PAGES

to chance encounters

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Before I can pay tribute to my love affair with Otres I have to give credit to one of the major highlights* of travelling: the chance encounter.

I left my home away from home on the 29th of February. At seven in the morning there was only a moderate amount of people to say good bye to and that was just as well.
Even though I am from a midland I am built near the water. Nothing ruins your make up like an early morning cry.

Humping and bumping down the dusty orange road I took a last lasting look at the place I had spent my last twoandhalf monthsin. Knowledge of parting makes old things new. Leaving Cambodia suddenly gave it back the exotic air it had lost with familiarity. Riding alone in a tuk-tuk became an act of colonial quality again. I felt the urge to grace the dirty-white cows with a benevolent wave.
That´s a lie.
What I really did was treat myself to my early morning cry. I still waved a bit.
I guess that´s what you call bittersweet.


SIHANOUKVILLE - BANGKOK

Stepping on the bus to Koh Kong I immediatly dropped on the next window seat available, inwardly celebrating my luck.
Not for long.
A chinese man in his thirties with thinning hair and a painful looking smile sat down next to me. He must have come back to this seat, because he looked already settled. Conversation started immediatly. Full frontal. High speed. I soon found out why. He was keen to tell me about his space-cookie experience.
Maybe I gave him the wrong reaction. When faced with unwanted attention I usually adopt a "play dead" strategy. A dead-pan stare from an impassive face shuts most people up.
(There´s a reason this is one of the main traits of sociopaths.)
It didn´t work, only spurred him on in trying to unload his newfound coolness on me.
OK. He was one of "those".
The smaller the reaction the bigger the story. The more painful the smile. The meaner you are the more likable they try to be.
The thought that his story or himself simply weren´t interesting to me had no place in his mindset. But seriously, who can relate to ANYONES enthusiasm about ANYTHING at eight in the morning. Right.
The only way to get rid of him: outright rudeness.
I took a breath and turned to find a well manicured hand in my face.

"Ticket"

I handed over my busticket to todays busgirl in charge.

 "Not your seat"

Whoops. What a shame. Bye Bye cookie.
Leading me to the back of the bus she pointed to a seat next to a wiry guy with a thinning Johnny Cash hairstyle. (Not a full head of hair on that bus it seemed.)
As I sat down I noticed his hands were knobbly from arthritis.
On his left hand he wore a golden ring with the design on the top turned in, touching his palm.
I arranged my breakfast in front of me and opened my book.

At noon on Sunday, the 6th of July, the fiesta exploded. There is no other way to describe it.

I settled deeper into my seat.

- "Did you hear about the accident?", he asked.

So much for the fiesta. Play along. You will have to spend the next five hours with this guy. I turned my head and moved the appropriate muscles for a smile.

- "Yes.", I said, "Somebody died." hoping to gain a minute of silence.

The day before, the bus to Koh Kong (we were sitting in todays equivalent) had flipped on the road and rolled down the hill. I wasn´t sure about the death. News travel neither fast nor reliably on  the beach. We rode in silence for a while.

A succession of murmurs and gasps made me look up from my book.
Yesterdays bus was lying on the side of the road, like a dog collapsed in the sun, tires in the air. Todays bus fell silent, people straining to get a better look.

The silence was broken by an ancient german complaining about his diarrhea.
Conversation restarted.
I could not understand exactly understand what he was saying after that. But his disshelved attempt at a 1940´s hairstyle and the general impetus of his heavily accented english marked him as a man of "traditional" german values. I felt reminded of my great-uncle the Fliegerstaffelführer.


The bus to Koh Kong stops just eight kilometeres away from the border to make a little money of the tourists. I caught a took tuk-tuk with three other people towards the border to avoid the rush. 
The line at the thai border was full of exasperated people. The main reason being the old german. He was grotesque with his open shirt revealing his sunken chest. His chainsmokers rasp insulting everyone in hearing distance. Especially Thai and Khmer people, who were obviously conspiring against him. Trying to make him miss his three o´clock bus in Trat, forcing him to take an expensive Taxi to Bangkok.
He wanted pity and privilege.

- "I am 77! I shouldn´t be standing in line! I should go through here fast!"

Demanding. Insufferable. People let him cut in line to be rid of him.

I met my seat neighbour on the Thai side again, waiting for the Van to Trat busstation to fill up. Luckily the german wasn´t on it.

- "Mike", he said.
- "Iris", I said.

I learned he was a Canadian ex-pat living in Bangkok. His repertoire of travel anecdotes was quite extensive. He clearly enjoyed telling them and I was glad to listen. On the bus platform in Trat he offered me a place to crash for the night. My initial reaction was a evasive inhale. The pavlovian response of a girl travelling alone.

- "Think about it.", he said, stepping on the bus.


xxx

Sitting on a balcony on the fifteenth floor of a Bangkok apartment complex with a beer in my hand I felt I made the right decision. I slept like a baby on his couch, being woken by Mikes blues radiostation.
He took me for breakfast where his expat friends kept drifting in and out.
All of them dickensian gentlemen in various stages of elderliness. Tony, with his hands folded over his cane, telling stories of his time in Africa, working for the diamond mines. Steve the university lecturer, taking of his designer glassen, rubbing his eyes, complaining about his grandchildren visiting from China.
Each of one of them as charming as only oldschool men can be.

All in all it was the most relaxing time I ever had in Bangkok.
Trust your gut. What can I say. I might have ended up in a freezer somewhere but I didn´t. Mike made me feel quite adopted. He even gave me a key to his apartment for the day.
The trust he placed in me rubbed off.
One of the best things that can happen to you when you travel. A chance ecounter that leaves you with a friend. A feeling of exhilaration as you move on and little more hope for and trust in people in general.

So says I, the famous misanthrope

* or hazards, but I´ll get to the pigeon neighbours later.