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Having spent almost every minute of the last week together, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Tim wanted to go to the airport to see me off today. We became very attached to each other in such a short time and she cried last night when we began talking about how long it would be before I could return. Today, I was the one who began tearing up in the taxi the closer we got to the airport. She stayed with me in the terminal until I went through the last security checkpoint before my gate (I waited until the flight was called before going through). Our farewell felt like a scene out of a romantic movie and I don't remember ever feeling happier and sadder at the same time.

As Tim's English improved each day (and I became better at finding the right Thai phrases in my book), I began to learn more about this remarkable woman. She's 35 years old and originally from Lampoon in northern Thailand (near Chiang Mai). She was living in Patong last year and lost her family, her home, and many friends in the tsunami. I get the impression she was injured herself as well but she's very reluctant to talk about it at all. Sometimes, she'll be laughing one moment and the next a sad look will come over her and she'll say that she's all alone, that she lost everything when the tsunami came.

She now lives in a ramshackle tiny apartment in Katu which she shares with a lady-boy named Laa and a lesbian bartender named Juum, for which they pay 3000 baht (approx. $75) per month in rent. Tim works as a street vendor; she has one of those motorbikes with a gas burner on a sidecar to cook with. She specializes in frying fish. In addition to her roommates, Tim seems to have some good friends among Patong's street vendor community - people that look after her and were very happy to see her spending time with me.

In fact, we hung out with Laa and Juum last night in Patong - starting out in Juum's bar which is owned by an Englishman named Dave (we talked quite a bit as it had been a while since I'd talked to anyone who's native language is English; he told me what is needed to set up work in Thailand and said if I ever need any help here to give him a call). We had a big spread of Thai food to eat, including a number of very unappetizing-looking insects. I was especially grossed-out by the giant cicadas everyone was enjoying.

We then made our way to Bangla Road, where I met even more of Tim's friends. At one point, we were in a lady-boy bar and when they saw me taking a few photos of our little group they asked if I would take photos of them. Okay - it's very impolite in Thailand to refuse such a request - and suddenly they began flashing their fake boobs as I snapped the pictures. My favorite part of the night was at a different place when Tim began dancing on the bar.

Earlier in the day, we'd gone shopping at Big-C in Phuket Town. I'd been under the impression that this was going to be a fancy shopping mall but it turned out to be very similar to a Wal-Mart, right down to the smocks worn by the employees. They had some great prices (especially on electronic items), but I didn't buy anything for myself. I bought Tim a couple of English-language books which was kind of an involved process as the cashier removed price stickers and put plastic sleeves on the books. We had lunch in the food court where you first had to purchase payment coupons to pay for your meal. Then, it turns out that the drink stalls only accept cash! I had some kind of chicken on top of rice and chilies with some seafood soup and a pineapple shake.

Tim is a big fan of karaoke and loves to sing so we spent some time in a karaoke booth (I didn't attempt to sing). She also bought some karaoke VCD's which cost less than $2 each as well as a microphone with transmitter for about $15 and later plugged into the sound systems at a couple of the Patong bars so she could sing to me.

We also spent quite a bit of time hanging out at my hotel. Lek began charging us for things that had previously been complimentary (such as water and coffee - I paid for the breakfast-included deal when I booked the room; in fact, she tried to charge me 2500 baht for the hotel taxi even though airport transfer is included in the room price - Silvio stepped in on that one). Anyway, Tim let loose with a barrage of Thai when Lek complained I hadn't left a daily tip for her sister for cleaning the room (she actually hadn't cleaned it for several days and when she did it was never that great; also, it took four days of reminders and receiving different excuses each time to get my laundry back - I had to buy new shirts just so I could wear something clean). I think Tim let Lek know the quality of service was lacking and that any tips earned would be paid at the end of my stay; Lek avoided us after that.

We played quite a bit of pool and I've gotten much better. Today, I alternated between playing Tim and Juum (she and Laa had come down to my hotel to see me off as well), with most of the games being very close matches. Tim and I played one final game about an hour before my taxi was scheduled to arrive and I finally won!

Yesterday afternoon, we walked down the hill into Kamala so I could print my new airline reservation at an Internet cafe. We ended up having dinner at a Muslim roadside stand with me braving an ever-increasing level of spiceiness. When we began walking back, that's when we decided to take a tuk-tuk into Patong to celebrate my last night on Phuket. We came upon the beach right at sunset and I attempted a few more photos (all of my sunset photos here have been taken from moving tuk-tuk's; next time I'm here, I need to make an effort to view one from a beach or overlook).

My flight to Bangkok was fairly uneventful; this plane was only 45 minutes or so late. We did hit some turbulance on our final approach and it felt like we were on a bucking bronco for a few minutes (many of the people behind me laughed and cheered each time we made a severe up-and-down and sideways jump while I gripped the armrests and stared nervously out the window. This time, I found the air-conditioned causeway that connects the domestic and international terminals so I pushed my luggage cart along that corridor rather than braving the taxi touts outside.

I thought about sleeping in the airport since my reservation at Baiyoke Sky Hotel isn't until tomorrow. I tried to call Tim but got what I assumed was her voicemail (it was in Thai) and left a message. I walked around the mezzanine level for an hour or so; it had largely been under construction when I was here in 2003 and now has a large variety of restaurants and shops. I had a peanut buster parfait at Dairy Queen and decided to book a room at Ebina House; they charged me 400 baht less than last time but the room is rather dingy. Oh, well. I just wanted to get a good night's sleep and take a shower before checking into the fancy hotel. I'm already worrying about wearing t-shirts and shorts there, however.

As I was writing this entry, Tim called. I was surprised at how much I loved hearing her voice again after such a short time. We managed an almost 20-minute conversation, alternating between English and Thai (I fumbled to get my 'Thai For Travellers' book out of my bag; my pronunciation is getting better as Tim understood most of what I was trying to tell her).

Tomorrow, I'll go back to the airport and get my transfer to Baiyoke Sky Hotel. I'm sure they'll have a travel agent so I'll book a guided tour or two rather than make my own way to various sites. I'm kind of worn out from hustle-and-bustle and would rather not work so hard to get around Bangkok.

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