It was my first time travelling alone, and what better place to do it than the always revolving bicycle wheel that is Amsterdam?
I arrived downtown during a late afternoon and dropped my bags at the hotel in a hurry, such a hurry that I did not even think to change into shoes and ventured out to those old streets with my most reliable pair of thongs. By the time I started exploring, the night fell among the canals plummeting the temperature and almost freezing my foreign toes. This gathered a few unimpressed looks from the long-legged locals.
But the warmth of the coffee shops invited you to stop for a while and charge up before going out there and explore the many more corners holding promises of new adventures.
A church bell could be heard every hour or so which helped explorers like me get situated amid the old four-storied pink and brown buildings. The simple architecture in which downtown is organized seems designed to have foreigners get lost in its wondrous streets, where green and red neons hold promises of around-the-clock fun.
The old cobblestone streets are filled with life as other tourists like me take in the facades or stop to take pictures on the push-bike-filled bridges that connect this modern-day adult amusement park.
It was the first time going back to my hometown after having migrated to the opposite side of the world for a while, and the jet lag gave everything a sense of surrealness, like going back in time.
As my sister drove me from the airport I was both amazed and consumed by the all engulfing rhythm of the capital city, the honking of horns and the mad merging of faded, run-down hatchbacks.
It was interesting admiring some of the pigeon infested eighteenth-century architecture with fresh eyes, the same eyes that had commuted past these same facades not that long ago without stopping to admire them.
I was standing in a supermarket queue pondering about all this, fresh off the plane, when an old lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me in Portuguese:
“Are you sleeping or what? Get a move on!”
This struck me in two ways: in the two years that I had spent abroad, never had I been approached with such brutal honesty. The wrinkles on her forehead told the story of many queue arguments. It also made me realize how in busy cities like this, the traffic must merge and life must go on.
I arrived in Bangkok after an overnight bus ride from Ko Pha Ngan, the bus driver urging me to wake up in frenetic Thai. I barely had time to check I had my backpack on me as the bus closed its revolving doors and steamed ahead, a cloud of diesel for breakfast.
I looked around and found myself under a bridge, supposedly a bus station where several cab drivers offered me a ride. Nothing like good old peer pressure in a foreign language to help you make decisions in the morning.
I tried explaining one of the drivers my hotel was directly downtown, to which he replied “Downtown too big.” I decided to jump on my phone to try and find a landmark, the closest one being the city’s main Muay Thai stadium.
By the time we agreed on a destination we must have been driving for a good ten minutes, but the driver seemed to have decided on where to take me.
The ride was an experience of civilized chaos, black Toyotas working together as one, as I sat baffled at the sight of clouds of pollution evaporating from the city.
He dropped me off in a Muay Thai complex as far from downtown as possible. I paid the fare, left the Toyota and found myself under another bridge.