Thursday, January 28, 2010

ท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ at 3 AM: Erika is off to Boston!

The first alarm went off at 2:30 AM. Shockingly, the sound actually managed to penetrate the depths of our slumber sufficiently for me to realize that A) something was beeping, and B) that meant something.

Alarms two and three went off at 2:33 and 2:35 respectively. At five of three I called the guard to let him know we were going out (he lets the guard dog roam the property in the latest hours), and by five past three we were off to the airport. The easy availability of taxis in Bangkok at three in the morning implies worrisome things to me about the health of its residents sleep cycles. We needed two taxis to transport ourselves along with Erika’s luggage (taxi 1: Erika, her bicycle, and carry-on luggage; taxi 2: me and her two suitcases). Within thirty seconds of stepping out of the gate, two taxis had pulled up and we were loading bags.

Speaking of luggage, I must say that the packing was remarkably smooth. As Erika put it when her bags weighed up perfectly on the first try, “isn’t it amazingly lucky how our lives fit into two suitcases each, with each suitcase weighing exactly 22 kilograms and measuring a total of 137 centimeters? Oh wait, that’s not luck, is it?” No, not luck. At this point, we’re quite good at packing for international flights.

Our taxi drivers raced each other to the airport. Mine spent the ride enthusiastically quizzing me about my life in Thailand (I’m from Surat Thani! Have you been there? How come you speak Thai so well?) and how it compared to life in America (you like Thailand, right? Thailand is better. More fun. You should stay and live in Thailand. Because you can speak Thai already!). Erika’s driver averaged 130 kph and made a good effort to teach her car words and phrases in Thai. Apparently his pantomime and demonstration were effective but a bit hair raising (this is “door ajar!” say “door ajar!” here is a “speed bump.” Say “speed bump!” Oh, this is how to say “flat tire!”).

3:30 AM is an interesting time to be at the Bangkok airport. It’s less crowded than usual, and most of the lines are short. People sleep peacefully on benches and chairs throughout the terminal. We saw a group of people who were almost definitely refugees flying out for resettlement in the US. They were about 25 people in number and mostly parents with children. All of them wore brand new clothes and shoes (new sneakers with soles a truly blinding white). Their luggage also looked new, and they had very little of it. Their excitement was palpable, as was their lack of familiarity with airport procedures. What really tipped me off, though, was that they were accompanied by a lady from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). She was handling all their interactions with the airline representatives and generally shepherding them through the process. After so many heartbreaking experiences with refugees in Thailand, it was really nice to see what appeared to be the start of a happy ending. I am a bit worried, though, as they seemed to be heading for a flight that goes through Tokyo to Detroit. If so I really really hope they’re only going to Detroit to transfer to another connecting flight. Surely no one in his or her right mind would resettle anyone in Detroit in this economic climate.

I stayed at Suvarnabhumi* airport to see her through security before heading home. I will be in Bangkok until the end of February. From 28 February to 15 March, I’ll be in Melbourne visiting friends and family (so excited!!). After that, I will follow Erika to Boston! The duration of our stay in Boston and our subsequent destination is dependent on the capricious whims of the graduate school admissions process.

*Can someone who understands transliteration please explain to me how in the world ท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ (pronounced “Su-Wanna-Poom”) comes to acquire the English spelling “Suvarnabuhmi?”