The Far East

Sukhumvit Road to Laem Chabang

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It was a bright morning in Bangkok, and a beam of light reflected in just
such a way from the rooftop of the pharmaceutical factory as to awaken me from
my bear-like hibernation. We had been living in the apartment on Sukhumvit Soi
62 for a month, and we had finally accomplished everything that we had set out
to accomplish in Bangkok; Nacho had received a new engine, we finished our
book and sent it off to be published, we cultivated a community of friends, and
we began to see Bangkok through residents’ eyes.
The previous evening after dinner on the Arab Soi we had wandered the
back alleys past shops selling spices and fabric, past the Iraqi restaurant and
rows of turban-clad men loitering around shisha pipes. We crossed Sukhumvit
road on a pedestrian bridge with a view of the city, and then stood there for a
long time watching people and cars go by before the backdrop of the city that
now felt so familiar. We could imagine ourselves living long-term in Bangkok,

despite the fact that we had always considered ourselves small-town mountain-
loving people. But at the same time, we had started to feel the itch to move on.

We still had a long way to drive.


Our apartment was situated only five minutes from Bangkok Port, but we
received word from our shipping agent that our container loading process had
been moved to Laem Chabang Port, one hundred kilometers away. Our shipping
agents, being overly friendly Thai people, offered to drive out to the port with us
to load Nacho into a shipping container, and then give us a ride back to our
apartment. But when Gak caught word of this, he simply wouldn’t have it. If
anyone were to give us a ride back from the port, it would be him. We informed
our shipping agent, and followed Gak to Laem Chabang in his classic 1960’s
VW bus.

When we arrived in Laem Chabang, the people from our shipping
company who would guide us through the loading process met us for lunch, and
then we all rolled out to the port together. We paused at the entry to the port
while our agent went inside to get clearance, and then everyone crammed into
Nacho and we drove into the container yard together. When we got there, our
container was open and waiting, and after a short pause I slowly and
ceremoniously drove Nacho inside. It felt like we had been in Asia for an
eternity. We had learned a lot since arriving from South America, and putting
Nacho onto a container ship felt more like a capstone than the next step in a long
journey.
Our shipping agents became uncharacteristically caught up in the
moment, and although we had only just met, they took photos of us, of Nacho,
and of each other. It was a far cry from our first shipping experience, in which
we endured fourteen days of unhelpful people and logistical hell in order to
transport Nacho the two hundred miles from Panama to Colombia. Thai people,
we realized, lived life joyously.
Sheena and I finished bidding ado to Nacho, and then loaded into Gak’s
bus to head back to Bangkok. Gak had insisted that he was a better candidate
than our shipping agent to bring us back to the city, and this was his time to
prove it. We cruised to the gas station and bought a couple of Cokes. A good
start, a solid effort. It was late in the afternoon when we turned off of the main
highway and headed toward the ocean.
We wound through several small beachside communities to an overlook
above the beach town of Chon Buri, and then carried onward, toward the fishing
wharves on the outskirts of Bangkok city. We found our way onto one of the
docks and drove the bus out to the end where the dock workers were shucking
clams. The happy workers who were dressed in threadbare tee shirts and shorts
and plastic flip-flops welcomed us, and told us they were from Burma. Several
people collected the shucked clam meat, while others placed the shells in bags to
be sold and ground down into bulk calcium carbonate.
The work looked terribly difficult, and we knew that they only received
modest compensation for their hard work. During our time in Southeast Asia we
had met numerous Burmese laborers, and had learned that immigrants from
Burma typically performed the low-pay manual labor and servant work for the

surrounding countries of greater wealth, much like the undocumented Latin-
American immigrants in the United States. The difference in Thailand was the

much lower pay, and the often-extreme working conditions that laborers
endured. Still, the Burmese kept on smiling, and they still managed to send much
of their meager income home to support their families.

After forty-five minutes with the Burmese clam shuckers, the sun began
to set and they called it a day. Despite their inability to speak Thai or English,
we managed to carry on a lengthy conversation of charades and guesswork, and
came away with the impression that they were a happy people. We left them on
the dock, sitting in a group smiling.
On our last night in Bangkok, Gak and Pat planned one final dinner at the
city’s supposed best hole-in-the-wall restaurant, which was highly renowned for
its pad Thai and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
It didn’t take long to verify that the orange juice claim was legitimate;
Sheena and I had to suppress moans of ecstasy as we sipped it through thick
straws. The pad Thai was amazing, and came wrapped in a little package of fried
egg – a nice touch. It felt good to be together with these people. After so many
months in Asia, Pat and Gak had become our extended family, and it would be
tough to leave them behind. Pat kept us laughing with his quirky explanations of
Thai social antics, explaining that in Thailand it is not considered rude to tell
someone that they look fat.
“Why would it be strange?” he asked, innocently. “They already know
they’re fat.” He seemed really baffled by the idea that the topic would be treated
delicately.
“Yes, but aren’t there Thai people who are trying to shed some pounds,
who might be self-conscious about their weight?”
“Of course there are people who want to lose weight, but they still know
they are fat. It is normal!”
“Even women?”
“Yes, women can be fat, too.”
Pat turned to Gak and told him that he was fat.
“Hey Fat Gak, do you only eat and never shit? Ha! See?”
Gak smiled and laughed, shaking his head. We all had a good chuckle
while feeling a little insensitive and politically incorrect.
As a going away present, Pat gave us the Thai license plate off of his
Syncro, and presented us with the first copy of our book, Drive Nacho Drive , which
we had finished writing in our Sukhumvit apartment, and which he printed
through his family’s publishing company. We had asked him to write a message
on our dedications page, and he wrote a page-long letter to us in Thai script in
order to fully express himself. “You can read it after you learn to speak Thai,” he
said, but then read it aloud to us. His words were the distillation of all of the
kindness and friendship we had come to know from our Thai friends, and I
noticed that Sheena was crying by the time he reached the end.
Gak brought his own copy, which he had bought online, and asked us to

write a message of our own. We couldn’t seem to express our feelings as
eloquently as Pat had, but did our best nonetheless. And with that, we left. After
half a year in Southeast Asia, it was time to move on – away from our new
comfort zone, and straight into the unfamiliar madness of India.

A line of Volkswagen vans materializes at the King Rama V monument to welcome Nacho to Bangkok.

While sitting in an antique miniature car, Pat jokes with onlookers about Brad’s uncanny height as a result
of all of the GMO American corn that he eats.

In the mountains of northern Thailand, a boy passes on his way to the fields; in this region, Elephants are
still used as draft animals.

Two boys ride in circles in a clearing within a Burmese refugee camp on Thailand’s border with Burma.
Beyond the ridge lies their forbidden homeland.

Having been officially denied entry into Burma, we drive to a remote outpost on the Thai-Burma border to
see if there is any way that the guards can be swayed. They can’t be.

Brad describes the intricacies of chocolate-chip pancake preparation to a crazy Laotian man who has
emerged from the jungle. Meanwhile, an international missing persons case unfolds and an unnecessary
rescue mission is botched.

Laotian workers plant rice in paddies, and risk stepping on unexploded landmines dropped by American
planes during the Vietnam War.

Sheena does her daily shopping routine at a typical Laotian street market in Luang Prabang. This is the way
most of the world buys its food.

“Wow! There is a hillside with nothing on it, and there is also a thick layer of mud and detritus!” A
landslide during monsoon season halts Nacho’s progress through the mountains of Laos.

Shortly after bypassing the landslide, Brad creates a mess of the driveway leading into a Laotian Buddhist
monastery where he and Sheena will camp for the night.

Buddhist monasteries become surefire campgrounds while crossing Southeast Asia. This time, near Angkor
Wat.

Brad and Sheena look around to see if anyone will stop them from driving into Angkor Thom, but nobody
does. They put on their Indiana Jones hats and keep on going.

In Bangkok, Nacho undergoes a Subaru engine transplant. The new engine is safely tied down onto a tire in
Nacho’s living room for the lengthy trip to the garage.

Brad is yanked away from the coconut ice cream lady to be interviewed on television by Sheeva—or Thai
Elvis.

A group of Burmese clam shuckers is more than happy to have an audience as they separate the meat from
the shells by hand. Each burlap sack (right) full of shells fetches about one dollar.

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