The trees are almost as green as I remember, that deep tropical color interspersed with lighter varieties.
And then, in the afternoon rain, everything saturates slightly, becoming the colors of my memories. The orange tile roofs pop a bit, peaking out from between the skyscrapers. We are back in Bangkok after five years. The heat, broken by these daily thunderstorms, doesn’t seem as intense. Or perhaps my body is less shocked by the transition, Hong Kong being almost as humid. I would like to say the past four years have changed me, but I know my skin’s memory is too temporary for that.
Some of the city feels different, of course. So much has changed, so many new towers up and ones half built now complete. We wonder at things we don’t remember, are they new or forgotten? Five years is a long time. This trip is different in other ways: we are three, rather than two, and our concerns the first day revolve around finding diapers, being able to wash tiny garments in the sink. We are still lucky, still traveling carry-on only, still able to take the train into the city, transfer to the BTS, and walk to our hotel carrying all of our bags. We have packed lighter than ever to make this happen, fewer items for ourselves and more pieces of clothing we can both wear to accommodate the new member’s main needs, diapers and a stroller. The later item, in keeping with our family’s primary requirements, fits in a carry-on bin when collapsed. We change, and yet we remain. I can’t wait to be able to teach her to pack light and go far.
From the shade of the trees, at a restaurant table and accompanying plastic chairs, the beach looks similar enough to my memories. Fifteen years ago three boys stood a bit further down the shore, just off a plane from Bangkok, waiting for a long tail to Railay. They were young, confused, and would spend most of the week drinking beer in the ocean and playing Magic in the aircon of their bungalow. It was the type of vacation that sounds easy and is incredibly rare. Three friends, their friendship formed in a small apartment in Tokyo, re-uniting in a foreign country years later, after they had all moved on to different places.
This afternoon, sipping beer Chang with an infant strapped to my chest while watching the ocean, feels like a good return to this area, to these beaches and the lack of urgency we try to create with vacation. For a few days we are going nowhere. We walk the beach, swim in salt water and pool water, and take the time to appreciate each other. My accomplices now have never been to this section of Thailand before, and my own memories are distant enough to leave us in peace. It is new, then, in a way sorely needed post-pandemic. For the first time since Hanoi in January of 2020 we are in a new place together, on vacation, with no goals. We didn’t intend these moments to be so far apart.
The hotel bar plays a strange collection of covers, and I wonder about the economics. Does the streaming platform chose to play global pop, for a global tourist audience, in poor cover form so as to avoid paying the original artists’ fees? Is this the world now? Do we all live in muzak versions, not just in elevators but in everything? Does the global tourist circuit no longer depend on poorly ripped CD’s of Bob Marley or Rhianna, but of covers uploaded by Filipino bands who will, through algorithmic manipulation, never cross Spotify’s threshold for higher-percentage pay outs?
That prior visit by the three boys who’d met in Tokyo is now best dated as one year pre-iPhone. No one had cell service, there was no global data network. We Googled things from one shared laptop, and then went wandering. We reserved things online, before departure, via email. No one made FaceTime calls on their AirPods from the beach. It was hard to know how good the sunsets were here, without visiting.
I don’t begrudge these changes. They’ve let me work from many places, let me travel and live a life that was mostly fiction in 2004, or in 1998. The ability to quickly show our young accomplice’s face to the grandparents in distant locales is of course good. The ability to respond to work calls from the pool deck, well, it’s inevitable. On that 2006 trip I had a Blackberry, paid for by a company in Los Angeles. The future is already here, and the past right beside it. Outside our resort a man squats busily cooking corn on the cob on a grill for a dollar, while half the restaurants along the beach have not re-opened post Covid. We live in a world that contains all of us at once.
It’s wonderful, after a few years, to remember this face to face.