How Am I Here?

This afternoon, I perched at the edge of an elevated “human nest” tucked into a pocket of Northern Thailand’s green mountains. Three elephants grazed vaguely before me. I sipped Thai iced tea, and it began to drizzle upon the tin roof.

Sometimes I wonder how I am where I am. Last week on Wednesday at 1 AM, I lurched beneath a freeway overpass in Bangkok, stray dogs at my heels, surrounded by huts of metal patchwork. Men leaned against the cement and balanced barely-living cigarettes between their fingers. I asked some shadow where the nearest subway station was. He leapt up and led me to a train track, pointing into the darkness. He nodded forward. I could not see his face. Hazily following the tracks, I wondered how I’d been carried here, by lost legs, into the unknown and dimly lit.

Later that week, I wandered through a market. Stalls on either side enveloped the sidewalk space, and I slithered along sideways and rubbed bellies with those traveling the other direction. Wind chimes hung above me and vendors sat below me and on each side I was affronted by a silk or a watch or a soap or those flowy pants that tourists wear. Pedestrian traffic suddenly increased and I found myself landlocked between a hundred and one other people squirming and writhing. Everyone moves but no one moves. A woman tugged on my shorts and tried to sell me a SIM card for 100 baht and I looked down at her face lit only by a hanging lantern and asked myself again how I was where I was.

The next day, I sat on a whicker chair in the waiting room of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), Mechai Viravaidya’s organization and the center of my documentary. Mr. Viravaidya had either ignored or never received my emails and this organization seems to be bound tighter than the Italian Mafia, as neither the receptionist nor the manager nor any other employee would speak to me without The Chairman’s permission. His secretary finally emerged, unhappy to see me, and insisted the only way I could contact him would be via email. As I left, he walked in, and I stopped in my tracks: was it him? He looked similar, but older. Taller than I remembered, though this judgment was based on no real memory. I whipped around and his elevator door shut. I never did hear from him and I sat on the curb and I hung my head and I wondered how I’d arrived on Soi 12 without an interview.

The next week in Chiang Mai, I sat on the balcony of a building overlooking a tiny street. A car occasionally inched through like a little sausage below me, followed by a herd of motorcycles held up behind it. The balcony was about the width of my body, and I, my own sausage, sat with my shoulders against either wall. The apartments across from me were quiet and laundry lines gently fluttered in the breeze. I copy-and-pasted the same hopeful email to professors in Chiang Mai, hoping to fill the empty spot left by Mr. Viravaidya’s non-interview with another commentary. A mini-shrine (not the technical term) was lit across the street and it was warm and quiet. I wondered how I’d found myself in that quiet spot on that removed street in a place I couldn’t have imagined before.

However, this afternoon, the question didn’t come to mind and I sipped my tea thoughtlessly and watched the elephants as if I’ve roamed amongst them my entire life. For once, I’ve spent the day without filming and I fed the elephants unpeeled bananas and I shoveled Pad Thai into my happy, open mouth and my mind was clear. Not to say this is a state I chase after—last night I learned how to cook red curry in a dimly lit kitchen with new friends. We sat around a table in the open air and laughed about food carts and sticky rice and horrible maps and I was partially convinced I knew the objective reason why travel is good and why life is good and I was very thoughtful and very happy. Sometimes, however, letting those thoughts fade into the dust that seems to coat my skin by mid-morning is perfect as well. The crickets hummed. I watched a butterfly. It was happy.