Thai Moments—Meeting Aree

I met Aree in the small restaurant she owned in Bangkok. I had just hopped out of a yellow-green taxi and rushed through the restaurant's doors, a burst of hot air trailing me. I smelled like sweat. Traveling for 23 hours will do that to you, and my deodorant was lost somewhere in the recesses of my carry on.

The restaurant wasn't what I expected when I booked the small room above it. I imagined a traditional Thai restaurant that served plates of beige noodles, swirled like a tangle of ribbons and topped with crushed peanuts. Instead, the menu boasted a spaghetti special. It didn't matter, though. I had arrived safely and found my home for the next two days. I plopped my green backpack on the ground and took a seat at one of the restaurant's empty tables. I exhaled.

I first saw Aree as she shuffled out from behind a swinging door, wearing a smile that dimpled her cheeks. She gestured hello. Her English was better than my Thai, but barely. Like me, Aree had lived her whole life in the country where she was born. Bangkok was where she went to college, met her husband, raised her son and, at some point, opened a small Italian restaurant several blocks from Khao San Road. The modest restaurant served dishes I guessed weren't part of her dinners growing up—white pasta, red sauces, bread yellow with butter. But then, I don't really know much about her upbringing other than Bangkok's streets—which to me seemed so confusing and congested—were home to her. She navigated them with precision, nimbly weaving among stubborn swarms of tourists. She led us to food carts run by her friends. At one, a small-ish woman shoved a handful of fried fish into a clear bag. She smiled, speared a piece of fish with a wooden stick and handed it to me. The bag felt warm in my hands. I gave her 70 baht.

Aree watched me nibble at her friend's food. She smiled, her eyes becoming little crescent moons. She smiled like that often. Aree was in her 60s with jet black hair that gathered at her shoulders. Her speech was quick. Her stride the same. She and I spent our time in Bangkok walking the hot streets, stopping only at temples and food carts. We talked as best we could, gesturing, smiling and sometimes just sitting. Bangkok's lively streets filled the silence.

My days with Aree were colorful, exciting. She taught me to pray to Buddha, instructing me to fold my hands and bow three times. She introduced me to a monk, who blessed a delicate piece of string before tying it to my wrist. She took me to a Thai ice cream truck, where we bought a multicolored cone. We ended our time at her friend's restaurant, just across the street from Wat Pho. I watched tuk tuks zip past the same yellow-green taxis that brought me to Aree's doorstep. I sipped a Thai iced tea and smiled.