Monday, July 18, 2011

The Accidental Scofflaw

Four pairs of shoes in my possession. How did this happen?

I'd been running around in melted-heel sandals for months after a motorbike exhaust pipe had a disagreement with my shoe in Mali, but I'd ended up with two replacement pairs when one pair was too tall and made me trip, and the other set gave me blisters the one time I'd worn them.

I'd just have to learn how to walk in taller ones. Anyway, I liked being tall in Thailand.

I asked my friend Toby if he knew any women with my size feet, so I could give away some shoes. He lives in Chiang Mai and I'd met him in Bangkok a few weeks ago, though I'd been e-chatting with him for a bit before that. He knew a college friend of mine, Sam, from when they were kids together in Manhattan.

Toby laughed at the idea of any Thai women having monstrous feet in my size. I was a little offended, but I knew what he meant. The reason I felt tall here is that Thai women are generally much smaller than I am. I'm not tall at home—I'm fairly average, meaning tall people think I'm short and short people think I'm tall—but I was feeling both cool and clumsy being a big person here. This was accentuated more when I went to the Earth Tone clothing shop—I loved their shirt I'd bought here in 2000—and the clothes wouldn't even fit over my shoulders. I'm a S or XS in a Target T-shirt but Thai T-shirts aren't even big enough for my apparently hulking frame. Toby has the same problem in Thailand. I'd even started to think of him as hugely tall, though he isn't, not really.

I was only planning on being in Chiang Mai for a few days, but the problem was that my Thailand visa would expire in a few days, while my onward plan was still in flux. I was hoping to go to Tibet but it was closed to non-Chinese foreigners and had been all summer. I wanted to go and I wanted to go local, supporting Tibetan businesses and trying to understand what is going on there, but at the moment, I wasn't going local or otherwise.

I wrote to a boat transportation company that travels in a single day from Chiang Saen, Thailand to China along the Mekong. From there I could go by bus and train to Chengdu, which is a gateway city for Tibet departures. The Mekong River was high and it was no problem to go—except that now is low season so the boat trip was only being offered twice a month. I'd initially thought that the scheduled July 26th departure would be too late, but I was clearly going to have to extend my visa. There was no point in going to China to hang around and wait. Not when I could stay in the cheapish, super-comfortable Lux Hotel and hang out with Toby and an oddball selection of expats at night.

Plus, I was down to the wire on getting out a 65-page comic book I'd been working on for months. I needed hours and hours of down time to sit in my room and be employed.

I didn't let the work stop me from getting out once a day. Once, Toby and I went to see the new Harry Potter movie at the mall. We'd gone to see Green Lantern when Toby had been in Bangkok, so I wasn't surprised this time when the audience rose for the salute to Thailand and the King at the beginning of the film. Another time, we went to the Sunday Walking Street and sat down with some hilarious older European men while we people- and busker-watched. Toby introduced me to a mad Hawaiian who insisted I try eating Cherry Garcia ice cream with chop sticks the next time I had the opportunity ("Sublime"). And then there was the time I got impressively lost on the back streets of Chiang Mai and had to be rescued by my iPhone's Google Maps, but let's not talk about that.

Finally, Monday rolled around and my visa was expiring at midnight. I could have run up to the Myanmar border, gotten stamped out, and turned around and walked back into Thailand, getting a 15-day visa, but that would have been a long day when I could instead just go to Immigration out by the shopping mall and pay for an extension.

I got up early, crossed the street, and hailed a shared taxi, a red songthaew. I asked for the Airport Mall, which is a lot cheaper than asking for the airport, which is just past Immigration. I walked up the street from the mall to Immigration.


That holiday that had made the trains all sold out? It was still with us.

I'd be illegal as of midnight.

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