In Mae Sot

In Mae Sot, in bed, trapped inside a bright blue anti-mosquito tent with the fan blades beating overhead. Outside it’s dark and raining. Swollen drops are tapping loudly on corrugated iron but everything else is strangely quiet for a Saturday night, aside from a lone chirruping gecko outside my window (at least I hope it’s a gecko and not a vocal cockroach).

Arrived here at 6am. Almost missed the night bus, but managed to dart in and out of the 7-eleven at Moh Chit station just before it left, and was momentarily stunned by the refrigerated rows of weird, artificial, packaged Asian foodstuffs, miniature bottles of potion-like soft drink, and lychee-flavoured poppers. A flashing daze. Then climbed onto the “VIP” bus, inhaled a sticky rice pork burger, levered back the (extremely comfy) chair, and passed out.

When I woke up, small mountains covered with thick jungle-forest were becoming visible on either side of the road, quiet in the aquatic early morning light. At the bus station I was bundled into the back of a tuk-tuk and flew past monks and small apprentice monks wading through the mist with their alms bowls, swathed in burnt orange, a faint sweat in the air.

Mae Sot is small and messy, and enchanting. The leaves here look like they’re on steroids. Stray dogs trot purposefully through the town – one growled and ran at me tonight but I managed to stay still and it didn’t come too close (N.B. expensive rabies vaccine course – a sensible decision).

The roads are lined with dusty food stalls and displays of strange, sodden-looking pink and green tropical fruits with spikes and fuzz and dark tendrils. Also noted several giant painted chicken statues – curious as to their significance.

In other news, it has come to my attention that I can’t speak a word of Thai, or Burmese (except an imperfect, apologetic, big-eyed ‘thankyou!’) and that this is problematic. It seems that in the midst of 30kg of overweight/obese luggage I forgot about language being an important part of… medicine, and daily life…

At least I managed to find a photocopied version of a Lonely Planet Thai-English phrasebook in a corner of the guesthouse.

And with that, dâi way-laa norn léaw [it is bedtime].

In transit: psychological baggage

Sitting in the baggage reclaim area of BKK airport with my eyes glued to the flashing white sign above belt 12 (which reads “OPEN”) in the desperate hope that it will soon turn green (“FIRST BAGS”). It seems my bags were delayed in Hong Kong and put onto a later flight. When I arrived here 3 hours ago, sleepy and bright-eyed, they were nowhere to be found (despite the ominous flashing red sign, “LAST BAGS”, above belt 15). I wandered around haplessly for a few minutes until I noticed a small man holding a sign with my name on it. He explained the situation, and pointed me reassuringly to belt 12. But I’ve just been informed by another well-meaning Thai airport official that – given it’s now 920pm and the bags aren’t here yet and the traffic is bad because it’s raining – this means I’ll likely miss the last bus to Mae Sot and will have to find a cheap hotel to sleep in next to Moh Chit station.

Those infernal bags.

In the last few weeks, the process of finishing work (squeezing in as many A+E shifts as my body and precarious psychological state could tolerate), moving out of the flat, saying goodbye to everyone, breaking-up with M. (the tail end) and leaving London behind, has been the chaotic, time-sucking, sleep-depriving logistical/emotional ordeal I expected it to be. One unforeseen effect was that it gave me an excuse to delay final packing decisions until the last minute. For this, I have paid a heavy price.

At the check-in counter at Heathrow, I was politely informed that my 2 pieces together weighed 30kg – 10kg over the limit. Weighed down by defeat (and s*** from H+M), I then had to go through the ritual humiliation of unpacking in public, and experienced a minor dissociative episode brought on by the pressure of yet another round of wretched and mostly ineffectual decision-making. In the end I binned a book (ECG made Easy – I give up on the ECG), a notepad, one lone towel, a stack of T-shirts, a cheap tripod that I’ve never used, some superfluous (I hope) bottles of 30+ suncream and 50% DEET ‘Jungle spray’, and various other toiletries including, shamefully, a heavy jar of algae face mask from Iceland’s Blue Lagoon – a strange item to have at the forefront of one’s mind when going to volunteer with refugee communities (mine, at this point, is clearly not in a healthy or morally defensible state).

It was still overweight.

In a final deft move I transferred some small but dense items into my carry-on backpack and made it through at 23kg, wiping triumphant sweat-beads off my forehead. Then I realized I had to lug the backpack on and off planes and in and out of toilet cubicles with two already-sore arms recovering from yesterday’s Japanese B encephalitis/rabies/BCG immunisations, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 15 hours.

And as I sit here, rubbing my neck muscles, waiting for the rest of my worldly belongings to arrive, I wonder: Why did I pack all this stuff? What is in there anyway? Who needs 30kg of anything, ever? Am I going to miss the nightbus?

I think, in some inexplicable way, it would probably serve me right.