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Losing a Grip in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Young, aggressive and confused in Thailand, this traveler decides he needs a knife.

Perhaps it was paranoia, maybe it was stress, but I felt threatened by all those staring eyes and unfamiliar faces. I decided I needed protection beyond that which my fists could provide and I went to the night market to find it. A man can only take so much abuse before he feels compelled to react.

I strolled down the densely overcrowded streets of Chiang Mai, watching all the fat tourists haggling with the little Thais, intent on buying that knockoff Nike shirt or beaded handbag that would definitively prove that they had been to Asia. I had my eyes on something more practical.

A gun would have been nice but was out of my price range and would have been a little difficult to explain to customs. I saw a shop filled with blades and walked in.

There were knives of every size and shape. There were pointed brass knuckles and numb-chucks; there were even brass knuckles with blades on the sides for good measure. I studied the swords on the walls for a minute, taking one in my hand as the salesman came up beside me.

“You wan buy?” he asked.

“Just looking,” I said, feeling the weight of the sword in my hand and touching the sharpened blade. Having a weapon like that made me feel powerful and I imagined someone insulting me again. I pictured their faces as I pulled out the sword.

“I give you good price,” he said, interrupting my musings.

“It’s too big” I replied.

“No too big!” he replied. “Look!”

He handed me an 8 inch hunting knife in a canvass case. It had a beautiful wooden handle with a strong, sharp blade. I ran it across my arm and it shaved the hair off cleanly. I checked to see if it would fit in my side pants pocket and it was perfect. I smiled now, having found my tool.

“How much?” I asked.

“Three hundred baht,” he said.

“Yeah, alright,” I said, paying the $7.50 in Thai baht and leaving the stall.

I discreetly tucked the knife into my side pocket and strolled down the street toward my hotel, feeling confident and secure. Crossing a dark street, a lady boy beckoned to me.

“You have boyfren?” he asked me smiling.

“No, but I have a knife,” I replied with a grin, unsheathing it and bringing it up to eye level. He glared in horror at the weapon, covering his mouth effeminately. I laughed and continued past through the neon lights and crowded streets. I walked for hours, looking for the next situation where someone would threaten or insult me. I constantly felt the knife, testing how fast I could grab it and use it, should the situation arise.

Eventually, I entered a bar near to my hotel. It was filling up as it was the last bar to close in that part of the city and only got busy in the early morning. I took a beer and began walking around, looking for a single girl to talk to. After downing my first drink in a matter of minutes, I grabbed another and headed for the bathroom to urinate.

While standing in the urinal, a man came up behind me and began rubbing my shoulders. Realizing this was normal in bars in Thailand, I refrained from planting my new knife in his gut and instead told him in English to go away. He understood me and I finished in peace. He demanded a tip afterward but I wasn’t in a giving mood.

“No, and don’t ever fucking touch me again,” I said rudely as I left the bathroom.

I continued my rounds, bumping shoulders with everyone that came in my way. A moment later, I felt a Thai man grab my pocket in an attempt to pickpocket me. I looked down on him for a moment as he stumbled around drunk and then threw him hard against the wall. I grabbed him by the throat with one hand and saw him squirming, trying to cry out. I grabbed the knife with my free hand and grinned back into his terrified face. The techno music and neon strobe lights pounded all around us creating a strange, wild atmosphere and I felt a psychotic urge to destroy the man” to cut him open and leave him to die.

For a moment we stood like this, this drunk, pathetic man’s life in my hands. I stared into his pleading eyes, oblivious to everything else around me, and content in my own newfound power. Finally, I let him go, throwing him to the ground in a heap. He stood up slowly and looked up to me calmly, as if it was all only a joke. He even smiled slightly, though I couldn’t imagine why. I turned and walked away, happy that no one had seemed to notice what had happened.

Across the bar, I noticed a Canadian guy who had insulted me in Bangkok and I wanted to confront him again. He was a tall, standing several inches above me but I had a secret weapon and wouldn’t be intimidated. I finished my beer and came around in front of him. I caught his eye as I neared him.

“Hey, man, you remember me?” I said smiling.

“Yeah, we said we’d kick your ass if we ever saw you again,” he replied with a cocky grin.

I felt into my pocket, contemplating how it would feel to jam the knife deep into his gut and twist. I smiled silently at the notion as I glared madly into his eyes. I thought about how his agonized screams would sound with the techno music background. The lights flickered around us, the two of us standing less than a meter apart. He had a beer bottle in his hand and I could see he was heavily drunk.

“I’m gonna kick your ass,” he repeated in a slurred voice.

I said nothing, staring back at him like a maniac, the lights flickering all around us. I saw him stumble slightly as he stepped toward me and I grabbed for my knife, fully intent on killing the man if it was necessary to preserve my honor. At that moment, a cute young Thai woman stepped in between us and greeted me.

“Hello!” she said with a smile.

Instantly, as if coming out of a trance, I let go of the knife and let it fall back into my pocket. I grabbed her arm lightly and walked off with her out of the bar. She came with me willingly.

Stepping out of the bar into the relative quiet and sanity of the street of Chiang Mai, I spoke with her for the first time.

“Hello,” I said, “You came just at the right time…”

“Yes, I saw you and wanted to talk with you, haha,” she said in very good English, smiling.

“Let’s go over there,” I said, pointing to some benches across the highway.

We crossed the busy highway and sat next to the moat that surrounds the old walled city. We stayed there talking for an hour before she told me that she needed to go home. I walked back to my hotel and lied in bed for hours that night, feeling the knife in my hand and imagining what would have happened if she hadn’t been there at that moment.

M.J. Lloyd

James Tramplefoot has been, and will continue to be on the road indefinitely, for years and probably decades.