Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sleeper Cars

In America, I admit to being a somewhat squeamish traveler. It’s been many years since the prospect of playing in the hotel elevator was enough to distract my mind from the germs on the TV remote. I think I even balked at the two, maybe three, star hotel in Paris. And here I am on a sleeper car of a train that could maybe use a deep cleaning. The toilet is, quite literally, a hole over the train track. A single sheet separates me from a mattress that contains who knows what kind of grime. And it doesn’t bother me at all.

Low expectations are key, I think. I expected the dirt and smoke and heat. I prepped myself for toilets that would challenge both my gag reflex and my balance. I was ready to eat food from street vendors cooking unidentifiable items in large vats of oil. To forget that I ever used to smell good. And I sort of love the letting go. “Mai pen rai.” “No worries.” I haven’t showered in two days. “Getting ready” in the morning means little more than a smear of sunscreen. Sleep is easy, brought on by pure exhaustion.

I may be forever cured of my jumpiness as a passenger during car rides. I tend to always offer to drive because of my inability to trust that other people will drive with the same cautious perfection that I would. Stop laughing Onge. A few taxi rides in Bangkok left me with two choices, chill out, or die of a heart attack. Lanes do not exist. Other cars do not exist. Speed limits do not exist. Traffic lights are more like traffic suggestions. No wonder most Thai people practice meditation, it’s crucial to survival.

It’s light out now, 7 a.m. I went to sleep in the light and sharp lines of the city. Now I’m rolling through the middle of a tropical forest. The dirt is brighter here, more orange-y. I imagine my grandma here, pointing out every variety of plant as we pass it. “That is a banana grove,” she would say. “In the reign of King Rama IV, he ordered that every peasant would plant a single fruit tree in this area of the jungle.” She always has stories like that, always a tour guide. Sometimes my friends make fun of my random knowledge. To that I say, sorry, it’s genetic.

The two train seats fold into little bunks, caves almost. I’m tucked away in my little cave, separated from the hallway by a thin blue curtain. The train will stop after a bit. I will struggle with my luggage, pulling it recklessly down the steep steps. I will climb into a tuk tuk, or maybe a bus. I will take a shower in a bathroom that may or may not sport an impressive collection of mold. I will collapse into bed. And I won’t worry about whether or not the sheets are sterile.

1 comment:

Christina said...

hahaha, I am so glad you got to experience the CRAZY asian taxis!! Oh, you are becoming such a battle-hardened traveler...