Last week I moved from Bangkok, Thailand to Porto, Portugal. This marks the 19th move of my life, a number which includes moving state-to-state, country-to-country, and just from one neighbourhood to the next (I only did that once; every other time I’ve at least moved out of state). Each move is relatively the same: right before I leave a place I suddenly look at it through rose colored glasses and think, “Oh my god I can’t leave here! I love it here! Will any other place be as good?” I spend the transit time freaking out; I feel sad and anxious my first week in my new home; and eventually I even out within ten days.
Leaving Bangkok was different though. Leading up to my move: I felt nothing. Not sad, not anxious, no rose colored glasses. I felt absolutely nothing.
For the past fifteen months Bangkok acted like a bandage for me. I moved there after the worst, most devastating year and a half of my life. I booked my one-way ticket to Asia shortly after a rock bottom night because I worried that if I didn’t make a drastic change I wouldn’t see 2018. A friend recently said to me that Bangkok isn’t where people go to live; it’s where they go to escape. For me, this was true, and throughout most of my time in Bangkok I felt like I was still in a fog–no longer a suffocating fog of grief, but some sort of “this isn’t real life” fog (or maybe it was just the air pollution).
In the weeks leading up to my Bangkok departure, I figured this is why I felt almost numb to the move: I knew the Bangkok bandaid would come off at some point. You can’t wear a bandaid forever.
Ripping the bandaid, however, was a bit harder than I expected.
In the 24 hours before I left Bangkok I was fortunate enough to see most of my friends. There were dinners, coffees, drinks, and lots of I hope we meet again soon. Personally, I am a fan of the “Irish goodbye”–one moment you’re there and the next you’ve slipped out the door without a word to anyone. I’ve learned that this isn’t the kindest way to leave friends, so now I make a point to see people before I leave. Unfortunately, seeing everyone just reinforces the community you’ve made and what you’re leaving.
The day I left I saw a few more friends, gave back the keys to my apartment, and then waited for my last friend to go to the airport with me. The moment he showed up I started crying. In the weeks, days, and hours leading up to my departure I hadn’t felt that sad at all. Now suddenly I couldn’t stop.
I’m not even sure what I was crying for. I liked Bangkok, but I’d never loved it. Every day felt like a battle to appreciate Bangkok. I had friends who adored Bangkok, but, to me, Bangkok never stood out from any other city I’d traveled to or lived in. Bangkok was just another metropolis: lots to do and see, with the added annoyance of being pushed all the time and the disgust of watching western men treat Asian women like they’re sex robots (or “pretty little pets” as one guy said to me).
Still, as I rolled and dragged all of my possessions to the elevator I couldn’t help but think of what I’d miss about Bangkok: my apartment, my routine, the food, chatting with coworkers in my classroom, grabbing cheap beers with friends. I’d miss the convenience and thrill of moto-taxis. I’d miss traveling around Thailand and traveling around Asia. I’d miss the wats. I’d miss the relaxed Thai beer gardens. My students had frustrated the hell out of me, but they’d also been slightly entertaining. Was I going to miss them, too? Oh god–am I going to miss Thailand?
To rub salt in the wound, Turkish Airlines waited until I was at the counter with all of my stuff to inform me that I couldn’t buy an extra bag. Online, their website said I could pay for an extra bag, but only at the check-in counter. At the actual check-in counter was a different story.
“You have to pay overages fees,” the flight desk guy said.
“How much?” I asked.
He typed some numbers into a calculator and showed it to me: 986 Euros.
I felt the same I had when Enterprise suddenly tripled the price of my Hawaiian car rental: are you fucking kidding me? and I don’t have another option, do I?
Luckily, the desk guy read my horrified expression and suggested shipping a bag through a third party located in the terminal. I ended up using ThaiPost. My friend and I threw open my bags and started chucking every non-fragile item into a large box (i.e. 80% of my wardrobe). By the end, I’d completely emptied one large suitcase and half emptied the other. Every valuable item I owned (i.e. art and electronics) was shoved into an almost unable-to-lift-because-it-was-so-heavy duffel bag. I paid for fast shipping and prayed that everything I’d been warned about ThaiPost’s reliability was wrong.
Back at the Turkish Airline desk, the original guy I’d tried to check-in with was busy so I was passed off to a lady; a lady who I will call Frau Bitch. First off, Frau Bitch informed me that my reservation had been flagged as being over the baggage weight limit, so she made me weigh my checked and carry on bags. “Still too heavy,” she said, snatching the boarding pass from me least I sprint through the airport and run through security and Customs before anyone stops me? Seriously? Get a life, Fraulein.
My friend and I threw my bags open once again and shoved whatever I could of my carry on into the checked bag. When we’d finally appeased Turkish Airlines’s insanely stringent standards (btw, Turkish Airlines, I hate you) we dragged my emptied suitcase and sloppily thrown together duffel away from the check-in counter. I repacked my duffel to make it easier to carry, and while I did I saw Frau Bitch watching me as if she thought I was going to pull a fast one and shove more items into my bag. FROM WHERE? WE PUT IT ALL IN THE CHECKED BAG IN FRONT OF YOU YOU HEARTLESS PIECE OF TOAST. WHY DO YOU INSIST ON MAKING AN ALREADY PAINFUL PROCESS EVEN MORE PAINFUL?
I said goodbye to my friend, stepped on the escalator leading up to security, and bawled. The check-in process had been so stressful and I’d been so unprepared that all the anxieties I’d been numb to suddenly flew to the surface: what was my new job in Portugal going to be like? Could I afford to start a new life in Europe? Half of my funds had just gone to ThaiPost. Would I ever see my clothing again? Was I leaving Asia too soon? Had I even given Asia a chance? Was I making a rash decision? Why can’t I just stay in one place for once?
I left panicked WhatsApp voice messages to friends as I rushed through security. The unpacking, packing, and shipping had eaten up so much time that my flight was due to take off in one hour. At passport control I was taken into the terminal to the Thai police area because I had overstayed my Thai visa by two days. While two women tutted over my passport and made faces like I’d committed a horrendous crime, I watched the time ticket down to my flight’s departure and briefly considered what if I stay?
Staying wasn’t a real option though. I was moving to Portugal for a full-time writing job with an expat organization: aka my career goal and dream job for the past ten years. I love Europe. I’ve lived in Europe before and I’d always talked about moving back. Landing not just a job in Europe, but a job writing for the expat community?? Maybe part of my panic was that the whole thing still felt too good to be true. There had to be a catch, right? Maybe the hassle just to leave Thailand was a sign that I shouldn’t go.
After I paid a 1,000 Baht fine to the police I rushed through the airport. I called my mother and told her everything that had happened. The moment she heard my voice start to crack with my typical pre-move jitters she said, “I thought this was all going a bit too easy.”
At the gate the original nice flight check-in man scanned and ripped my boarding pass. Something in Thai flashed on the screen. He checked the ticket again and then called out to a coworker. My jaw almost dropped when Frau Bitch appeared and motioned to CHECK MY BAGS AGAIN. I threw my hands in the air as if she was a cop with a gun pointed at me. “Are you kidding me right now?” I snapped. “I’m not sneaking anything onto the plane! What is your deal?” Normally I would never snap at someone like this, but at this point I felt like this woman had absolutely no life and for some reason had made it her mission to make my transit hell.
Ten minutes later I was on the plane, buckled in my seat. Nineteen hours later I landed in Porto.
I’ve now been in Portugal for one week and a day. All in all I like it and I think my fondness will only grow, but there have still been a few moments where I’ve had sudden why did I leave Bangkok panic. For starters, finding an apartment is akin to The Hunger Games. In Bangkok you can look at ten apartments and move into one the next day (hell–maybe even the next hour with some places). I never needed a Thai person to vouch for me, but twice now I’ve had to have a Portuguese national sign a document saying they know me. As is to be expected, even though Portugal is fairly cheap compared to other western European countries, things like rent are hiked up and, as a foreigner, I’ve been asked for six months rent in advance. Thailand, and most of Asia, is also just very convenient. There are moto taxis every few feet, there are free public restrooms in all of the malls, and let us never forget the beloved 7/11s. Portugal is like being back in the US–stores close at a reasonable hour, there’s not a plethora of super cheap food stalls around every corner, and you can definitely forget about paying a stranger to let you jump on the back of their motorcycle (but maybe I should try?).
Still, I think I’ll like Porto. I’ve already met a handful of very cool people, and my Bangkok friends have been tremendous at answering all of my calls and texts.
We had our differences, Thailand, but I’ll miss you.
Just a smattering of all the people who helped make Thailand memorable. (My apologies to those who I don’t have photos with! Come to Portugal and we’ll take a selfie.)
Thanks, Bangkok. Next.