigational computer that told me the ship’s exact location in degrees of latitude and longitude. I stared at these numbers, particularly when we headed east (towards Thailand). As the number changed, I thought to myself, “We are getting closer to Thailand. Maybe we will go through the canal, into the Red Sea, out to the Arabian Sea, and go towards India (a far-fetched dream that would never happen). One of my friends, who knew of my intense desires to go to Thailand, jokingly said that if this ship did get near India, that I would probably dive overboard and swim ashore! Ahh..who knows…
Always a source of amazement to me!
As I had written earlier, during my first trip to Bangkok, I had stayed in a large house in Bangkapi which lacked air conditioning. Once upon a time, that house had been a lone dwelling in a large field, interspersed with small copses of palm trees. The land around the house had been sold off in parcels, piece by piece, until only a small yard remained to the left, and in front of the house. A small, dingy klong ran achingly-slow behind. To the right of the house was another similar dwelling which was surrounded by a brick fence. The house that I stayed in, and it’s brother, sat at the end of a soi. In this particular area, I do believe, to the best of my recollection, these were the only true residential houses in the area. The rest of the neighborhood was a collection of the large, 4-5 story colonial concrete type of buildings that are so prevalent in Thailand.