Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rains Moving Over the Land like Sheets Flapping in the Wind


Usually, I don’t mind the heat. But lately it’s been confining. When I’m not at work, I feel drained, not tired enough to sleep, but just to be still like a cat that seems put out by the need to make the slightest movement. I come home and collapse into something, then slowly, I pick myself up and head lackadaisically in the direction of the shower not to clean myself but to cool my burning skin—burning not from sunburn but from the warmth which gradually builds up in the blood and works it way outward until the entire body is red, pulsing and febrile.

I take showers three or four times a day, only in attempt to cool off. I don’t even bother with the airconditioner. It’d be like trying to cool a lava flow with a fan. In the evening, the heat gradually creeps back over my body, invading my dreams with the strange images discomfort usually brings on and finally waking me around around 12:30 and again around 2:30. Every night it’s the same time. I guess it’s when I reach some kind of critical point.

Yesterday was Sunday. Gina had to work so I spent the day at home by myself. I had the fans going, but it didn’t make much difference. The hot air was whirling around our apartment. Even with the window shades closed, it had found a way in. Drying the laundry was easy. When I went to take the clothes off the rack I’d hung them from out in the sun, the were stiff, like they’d been starched from the intense heat of the sun; I expected the colors to be a little bleached but they looked ok. I sat in the living room, reading Henry James, drinking coffee and feeling like I was in one of those colonial stories in which the British Army conscript goes nuts from the heat (and cultural differences) in Burma and starts drinking gin at all hours of the day until he’s just a husk of a person peeping out redly from under his pith helmet. The fan was making a whining noise and, outside the door, I could hear the heat radiating off things, sounding like a faint zipper gradually moving up and down the tines.

In the afternoon—no time to be outside—I got sick of being in the house and decided to go down to the supermarket. I took another shower, put on my hat and sunglasses and threw myself out of the apartment, the way a person dives into a cold body of water, all at once and grimacing in expectation.

Even the dogs were all in, having found shelter in shallow holes they’d dug under the rubbery shade of banana leaves. The afternoon, was completely still and I trudged through it like a hunted man unable to stop moving. The only other person I saw on the street carried a huge sun umbrella and didn’t look to be going far.

The heat has made me too lazy to do much studying. My progress in Thai stopped before it got beyond ‘hello’ and ‘ thank you,’ but sometimes I still try to read signs I pass by. Because Thai is a tonal language and I don’t know how to recreate the tones, even reading things doesn’t mean I’m saying the word right and because there’s such a drastic difference between the regular alphabet and this simplified version (which looks a lot more like the Latin alphabet, only upsidedown) that I’m often unsure if it’s an ‘L’ or and ‘R’ I’m looking at. Also, depending on where the ‘L’ is in the word, it becomes and ‘N’ anyway and I’m not at all sure how the hell that works so even trying to read signs is entirely unsuccessful for me. But the languor brought on by the heat somehow made it possible to concentrate on useless things and I watched one sign as I approached, puzzling over the letters. An ‘M’ and an ‘N’ were next to each other, above each a vowel mark, one of the few I knew, the character for /i/. ‘Ahh ‘mini’ I thought to myself. ‘Surely the next part must be...’ and I looked up to confirm it. ‘Mart’ I finished reading the word. The first I think I’ve ever read in Thai. After that, the walk wasn’t so bad.

I stumbled back through my threshold about two hours later after waiting in a Sunday-afternoon line and walking the length back with a week’s worth of potatoes and other heavy vegetables on my back. I was set to collapse into my book again, but I wanted to start something for dinner. Having been the one who’d been home all day, I didn’t want to fall down in my domestic duties. I’d bought all this stuff for pizza and I prepared to put on some music and make the dough, but then I remembered that the dough didn’t take very long to make so the music seemed pointless. I would listen to it for a few minutes and then be left standing there, staring at the rising dough, waiting for the album to finish. (I’m terrible at turning off records before they’ve played out).

I sprinkled some yeast into a bowl of warm water and looked around for the other ingredients. I was having a hell of a time trying to remember how much of each thing I needed and kept having to go back and check again. I’d measured out the sugar and the olive oil (well just used the last little bit in the bottle) and then realized we had no sugar. After having walked about 2 miles round trip back and forth to the supermarket, I had zero desire to go back outside, but the dough needed to rise for a while and to do that, it needed sugar. In angry jerking motions, I pulled my sweaty shirt back on and went stumbling back out into the mid-day oven.

The little shop down the street had a bag of sugar for me and happily, I came heaving back into the apartment not long after I left, little succor that it provided from the heat, but at least I was able to peel my shirt off again. Outside, it was terrible the way the thing clung to me like an oily rag, suffocating, trapping the heat like a wool sweater. I added the sugar, stirred in the flour, took another shower and then put a different shirt on (my third that day) to go meet Gina.

I brought a thermos full of tea as I still believe the idea that hot beverages and somehow cooling on hot days. Maybe I don’t even believe this, but I just can’t derive the standard satisfaction from cool beverages. When it’s hot, the only thing I want to drink is water and when it’s too cold you can’t gulp it down, which is what you usually need to do. Drinking room temperature water has never been something I’ve relished doing unless I’ve let myself get really dehydrated.

We went down to the riverfront to drink our tea and look out over the chocolate milk-colored water of the Taipee River. They were out there taking down the stages and awnings that had been up for the food festival for the last two weeks. We’d gone down to see it the previous weekend. Lots of grilled fish, roasted grubs and squid flattened and dried like fruit leather but in all the stalls, nothing vegetarian—and there must’ve been over 100 in all. We’d bought a little package of the hearts of jackfruit which I’d puzzled over eating—cantaloupe, pineapple and a hint of gasoline, like a whiff of it on a summer day when the lawn is being mown.

We stepped over the piles of girders and folded pillows of sailcloth and went down to the pavilion-like steps leading down to the water. I poured the tea and we talked about our day. I mentioned the ‘minimart’ sign. Gina talked about a kid who absolutely refused to do anything at all in her class, even hold a pencil. She was telling me about a worksheet the students had been doing when the water stirred and swirled in an agitated way at our feet. A long, scaled green head rose peacefully from the water, a head the size of a small alligator but that looked more like a python with much more rugged scales. The lizard glanced around over the surface of the water. He was hardly concerned with our presence as through he were quite used to petrifying people. We stared in absolute amazement as he flicked a tongue about the color and width of a power line, licorice black and lashing like a whip. His eyes, the same lustered black, scarcely regarded us before he slipped, slowly back into the murky water, like he’d never even been there.

We ran down to where the pavilion steps met the water, jumped up and down and swore at the magic that we’d just witnessed, begging it to come back, but knowing that it didn’t work that way.

We went back to our seats, keeping an eye on the water, waiting for it to disgorge another dinosaur that had escaped extinction laying in the river mud in southern Thailand.

When I was a kid,” I told Gina. “That was why I wanted to move to the tropics. I knew things like that happened. That was like something from a Marquez novel.” Gina agreed and while the sun set, we continued to marvel at the oily dark surface of the river able to let our minds revert to juvenile states and imagine the water boiling with the frenzied movements of the grotesque and the inspiring.

We watched the water until a jet ski roared by and destroyed the primordial fantasy we’d built from the river. It was just another modern river, wending its way past a city filled with people, buildings and cars, but there was at least one monster in there and one’s all it takes to keep things from getting too comfortable.


I was exhausted yesterday. A storm was coming. The heat had been swaddled in a heavy blanket of cloud from which nauseating waves of humidity seeped like waves in a stagnant sea. I had been trying to teach persuasion to my students but they’d had a difficult time understanding my less-structured tasks. Across the world, students are told exactly what to do; how to fill out the worksheet, what viewpoint to take, etc. I like my students to find their own voices and I like to hear what they think, but they are unaccustomed to answering in this way. Their default response is to say what they think is most agreeable. For social interactions, this is fine, I guess, but for a classroom it can be very dull.

I came home after work and told Gina my dilemma. She was hardly in a place to hear my problems, teaching all day, all weekend had worn her out and she could only nod in agreement while I ranted and raved about how kids needed to have opinions, even if they didn’t realize it. To shut me up, she suggested we go to the walking track. As there are no parks by us, no green space, many people from the neighborhood take over a complex of regional court buildings in the late afternoon. The august buildings of law reverberate with the panting sound of joggers and the staccato music that accompanies various Zumba workouts being held around the complex. There are a few trees left around these buildings, set back as they are from the road and surrounded by a green buffer zone and ring road. We walk around the ring road, along with the others, circling the buildings; gerbils on a treadmill.

To be off the crowded sidewalks, away from the noisy onslaught of the motorbikes, is an incredible respite to me; it keeps the irritation down. I walk around the track, like an automation, but I can let my mind wander from topic to topic. Gina and I have our best conversations while we’re walking. We always have. From the early days in Arcata, to the crowded avenues in Buenos Aires; sometimes it feels like we’ve been continuing a conversation we started when we first met that’s never been completed and is resumed every time we start moving unconsciously through a neighborhood or a park or along a riverfront.

When I first arrive in a new place, I find it hard to concentrate on the present. Being catapulted from California to Thailand, I find my solace in looking backwards and forwards, like Janus, to the past and the future. We walk around the track, the thick, ashen clouds are still overhead, but they’re becoming turgid with a storm. The air is cooler. Dry leaves scuttle across the cobbled paths like crabs running sideways. I talk about Paraguay. I remember the parks we walked through, the quiet of the streets on Sundays, the different places to eat. I forget about the noise, the lack of work and the feeling of resignation. I talk about the future. Maybe I’ll go back to school, I say. Maybe we’ll stay in the States for a while. But I know, and so does Gina, we won’t stay long. We’ll come back. We’ll take jobs, rent an apartment and try to understand what it must’ve felt like to be our parents. But, in the evenings, after work, I’ll go online and browse the job listings, looking for certain country names. Some mild night, after an overcast day, I’ll send in an application and for a while, things will be exciting. I’ll get the job; we’ll buy a guidebook, we’ll pack and we’ll arrive with smiles of uncertainty, looking down on our new home from the windows of the plane, trying to make out, by the contours of the roads and the homes, if this is the place we’ve been waiting for, if this is the place we’ll make up our minds to stay.

The storm clouds intensify until the sky is an electric gray, menacing like a sky tornadoes appear from. The wind has increased and the smell of rain mixing with the hot dust fills the air with something dry and floral like the smell of a hot summer attic. We keep walking, into the oncoming storm, in a loop and it feels incredibly good just to be out and moving.


One day in English class, Mr. Snyder starts telling us this story. He’s a kid. It’s an overcast day. Summer. 1960s Michigan. He’s mowing a lawn singing that song Sweet pea. He sings over the sound of the motor, his voice getting louder. Oh sweet pea, won’t ya dance with me. Won’t ya, won’t ya, won’t ya dance with meeeee. It starts to rain, but not on him. Off in the distance. Mr. Snyder sees the rain coming, a hissing gray wall advancing down the street, pouring on the sidewalks, the oaks lining the street and the last of the Packards parked on their whitewalled tires. Mr. Snyder leaves the lawn mover and runs from the rain, hopping fences and lawn ornaments, all the time singing oh sweet pea won’t ya’ be my girl, won’t ya, won’t ya, won’t ya be my guuuurl.

I can’t remember if he beat the rain home or not. He must’ve told us that story in 1996 on a rainy day, or maybe it related to something we were reading. It was a long time ago but it’s one of those memories that, for whatever reason, has stuck with me. I have this image of my jr. high English teacher as a kid running down the street, away from an advancing wall of rain, running between two worlds, one sunny, vernal and warm, the other gray, thunderous, rain water overflowing in the gutters; a deluge. It’s a picture I like and on rainy days and sunny days alike, I take it out and look at it. I look at the neatly cleaved worlds of tempest and halcyon and wonder, did the rain really do that?

Yesterday, I took my last trip to the immigration office. In order to give taxi drivers something to do this office was recently moved from the court building downtown to an office that occupies a liminal area between coconut and rubber tree plantations, miles out in the jungle. The roads leading out to it are cracked and scooped away by heavy seasonal rains and, one assumes, trucks used to cart coconuts, rubber and palm fruit away.

If I hadn’t been there before, I would’ve thought we were lost. The trees press into the narrow road as it slinks deeper into a patchwork of jungle and plantation. From the window, I looked out into the rows of palms with no undergrowth, dark hedgerows that seemed to go on forever.

The sky was clear and the sunlight radiated up from the white concrete of the parking lot surrounding the immigration building. There were a few cars parked in a desultory fashion, like the parking lot had been full, but now, late in the afternoon, many of parking spots had been vacated leaving gaps between cars and transport vans that bring whole cadres of foreign workers in at once to have their papers updated.

The customary memorial to Rama IX stood outside the door, the mourning colors of black and white clashing with the opulent gold worn by the king in the picture.
Inside there were no lines. A bevy of workers from Mayanmar waited in the seats by the door, enjoying their time away from the construction site by sleeping or staring straight ahead, remembering. The looping lines of their alphabet had been added to the signs in Thai and English; the letters curved and doubling back, looking like instructions for tying knots.

I sat with my handler Didi by the desk, passing forms, papers and my passport over to him to hand across the desk to the officer. Initially, I sat at attention, wanting to look helpful, willing to answer any questions, to clear up any ambiguities, but none arose. A few times the officer said something in Thai to Didi, but I couldn’t tell if it was related to my visa or if they were just chatting. I started to feel dumb just sitting there and took out my book. It was too loud to read, but I tried anyway, doggedly pursuing the same sentence over and over, each time set to wring the meaning out of it and move on and each time being frustrated in my efforts by a guffaw, a chair scraping or a ringing phone. After an hour, I had the feeling that I’d been clenching my jaw too tightly, like I’d been trying to bite down on my concentration and hold it to each word on the page. I thought about going outside, but there was nowhere to sit.

The multiple entry stamp took twice as long. As soon as the extension stamp had been pressed into the dollar-bill paper of my passport, I carried it ten feet across the room to ask that it be amended for multiple entry. This was to take another hour. The workers from Myanmar had, by this time, gone and a drama was playing out behind me. A French tourist had overstayed a visa years ago; things had been cleared up, he said, and since then he’d even returned a few times with no problem but, when he went to leave this time, they’d detained him, told him he needed some form before he could leave. He had that tone of voice at once worried and fawning; grateful for any information.

While I sat there and pretended to read, a Filipina English teacher came to have her papers updated. A South African tourist extended his visa, saying ‘yes’ in Thai repeatedly to anything anyone said: “chai, chai, chai...chai”. Some Germans came in and milled around for a while, but they spoke so quietly, I didn’t catch what they’d come for. I don’t know if anyone did.

Amerika!” A voice rang out from one of the desks, I jerked to attention. A desk officer was holding my passport like she was asking ‘whose is this?’ though the photo of the bearded slouch seated before her inside should have made it obvious. I went over to the desk, collected my last stamp, surprised to see there was no new visa, just a few blurred blue-ink stamps with the dates written in by hand, something which seemed like it would’ve been very easy to fake.

I was so ecstatic to be finished with the waiting room, I forgot to ask for a receipt and immediately made for the door, stepping over the extended feet of the Laotian group who’d just come in and were waiting en masse as the Myanmarese had been, sleeping and staring.

There was a hint of rain in the air, but the concrete was dry. The sky was blotchy with storm clouds and watery sunlight. Walking to the car, I heard the sound of rain falling which I assumed was the wind blowing through the heavy fronds in the palm plantations. I looked up to confirm this supposition and saw a steady curtain of rain falling on the Honda and Suzuki motorbikes at the other end of the parking lot. Already in the car, Didi yelled to me, “hurry up the rain’s coming!” But I couldn’t, I was frozen to the spot, waiting to see if it would advance or just hang there like a dim partition between two worlds. Gradually, the rain moved forward, but too slowly to allow me to run from it. In a few steps, I was at the car. There was nothing to do but get in. The door shut and we drove forward into the curtain of rain. I listened to it spatter on the broken roads, the muddy lanes between the palms, the metal roof of the car but all I could hear was an old song playing in my mind, almost triumphantly:

Oh, sweet pea, won’t ya dance with me, won’t ya, won’t ya, won’t ya dance with meeeeee!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Overhead, Moving and Alive

Friday after work we caught the bus to Khao Sok National Park, about two hours from here. It’d been a while since I’d been on one of those creaky old buses for more than a ride across town. The few long distance buses I’d been on here have so far been those intergalactic-looking, streamlined refrigerators. I’d worn jeans for the bus ride because every other time I’d gone anywhere, I’d arrived slightly hypothermic, the skin under my fingernails that unnerving popsicle blue. This bus was equipped with the worst kind of air circulating system. The spouts above us wheezed out air no cooler than the haze that settled over the passengers. Imagine someone with dust-smelling breath breathing on you. It was no better than one of those useless handheld fans, but, because we had it, the windows could not be opened. As we pulled out from the bus station, I stared longingly at the sweltering pavements which, moving past as rapidly as they were, might have afforded us at least a glancing breeze. At 70 miles an hour, even 94 degrees feels alright coming in a window.

Under the seeping air funnels, the bus’s passengers all immediately fell into a late afternoon heat languor so common this close to the equator. Sandals were kicked off, swollen feet were hefted and anxious snores washed over the cabin like swells in a troubled sea. I tried to read but found it impossible to get comfortable on the bus’s ageless leather seats which immediately became slick with the sweat already working its way through the pores of my jeans. Alternately, I slipped from and stuck to the seat, kicking out my feet in a widening gyre, trying to find something comfortable to do with them. The bus was the type where for some strange reason, the seats are up on a sort of platform. If you try to rest your foot in the aisle, you’ll find it dangling there, struggling for purchase and quickly absorbing all the blood in your leg. If you try to rest your foot behind the seat in front of you, you’ll have to jam it far into the intricate iron guts of the thing, like a barber’s chair from around the turn of the century. I’m always a little unnerved about the possibility of having my foot wedged between so many heavy-looking gears and levers—like one day, the person is front of me is going to return their seat to the upright position and at the same time, neatly cinch my foot off at the ankle. Besides, the seat was placed about three inches in front of me, even with my foot jammed into the metal particulars of the thing, my knees were still bent up under my chin.

In order to alert potential passengers waiting at the side of the road and potential obstructors, the bus sounded its air horn cannonade at every bend in the road. If from inside the bus, this was loud enough to cause me to jump, I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to hear from outside. It’s surprising more of the motorbikes we passed didn’t swerve wildly when they heard the sound. It probably would’ve made me jump into the air.

While I considered the miseries of bus travel, Gina snoozed as she’s capable of doing on anything moving that she doesn’t have to drive. It’s like a motion-linked narcolepsy. It always makes me feel a little more optimistic to look over, see her head titled back and her mouth agape and know that at least one of us is enjoying the ride.

Taking off for the weekend to review some of the natural splendor around us always seems like such a great idea until I start to get bus hypnosis. Staying home, I may not see anything incredibly interesting over the weekend, but at least I can stay objective. At least when we spend the weekend walking around town, I’m able to hold on to my sentience. At no point am I reduced to the condition of being a drooling, propped up, brain-dead commuter. After a few hours of listening to death rattle of the bus’s dry airconditioning, the flatulent blasts of the airhorn, the drone of the wheels and reading the same sentence in my book over and over, I had ceased to feel like I had a stake in anything. I had become prey for the tourist touts.

The problem with traveling in heavy tourist areas like Thailand is that there is an entire system set up with your entertainment in mind and it’s incredibly difficult to overcome. As soon as we arrive somewhere, taxi and tuktuk drivers come streaming in to cart us off someplace. They expect a few bus-slackened foreign faces to be among those in the crowd.They aim for these faces. “Taxi, sir? Where you go, sir?” No sooner have you agreed to a fare and they are driving you down the road when they turn around and ask when you’ll be leaving and where you’ll be going after that. Each driver or tour package operator, tries to sign you up for the entire Thailand experience. The idea that a foreigner would actually have a job to go back to on Monday is incomprehensible, foreigners don’t work, they live lives of quiet beach desperation, moving from one sandy paradise to the next. All they want is a ride from Samui to Phuket, from Phuket to Krabi and from Krabi back to Samui.

When I try to tell these touts after I visit one place I’ll be going home to Surat Thani, they scratch their heads. “Surat Thani? Why would you go there? I’ll take you to Phuket! You don’t have to mess with the buses. They aren’t comfortable, sir.” As if I didn’t know. When I tell them I’m a teacher, they understand, but they still seem to be waiting for me to decide to chuck the whole job thing and take their tuktuk to Phuket.

Khao Sok park is not the bus’s final destination. We arrive suddenly and without advance warning. The driver pulls off into a gravel parking lot, yells Khao Sok and all the other foreigners struggle up from their bus lethargy to collect themselves enough to pick up their scattered belongings and stumble down the crowded aisle, bags knocking the other passengers in the head. I’ll let them go first, I think to myself, I already know what’s outside. I can hear the frenzy out in the parking lot “taxi, taxi! Sir, where you go?!” Gina and I make our way down the aisle into the crowd milling around, waiting to get to their packs from under the bus. I continually feel immensely relieved to find myself, for once, unencumbered with one of those bright duffels with various straps and harnesses hanging off at all sorts of angles, dragging in the dirt, tripping me up and making my life miserable. It’s here that the frenzy really begins. The bright colors of the backpacks draw in the touts. They go for the biggest bags when they hit the gravel, standing over them defensively like lions over a fresh kill. A couple hobble off the bus, obviously exhausted, sunburnt and with that particular glaze over their eyes. There’s no way they’ll be carrying these bags anywhere, in fact the horror on their faces at seeing their bags again is almost palpable. The driver knows their vulnerability. They’re not sure how far the walk is; it’s 94 degrees in the shade and, well, look at these people, they’re not even sure which country they’re in anymore.

With no Sisyphean stone to drag around, I try to make my way quickly past the ravenous pack; I make for the stalls crowded around the parking lot, hoping to grab a coke and vanish into obscurity, but, what’s this? A ride? Where I go? Oh no, I’ve been marked! I try to loose him, but he’s persistent. I shake my head, wave my arms and go over to the stall like I’ve been here before and know where I’m going. He persists. I ignore him and order a coke. 

Gina’s somewhere behind me, struggling through the crowd. He sees her walking up to us, changes tactics and starts demanding of her ‘where you go?’ Gina, unable to ignore anybody who’s not being deliberately rude, tries to thank the guy for the offer, but to tell him that we’ve already got a ride, which is somewhat true. The place where we were staying offered a ride in from the bus stop, it was one of the reasons I chose the place, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the mob out here, but I should’ve known and should remember for the future, the mob is unavoidable. This is the beauty of Armenia or Kazakhstan; there is no mob. You step off the bus and there’s just you and the empty feeling you have stepping off a bus somewhere unknown, unsure if you’ve gotten off in the right place—not really even sure where the right place is. The sun is setting, somewhere, not far off, a wolf howls. You shudder. There’s nothing to do but pick up your bag and start walking toward the distant cluster of buildings on the horizon. In Thailand, you don’t get to feel this. Not at all. The path between the bus stop and the attraction (beach, jungle, elephant sanctuary) has been worn smooth by the wheels of countless tuktuk drivers and has been festooned with pizza places, reggae bars and massage parlors.

The guy hopping around Gina comes up to me victorious, holding a ringing phone. I look at Gina, he’s mostly blocking her, but she seems to be saying “I think he’s the driver from the hotel.” He hands me the phone. It’s the hotel operator telling me to go with the driver, he’s the free ride promised. I mask my embarrassment by taking a drink of coke, but the situation’s really too vague to be apologized for. I acted the way anyone would when mobbed getting off a bus; surely the driver— of all people— would understand that.

Upon first inspection, the bungalows always look romantic as hell. The walls are made from woven bamboo fiber. The floor is wooden and creaky. There’s a gauzy white cone of mosquito net inverted over the bed. A little bedside table and lamp; you imagine yourself stretched out under the childhood ‘fort’ covering of the mosquito net, lamp blazing with a good book, listening to the cicadas and the crickets. Unfortunately, these bungalow-style resorts are a little crowded. The bungalows, though separated by some topical foliage, are still only a few paces away from each other. The result is that you can hear everything going on in the bungalow next to your as though these people were walking around in front of your own bed.

After a walk through a rubber plantation and a dip in a river so shallow we had to lie down to be covered with water, we returned to our cozy bungalow and spent an hour or two talking on the hammock, feeling like we were making the most of the weekend. When we decided the mosquitoes were getting too thick we went inside and dove through the opening of the white cone onto the bed. We had a few seconds to enjoy the crickets and cicadas before the group of tour guides next to us returned to their bungalow. I began to feel nervous when I heard a few bottles clink together and the sound of ice being dropped into glasses. It sounded like the prelude to a party and these guys were already talking pretty loud, at least for being pretty much at the foot of our bed.

The talking quieted until it was just a couple of guys whispering, reluctant to go to bed on the bungalow’s porch. The night became sonorous again and as I listened, my book became heavier. I struggled to mark the page and toss the thing into the corner of the netted bed before dropping off to sleep.

I awoke once in the night when a bird screamed nearby. I heard a heavy flapping of wings in the room and tried to locate the source in the early light of dawn through the bamboo fibers, but I couldn’t see anything and soon dropped back off to sleep, anxious to sleep as late as I could after a week of waking up to an alarm. I hadn’t been asleep long when one of our neighbors violently cleared his throat and spat. He repeated this performance and then began to make all kinds of angry, gargling noises, like he’d swallowed something too foul to consider and had to purge it from his body. The spitting became a retching. Gina woke up and asked why someone was throwing up so early. I told her that I heard this sound in the apartment building every morning; it’s something people do when they get up, I guess, make these angry barfing noises, like they’re trying to bring up any potential bugs they may have swallowed over the course of the night.

I tried to go back to sleep, but the noises only increased as it got later and more people woke up. Toilets began to flush, toothpaste brushed on and spat into sinks, more retching. I fought my way out of the white net, dragged my shorts on and declared I was going for coffee, which, of course, at the resort, was instant.

I hadn’t been planning on entering the park, but we soon realized there was nothing else to do in the area; it didn’t make sense to come so far and not enter the park, so we paid the admission and went for a nice hike through the jungle, which isn’t just rain forest but evergreen rain forest which sounds even better albeit slightly redundant.

Initially, the walking trail was wide, flanked by bamboo groves which shot up into the air and then, some fifty feet up, drooped back over the open patch of sky above the trail, enclosing the hiker in a titanic alley. Less of a trail, the walk went down something like a two-track road into the jungle. We passed a few people, most of them on tours with guides, but mostly we were alone on the walk. In the distance, something hooted long exclamations, like it was continually saying ‘wow!’ in various tones and pitches. We thought it might be a gibbon and stopped to look among the high, drifting bamboo, like mutant corn grown into the sky, but we didn’t see any trace of the overawed animal, whatever it was.

In the afternoon, we came to a checkpoint, above which signs were posted which read: ‘don’t go further without a guide.’ I’d read that sometimes the authority back here was willing to let hikers continue on their own, but I wasn’t sure; we looked pretty uncertain of ourselves with our sunglasses and shorts, not at all like serious backwoods hikers. I doubted they’d let us pass. We avoided the checkpoint, walked up to the mouth of the trail and looked back to see if anyone was watching. A man had come out onto the porch of the building to see what we were doing. I pointed to the trail and asked ‘Can we go?’ He nodded. “Write your name in the book.” Which we did and then started back down a steep slope, over the river.

We wandered these back trails for a while, trying to find one particular waterfall that was supposed to be a little more impressive than the average waterfall here (In Thailand, a waterfall is anything which creates a ripple in the water; we’ve already followed more than a few signs to ‘waterfalls’ and found nothing more than a well-ridged stream).

Right away it was obvious why they wanted you to have a guide back here. The trail broke up into all kinds of sub-trails. We came to an intersection every few minutes and when you know you’ll have to turn around and renegotiate all this later, so many breaks in the trail can be unnerving.

We tried to stay on the main trail, but we kept hitting these dead ends at the river. Perhaps we were supposed to cross the water to continue, but I saw no sign of a trail on the other side and the water was too deep to ford. After trying a few different paths, we gave up and turned around. The sun was high and the air was still with the heat and quiet of noon. We found a nice place to swim at a bend in the river and put our clothes out in the sun to dry while we swam.

We were walking out of the park when we heard a rustling noise overhead. I looked up the trail and saw a man, perfectly still, looking straight up. I waited for my eyes to settle on something in all the leaves and branches and bamboo. A gray tail slung down from the canopy and then shot back up like an errant spaghetti noodle. A branch shook above me; I looked up into a bright pair of eyes about 50 feet up, looking back down at me with vague interest. The man, another tourist with one of those massive lensed cameras approached us. “Ring-tailed monkeys,” he said, indicating the trees and showed us a few of the close-ups he’d gotten with his bazooka telephoto lens. I nodded solemnly over the photos in the viewfinder, but it seemed ridiculous to be looking at photos of something that was directly overhead, moving and alive. The man concluded by telling us that these monkeys were among the most beloved species, being both retiring and cute. He was one of those guys you meet who approaches you like he’s met you before and leaves like he’d never been talking to you. I’ve met a few like him, interesting guys who seem comfortable with the world, but afraid of letting anyone get to know them.

After he left, we stood watching the monkeys pull handfuls of leaves from the trees, take a bite, let the rest drop and repeat the process. It was like watching a two year-old eat a salad. I thought how if these animals could sustain themselves on leaves how secure they must feel up in the canopy of the jungle, with their food all around them. So secure that they could afford to take a bite and throw the rest away. I watched one monkey grab a bloom of flowers, take a bite and let the rest fall. There seemed to be something so deliberately bored and extravagant in the action, like something you would imagine a sybarite prince doing. Still, the regal bearing of Hanuman remained in these simians. They may have been dropping their food all over, but they went about it quietly. When they looked at us, they glanced and looked away as if disinclined to stare in the bold way we had been doing to them.

We were about to move away, when we heard the distinct strains of Mo Money, Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. like a car was cruising slowly through the jungle. An irritated look crossed Gina’s face and then passed to me. I didn’t want to wait and see who would be coming over the rise in the trail playing loud 90s music, but I realized that I had to wait and at least voice my opinion that they needed to turn it off. As the music grew louder, the monkeys looked up from their leaves and looked down the trail to locate the source of this unfamiliar sound.

I was expecting a couple of kids with a little radio, but I was surprised when a whole tour group of tall, blonde dudes hove into sight, all knobby kneed and dangle armed. It looked like a traveling group of growth-spurted teenage boys; anyone of them looked a good candidate to empty a refrigerator, sleep until past noon or put his shoes up on something inappropriate. “Wow, check out the monkeys!” one of them said, and the volume on the stereo dropped off abruptly. This gaggle of teenagers was accompanied by a Thai guide, who was about half as tall as shortest one. “You don’t have to turn down the music” he said. “They like the music.” I turned and looked at the group. “Leave the music off, please.” I asked. “You’ve got your whole life to listen to music.” I turned back to the monkeys jumping from tree to tree and ripping up handfuls of leaves, as if leaving the remainder of the argument to them. In a few minutes, we walked off. The music never came back on.

Leaving the park that afternoon, we had to walk down a mile of road to the highway where the bus stopped. It was incredibly hot, and felt hotter as we’d been under a leafy canopy since we’d arrived the evening before. The road had no covering, the trees along it had been cut down to make room for all the pizza places and reggae bars. We walked by interminable shops selling hospitality. They had quirky signs which marked their businesses as laid back and jovial. They offered honest deals on package tours and rides, they were spiked with signs that read “it’s hot (!) come in for an ice cold beer!” But the workers and owners of these places didn’t even glance up from their phones as we walked past, down the sun scorched road. No one offered us a glass of water, let alone a beer. When a little kid walked out of a shop and said ‘hello’ we waved manically back, grateful for any kind of acknowledgment. Vans, crowded with tourists, passed us repeatedly in both directions. Somehow, the people had brought the anonymity of the city with them. I had been wrong about the music in the jungle, perhaps it had been the right thing to do all along. As the jungle had become a park, the park was now becoming a city and a city needs music and another ambient sounds. I watched the tourist vans flying down the road, the tourists all staring straight ahead, already looking forward to the next thing, already leaving this place behind.