Note from the author:
I should first say that the “series of unfortunate events” does not mean that my journey to Thailand was a negative one. It merely states the fact that many unfortunate things happened to me. But in the end, I walked away– rather limped away– with insight that will forever change my life. Please bear this in mind while reading. Here is my motor biking journey up to the mountainous areas of Chiang Mai.
“I don’t know what you’re scared of? It’s just a little bike ride!”, he explained. “It’s not like it’s that difficult or anything”. He said it as if there’s nothing to riding a motor bike. Maybe he’s right, but something deep down told me that I should be afraid. I looked at my American friend, Garett, and he said with bold eyes, “What’s the worst that could happen!” and then let out a big laugh. He seemed optimistic, but I could also sense that he was a bit nervous as well. I remembered all the times we went mountain biking together in Colorado, and that he could hold his own, but that he always erred on the side of caution.
As we ate our spicy vegan breakfast outside of Chiang Mai’s city walls, I researched renting motor bikes in Thailand. I learned that even if you don’t have a motorcycle license or international license, you can still rent them– but that doesn’t make it legal. The government allows businesses to rent out bikes without checking licenses for financial reasons. I’ve also read the police are known to target foreigners on bikes– as they are fully aware foreigners rent them regardless of the laws.
When we discussed the details of our bike trip, some concerns come up. At first we were going to ride two hours west to the national park there, then climb to the top of the highest peak in Thailand. I had some safety concerns such as riding for two hours on a bike through Thailand’s traffic; what we would do if we get separated on the way (cause I lost my phone); and lastly climbing down the mountain in the dark. He acted as if I was being paranoid: “What are you so scared of, man?”. he seemed annoyed like I was being a downer. He then shrugged off my concerns as if they weren’t real. My American buddy then chimed in and said that it’s true that climbing down a mountain in the dark is dangerous. I informed them that my Thai friend could drive us another day to the national park so we would have ample time to climb the mountain. We compromised and decided to see some waterfalls near the top of another nearby mountain by motor bike.
As we took off from the parking lot, I started laughing both because I was excited and because Garret looked a bit stiff on a motor bike. I was feeling fine though because our german friend offered to share his bike so we could ride together. So, I sat on the back of the bike and he led us through Chiang Mai’s zooming traffic. There were a few times when it seemed difficult to traverse across the streets with the heavy traffic in the way. He said, “It’s better to just have to have confidence –that the traffic will move out of the way for you– otherwise you’ll be waiting forever.” He weaved in and out traffic, squeezing past many idle cars waiting at a stoplight. I looked behind me and noticed what appeared to be Garrett trailing behind us with a calm yet serious demeanor.
I asked the German guy about his travels and learned a lot. He’s only 22, he’s seen a myriad of countries (too many to name). I learned he’s agnostic, and that his english has improved greatly since traveling the world. He then asked about me, and I told him that I’d been teaching in Japan for a few years , but will probably teach elsewhere in the world if I can. “Anytime you come to Germany, man, i’ll show you around, let me know!”, he said as we jetted up the mountain. I said “thanks!” as we reached further into Thailand’s gorgeous scenery.
Up and up we went through the curving hills of Thailand’s mountainous countryside. A few times on the way up, he sped up and i felt the wind blowing through my helmet hair — it was such a rush. But still, I knew that we weren’t going as fast as we could: that is, that he was holding back. We had to stop a few times for Garrett to catch up to us, which got me thinking that he was being overly cautious about using the full speed of the bike. We regrouped, and Garrett told us that he doesn’t like how curvy the streets are. I then volunteer to ride his bike because my greatest concern was the crazy traffic in the city, not some technical turns. So we switched bikes.
First time getting on the bike, I felt powerful. I haven’t rode a car in forever, and being surrounded by this beautiful scenery with no one on the road — I wanted to own the road. I was overwhelmed by my senses as I made my way up the mountain. Upon hitting the gas, my bike jolted up the hills with ease and I started to get the “feeling” of the road. Eventually, we stopped at a lookout point where they were selling avocado milk for a dollar. Few words were exchanged as we just stood looking out at the city of Chiang Mai. A big airplane took off leaving the city, and we realized just how awesome airplanes were as we said, “cool”. After getting a nice view, we decided to head further up the mountain to see the waterfall. This time Garett rode on the back of my bike, as our German friend wanted to go faster up the mountain on his own.
I don’t know why, but I felt really confident. I started trying to keep up with our German friend who at this point we’ll just call Hanz (cause I forgot his real name). Hanz is riding like a bad-ass, and i’m trying to be one, too. As he takes the turns at near full speed, I do the same, following his trail as closely as I can. I realized a few times that the bike clunky and hard to control on turns. Nearing the top of the mountain, Garrett asks me, “How you doing man?”, to which I replied “I feel alive!”.
I speed up and take another turn fast. At this point, i’m about to cross the line and go into the other lane. My instincts kick in and I make a hard left, putting my foot out for leverage. The next thing I realize is my face on the pavement. The bike took a spill on its side, sliding across the steep yet empty street. My mind goes blank. All I can sense is fear, the same fear I’ve experienced when crashing on an ATV, a longboard, a bicycle. When I sit up, Garrett rushes over to me in a way that reminds me of my brother, who is an EMT. In a weird primitive way, I felt his concern for me as brothers on a battlefield. He holds the air around my ankle, as if performing magic. Then I notice it. My ankle is on, sideways. “It must have completely crushed under the bike’s weight when it fell”, I thought to myself.
In that moment, I was afraid of one thing: Garrett would pull on my ankle and put it back in place. I’ve seen enough movies, and with all that adrenaline pumping through my veins, I just imagined that’s what he would do. His hands were readily wrapped around my ankle.. But he didn’t yank on it at all. He just helped me across the street. On the way over, i felt my ankle pop back into place from the weight of gravity pulling on it. it made several successive clicking noises. When i sat on a rock across the street, all I could see was a big round purple mark on it. Aside from that, my ankle looked totally fine. Garrett wondered if it would be okay after all– and asked me if I could walk on it. I didn’t want to try though because I just knew it was broken from the few times I’ve broken bones before.
Luckily a Thai local was right there when it happened and called the ambulance. The ambulance came within five minutes. “You guys go to the waterfall, I’ll go to the hospital”, I said. “Just meet me at the hostel later”. We agreed, and then they put me on a stretcher in the back of a big white van. The EMT was very nice guy who spoke a little English. He tried really hard to speak with me. He asked me if I was in pain, and shockingly my answer was “No”. I’m not sure why I wasn’t — It just didn’t hurt. Maybe it was from shock, or maybe I have an incredible pain tolerance. I’m not entirely sure. But anyways, the stretcher started to roll on its four wheels in the back of the van. I slid left, I slid right. The EMT grabbed my stretcher to avoid me sliding all over the place. While this all happened, I stayed surprisingly calm during the whole thing. Then, I noticed something.
My left shin bone started to poke out of my skin. At that point, I was so afraid. I couldn’t move a muscle. I could hardly wait to get to the hospital to get my leg examined. The thought of my bones not being in place just freaked me out. When we arrived everyone asked me a million routine questions, all of which were asked in English, thank God. If this were Japan, i’m sure I’d be shit out of luck, but as it happens, Thai people can speak decent English even in facilities such as hospitals.
They placed me on my stretcher near an old man who was having eye surgery right there in front of me. I saw needles being injected into his eye lids as the doctor’s started to scrutinize their next move. I was deeply disturbed by this image. But it did give me perspective. “It’s just my ankle that’s broken, no big deal”, I thought to myself, trying to shrug off my fear.
The EMT stood with me for a long time. He was a sweet guy and I felt compassion from him. The nurse was super nice to me, too. I was surprisingly in a good mood. I think being in a good mood helped me to not think about my ankle. I just kept chatting with the people there. A young girl came in with scratch marks on her arm. She lied down next to me on a stretcher. She told me that she was trying to feed a stray cat, and it swiped her. We both laughed about it. I asked “do you like cats or dogs more”. She said she likes cats more, but maybe she will reconsider after this. The marks were deep and red. She asked about my leg, if I was okay. I didn’t feel like talking about it, so I said “Yeah, It’s fine… probably.”
A guy across from us started to go into cardiac arrest and the whole emergency staff rushed to him, and sealed off the space with a curtain. I had no idea what was going on with him, but he was moving sporadically and they had to use a tube to get all the foam coming out of his mouth. They then took me away from that horrible scene, thankfully, to get my X-rays done.
The X-ray people were like “Sorry, not good at English”. “It’s fine, It’s fine”, I said quite plainly. They put my foot on a blue rubber platform that didn’t cause me any pain at first. But then they placed in places it didn’t want to be placed. I felt a surge of pain rush up my body as they forced it left, then right. I just kept saying, “Ow ow ow ow ow ow! That hurts you know!”. Before I knew it, it was over.
After the X-rays, I went back to the emergency room and waited a good hour or two. I learned that it was broken in two places. They told me I would probably need surgery and that I should come back in a few days. The doctor who spoke quite good English casted me and made me feel comfortable despite how afraid I was. When I came back from the emergency room, another lady was bleeding profusely from her head. She looked extremely frightened. I didn’t want to look at her cause I think I would have made her feel more afraid. I didn’t know what to say, but if I could say anything, it be “hang in there”.
Everyone of the Thai people were so nice to me there, though. The last guy took me around in a wheel chair to help me pay for my fees. I got a lot of pain medication, crutches, and the X-rays all for 1,500 Baht, which is like 40 bucks, which I thought was a pretty good deal. My next task was getting back to the hostel. The guy who pushed me around in a wheel chair called a cab for me, and the lady who was with him payed my dues for me. I was really thankful to them. I waved them down with my crutches inside the back of a big red truck.
When i arrived back in my hostel, I just laid down in my bed. I couldn’t believe all that had happened to me that day. The Swedish girl from the day before was really kind to me and asked what happened to me. I don’t exactly remember what we talked about, but I just remember she was really easy to talk to and made me feel better by talking about her day. I just sat and listened to her talk about some Swedish brand that’s sold so cheaply in Thailand.
Garrett came back with a couple of tall boys and a smile on his face. We talked about the day and then I told him I might be heading back to Japan early cause I need surgery. There was a look of disappointment in his eyes. I’m sure I mirrored the same look. We both expressed our sadness about how we just started hanging out, and that our trip together was ending so soon. He said, “You’ll get better in no time” followed by a strange yet wonderful fact that was so relevant to both of us:
“Every seven years, your body’s cells are completely replaced. Every seven years you literally become a new person. This year I’m turning 35 and you’re turning 28. That means we will be new people when we see each other again in September.” I was taken back by his comment. It’s true, we have so much in common. We are both living outside of our usual comfort zone in Colorado. We are both simply looking for a deeper meaning in life (I believe). And of course we are both entering that seven year mark. Our paths just happened to cross in Thailand, which is great.
I felt that so many things were going wrong, but at the same time I had so many positive social interactions that day. Things started to come together in a way I never expected after that. The silver lining, I suppose you can say, started to reveal itself to me.