Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Home Again to Khao San Road

Ugh, my plane out of Paro was scheduled for 7:10 a.m. in the morning. This was deliberate--I could have taken the afternoon flight. But I didn't want to hit Bangkok during the evening rush hour, so I forced myself out of bed at 5 a.m.

I hadn't slept much. I'd had a good-bye dinner with my guide, then packed until late.

I'd put off filling out the trip review form until morning, and now here I was, exhausted, late, and feeling inadequate given the lengths Tsering Penjor and Ugyen Dorji had gone to for my Bhutan individual tour. And now I had to write something brilliant that didn't involve the Shangri-La cliche and gave credit to both Ugyen for his organization and Tsering for his care and feeding.

I checked off little boxes, then got to the part where I was supposed to review Tsering.

What was there to say about someone who, after I'd told him how much I liked the fruit, muesli, and yogurt breakfasts in Thailand, spent the next three days trying to get me a fruit salad in the shadow of the Himalayas?

Tsering texted my phone, the little Nokia on loan from Bhutan Your Way, Ugyen's agency, to make sure I was awake and on my way down. I was out of time. I scribbled something onto the review sheet and promised myself I'd write more later.

Perhaps this blog is enough.

Ugyen was waiting at the front door of the hotel, having driven over from his apartment—which by odd coincidence, was owned by Tsering's brother, though they'd only just realized that.

We were all silent in the car. Too early for small talk.

At the airport, I put my backpack onto a cart, then turned back, awkwardly. I had read that Bhutanese don't do public displays of affection, but then Ugyen surprised me with a big hug.

Tsering stood at the airport door and looked away. I gave him a stiff hug—surely that was okay? But he just looked glum that I was leaving, but of course, at $240 a day, there wasn't any chance I'd change my plans.

I waved to the guys and pushed my cart in through the glass doors as the Hyundai pulled away.

On the plane, I tried to make a list of things to do when I got home. I caught myself and laughed. So home was now Sakul House near Khao San Road? Yes, it was.

Let's see, I'll put in my laundry right away, I thought. I'll have to run downtown to the hair colorist. I needed a new zebra T-shirt. And...and...my mind drifted off. I couldn't think straight.

My brain had been overloaded by Bhutan. It's not the idyllic, remote kingdom in the clouds we're taught that it is. No, it's actually a scenic, clean, socially responsible budding democracy where plastic bags are illegal, everyone recycles, pigs are fed pot, penises in blue ribbons are painted on buildings, dogs run freely in the streets "telling their stories at night," and everyone knows what to do when they see a yeti.

It's going to take a lot of mango and sticky rice in Thailand to help me sort through my last week.

And soon, just a short airplane ride later, I was back in huge, familiar Bangkok. Back in the sort of urban environment I belong in. I was immensely relieved--now I could clear my head a bit and process what I'd just seen.

I got through passport control, gathered my bag, and caught the swanky new airport train to the center of town, where I'd flag down a taxi to Banglamphu. The old airport bus had quit running in June when I was last here.

The receptionist at Sakul House greeted me like an old friend, and housekeeping had made my towels up in the shape of elephants, which they knew I liked from last time. I was delighted to be home.

But I missed Bhutan. Actually, Bhutan is nice but I'm long over believing places are really all that different from each other, even though Bhutan had some really unique qualities. In truth, I missed the guys I'd just spent all those days with.

Mostly I missed Tsering. Which I know was ridiculous—I barely knew him. It would wear off, but I had to admit it to myself.

And it wasn't just me. A few days later, he wrote to me that he missed me, even though he knew it was silly.

Sort of like milking a white lion.

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