I've lived a lot of my life on Soi Chokchai Ruammit. I've made good friends here, most of whom are now gone from this place. I fell in love here, I worked here, ate here, and at one point starved here when the baht plunged and the economy dissolved.
It's a place I lived in, thoroughly and wholeheartedly; it is not a place that is easy for me to visit. Bumping into memories at every little shophouse corner, it doesn't take long for me to think of getting an apartment or even a house and settling back into the newest version of this small world.
There are people I remember and who still remember me. Like any small town, the inhabitants have become interknit and I am a tiny, idiosyncratic thread in that fabric.
Tonight the friendliest songtao driver pulled over and invited me to sit with him in the cab of his pickup for the short jaunt to the other end of the road. We passed a little dark shop where I used to buy my drinking water in huge bottles; a man who is the thinnest guy in the world and has lived across from my latest dwelling place for years was inflicting Thai boxing kicks on a man who works in a repair shop. They both looked deadly serious.
The sun was setting bright red at the end of the soi when I picked up my newly repaired handbag that had lost its stitching in a crucial place two weeks after I'd bought it. "No charge," the shop owner said, even though he had to rush the repair much more quickly than he wanted to. He's new to Chokchai Ruammit. His shop has huge glass windows filled with leather handbags in brilliant colors. It's the only pretty storefront in the neighborhood.
I stopped at the Tesco Lotus opposite the small street where I've lived off and on for years--Maew Daeng--Red Cat soi. On my last two trips I refused to walk down that lane--it's a minefield of memory. But I forgot how dangerous revisiting a small supermarket can be. This is where I bought catfood for Smeegle, where I picked up tonic water for cocktail hour on the roof with my brother Rod, where I spent a lot of time since it first opened during my last Thai incarnation. As I grabbed a beer and some corn chips, my life folded in on itself and I was ready to walk down Maew Daeng to the house where Smeegle and Rod and I used to live.
I got in another songtao instead and saw familiar faces--the grandfather who owns a little hardware store whose grandson is school age by now, the man whose wife has always been so sweet when I've gone to her store for necessities of life like brooms and coffee cups, the stern soup sister who stopped frowning at me oh...ten years ago?
I made it back to my apartment before I began to cry, missing people I have loved, missing the kinder person I am when I live here, missing my life on a soi that just doesn't change. I really can't live here and there are things about it that make me scream silently when I come to visit, but it is the part of this country that has claimed me and I will always love it.