When I arrived at the Bangkok airport, I was in the Customs line with a fellow who had shared the flight with me from Seattle. We also shared the sentiment that Bangkok was a city for transit only, to be moved on from as soon as possible before the city or it’s hustlers swallowed you. Bangkok is known amongst many as “The City of Squalor”, where the city is dirty and polluted, the locals all scam artists, and the clubs reserved for those with more… fetish tastes. I’ve always thought of it that way as well.
I took the express airport train to Hua Lamphong, the main train station for long distances. Planning on getting the first train out of Thailand and down to Malaysia, it took me all of 30 minutes to practically run across town to the ticket counter in the station. No trains. Not today, not tomorrow. No trains. Thailand is dealing with a very vicious flood right now, which has overtaken most of the northern country, huge parts of the city, and is crippling travel. Many have died already, the secondary international airport was shut down, and now the rail lines are under water as well. What?! Didn’t they know that I was coming, and that I wanted to leave now? How inconvenient for me.
If I’m going to be trapped because of this flood, I’m at least going to see it. I called the Overstay Hostel, which happened to be smack in the middle of the flood, with waters 1-2 meters high. The pleasant Aussie said yes, I was so welcome to come if only I could make it there and please bring a smile. I asked several taxis to take me as close as possible, to which they all said, “No F*ing Way, Don’t You Know There’s A FLOOD?!” Well, I’m convinced I have to go; those poor Aussies need my smiles! I got a tuk-tuk to finally take me to the nearest safe area, Pink Lau Bridge. Still about 3 km away, though. 3 km through 1-2 meter high water, and I’ve got a loooot of luggage.
Enter Dau. She’s a Canadian police officer / teacher here, married to a local. She’s going to help me get where I’m going. There are 6×6 Army trucks and anything that can drive with enough ground clearance, and they all pool up like a taxi line at the airport, waiting to take the locals living in the flooded areas back and forth. For free. For those who have never been to Bangkok, this is amazing. Nothing is free here. I sit under a tent set up for those waiting, watching this stunning show of solidarity. The police are handing out free food and water, because the Thais whose homes have been flooded are not able to cook, or have proper clean water. Everybody is helping eachother. I suddenly feel quite odd about sitting there, so eager to go into the flood zone on an “adventure” through what is
their misery. I’ve taken my camera out a few times, but haven’t been able to snap any photos. It just seems so disrespectful to imagine sending home photos demonstrating my photographic prowess, which are photos of these people and their destroyed lives.
I sat there for four hours, just watching. Dau comes back to me, worried about why I am still sitting there. Just then an Army truck offers to take me in to the hostel. For some reason, though I’ve been waiting for 4 hours, and went through a lot of effort just to get to this bridge, it doesn’t seem right. I thought the universe was directing me to spread my love to this area, a heroic destiny in store for me, but that suddenly seemed like a self-justifying case of BS. I recognize it is my own stubborn will trying to
force me into what I know is a bad situation. I say no. I have no other plans, and saying no leaves me hanging in a bad way. Any nearby hotels are booked with people who have been pushed out of their homes by the flood. It’s dark. I’m in an area the taxis won’t even come to. I’ve got 2 heavy suitcases and a mild buzz from my two large Chang beers.
Dau feeds me some delicious fish and rice that has been brought in to the Aid Tent, and some ice cold water. We talk for a while, and I really enjoy her company. When she realizes I’ve left myself in a bind, she offers to walk me over to some places she knows, to see if there’s anything she can do for me. Usually in Bangkok, this is the part where you say no, because you’re surely being led to a scam or robbery or just a good ole ass kicking. But I like her, and she seems to be a friend.
On the main corner of Th. Khao San is Gulliver’s Travels, a nice little bar. Dau has worked here before when she first came to Bangkok, and knows the owner. She tells him my story, and asks him to help. He eyeballs me, and then tells her that he is not in the business of “helping” all of her tourist “friends”. We sit inside for a drink to rest while figuring my next move, and I met the Chief of Police there, King. He happens to love my favorite Buddhist temple, Wat Prayong. We talk a little about meditation and the peaceful path. He vouches for me to the owner, who then is willing to do whatever he can to assist me. Unfortunately, all his extra apartments located above the bar are filled by his own family escaping the flood. But, there is a rooftop.
This rooftop is amazing. Ideally what I wanted. Before arriving to Bangkok, I thought it would be nice to find a rooftop where I could film a few yoga videos. This is that place. Seven stories up, the tallest building in the area, is my new pad. There is a little garden area with seating and table, a shower, a home gym. And a breath-taking view. To the south is the Royal Thai Palace and all of it’s gardens. To the west and north are far off big city buildings, and to the east I can literally see down the strip of Khao San. He feels very bad for only being able to offer me this, as there is no fan, no television, no roof, nothing more than a rooftop, really. But I love it, and thank him deeply for this little paradise that pleases me so well. A wonderful place for some R&R&R; Rest, Relaxation, and Reflection.
I believe this is exactly the path the universe was guiding me to. I’ve been humbled in the last twenty four hours. I feel such shame for my previous attitude. I tell my students before every lesson that before we begin our practice, we need to create a safe space of positivity, unconditional love and non-judgment. Only then can we truly progress. Here I was, coming into a lovely country, in a space of negativity, hostility, ignorant judgment. I am ashamed to have spoken such ignorant words about a people who have shown unprecedented concern and genuine care for those around them, for me. It reminds me of another saying I also preach, Life is what you make it. Too easily I could have paid the flood-inflated price for some available hotel, sat inside, and grumbled about how I would not let this country rip me off again. I could have been mistrusting and suspicious, rooted in my negativity. I’m so glad I didn’t.
This is why Asia is my home. Not because of the low cost of living, the beautiful climate and scenery, or even the spiritual depth to the yoga practice. But because it teaches me. Whenever I am here, I learn. About how to behave as a good person, about how to love others, about how there is always a purpose to which path the universe places me on. For this I am thankful. For this, I trust that I am progressing, as a teacher, and as a person.
Love and Light, Jesse Grant