I have fond memories of a second-hand, ratty little bike, or what I called the silver pony. This was the vehicle that got me to work and dinner and back again during the months I spent in a small border-town in Thailand. It’s strange how memory has the ability to smooth out the edges and change how you felt about things back then. My time in Mae Sot was a jumbled mess of contradictions, loving the friends I made and hating some of the inconveniences. I missed my housemates, cafes and American brunches in Chiang Mai so much that I rode a bus for six hours, one -way, every other weekend to have some respite. But somehow, my time with the silver pony remains the same: a mixture of fear and pure freedom.
The reason that bikes are invaluable in many parts of Southeast Asia is that it’s too hot or rainy to walk everywhere. The street dogs are territorial and when night falls in a more rural community, the streets become eerily quiet. Just like you wouldn’t go down an abandoned side-street in the most metropolitan of places, you also need some wheels to get back to your guesthouse in this context. And so the silver pony was my constant companion, the one that stopped at the market for some coconut sticky rice or ginger tofu, the one I rode to a cafe on the weekends for some beans and naan bread and the one that saved me from the crazy dogs after watching David O Russell’s The Fighter.
Riding was also a great time to think, well other than when you’re not dodging cars or people. I still recall the feeling though, always without a helmet, in a skirt and with the flip flops and sunglasses. It’s the easiest way to be young again.
My husband counts it as a pure miracle that I made it out of Mae Sot without a single accident. I say it’s more miraculous that I took a bus up and down the side of a mountain every other weekend without incident. As I’ve told you before, I’m not the most coordinated of people and spatial problems seem to trip me up. Other than the wipe out in the Muslim quarter and accidentally running into the bottles of a man selling un-licensed liquor, it was pretty uneventful. Basically, I rode away each time sheepish and saying “sorry” over and over again.
Near the end of my time there I was counting down the days to leave. Not because I was not grateful for the learning opportunities and the amazing women I met and worked with. No, it’s just because I missed not having to be on edge. I longed to walk through Toronto, a place I know so well, without the slightest instinct to be aware of my surroundings. And so I left, and I remember distinctly telling my friend that there was not much that I would miss. She wisely told me that I would. It’s true you know, there was no other place where I did more yoga drenched in bug spray, ate more Banofee pie made of condensed milk (nothing has come close since), chatted with nice people, or read before falling asleep each night by nine o’clock. Perhaps it’s because within a year of leaving, I gave birth to my son and everything changed. It was an ending you know, to a time when I could just decide to leave for months at a time to a more precarious setting. With that new perspective I can safely say that it was a trip Mae Sot, and I thank you.