Sundays always have made me feel uneasy. I think it’s the ingrained guilt that seems to infect us from childhood, where we know that we have to do our homework and have another 5 days of school ahead. At least it’s a realistic lesson to learn early on, in accordance to working a standard Western job. As soon as I woke up and saw Magda sleeping next to me, knowing that today was the day that I left for the foreseeable future, the Sunday feeling kicked in, on steroids.
I normally try to start the day with some form of exercise. More recently it has been bodyweight based strength and conditioning as the gym I was using closed during the Christmas period. Today was different – I needed to preserve my energy. It seems ironic given that I would be seated for the majority of the day, but there’s something about travelling long-haul that makes you feel like you’ve just attempted an iron man competition in regards to exhaustion. If I exerted myself I wouldn’t be able to hold myself together. I still hadn’t packed.
My flight was at 5pm and I needed to be at the airport for 3. This was my last few hours to communicate with everybody that I loved in person, but I wasn’t able to speak normally. My sentences didn’t really make sense and my speech was monotonous. I also noticed the smell of my breath which was pungent and toxic, and probably an accurate reflection of my internal state. I went downstairs to make some tea, and said hello to my mam, who could sense my dis-ease. She has a very nervous disposition (unless she is working behind the bar, where she allows herself to play the role of somebody confident). She was very worried about me going away, however she gets anxious whenever I leave to traditional holiday destinations, so her emotional state may sometimes not be treat with the recognition needed.
I wanted to allocate some time to have some final moments with Magda, and so we sat with our tea and played a game made up by Magda and her Dad. The game was called ‘scribbles’ – one person drew a meaningless mark on some paper, and the other person makes it into something. We had started playing it a few days prior, creating monsters that the other person would attribute a silly name. I had enjoyed the safe spontaneity of it, but playing it today just felt tragic and false – like when we smile for the camera then resume our regular expression afterwards. We where both pretending we where ok, but we weren’t. Magda was better at faking it than I was, not for herself, but for me. That almost made it harder.
I attempted to pack but I hadn’t really looked at my backpack, and I was trying to shove way more into it than It could safely hold. The packing process stressed me, and again, Magda helped and kept a cool demeanour while she demonstrated how rolling clothes saves way more space. I need to give her more credit I think; she has a lot of good ideas that I sometimes overlook. I had bought the laptop I’m writing this on so I could keep active while away. I had intended to finish up some freelance illustration work that could be done digitally, writing a journal, and potentially creating a podcast. Despite having bought it exclusively for my travels, last minute I had second thoughts on if It would be a burden having to worry about it getting damaged. This format of anxiety remained with many other minor decisions too – bringing a neck pillow for the flight, a microphone that I had bought exclusively for the podcast. It didn’t even work, but for some reason the decision to leave it was met with reluctance.
As it approached 1:30pm when I was getting picked up by my sister, who was taking me to the metro station, Magda wasn’t able to hold the space with the same positivity that she had been (not that I would have expected her to). We got into the car and I voiced my concerns to my sister, who said I would feel different once I was on the plane. A lot of people enjoy flights it seems, but for me it’s definitely the worst part. Flight’s aren’t built for comfort in economy, they are built for economy.
Magda lives nearer the airport than I do, so was on the metro with me for around 30 minutes. Our journey was tense. Not with each other, but with our mutual inability to fake a conversation that was appropriate to have in a public environment. We sat in a comfortable but sad silence. We assured each other that the silence wasn’t of a resentful nature, but we both already knew. I looked down to see my new backpack, with the handle decorated by a bracelet Magda had weaved me out of some yellow string and a lock of her hair. It was too small for my wrists, so I tied it around my bag to help identify my bag, and take at least a little part of her away with me. The bracelet was made a while ago, so her hair colour had changed about 3 times since, but it was still her hair underneath all the dye.
We where approaching Gateshead; Magda’s metro stop. We had agreed to not make a fuss about saying bye, and to try and actively pretend that it was just the same as saying goodbye any other day. We kissed and said that we loved each other, and she stepped onto the escalator as the metro pulled away. I took a few deep breaths as I had filled up and didn’t want to embarrass myself by making an emotional scene.
I had a text a few moments later. I can’t remember what it said, but I wasn’t in a position to read it fully in fear I would drop my façade of being ok. She also wrote me a note to read after she left, but I couldn’t myself to read it at this point for the same reason. A few stops later a couple in their 60’s or 70’s got on with their 2 granddaughters, and where comically posh. If somebody was to make a sketch show with a cliché conservative family, then adding these characters wouldn’t work as it would seem too forced. The lady referred to man as ‘Grandfather’, and she insisted that all 4 sat on the same 2 seats, despite the carriage being empty. They discussed the journey, as if public transport was a novel experience. Me and Magda would often see people walking by when sitting in café’s etc. and we’d make up a name, career, and favourite sandwich – for example; Danielle is 28, works in recruitment and would normally eat a BLT, but now she’s having Egg and cress because she’s ‘on a diet’. It wasn’t a game to insult others as the projections could also be positive, it was the accuracy of the archetype that was amusing to us. I wished that she could have been with me at that moment to see the definitive middle class grandparents (Charles and Mary was the name I assigned them).
I arrived at the airport. The carriage was empty as this was the terminal – not many people holiday in January. By this point I had surrendered to it, thinking that if I couldn’t handle it I would just come home after a week. A week seemed manageable. I arrived at Newcastle airport and checked in, before heading to the departure gate of my first of 3 flights. I was boarding a British Airways flight to London, then to New Delhi, before heading to Bangkok. I started reading a book I was gifted by cousin for Christmas titled ‘Be a Free Range Human’, about escaping the 9-5 and making enough money to live happily. Everything I read seemed almost supernaturally relevant, in the same way that the title of the Bonobo album I bought the day before was ‘migration’. The first few pages are about dropping everything you are unhappy with in pursuit of self-fulfilment, and that was exactly what my aim was. It felt like this was one of many synchronicities that where to happen.
The British Airways flight was mainly occupied by those who regularly commute for work. A guy in a suit with a broadsheet newspaper asked for a seatbelt extender, which was another perfect archetype I was saddened I didn’t have Magda to witness with me. I was seated between a couple, so I offered to switch seats so they could sit together. They told me that they had intentionally booked the seats this way as he wanted legroom and she wanted a window. They both did their own thing during the 1 hour journey.
When I arrived in London I had to get a 15 minute airport bus to the terminal for my connection. I’d never been in an airport of such magnitude (maybe Dubai?). I found a pret-a-manger which I was grateful for as they had vegan food and I hadn’t really eaten much for 24 hours. I called Magda who I was relieved to hear seemed happy and comfortable in the company of her mother. She was also slightly tipsy which was an unusual occurrence for her but understandable, and she seemed to be having a nice time.
I boarded my Jet airways flight to Delhi, and fortunately was sat on the end of a row with only one other person next to me – an Indian man who seemed friendly enough but occupied more elbow space than was really polite. Again, airlines aren’t designed for comfort, and this was made apparent when you had to bass the business and first class areas filled with individual small scale living rooms, to get to your seat amongst the crying children and people who insist on standing up all the time. The flight was around 8 hours, and I wasn’t in the frame of mind to be able to enjoy the entertainment so I just tried to close my eyes until it was over, much like how I intended to get through the next 6 months.
Going through security in Delhi is crazy. You get the impression that nobody really knows or cares about what they are doing. They have separate lines for different genders that they occasionally make exceptions with without any noticeable reason. Things that would take 30 minutes take 2 hours or so, like my 3rd check through security after boarding the 2 previous flights. I suppose that’s one of the attributes of India that you have to just accept. Maybe it can have its benefits.
After my security experience I only had around 1 hour to wait. I was really keen to get some Indian food but had no rupees, as it’s illegal to take them in or out of the country. I boarded my flight to Bangkok from Delhi, and was sat next a young couple who where going through photos together on their iPad. It looked like they had a great time – it was nice to see. I’m too socially awkward to make conversation, but I would have liked to. Hopefully by the flight home I’ll have learned enough to make conversations with strangers a possibility.
The flight was 3 and a half hours but felt way longer. There where 2 males and a female in the parallel seating to where I was, and the one on the end row was requesting new drinks, extra food, his litter to be collected etc. every few minutes. He had a tactless vulgarity seeping out his pores and was uncomfortable to be close to. The same flight seemed to have the most amount of people I had ever seen use a cabin toilet in a 3 and a half hour journey. The cabin crew where unable to come through with drinks trolleys etc. and had to hold the fake smile throughout the whole journey, with the thin veneer lifting for a moment when they made eye contact with each other in acknowledgment of the absurdity of the passengers. I felt sympathetic towards them and like i wanted to apologise on behalf of everybody else. I was ashamed to be part of the collective of the passengers on this flight. Perhaps they where normal and it was me who was perceiving them differently with my sleep deprivation and overall negative mood. I don’t think it was.
If you have any kind of dietary requirement you’ll find things generally go wrong around 40% of the time, and this was one of those times. The couple next to me where brought some kind of meal that wasn’t regular (pescetarian I think), and then everybody else was given their food. When asked if i wanted the chicken or vegetarian food, I reminded them that I had requested a vegan meal on the booking preferences. The lady told me to wait for a moment, before another came and gave me a chicken based meal with dairy based side dishes. I was too tired to complain and add to the increasing number of irritating passengers, so I just didn’t eat it. I could see the obnoxious guy to my left eyeing up my foil covered plastic soap tray filled with chicken, and was preparing for him to ask If he could eat it. When the cabin crew came around to collect the food trays, they asked if I wasn’t hungry. I explained I had requested a vegan meal, so he apologised and returned with what he claimed to be a vegan meal (but still with dairy based yoghurts and spreads on the tray). It was a curry with rice and chappati, which was actually quite enjoyable, thought I’m not convinced it was vegan.
Once we did finally arrive and got through immigration (not with ease as I had filled my arrival card in incorrectly) I approached the taxi que. I was approached buy a tanned bearded white guy who looked like he also hadn’t slept for a while, who discouraged me from getting a taxi to Khao San (where i was staying – he just knew it seemed) as the fare was inflated, and encouraged me to wait for the bus. I told him I was booked in at a place just outside of Khao san and just wanted to sleep so was willing to pay the extra for the convenience. He seemed disheartened. He explained how he had travelled from Australia to meet his parents in Hua Hin, Thailand, but due to flight delays had missed his onward bus journey. I realised that he wanted to share the cost of a twin room in Khao San and get the bus the next day, and that was why he had asked me about my plans. I got a friendly vibe from him. Had I not just arrived I may have been up for it.
I arrived at ‘A&A Guest House’ and was greeted by the standard level of low enthusiasm that you receive when you pay under £20 for a hotel. I didn’t expect more, and I knew that the same hotel elsewhere in Thailand would have been a lot cheaper, but this was Bangkok. My room had a single mattress on a freestanding bed frame, salmon pink walls, no windows, and a list of charges that would have to pay for various things being damaged as opposed to a welcome pack. The first thing I wanted to do was contact Magda and my mam to let them know I arrived safe. It was around 11pm, so 4pm in the UK. The wifi didn’t really work but I wanted to get some food anyway, so I went to nearby restaurant and ordered a thai red curry with a bottle of soda water, making use of their free wifi.
I felt such an intense sense of sadness that I hoped would have lifted by the time I arrived, accompanied by guilt given that I was able to have an experience that so many would have been truly envious of, and I wanted to be home. I was relieved to find that flights from India in April where cheaper than I anticipated, so have considered using that time to head back. When I looked at the bill I realised that I might not have the option to stay much longer anyway. Prices had gone up slightly, but the exchange rate currently makes travelling in Thailand a lot more expensive than it has been in my 2 other experiences. Before I would expect to pay around £1.50 – £2 for a meal with a non-alcoholic drink. Now it was closer to £5, £6, or £7. It’s still reasonable, but my budget wouldn’t cut it out here for the time that I had anticipated being away for. Maybe it’s brexits fault or maybe it’s trumps fault – I’m not qualified enough in politics to understand, but it seems a logical couple of groups to blame.
I headed back slightly more optimistic as I knew I could go home sooner than I thought, and I had a stomach full of curry. The food reminded me why I kept coming back. My room was grim, and I didn’t feel safe there, so I planned to spend the next morning enquiring into alternative guest houses in the area, as I had a flight to Krabi the day after. I couldn’t get to sleep – not because of the noise (Bangkok really does never seem to sleep), but because of the anxieties pulsating around my head about my next steps. As I outlined in my last post, uncertainty is not something that I handle well, but this was an opportunity to force myself to get better at it. After about 1 hour of getting up and going to the toilet, checking the door was locked, and making sure there where no cockroaches in my bed – I fell asleep.