The train ride
My train was due to arrive at the border town at 11:20. I had a ticket on the next train out of there departing 14:20 on the same day. That gives me exactly three hours to get to the border, sort out my shit and get back to the train.
I really wanted to get that train back. It was the only one to Bangkok that day and I really didn’t want to be stuck in bomb-town* again. But far more important to me – I REALLY want to be there at the airport when Alice arrives. Every second she’s here and I’m not with her will seem wasted.
The trip from Bangkok to the Malaysian border is an 18 hour journey (so they say). Originally I had bought a 3rd class ticket but considering the potential stress I had ahead of me I fucked that right off and bought an air conditioned seat with a bed. World of good that did. Should of bummed it the whole way. When morning came I didn’t have to wake up – my body had been prematurely enlivened my eight hours of shivering. My bunk happened to be right underneath the snow-stream and the one blanket you get provides as much warmth as a bag of lemons. Gingerly but still hopeful I rolled out the lemon bag and made my way to the restaurat carriage to warm up and caffeinate. A young Malaysian guy I befriended had the same idea.
“Hey, where are we?” I was eager to know if we were on schedule.
“We’re not at Hat Yai yet.”
FUCK. It was about 7:30am and we were supposed to be at Hat Yai two and a half hours ago. I found a train attendant and with the translation aid of my new friend, who at this stage felt like my mission sidekick, established it didn’t matter what time the train arrived – it was the same train that goes back to Bangkok. It stops at Sungai-Kolok and leaves again soon after.
“How long do I have?” I asked my sidekick. He did some translating.
20 Minutes . . . 20 minutes to get the border, avoid getting deported, get my passport stamped and get back to the train and load my bike on. Alright then.
I want to reflect on two big influences on my life for second. Skip it if you just want the story.
1. My best friend, long time confidant and chief mischief co-conspirator used to have the saying ‘No compromise’. Sometimes she would raise her arms in a fisted X in front of her chest. I made fun of her because she was intolerably stubborn and ridiculous but in reality it had rubbed off on me.
2. I read IQ84 a while ago and one chapter stood out for me much more than its peers. It was about this top-gun security guard (I don’t mean security guard as in a guy who stands around a parking lot every day thinking about masturbating while his brain rots) I mean a guy you pay heaps of money to look after all the violent messy shit if your a fucked up rich person. This security guard had down the rounds on the street and doing criminal stuff. He had moulded himself into the total zenith of security guard efficiency. He said what separates the amateurs and the experts is hesitation – if you hesitate you die. He’s totally right, not just about dying, but in life generally. Hesitating is shit. I try to hesitate as little as I can.
I spent the next few hours mentally preparing myself for every eventuality I could think of. If I was going to make it I had to really go for it. No fucking around at all, just running and doing. I convinced my sidekick to hold onto my bike while I got a cab to the border and back. I stored all non-essential items in my bike panniers and arranged my passport, wallet, money, and embassy documents so they could be easily accessied in order through my shoulder bag. I swapped my thongs for my sneakers, pissed and waited at the door which was to arrive closest to the exit.
BOOM, train slows and it’s show time. I jump off before the train has stopped and race through waiting crowd to see a group of disinterested motorcycle cabbies milling about. I single one out with my eyes.
“Hey! Border and back. Hok-sip (60) baht.” He nods and obviously recognises I don’t wanna fuck around. He spins his moto around like a badass, I jump on and he speeds off. The champion swerved through every red light and drove me right up into the mouth of the immigration centre. I jumped off, spared a second to nod at him, and ran inside.
There was a queue but I bowed like a spastically excited parrot until everyone gave in to letting me go first.
“I need an entry stamp.” I said sharply with a smile, handing my passport with the page ready. He glanced down then slowly flicked through as if browsing though an airplane magazine.
“I ask my boss. You wait.”
Fuck being helpless. This part sucked. It felt like ages.
Eventually, this smiley old guy came out. He looked like a small bell stacked on top of a bigger bell.
“I have a train in ten minutes.” I said, still trying not to be rude. No one wants to help a dickhead.
“It’s already left,” he said, his hand lofting up to point a the clock like a lethargic tentacle, “relax.”
What an anti-climax. I really wanted to get emotional – angry, hysterical, cry, whatever. I just wanted this guy to understand I was only entangled in this fuckery because one of his nob-head employees neglected to stamp my passport. I didn’t though. He was so friendly and relaxing – it would have been like kicking a dodo. You can’t kick dodos, they’re cuddly and extinct. You can only kick animals with claws.
I sat down on a sack of rice and listened to dodo-bells talk about how much he loves Sydney while gliding through a bunch of forms.
“What happens? Do I get my stamp. Someone said I could get deported or go to jail.” He turned to his employees and translated. Everyone had a good laugh.
“No you will get your stamp but you have to pay.”
He told me about his love for Kings Cross, why sex is good and what he thinks of Chinese food and then handed my passport back with a bill for $100. I hadn’t given up hope yet. I singed his forms and paid as fast as I could without turning my handwriting into sludge. I sprinted the 300m to the Malaysian side, bowed a shit-load more, got a stamp, and sprinted back again.
My taxi driver ran into the station with me only to find my sidekick standing over my bike looking sorry.
“I tried to get them to wait.”
“That’s ok, thanks a lot for your help anyway.”
“I think if they had seen you they would have stopped the train.”
I was concentrating on something else. There was another train at the station. My mission now was to get to Bangkok by 7pm the next day to see Alice – that’s it. No compromise.
I called out to the station master.
“Is this the last train for the day?”
“Are there any buses?”
“When does this train leave.”
I handed him 100baht.
“For my bike.” He followed my eyes and understood. I gave my sidekick a hug and ran to ticket office.
“Third class to the last stop.”
As soon as I was on the train it left. Yala is a bit bigger than Sungai-Kolok and I thought it would be easier to get out of there and maybe it would be less bomby?
Wrong and wrong.
Yala was dead. There were no more trains and no more busses. The sun was going down and I knew I only had a small window to get out. I rode my bike to the edge of the highway and stuck my thumb out. A few volleys of cars tooted and waved but no hooks before dark. I was stuck. I trotted off to a lonely, quiet hotel and checked in. All of the hope I had, all of my adrenaline and all of my desire sunk down into the earth. I immediately felt hungry, dirty and full with enough self-pity to govern an asylum. I wanted to cry. I wanted to lie on the ground and cry while someone hugged me.
I made myself pull out my iPad and search for some solution. I thought my last bet was to get to Hat Yai (the next big city) early in the morning and hope for an express something which might get me to Bangkok airport just in time. This is what came up when I searched Yala to Bangkok.
The bombs had occurred two days before I arrived. I had ridden past the rubble on my way to the highway. There was no building left, it was just a dissident heap of splintered planks and metal scrap. I thought it was probably a planned demolition and thought nothing of it but it really was a fresh bomb site. The insurgency was here, it was real. It was scary. Out of everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve been – this was the lowest point. I felt really fucked over. I left immediately to eat.
I ordered a shit load of fried pork, a chicken curry, some coriander root soup and some kind of amazing capsicum, eggplant hybrid thing stewed. It was all excellent. As I was monstering through it at an unhealthy pace, a well dressed Chinese man sauntered in. His fancy shirt and big, round, happy face stood out among a sea of disinterred, tiny men.
“Where are you from?” He asked me. No doubt surprised at seeing a westerner appear two days after a bomb blast.
“Australia.” Feeling keen for some company, I slid a chair out.
“Please, join me.”
A veterinarian bachelor living in Yala. I couldn’t tell whether he said his name was Ryan or Lion. I called him Lion because I never want anyone as likeable as him to suffer the indignity of being called Ryan. We talked about how much we both loved eating and I told him about my trip. He asked me how I ended up in Yala – I laughed and told him the short version of the great passport fiasco pt1.
“Maybe you can help me?” Whatever fears and self-pity I was meekly hanging onto had been washed away on a raft of crispy pork.
“I want to get to Bangkok as fast as I can. What can I do?”
He looked quizzically from side and side.
“I will drive you to Hat Yai.” He seemed unsure of what he was saying.
“Yes.” He broadly smiled like well-oiled buddha. It was decided. I was flooded with hope and invention. My brain ticked on and, like a virginal intelligence, eagerly flexed all the muscle it had. Lion and I rapidly traded ideas and decided my best bet was to get to Hat Yai soon as possible and fly to Bangkok. I would drop my bike at the train station early in the morning as luggage for the Bangkok train and then get a taxi to the domestic airport. I would have to act quickly in the morning but I could probably get to Bangkok around lunch time.
Lion seemed to have been infected with my adventure. He called his Scottish friend Mark and excitedly asked him to come along. I sensed Mark required another reason to go to Hat Yai than dropping some random traveller at an airport so the three of us ended up at Lion and Mark’s favourite dig – a kind of ultra soft-core strip club. Instead of women taking their clothes off, they touch your arms and giggle at your jokes. They sing karaoke and invite you to flirt with them while you pay for their drinks and dinner.
Lion and Mark, a man with a head so big he looked like a midget, lapped it up. The girls flitted around them like insects on heat and they whispered things back to them. All the while we received a gigantic feast similar to what I imagine royals eat – all expensive shit but none of it cooked with any particular imagination or craft. It never ended, it just kept pilling up on the table and in our stomachs. I was worried about having to fork out a ton for it all so I did my darn best to pack it down more than the rest of them.
At one point Lion put a 1000baht note in a glass and said any women who kissed me could have it. I had a few young ladies try me out but I was determined to be charmingly obstinate. It seemed to go alright – all the young lasses kept smiling and no one seemed offended when I made jokes about my chastity and batted their arms away. One woman had a real hot go though, she sat right up against me and tried to rub my leg. I gave her hand a little disciplined slap and edged my chair away. Her reaction was to go straight for the kill – lips to lips, a big smelly masterpiece of slop. I dodged in time and her tongue to lash at the air in front of my nose. She looked hurt and asked me how she could feed her seven month old baby without any money? I handed her the fruit platter and said her milk would taste delicious. The other girls laughed and I felt like I’d won.
Later in the night, the manager of the store, June, a loudly playful lady dressed like a bank clerk, told me she admired my will.
“Mark is all oooohhh yeaaah llaaaa. But you have love and you are strong.” She was the only woman I felt 100% comfortable talking to so I felt quite flattered.
We were there for three hours. I anxiously waited for the bill but it never came. When we left Lion just threw money around like a mutiny of anarchist vending machines. Everyone was well tipped. I offered to contribute but he just laughed.
It was 2am afterwards – too late to go to the airport so Lion and Mark drove me to a hotel near the train station. I tried to thank him as much as I could but in the end I understood he had enjoyed the escapade and took pleasure in helping me. I had a feeling he had taken a lonely Mark under his wing some time ago.
I went upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed. I was thinking about what a crazy day I’d had when I noticed how fucking ugly my feet were. They looked like scorpions puffed out by injections of rotting lard – all spiny and oddly coloured with braises and blisters. I laughed at myself and had my first shower in three days.
I set my alarm to fucking loud mode and resigned myself to another night of inadequate sleep.
The next morning breezed past. The winds of victory were propping up my ass like the second coming. Nothing was going to stop me. I secured my bike on the train and got to the airport by 7am.
I’ve always wanted to say this.
“When’s the next flight out of here?”
“In 20 minutes to Bangkok.”
“I’ll take it.”
I fucking made it. I FUCKING MADE IT!
Now that I’m sitting in my hotel room remembering everything that happened, I wish I could tell everyone. Alan, my sidekick, Lion, Mark, the taxi driver – all those people who become wound up in my adventure, I wish they could know I was here sitting in a luxury condo about to head out to meet my girlfriend.
I’m so excited for Alice to arrive. I keep thinking – what will she be wearing? Will her hair be down or in a pony tail? Will she be hungry? Will she walk or run to me? What will be the first thing she says? I want to see her smile, I want to hear her laugh and I want a hug for hours.
*Sungai Kolok, the border town on the Thai side, is at the at the heart of South Thailand’s Islamic insurgency. Bombs, bomb threats and murders are common.