My Thailand adventures are probably the most wonderful and most painful times of my life. It was strange because when I was living in Thailand, all I ever wanted was to leave and when I finally did leave, it was with a lot of sadness and second-thoughts. One of the things I miss the most about Thailand was the house I lived in for four years while I was in Chiang Mai. It was the most beautiful house in my opinion – a little bungalow. It was only about 15 minutes away from all the good stuff- the Royal Project shop where they sell amazingly fresh veggies, and the coffee shop which served almond milk with freshly brewed coffee and crumbly butter scones and really tasty tuna melt sandwiches. I used to walk there on weekend mornings – buy fruits and veggies and have a relaxing cup of coffee with a good book or sometimes I take my drawing stuff there and drew things. Sometimes I’d splurge and buy myself a nice bouquet of flowers.

The entrance to my little secret hovel

The inside of my house was equally lovely – a big bamboo bed with the paintings I bought from all the countries I’ve been to (which I gave as gifts to my house owner and she framed them and out them in my room for me) and also a big collection of my paintings in frames (the courtesy of my house owner/friend). Outside of the house were flowers and plants – mostly orchids and ferns. The best part is my friend’s mum cleans my house daily. She changes my sheets too and that was heaven for a lazy person like myself. It was a perfect little setup. It was also very near to the papaya salad place. The only problem was that my house was located in a very secluded street. My house was the only house in the entire street and there were no streetlights because my friend and her mum’s argument was that keeping it all in the dark and making it resembled a jungle or a rather sinister looking bungalow in the dark was the way to ward off thieves. Not that Chiang Mai was dangerous but no one wants unwanted attention I guess. Needless to say of course – that was indeed not the case.

The place where a lot of drawing, eating and reading happened.

I was living alone in that house and only for a few times a year did my ex-boyfriend came to visit me from the UK. Most of the time, I didn’t mind living there alone – giant TV, private wifi and flowers and an occasionally one-eyed cat who visited me begrudgingly for food. There were also two street dogs Zig and Zag (whom we ended up adopting but became pregnant so they were living in another house when the robbery happened).

Duk and Dik (Zig and Zag)

I enjoyed the seclusion and quiet (I think I never really knew how alone I was or was aware how people might have been watching me – from the top of eucalyptus trees in their incognito gear and nigh-vision goggles because a woman carrying her load of laundry is ever so interesting). But I always had to plan my outings so I won’t stay out too late or else I would have to come back with a tuk-tuk or a Grab and every driver commented on how dark the street is and how scary it looks. They thought I lived in a hovel because the outside didn’t look much. They also have a tendency to ask if I lived alone and I always lied – there are people inside (I left the lights on sometimes) or that my boyfriend was waiting inside. Some drivers would laugh at my face because they knew I was fibbing but some would just be very kind and said – be safe. Most of my evenings were quiet and if they weren’t, it was because I was teaching my private classes. My close friends who dropped me off at my house were always against the house – you need to move. This is dangerous. I always shrugged it off.

Up until before the robbery, the only time I was scared out of my wits was when a giant spider decided to block my entry to the house by just being on my door with his or her black eyes glistening in the moonlight. I stood in the dark for nearly an hour with my phone trying to shoo it away with a broom before I could get into the house. I almost called my landlord. Almost! I used to buy a lot of lemongrass-infused sprays so I can prevent spiders from coming into my house. It was a constant struggle with the spiders because it was a jungle and they were big ones. That was my only big problem. I saw an occasional snake or two – one time I screamed and ran out of the house in my bra. And another time I had to escape from my bedroom window because a tokay gecko came into my house and caused chaos and turmoil and a lot of ugly screaming from me. It was like the size of a baby crocodile – they have beautiful speckles on their bodies but up close their loud mating call/ loud croak is rather alarming. They also move very fast so I ended up jumping from my bedroom window to escape it and called for my landlord who lived in the next lot which wasn’t far but it wasn’t near also. So as you can imagine my only trouble after living there for nearly four years had only been with Mother Nature and its little babies. Still after all that, it never occurred for me to move away. My friend’s mum was really kind and she enjoyed having me there. She sometimes give me food and we chatted.

On the night of the robbery, I had just finished one of my evening classes and my student had just left. So I was milling about the front gate. While locking it, I heard some rustling from the back so I assumed it was One-Eyed Willy so I walked back into my house to get some cat food for him and that was when I saw a man in my room through my window- all in black and he had a black ski mask on. I couldn’t believe my eyes so I looked inside again and a part of me thought – surely this is a hallucination, you’ve finally gone really crazy but another part of me was thinking – you need to back away and run out of the gate because he’s rummaging through your stuff and he’s wearing black gloves, he’s a thief caught in the act. So I tried to move my legs but I couldn’t do it immediately and when I could finally move, I accidentally kicked one of the flower pots and that’s when he turned around and saw me and he came running out of the house chasing me. I ran as fast as I could and at one point, I ran into the wall of my house – it hurt but I continued running or I tried as I screamed out loud knowing no one would come and help me. In the midst of screaming and running, I also noticed that he was holding what looked like a gun at me! A gun! When I finally got to the front gate, my legs gave in and I crouched down next to it.

As I sat there with him approaching me with his gun at my temple I thought how sad my life was – I hadn’t accomplished anything I said I wanted to and the worst part was my poor parents will have to learn about me horrid death in some newspaper and they won’t ever recover. I also wanted my ex-boyfriend there – we must bloody get married. I saw his face and I also had a painful realisation that we won’t be married and I’ll be dead (little did I know and honestly the things I thought about before I thought I was going to die were not very positive).

Anyway back to my reality, I looked up at the man and saw his eyes – I mentally tried to picture him without the mask and tried to remember his eyes but it was dark with only the gate lights on. My gaze fell from his eyes to his hands and that’s when I noticed he was fumbling with the gate lock with one of his hands. So I took out the key from my pockets and opened the gate for him and it took me awhile because my hands were slippery and shaking so much. All that time, his gun was pointed near my face and when I finally got it opened, he left and ran into the darkness. I closed my front gate and sat there trying to understand what had happened and how a few minutes ago, I thought I was dead but I’m not. But maybe I am? I ran back into my house to find my things rummaged but he hadn’t taken any of the electronic devices but just my wallet. I started calling my Thai friends for help and one of them called the police and my landlord/friend came over also. I texted my ex telling him what had happened and he couldn’t call back because he was at work but he texted back – are you serious? He tried his best to console me but by that time there were about 6 policemen in my tiny house pointing at things and taking pictures. They told me to take pictures with the table where my wallet was supposed to be. I refused because the place where my wallet was taken from and me posing pointing at the desk was stupid but one of them nearly yelled at me so I did.

Just when I thought the ordeal was over, a new fresh hell was starting. In Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, Burmese people work as maids and cleaners and for them to see a university professor – a girl living alone in a house was very dubious. More suspicious than a crime that was committed tonight. One of them took my hand and asked me to recount all the things that happened and by that time – one of my Thai friends had arrived so she was with me and interpreting to them although the policeman was able to speak English quite well. I remember making multiple calls to cancel my cards while the policeman milled about in my house going through my house as if it belonged to them. I also remember sitting down on my sofa and crying because they asked me many times to name the man because they believe it is someone I know. They kept asking me where’s your boyfriend and in my frenzy I remember saying I don’t have a boyfriend and I don’t know who could have done this. One of them explained how unique my living situation was and that it must have been someone who knew I lived alone in a secluded place. I don’t remember a lot after that except that they asked me to wear some more clothes (I was in my shorts and shirt) and that I needed to come down to the station with them to file a report. One of them asked me to ride with them and I declined and my friend drove me there. She was so helpful – I would be forever grateful to her.

At the police station, they asked me how much money was stolen – about 8000 baht I said- just my house rent. They asked me the brand of my wallet and I didn’t know so I ended up drawing it for them. I stayed there until quite late while they process the paperwork and finally one of them came back and told me – you should sleep at the hotel tonight. I called my best friend and my friend dropped me off at her place. She was waiting for me at her lobby and we hugged and it felt like home. I moved out the next day and never returned there – I miss it. I loved it there but I couldn’t go back there. I felt scared and every little sound made me jump. In fact, to this day, when I go running if I hear footsteps from behind, I either crouched down or have to catch myself before I do that. Many poor runners have been disturbed by my bizarre behaviour of mine and I do apologise to them but I just can’t help it. It’s trauma and it’s going to take some time to recover. It’s been more than three years but it’s not been so long since I can sleep in the dark.

The next day after the incident, my best friend and I went to Chiang Dao and got some R & R. Moving to a new place was probably one of the best things I did because I suddenly had a social life without a curfew imposed by darkness, spiders, creepy tuk-tuk drivers, random stray dogs and snakes. In other words, freedom. I’m not saying I’m glad it happened by all means but it opened my doors to new adventures and new realisations. Bad things happen but we can steer it to make it as positive as we can so not all is doom and gloom.

On the way to Chiang Dao

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