Life, Travel

Goodbye Bryan

Strike a pose

I don’t even know how to write this post. I’ll just say it. A friend died. I’m sad.

Bryan was the first person I met in Bangkok. He was working at the first guesthouse I stayed at, The Mile High Club (it was aviation themed as the owner was a former pilot). I’d gotten into town around 3am, and had to wake him up with the door buzzer so that he could let me into the guesthouse. Even at that horrible hour he was cheery and kind, helpful and approachable. He seemed like such a genuinely kind person that when he asked if I was the same person in my passport (“Really is that you? You lost weight!”), I let it go.

Over the next week or so we became fast friends, sharing dinner, drinks and talking about our own personal struggles. We were both making life transitions. Me, doing my usual “looking for truth and beauty in this world” thing, and he… well he had just moved to Bangkok from the Philippines, and was feeling out of place as a second class citizen, of sorts. He was trying to make it in Thailand as a foreigner without particularly marketable skills and without speaking the local language. Tough. Still, he had his deep faith in god, his friends, and his spirit of “sanuk” (fun, in Thai) to sustain him. He was 22, 23? Life was still an adventure to be had.

Wet from monsoon season but happy waiting for food

Monsoon season, waiting for our $2 USD dinner after almost being hit by a car trying to get cheap booze across the street at the local supermarket

"What is Varinthip?" I said. "Who cares! Let's try it!"

“What is Varinthip? Is this really ‘traditional’???” I said. “No idea but we have to try it!” he said. Typical. We tried it. It was weird, but I’m glad we did.

I thought he was a nice kid, so when I came back to Bangkok for a night before heading home of course I knew I just had to stop by the guesthouse again to hang out for a few drinks. We shot the shit, played “Fire and Ice” with a trio of  awesome Irish guys who had just shown up at the house, talked about our summer plans, and he gave me a friendship bracelet he had made. He had several types to choose from. He was always making friendship bracelets  because he was always making new friends. I chose the “rasta” bracelet, because I’m from San Francisco, right? Free love, Bob Marley, all that.  The last thing he said to me was “Next time you come back bring your boyfriend. Let’s hang out. See you later.”

We became Facebook friends, and over the last few months I smiled every time I saw him pop up in my feeds, moving around Thailand and taking new jobs, hanging out with his girlfriend, travelling, whatever.

And today I found out that he died this weekend. I’m heartbroken. From what I can piece together via his wall posts in mixed English and Tagalog, some sort of accident (car? watersports?) happened, and it seems like he was in the hospital for a few days, and he died from the trauma.

I’m honestly in shock, and I don’t know what to say. Bryan, you were a great guy. Your world view and place in life was so different from mine, but I’m happy that I met you. It seems like you made everyone around you happy. I’m really sad that I’m never going to see you again, and that you didn’t get to do the things that you wanted to in life. You were a good friend. I hope that I was a good friend to you in the short time we knew each other.


Chiang Mai, c̄hạn rạk khuṇ (I love you)

The street where my guesthouse(s) were


I’ve been back home for a few weeks, but I’m still ruminating over my trip. Don’t worry, I’ll still blog about where I went, especially now that I’ve had some time to process the whole shebang.

After I spent a few days in Taipei and Bangkok I popped off to Chiang Mai, in the relatively cooler mountainous north of Thailand. To be honest I’d never heard of Chiang Mai before I started planning my trip. However I quickly learned from my guidebook and from talking to other travelers that the city is the cultural darling of northern Thailand due to its history as the capital of the (extinct) Lanna kingdom. Its one of those rare places that tourists and locals both love, and a robust tourism industry makes being there incredibly easy. There’s loads to do: trekking, ziplining, bungee jumping, kayaking, biking, elephant camps, comatose tigers, villagers in the hills to visit, guns to shoot, cooking school. It all sounds really fake but honestly its nice!

Anyways, people who follow me on Twitter will remember a very trying twelve hour bus ride from Bangkok, where we had to get out and push the damn bus. And then later we got a flat. And then later the bus broke down, so we moved to minivans. Oh, and I also almost got left at the bussstop because I was so in love with my noodle soup I wasn’t paying attention!

I arrived in town at midnight, which meant that there were only a handful of tuktuk drivers who could charge whatever they wanted to get me into town. UGH. Unfortunately I soon learned that half assed transport is just the name of the game in Thailand. There will always be a “breakdown.” You will always somehow move from a legit bus to a scary minivan. They will drive 100+++ mph and swerve all over on a one way windy unpaved road in the mountains in the dark. You will never see such service in Cambodia, Laos, or Vietnam. Thai people are totally over tourists. ANYWAYS. MOVING ON.

I loved Chiang Mai, and being there set the tone for the rest of my trip, I think. While I was there I kept feeling like I was in that Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but you know, without the beach and guns and drugs or whatever.

Memorable moments from Chiang Mai:

Clubbin’ with the firedancers.
  • Finally being in a place catering to tourists, including encountering the heartbreaking complexities of prostitution in Southeast Asia for the first time on the trip (I skipped Soi Cowboy in Bangkok). When I was in China and Vietnam many years ago the prostitution was… not as in my face? But then I didn’t go clubbing with mom (Sorry mom!). Here you couldn’t miss it. Combined with the begging old women and children who should not be out at 3am in a bar  trying to sell you things or steal from you… it was overwhelming emotionally. I am still trying to put into words exactly why the prostitution bothered me, and I think ultimately it’s because it was the literal expression of women’s place in society. Transaction, ownership, an age old dance that reminds me of my place in the world as an Asian woman. I guess I believe that prostitution is in theory allright when no one’s getting taken advantage of, but that was hard to believe here. Also there was the obvious reality that a a good lot of the prostitutes were children. That was really really painful, and this is perhaps the most memorable bit of Chiang Mai that I’ll take with me.
On to lighter memories…
  • Taking my first tuktuk (scooter powered taxi). Invigorating!
  • Making friends with a muy thai referee and a father son duo from Palo Alto. They told me that I had “good english!” and then I said “Oh, I’m American. Not an accomplishment.”
  • Sitting on the corner of a deserted street in a new city at midnight with my big backpack and waiting for Danny to come find me.

  • Having perhaps the saddest guesthouse room in my life. Maybe worse than my rooms in China. My feet never touched the floor, and I DID NOT MOVE in bed the whole night. When I woke up, here was the view which was gorgeous:


The Saturday Night Walking Market. Very similar to the SUNDAY Night Walking Market, as you might imagine.


Bugs! Protein! Delicious!

  • Walking around the nightmarket and munching on toasted crickets.
  • Bar hopping via tuktuk and sorngtauu (truck that functions as a public bus) with a bunch of good natured English teachers. I do not lie when I tell you “RAIN OVER ME” came on in the club and I DIED.
  • Playing “Ladyboy or clueless farang (foreigner)” in the bar.
  • Walking home from the bar at four am and hearing the monastery bells ringing. Realizing that the monks were getting up!

Danny’s coworker bought a new guitar. Testing.

  • Having a mini concert in a sorngtauu

  • The beautiful old city walls at the center of the city

Just me, proud curry maker.

  • Taking an excellent Thai cooking course on an organic farm. (More on this later)

Note the alignment of the feet in this picture.

  • Meditatin’ with the monks

Despite the mix of emotions, it was a fantastic place and I want to go back. Again, again!