Welcome to a new series on d travels ’round, Chiang Mai Moments. This series will profile small moments in time during my life as an expat in Chiang Mai. The moments which normally would get pushed aside for the bigger picture of life, but deserve more. There is no schedule for these posts. There is no format. These are just stories flowing when they flow and moments happening when they happen. I hope these Chiang Mai Moments give you some insight into the beauty which exists in this country and the experiences gifted to expats who choose to make this city home.
A sheen of sweat covers my arms and droplets remain clinging to my brow as I walk towards the elevator. Three Thai men, fresh from their own workouts stand in front of the elevator on the seventh floor, home to the worn gym of Fitness Thailand.
The elevator dings and the doors slide slowly open. Two of the men, clad in muscle tanks and shorts, walk into the lift, the other tossing a disapproving look.
“Oh,” the third one says, placing his hand between the metal frame and the air. “Lady first.” He looks, brow furrowed with disapproval, at the other two for their lack of respect for the new female company.
Nervous laughter fills the small space as he ushers me in, and then follows, doors closing behind. As we descend, I let my eyes wander over the brightly colored posters depicting westerners having a magnificent shopping appearance in the now-under-construction building. We arrive to the second floor and the three exit to get their bikes. But before the door closes, the third man turns to me.
“Pratu Chiangmai,” he begins, but the door cuts him off and I’m too slow on the draw to push Door Open. I apologize as the door closes in his face, but can’t even finish my broken Thai before I arrive to my stop.
I step out into the darkness of the under construction plaza on the bottom floor and look to the stairwell, half expecting him to lean over the rail and finish his sentence.
He doesn’t, so I walk into the night, throwing my head to the sky to see if the telltale haze of rain lingers, warning me if I walk the 4km around the moat to my house I will get dumped on.
It’s been a long day. A hard day. And what I want more than anything is to be alone with my thoughts. To let the magnitude of what I have just learned sink in past the tears and ache.
I stick my hand out into the emptiness because, I swear, I feel droplets of water … Although I could be confusing rain for discarded water from the air con instead.
A motor putters behind me, coming up to me as I walk by the straggler stalls selling food. It’s the polite man from the elevator. A darker skinned Thai man with cropped hair and a thin mustache.
He rapid fires Thai at me, and although I don’t understand what he is saying, I comprehend that he sees me every day down at Pratu Chiangmai (Chiang Mai Gate). He taps his motorbike with holes in the seat cushion.
“Bai Pratu Chiangmai,” he informs me, and then signals for me to get on his bike.
A stranger, offering me a ride. But, I suppose he isn’t really a stranger if we see each other every day. If he knows I walk to work every morning. If we work out at the same gym. Unlike in America, where no one would offer a ride to someone they have never spoken to, here it is normal. Here, people extend that little extra aid. I’m the farang, covered in sweat, with puffy eyes from crying and headed home to take a deep breath and unwind from the day.
And yet he stops for me. He offers me a ride home.
We make broken conversation crossing over the moat. His name is Yo and he works in computers. The stranger is from a town half way between here and Bangkok. Yo likes it here far better than his former home. He’s never been to America, but his uncle lives on Chicago and runs a Thai restaurant with his wife. Yo wants to learn English more, but doesn’t want to study.
I tell him pieces in Thai about me until we get to the gate. He pulls off the road and stops for a moment so I can hop off the bike.
I know it isn’t proper to embrace him, so I thank him again and tell him I will see him at the gym.
A smile flickers across my face for the moment I had. A moment I needed, as I return from the world of awe I regularly get being here, and settle back in to contemplation as I dodge locals and tourists exploring the many street food vendors and the smell of chili wafts deep into my throat, slightly choking me up more than the tears I can feel starting to well in my eyes again.
My ride with Yo is a lovely break, a perfect moment … a reminder how much good and kindness can be found in the world when we need it. And sometimes even when we don’t.