Waking up in Nong Pladuk (on my way home to the US)

A few weeks in Thailand coming to a close.

4 min. read

It’s 9am and a woman wearing an apron is leaning over me yelling in Thai, waking me up from a nap with an urgency no alarm clock could match. I’m panicked, not sure for a moment where I am, or what I did wrong, or maybe if I’m covered in spiders (millions of spiders?!) until I notice she’s hawking food — a tray of a dozen small, folded banana leaf bowls full of shrimp, fried noodles, and a few indiscernible vegetables — and I’m not about to die. There are zero spiders.

“Mai,” I manage to grunt as I squint my eyes in the morning sun, one of the few Thai words I have on the tip of my tongue. No thank you, my eyes say. And also, maybe don’t wake up a belleagured traveler by yelling in his face next time if you want him to buy your stuff? I collect my bearings.

The train is stopped in Nong Pladuk Junction. Steamy air fills the rail car. Nong Pladuk is the starting station of the infamous Thai-Burma railway, more commonly known as “Death Railway.” It stretches from here to Nanchanaburi, the town a few hours down the road from which I am returning to Bangkok. Nearly one-hundred thousand prisoners of war and forced laborers had their lives forfeited to the construction of the Thai-Burma back in the 1940s. It’s a dark place to wake up to on a sunny Monday morning. It plucks at the melancholy I’m feeling in my heart.


Tonight, I’ll board a plane to Beijing, and after half a day there I’ll board another one to Houston. My time in Thailand, and the remaining time in this adventure, is measured now in hours, not days, not weeks. The days flew by in minutes. The weeks were hours.

If Thailand were a snow globe, I only managed to figure out how to turn it over; I didn’t get the chance to see the wonder of the snow falling inside. There are so many layers of the culture I still don’t understand — personal, political, religious — and haven’t yet been able to dig into. But I have a glimpse of all of it now, an honest glimpse, and that hint pulls at me to see more. But I definitely, without question, fully experienced the food: I indulged the hell out of that part of the culture.

But Thailand isn’t a snow globe. Thailand is fucking hot. The sweating! And the persistent stickiness from copious bug spray, the lack of consistent showers and sleeping, and the sweating… it’s these things that make it easier to be comfortable that my time here is wrapping up.

And I’m excited to go back to my life. I miss people back home in Austin more than I’ve ever missed people back home in Austin: my friends, swimming in springs and drinking beer on rooftops; and my partner, eating Indian food and laughing from our overfull bellies. I’m excited to get back to the work I was doing when I left. I had just published a book. Who leaves the continent days after publishing a book? And I have shows to perform and another book to write and a whole new organization to get off the ground and into the sky.

Fear of Missing Out?

Join the mailing list, get posts in your inbox, or subscribe in other ways to get the latest & greatest.

Show me options.
But I also recognize that it will be easy for me to leave all of Thailand behind, including the parts I don’t want to: the healthier rhythm of life I’ve fallen into here. I want to keep that with me when I return. And I also want to, for as long as I can, keep seeing the world around me through this lens of constant wonder and curiosity, instead of the judgment and certainty that so easily sneak into our lives.

The woman in the apron walks by again, yelling at the top of her lungs to everyone on the train, as we start to pick up speed leaving the station. She only has 2 more shrimp bowls.