This is a temple of convenience. In the beginning, I use it for cooling breaks while partying at night. We buy half liter bottles of Sangsom. Before the bars and the Ping-Pong shows, we stand outside the shop hearing the people going in and out. We pass around the small glass bottle of brown liquid and force it between our lips. Our throats burn until we suck down a can of sugar cane Sprite. Even after the lemon lime bubbles the whiskey enflames the lining of our stomachs. During this ritual to save money, I take a lap around the store.
Walking into it is like walking into a palace only there’s no gold, no portraits of kings or queens, no clean-smelling carpets, no Corgis. In this place of royalty there’s tiny glass tinctures of Tiger Balm, cheese hot dogs, and squid flavored crisps. In the refrigerated section, there’s tiny brown bottles of Red Bull that are illegal in other countries because they contain amphetamines. Beads of moisture drip down my face, they gather at my back and onto my shirt. The gap between my breasts is a swamp and when I stick my hand between them and pull it out it smells yeasty. I gaze at the palace lights the stripes of green, orange, and red. The door automatically swings open for every customer. I hear the sound of two dings one higher and one lower. Ding-ding. Ding-ding. The sweat on my face and in my hair is immediately cooled from the only strong air-con in all of Asia. The air-con that belongs in a 7-Eleven.
I don’t buy anything, but look at the items I could buy. My red face feels the polar breeze and for a moment, I am free from the layers of humidity outside. After this short minute of peace, I walk back outside to my friends taking pulls of Thai Whiskey. I gulp another painful warm sip that falls out the corners of my mouth and onto my shirt. It tastes sometimes like American whiskey depending on the bottle, but most of the time it tastes like gasoline. My gums burn and I am relieved I won’t have to buy as many drinks at the bar, yet I still do.
The 7-Eleven air-con breaks always happen at the beginning of the night. The rest is spent dripping and dancing on some poor European fellow who is too drunk to notice I am melting. Eventually, he takes me back to his hostel for the night, where the air-con is almost always broken.
Bailey is getting homesick and I pretend I’m not. Months have gone by. There is less and less of drinking Sangsom outside 7-Eleven, and waking up the next day feeling like it ate away at our brains. We are actually living here. Everyone else we meet is passing through. We frequent the green and orange palace it is the only place where we feel we have options. It is the only place where we feel American, even though it is still far from it.
In Phuket there are no craft breweries, no IPAs, or large warehouses for hipsters to bring their dogs and drink. We want to embrace Thai culture, but we don’t want to work hard for it. On weeknights after dinner, we hop on our motorbikes and drive to the closest 7-Eleven. There are three acceptable choices of beer. The other unacceptable choice is Tiger beer. There is Leo (the Thai equivalent to Miller Lite), Singha (the sophisticated Thai brew), and Chang. It is rumored that Chang is not regulated by the government, and it is possible your bottle could range from 2%-15% ABV. We always choose Chang.
A green liter of Chang costs maybe a dollar and fifty cents, or 50 Baht (the green piece of paper with the King on it). The person working would ask Open? and pop open the bottle for me in the store. Outside every store is an orange ice box. Bailey and I take our bottles of mystery beer and sit on the ice box for an hour or two every night. Bailey gets a half liter because she doesn’t like how the full liters get warm towards the end. I get a liter because it’s easier for me to put the math together.
We talk about home and the differences between there and here. We talk about other teachers here. She is surprised and little annoyed they won’t share their weed with her. I tell her about the foreigners I meet, fall in love with, and say good-bye to. We drink one and a half liters and flirt with idea of buying pre-packaged Gyoza, our favorite 7-Eleven treat.
After a night of Chang and complaining about cultural differences, Bailey drops her keys down a drain. We panic not knowing how to retrieve them. I speak broken English and Thai to the person working to see if they have a large hook. We shine our phone flashlights into the hole determined to find a solution. One Thai man comes to help us then two then three. We watch as they retrieve her keys with a large wooden stick. Bailey and I find this both amusing and heart-warming, because this sort of situation wouldn’t happen in America.
Another night we sit next to each other on the ice box sipping shit wine coolers to try something different when an animal control vehicle pulls up at a restaurant across the street. We make bets on what type of animal they’re picking up. Bailey thinks it’s a King Cobra, they’ve been everywhere in Phuket the last couple months. I say it’s anything but a snake because if it is a snake I will throw up right then and there. They go to the kitchen in the back. About fifteen minutes go by, and they come back out with a large black bag and something inside it. It could be a snake, but it could also being something else. We settle on snake, and I decide to never go to that restaurant while I live here.
The longer we are here, the less homesick we become. The longer we are here, the less we make trips to sit on the ice box and drink Chang.