I never used to believe in things like chronic bad luck – I didn’t think coincidental intangibles could be chronic. But beliefs can change just as quickly as luck can, and even faster when you (and by you, I mean me) wake up one day realising you’re unluckier than the number thirteen.
For me, this realisation occurred not long after I arrived in the good old Land of Smiles. Before that, I’d retained a pretty luck-neutral existence. But for whatever reason, my three months in Chiang Mai – while also some of the most fun – were the most comically (in retrospect, of course) unlucky months of my life.
Maybe I was asking for it, like the ditsy doll who always dies first in a horror movie, or perhaps God was just having a laugh (I knew he would get me back for not believing in him), but regardless of the abstruse whys behind retribution, all I know is, like many a story, it all started late one night…
Robbery on Rat Corner
As it goes in Thailand, I found myself stumbling down a poorly lit side street at 4 a.m. With about as much grace as a drunken chicken, I half skipped, half lurched past the landmarks of my neighbourhood – a hazardous waste receptacle filled with old yoghurt cups, the gay massage parlour and, of course, rat corner (I don’t think I need to explain that nickname).
Don’t stop believinggg… A motorbike whizzed by as I sang along to the Foreigner song stuck in my head. Hold on to that feelinggg! I couldn’t help feeling elated. “What a great night,” I remember thinking. “I love my new friends. I love my new job. I love Chiang Mai!” The engine roaring up fast behind me didn’t register in time. “Boy, was my mom ever wrong, wait ’til I tell – ” WHAM!
Time slow motioned as the motorbike hit me. I let out a warbled screech. My arms flailed. One leg kicked the humid air hoping to find ground. With ninja-like dexterity, the motor biker yanked hard on the purse hanging across my torso. Pain like an amplified rug-burn tore across my neck as the strap snapped in two. I fell to the ground, splayed out like a beached starfish. The man was gone before I even had a chance to sit up.
You got robbed?! How did this happen? Were you drinking? Why were you out so late? Who were you with?
After attempting to satiate the barrage of questions my mother fired at me via email (my iPhone was probably being sold somewhere along the Ping by that point), the fresh flame of fear the robbery sparked kept me holed up in my guesthouse for the next few nights – the key word here being, “few.”
Shootings and Sticky Bugs
My friend Becky finally coaxed me out of hiding one night. I had mulled over wearing a money belt, but decided against it; Canadians can’t be known for wearing beavertail hats, snowshoes and fanny packs (we all know money belts are just fanny packs in disguise).
Thankfully, my new purse turned out to be unsnatchable and the evening went by smoothly. Rewind. That is the perfect world version of this story. The evening would have gone by smoothly…if three people didn’t end up getting shot.
I had told Becky to wait at the bar while I helped a friend get a tuk-tuk on the main road. It was only a few minutes before I was padding down the dark soi leading back to the bar, but something wasn’t right. In the distance, I could hear screaming. A low, white car with black windows suddenly came careening around the corner and ripped past me. Apprehension gnawed at my gut like a hungry dog on a bone. I broke into a run.
Rounding the corner, people were scattered everywhere. Most were streaming out of the bar, fleeing in all directions. Others stood stock-still. A girl in a white dress lay on the ground in a fit of strangled sobs. Someone grabbed me from behind. I wheeled around, sagging with relief at the sight of Becky.
“What the hell is going on?” I shrieked.
“We have to go, right now! Someone’s been shot!”
We hopped on a motorbike and fled the scene just as the police arrived. Later I learned that a crazed, drunken dental school student had opened fire at the bar off Nimmanhaemin, in a freak incident that left one of the three victims unable to walk.
After that, I grew increasingly concerned that I was destined to die. So, I decided my best option was to outrun my fate and leave town for a few days. I headed up to Chiang Rai, where I spent a lovely weekend motor biking, marketing and revelling in the safety of solitude. Relieved nothing of catastrophic proportions had happened, I returned to work on Monday with a new spring in my step. My coworkers asked me how my weekend was, and if it involved bullets and burglars. I proudly reported that it had been a delightfully uneventful three days. That was true, until my legs started itching.
It was then that I began to notice some unattractive red streaks on my thighs. I ignored them for a while, but they grew longer, itchier and began to purple like a fat man who’s held his breath for too long. Being a chronic Googler, I assumed the worst. Gangrene. Flesh-eating disease. Thigh cancer (okay, I don’t think that actually exists, but you know what I mean).
“God, you’re bad luck!” my boss exclaimed, ensuring she kept a safe five feet away from my unsightly limbs. “Get to the doctor, pronto!”
The doctor informed me that I did not have flesh-eating disease, and the streaks were merely remnants of poison from “sticky bugs” that had burrowed into my skin over the weekend. Oh.
“No worry!” she said, handing me a tube of ointment as I sat there, thoroughly horrified. “Scar will go away…probably.” (Just for the record, it’s been two months and the scars are still there.)
It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over
The good news about all this? Whether it’s little pigs, French hens or in my case, bad luck, things tend to come in threes. That meant it was all finally over – bad luck would reign no more. Or so I thought.
In light of the auspiciousness I was certain would come my way, some friends and I went out to celebrate. At the close of the night, we found ourselves at the infamous Zoe in Yellow. Since it was, as usual, packed to the brim with Brits looking for a lay and sweaty young ladies with mojitos slopped down their Chang shirts, we headed to the less riotous bar across the soi for a drink.
We were dancing away, when at the peak of a well-orchestrated albeit rather inebriated body roll, I felt a sharp shard of glass pierce my toe. Looking down to assess the damage, I saw not a shard of glass, but a fat, black scorpion looking quite pleased with itself. Of course.
The next day, I sat in glum silence amidst my chattering co-workers.
“I’ve lived here 30 years and have never even seen a scorpion!”
“I had a little one in my office once.”
“I’ve only seen one at the zoo.”
“They don’t have scorpions at the zoo.”
“Oh. Maybe I just saw it on the internet then…”
“You really have the worst luck!”
I’ll admit, I was getting tired of being introduced at parties as “the unluckiest intern ever,” but like that girl who sleeps with too many guys in high school, I had a reputation to uphold. And uphold I did; a couple weeks later, an old Thai man who reeked of wet cigarettes, stale alcohol and urine groped me right in middle of the Old City.
After that, I gave up.
“I am going to die out here. I swear. I am actually going to die,” I said sadly, looking into the depths of a half-empty beer.
“You are being ridiculous. You are not going to die!” Becky argued.
“I am too. I’m not going to make it!”
“Nobody’s dying, not on my watch! Come on, let’s grab another drink.”
Three large Leos, a bottle of whisky, and some other drinks I can’t remember swallowing later, we were flying down the road in a tuk-tuk, destined for home. I was squeezed into the half seat in the front beside the driver, while Becky and company rode in the back.
I can’t recall what we were talking about, or how fast we were going when we took the corner. All I remember is leaning back to brace myself as we flew around the bend. Suddenly, I was airborne. Then, I wasn’t. I hit the road hard, my skin skidding across the pavement. A couple rolls later, I came to a stop. My head throbbed. Blood oozed from gashes on my elbows, spine and feet. Disoriented, I blinked a couple of times, contemplating crying. I vomited instead.
I dragged my bruised hip, whiplash and some more scars to add to the collection into my boss’s office after my visit to the hospital.
“We all think it might do you some good to visit a temple…so Neung here has volunteered to take you.”
I turned around to see our photographer waiting in the doorway for me.
“Well, we don’t want you dying on us now, do we? Your mother is going to kill me if one more thing happens to you!”
With that, Citylife saw me off with wary waves to Wat Chai Mongkol. There, I prayed. I’m not sure if prayers are like wishes, but just in case, I won’t reveal any details, other than that I apologised to Buddha for not visiting more often. I lit incense, patted the temple dogs, and set a turtle and a couple of little birds free (apparently, “saving” the animals is a bit of a scam, but hey, short-lived freedom is better than none at all, I suppose).
Who knows if my merit was well-received or not, but after my visit to the temple, things started changing. A tuk-tuk driver gave me a free ride home one night because he said he was more concerned about my safety then the money. The next afternoon, I was wandering around a Muslim neighbourhood and stumbled upon five free lunches. (No joke. Unbeknownst to me, it was the Muslim New Year, and I spent the next hour being chauffeured from food stand to food stand where I ate to my stomach’s content.)
And the chok dii didn’t stop there. That weekend, a random Thai man showed me his penis by Nawarat Bridge. Not only are phallic objects supposedly good luck in Thailand, but I also deemed it lucky that he decided to simply show it to me, and not slap or poke me with it.
As unpleasant as unfortunate things are, my three months of bad luck have put things into perspective for me. I have learned how to live without an iPhone (I’d like to see you try it!). I have learned that this is just all part of the adventure, and to not let fear overrun my life. And perhaps most importantly, I have learned what all travellers should: we are not invincible. I gained some serious perspective on reality, and, as Gloria Gaynor would be happy to point out, I did survive. Perhaps all my misfortunes were meant simply to remind me of these facts. If not, well, at least I’ve got a good story to tell.