I am walking along Thanon Chang Khlan at dusk, carrying a copy of Robinson Crusoe –purchased from a side street bookseller, and contemplating what brought me here. A combination of rumination and the clang of metal-cage-stalls pushed into position by busy workers push me towards a beer at one of the street bars along Loi Kroh. The Night Bazaar is coming. I have been in Thailand only a day.
The waitress takes my order and leaves me alone with my book and thoughts. What brought me here? Earlier in the year my father dies, a long relationship ends, and a short relationship ends before it begins, leading to in this order: a lonely Christmas, birthday and New Year, but this is not entirely what leads me here. I’m also on a mission to ride elephants through the jungle and travel down a river on a bamboo raft.
The “'waitress” returns with my beer and to my surprise sits down and begins talking to me. It takes me naively a few moments to realize why. I don’t until that moment know about “Bar Girls”.
The Bar Girl, Nan (she is 40, but looks 30) asks me why I am here and I explain: elephant rides and Night Bazaar. She begins confiding to me her life story, and then tells me about a mall most tourists don’t see. She asks if I would like to go.
Minutes later we are on a crazy scooter ride through the city. My hands are slipped around her waist, something she seems happy with. I am in fact holding on for dear life. Nan zips in and out traffic, aiming through small gaps I wouldn’t gamble we’d fit. The scooter seems to have more life, and go far faster than I would have given it credit. It is old. The city is old. I feel old. No one wears helmets. We share the busy roads with cars, scooters, motor-bikes and Tuk-Tuks. Yet in amongst this chaos I notice order. There are no accidents. There are no horns or angry voices. Everyone knows where they are going and how to get there. Tempers rarely flare. I let go, figuratively, not literally and absorb all I can as run-down streets and buildings, full of colourful shops and stalls flicker past like neon candles. I begin to appreciate the magic of this place.
Nan shows me around the glittering mall, where indeed there are few tourists; and other places too, a roof-top restaurant I would never have found alone. She says she likes me, had fun and will have sex for free. I smile at her yet politely decline. I explain I am off girls for a while after my recent experiences. She doesn’t quite get it and points to a transvestite in the street, asking do I want a boy/girl? She will get one for me? I shake my head no, a bit more definitely this time. I do give her a couple of hundred dollars for showing me the exciting mall and restaurant. She doesn't ask for it but she doesn't turn it down.
Later, we wander around the Night Bazaar together, where they sell everything from silk, to clothing, to real Thai food, to fake Rolex watches, and I come across a necklace, an Ankh – the ancient Egyptian symbol of life. Nan, noting my interest does something surprising for me. She begins haggling with the seller and eventually buys it at an amount far less than the asking price.
I thank her, noting to myself though it was technically brought with my money, this was a gesture she didn’t have to make. Nan helps clip it around my neck, and in that moment wearing the ankh I understand more than ever that things end. We need to let go of any burden the past places upon us. It’s happened, it's over, it cannot be changed, we can only move forward and create a compelling future. You wake the next day and all that was is gone, there is only the now. The moment. And in that moment surrounded by colour and voices and a smiling person, I am happy.