I’m on top of an old temple, waiting around for the sunset with a bunch of German and French. About 20 minutes before, I am on top of a different temple, with a bunch of German and French. They are digging in early for the sunset views of Bagan. When the sun finally starts to descend below the hills, I hear the continuous clacking of camera shutters. I take out my camera and take a few shots, realizing that neither the camera nor its operator is capable of capturing a world-class shot of Bagan at sunset. I sit and enjoy instead, the sun’s rays reaching over and between the reddish ruins dotted across the plain.
I am in the Thai border town of Pedang Besar, having crossed over from Pedang Besar, Malaysia. I’ve been directed down the road by a police officer to catch the bus to Hat Yai. As I’m walking past a large covered platform accommodating three large women, one of them asks, “Where you going?” I tell them and am told to sit down. This is the bus stop.
I am offered sliced papaya, which is delicious. They ask me if I speak Thai, and I respond in the negative. But that doesn’t stop them from speaking to me in Thai for the next ten minutes, giving stilted translations of what they’re saying along the way. I take out my phrasebook and pretend to study it.
Just as I’m finishing up my meal on Jalan Alor, a street lined with restaurants – tables and chairs set up in the street – I feel a few drops, and then I see umbrellas being set up around the tables. I finish my beer, pay, and start walking. Within five minutes, it’s pouring. It’s that kind of downpour that you knew would come, that you even hoped would come, when it’s still hot and humid when the sun goes down.
It is so remarkably easy to walk around and see everything that one wonders whether the Hindu founders, the Portuguese conquerors, the Dutch, and then the British built this town as a major fort and trading post adjacent to the Straights of Melaka, or as a future attraction for weekenders with cameras. Large signs alert you to where you are: “Little India,” “Jonker Walk.”
The guy sitting next to me on the bus to Lake Coatepeque sounds like he’s got a bowl of soup in his mouth. Each time he says something I shrug and tell him I don’t understand, but he keeps going anyway. A man standing in the aisle says something in intelligible Spanish that I understand. We drive from Santa Ana through lush green scenery into small towns where people hop on and off. A woman is selling live chicks on the sidewalk that have been dyed pink, yellow, and blue out of a cardboard box. Her face is timid and innocent. I cannot pass judgment.