Small Scenes of SE Asia 3

Happy hour coincided with the start of a Thai cooking class. I sat down with my lemongrass margarita, sweaty, tired, and not in a mood to talk to anyone. An older Norwegian man doesn’t notice and extends a hello. Midwestern habits die hard, and we talk for a few minutes about the weather and how lovely the island is. He sighs and says he misses his wife, who stayed in Norway. He’s retired, he said, and loves to travel, but it’s sad that she’s so far away. “Maybe next year she’ll join you?” I offered, not expecting his response: “She’s much younger than me. It seemed like such a great thing when we got married, but now…” He walked away without a goodbye, which seemed strange given the intimacy of that thought.

Even without the two hour delay, I was at the airport way too early. With an audiobook playing and my heavy bag checked, I spent hours pacing the balcony lining the check-in building. On a stop for air-conditioning inside, I watched a white guy cradling a ukulele and an Asian girl pass a smart phone back and forth. One would type something for a few seconds then hand the phone to the other, who held it up to their ear. After a few minutes, I realized I was staring; my last glance caught them laughing and the guy picking the ukulele up to play it.

On my last day on Koh Lanta, I spent the morning drinking coffee and writing at the table set up right next to the street. Everything is open air on the island – the cafes, the hostels, the art galleries. A crew of boys walked past my hostel, half carrying plastic baggies of mango and half carrying fishing poles. It was clear that one kid served as the group’s leader; he walked backwards, facing his friends, and made big hand gestures. Two hours later, and I was still drinking coffee and sitting at the inside-outside table. The boys came back, but this time the bags that once held fruit had fish inside. A smaller boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, dropped one of the bags he was holding but didn’t seem to notice. Another kid saw, kept walking, and a few seconds later ran back to retrieve the bag; he picked it up, shouted something in Thai, and when no one responded, he just dropped it back on the ground and ran to catch up with his friends.

Every evening around 7, right when it started to get dark, carts and tuktuk diners showed up on the street behind my hostel to make for a sort of street food buffet. The second night, I forced myself to walk past the first cart’s pad thai and be more adventurous with my dinner. Two women, both wearing hijab, were selling deep-fried prawns on skewers for 15 baht ($0.40). I greeted them with an As-salamu alaykum, a phrase I don’t normally get to use as a woman in Kyrgyzstan but that works as a greeting for Muslims of both genders in other parts of the world. I tried to tell her that I live in Kyrgyzstan, that I was excited to learn that Muslims live in this part of Thailand, that I did not expect to see women in hijab on this trip – but, our ability to communicate beyond “What is this?” “It is prawn,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome” was a little limited.

It seemed silly to walk on the island’s main road when a beach lay just a few hundred feet away. A right turn and a few minutes’ walk on a dirt road led me to the beach, open, bright, and clean – given the beauty of place, I was surprised at how few people were enjoying the water and the sand. Several Scandinavian couples, very young, young, old, and very old alike, jogged along the water. I don’t know how they could concentrate on moving forward; my pace slowed considerably when I noticed the tiny crabs hauling and dumping sand just past the point where the waves broke.

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