Welcome to the first Southeast Asia Episode, in which I experience a hot and humid climate, and celebrate the Beloved chili pepper. This is my second trip to Thailand, and so far my favorite. I’m visiting Leo Fernekes, who has been my friend for as long as I have had the backpack I travel with: 30 years. Both will get their own ‘blog topic soon.
Leo and I had a few Skype conversations in the days before my flight. For example,
Me: Should I bring my own motorcycle jacket? My prescription snorkel goggles?
Leo: No, nothing, pack light! You don’t need anything here!
Then there was the April Foolsday Joke I played on him, saying I had cancelled my flight. And then the conversation in which I asked where his building was, and how to get there from the airport. I had an address, but enough travel experience to know that might not mean anything in a city like Bangkok: Do the numbers go in order? Is your postal address the actual address?
Leo: Call me when you land, it’s simple but complicated.
Me: That’s not fun enough. Give me directions from the nearest subway stop.
The challenge of finding my way, especially in a big city subway system, is one of the thrills of city travel, and makes up for my dislike of big cites, especially smog-strangled, o-zone depleted, air conditioner-infested Bangkok.
Leo’s directions were precise without the many details that can lead to confusion. He told me which train lines to take in which direction, and which door to exit the station from (very important, because this determines which side of the street you’re on on when you hit the surface, so you don’t have to cross the street aboveground. (And avoiding a street crossing in this place can save a life!) Next, he sent me down a side street with no name next to the battery store and the clinic called MD. By the time I reached the sidestreet and the battery store I was beaming. There was the shiny showroom of Sensacell, as promised, next to a grungy backstage of an auto body shop and a silkscreening/poster printing business. The entrance to the Sensacell showroom was behind a wall of lush tropical container plants that framed the entrance. Glass doors, hard-edges, the showroom quiet and lit by magical programmed LED arrays on table-tops, on the floor, hanging on walls. Quietly dancing unobserved in the cool hard space.
Sensacell is an invention of Leo’s in which a large flat panel–a wall, a table, or a floor–interacts with you in pre-programmed ways: You wave your hands, you dance, you poke. It responds in patterns of colored lights.
Greeting each other is no different than catching Leo at work in Berkeley in 1983 or New York in 1990 or 2010. This kind of friendship always picks us up where it left us off, regardless of time and distance and we are off to have pepper-infused lunch and coffee in the neighborhood.