Girl from Detroit turns 21 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. April 29, 1988


Orchids in Bangkok, 1988. Elizabeth Pilar

I turned 21 years old in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was April 29th, 1988.

That morning I hopped on the back of a scooter behind a Thai girl who lived in the States. Our destination was a farm out in the countryside on the outskirts of the jungle. She wanted to see her friends and away we went celebrating my birthday.

My new friend was born in Thailand yet spoke perfect English. I met her on a bridge the night before when she zoomed up on her scooter seeing me as a damsel in distress. Which I was, but not really. I already had figured out the rickshaw driver was going the wrong way. I told him to stop and jumped off the cart. It was then my new friend pulled up, assessed the situation, and whisked me off. It was thrilling.

The balmy night air scented with a delicate fragrance and puffs of diesel cooled my body in its wind. My heroine maneuvered her scooter around bright lights and honking vehicles, all the while telling me about how she went to college in the States and was In Thailand on holiday, and making plans for the next day before dropping me off at the youth hostel .

On the anniversary of my birth, we arrived at a house made of wood slates in the shade of banana trees in the middle of a bright green meadow. After introductions were made, the lady of the house led me into her barn. She sat down on a stool and milked a cow into a glass. It was warm when she handed it to me. And creamy, smooth. Totally yummy.

Soon I found myself in a circle of my friend’s friends. We sat on straw bales and wooden stools. The cow continued to stand silent. These peers of mine spoke enough English for simple conversation. That was lucky because the only Thai I knew was “thank you,” “how much is it?” and “where’s the bathroom.” When they found out it was my birthday, one young man took off his necklace, he gave it to me as a gift. His gesture was without thought. My new treasure was a plastic heart-shaped charm with an ivory dragon in the center.

My escort had come to see her friends and shoot up heroin. I didn’t know that was her plan. I should have guessed, though, I was in the Golden Triangle, the center of world for opium and heroin. I declined their offer which they totally respected. The afternoon became a mellow lounging in the sunlight streaming in.

As the long twilight began, they decided to take me disco-dancing. We piled into a pick-up truck and headed into the nearby village-town. On the side of the dirt road was a solitary cement block of a building. The door was open; the place was booming with pop music. Inside people were crowded together on a black and white checkered floor. In front of me was a row of young women dressed in cheerleader outfits dancing in choreographed moves. I had to join them and boggled on into some sort of an avant-garde reality, it was my 21st birthday, after-all.


That little story was once in my memoir, A Blue Moon in China, but I was convinced to edit it out.


A Blue Moon in China is the true story of the two months I traveled through China in 1988. I went there alone with $400 to my name. There are 18 black and white photographs in my book that I took while I was there. I did an index, and made recommended reading, movies, and music from the book lists. I hand-drew the map. Library Journal‘s verdict was that it’s a “nice addition to women’s studies readings as it chronicles the kind of travel undertaken with a tattered map and the recommendations of students met on trains.” I like that they think that. I wrote as true to my journal as possible. I did give myself permission to honor that fact I am a woman in my forties. Feel free to contact me:  My website has lots of pictures:
You can Buy My Book Here.


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Filed under A Blue Moon in China, Birthday, Short Story, Southeast Asia, Women, Writers

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