The days after a night of rain and storms are the hardest in Bangkok. The air is thick, heavy and soup-like and the sweat rolls off your skin, regardless of whether it’s the middle of July or December. Trust me, I’ve seen both. The heaviness of the air was probably felt double because of the heaviness in my heart. For the first time ever, Andrew had accompanied me for the first part of my summer trip, rather than the last, and today is the day he’s left. There is an Andrew-shaped hole where my hand should be held crossing roads and walking in front of traffic. There is an Andrew-shaped hole across the dining table. There is just an Andrew-shaped hole.
I know super-power travel woman who needs no man to travel will return once she’s adjusted, but I seemed to be particularly raw and sensitive to everything today, contemplating the fact that I will soon be on a 9-hour bus trip to the Cambodian border with fifteen new travelling companions (read:strangers).
“You’ll make new friends,” Andrew chided.
“I don’t need new friends,” a childish retort, “You are my best friend, and I have plenty of other good ones.”
I suppose I am also trying to shy away from that judgment and interrogation that will no doubt come about when my fellow travellers find I am living in Dubai. The curiosity and being able to explain such a dualistic city can be exhausting. The words from a traveller on my Scotland trip still ring in my ears. Oh, we noticed you’re always buying the fancy foods when we stop for lunch. Heck, it was just raspberries and goat’s cheese. I don’t want to be that girl from Dubai. I’m going to see how long I can last without mentioning it. And as I continued to ponder the state of the coming weeks without my favourite person around, we made our way out into the soupy air of Old Bangkok together for one last time. Maybe I’m starting to go off this whole Kristy-lone-adventures thing, but I’m always like this at the start.
The smiling lady who has taken all our breakfast orders while in Bangkok seemed to be extra smiley today. She looked at me quizzically when I asked for iced tea, then smiled broadly when I clarified that it was Thai iced tea I was after. She watched carefully as I went to drizzle chilli water over my boiled prawn and rice soup for breakfast, warning me to test the saltiness of her broth before I did. She returned to clear Andrew’s plate, that broad smile crossing again at the sight of my sprinkling ground chillis over my soup again.
“You like spicy, na? Good spicy” she declared.
When I asked for a hot tea to go with my meal, she offered Lipton or Thai, and I watched her face light up again as I asked for the Thai version once more. She brought an extra jugful, for the side, for if I wanted more. Brought the sugar jar, creamer, and laughed, “have everything!”. I think she was relieved to not be serving the usual Western favourites for a moment, but really, I just can’t handle the smokiness of Thai brewed coffee *shudder*. I don’t think I’ve had coffee for four days now. Theoretically I should be fitting on the floor or something, but a good holiday can indeed wean you off a high-level caffeine addiction. I even embarked on the Thai tea adventure full well knowing they use some sort of milk-based creamer-slash-condensed-milk-sweetener thing to bring their tea to life. It was worth it to see how she reacted. And Thai tea itself? Well, it does indeed rival my true love and desire for Indian masala chai. On a good day, I could even say it was better with it’s sweet, earthy undertones and the mysterious orange colour. I sucked it down with my spicy rice soup before Andrew and I went unto the fray once more for one last massage near Khao San Road.
Now, let’s get this straight: Khao San Road is a bit of a tourist hell-hole. A bunch of backpackers love it. I do not. Full of same-same stalls, cheap and questionable food and Thai men wandering the streets selling ping-pong shows and hashish, along with loud drunken tourists and girls that need to learn to cover a few limbs, it’s not my favourite idea of Thailand. But, tucked away in a little walking laneway off the side of Khao San Road, you will find a great number of massage parlours with truly good service. I think they’ve got the tourist traffic to really pour funds into a nice spa and great staff. And this is where Andrew got his last Thai massage for the trip, a herbal compress session using warm herbal parcels to ease muscle tension.
Me, I’ve taken a liking to back, neck and shoulder Thai massages. Less time faffing about with my legs and arms, and more focus on the parts of me that really need attention. Those shoulders that won’t let go of hours in front of a computer screen, and a neck that seems permanently jarred on one side. I’ve had about 15 massages and treatments so far this trip, but this was the first with a male therapist and I was both worried and intrigued by what I was in for. I changed into a pair of borrowed Thai fisher pants and was directed to lay on my side while he worked at my ribs and shoulder blades. It was nice to not have to tell him to increase the pressure; I like a good, strong, healing massage.
He continued, methodical in movements of hands and elbows, digging into muscle and edging around bone. He pulled at limbs across awkward rib cages, stretching and twisting to release tight areas. His movements were varied, well weighted and therapeutic, right up until I was on my stomach and we was working over my back. At once stage, I had the full weight of him standing on my back, one foot across my tailbone and the toes of the other digging into the tightened muscles along my spine. I tried to match my breathing to the movements, the only way to cope with the forearms and elbows compressing my chest, and as he dug into the depth of my shoulder blades, working the knots and tightness of a year of school work.
I am sure I reached a fully meditative state. No one can handle that much pain and still be lucid.
There was nothing but my coordinated breathing and the sensations of my muscles, pinpointed at repetitive places he continued to work at. Working over that same spot in my shoulder, over and over, brought such intense pain and I felt remorse for every time I’d dug my elbows into Andrew’s back to release a knot. I thought briefly of Fifty Shades of Grey and calling out to stop, but I knew this kind of pain was what I needed. I continued to breathe, and the movements got more intense, harder, more focused. I don’t pray to a god, but Jesus H. Christ, if I did I would have been praying with all my heart and soul. I thought back to my yoga practice and just focused my breath and concentrated on my body. I emptied my lungs on downward pressure, took the lunges as they came, and held on knowing it was only ever slightly less painful than the five-colour tattoo I’d been meditating through just one week before. The flexing and stretching went intensely deep. Not about touching toes, but wrapping my entire hand under each foot. Full backbends. Wrenching side twists. Return to that shoulder blade. Good heavens.
Afterwards, he said to me, “That was a good, strong massage. You have a few of those, but not stronger.” Heck, I don’t think anyone could inflict greater impact and leave me in one piece. I felt alive though, renewed, rejuvenated and refreshed. No matter how hard I tried, I had never really managed to meditate before, but I’m sure I can now. I changed back to my shorts, wandered down the stairs and marveled at the movement in my upper body. There was no tension and full freedom of movement. It was most wonderful to enjoy as I sat sipping green tea waiting for Andrew, who came back refreshed and relaxed. Not a bad way to spend a last day, even if it was a bit intense. It offsets the intensity of his leaving, I suppose, and triggers the next phase of exciting and new adventures. I’m starting to feel a bit more ready for them just by writing this. Good therapy. Cheers for the therapy session. Send your bill anytime!