I met Sarah in a bar at one of the cheapest hostels in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city. I’d been travelling for a year and a half and was staying at the old share house (Baan Falang, which loosely translates to Foreigner House in English) that I’d stayed previously while taking a few weeks off from the craziness and dramas of the islands in the gulf.
I’d helped out a bit at the hostel, named The Overstay – working on the website and helping tune the sound system, but this time around I was just there hanging out and enjoying a few cold Leo beers with Suzi, and Austrian girl who was also living at Baan Falang and was studying at Thammasat University on exchange. Suzi had invited a few friends from the exchange programme to show them that there was life outside of Khao San Road, of which one of them was an Australian.
Now as a Kiwi, it’s my patriotic duty to take the piss out of any Australian I come across, especially when drinking is involved. So, over a few beers I told everyone about how this girl was descended from convicts, and she talked about how all Kiwis were sheep fuckers – standard practice when Kiwi’s and Aussies meet up and joke over a few beers, something which confuses travellers from other countries – all in good fun and part of the sibling rivalry that goes on between our countries.
It was at this stage that Suzi’s American friend butts into the conversation and says “But you don’t look like you are Australian” to me. Drunk as I probably was, I had no idea of where this particular conversation would take me and how it would completely and utterly change my life. I spent some time chatting to this girl, who seemed completely different to anyone else I’d met on my travels (or anywhere else) – this conversation covering her interest in Buddhism, teasing her about her being a vegan, arguing about Atheism, talking about Thai politics and eventually human trafficking. Somehow I got to talking about an article I’d read about human trafficking and slave trading that was going on in Southern Thailand and we ended up talking for hours. I found out that this girl was volunteering at an NGO in one of Bangkok’s red light districts helping to teach english to Thai, Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian sex workers. At the end of this conversation we exchanged numbers and I’d promised to take her for a bit of a tour around the parts of Bangkok that aren’t in the tour guides. This American’s name was Sarah. It was September 4th, 2013.
We eventually ended up doing our little tour of Bangkok, starting off by finding Sarah a copy of the Nancy Chandler Map of Bangkok (and essential for anyone spending a while in the city), exploring the seedier parts of the city before ending up at a favorite drinking hole in Thonglor – Brew Bar. At this stage I find out that Sarah isn’t really a beer drinking – I open the menu and there is a page titled “Beer for Ladies who say they don’t drink beer”, and Sarah orders a belgian fruit beer, while I grab an IPA. She enjoys it so we decide to order food and some more drinks. I go up to the bar and order a beer that I hadn’t tried before – a Deschutes Brewery Summer Ale from Bend, Oregon. I take the beer back to the table and Sarah completely freaks out, I start to think I’ve committed some horrible faux pas, before she pulls out her cell phone and shows me a photo. The photo is of the exact same river thats on the label of the beer bottle, and is right next to her mothers home in Terrebonne, Oregon. Around 30 minutes later a group sits down next to us including a Singaporean guy wearing a black T Shirt, with Deschutes Brewery – Bend Oregon on it. This was all too much of a coincidence and at that stage Sarah even wondered if it was a set up, but it wasn’t.
We spent the next few days sending text messages back and forth and communicating via Line, a popular messaging app used by many in Thailand and South East Asia, and I asked one of my best mates back in New Zealand, Vitaly – for advice on this particular girl who seemed to be really different. The next few weeks were spent with us checking out parts of Bangkok and getting to know each other before one evening where a group of our friends were partying in a bar on Khao San, Happy Bar where one of my mates was over from New Zealand. I won’t go into much detail, but the night ended with the two of us going home in a Tuk Tuk, and the next day was spent shopping in Ikea for her place and my place back in Koh Phangan. It didn’t take much convincing for me to join her and Suzi three days later on a quick flight down to Krabi, which was our first trip as a couple, hanging out on a deserted beach and relaxing together.
Eventually I had to go back to the islands, and the next couple of months were spent with each of us making the 9 hour bus trip and 2 hour ferry ride to visit each other and hang out on the island. In November I left Thailand for a brief trip to Malaysia to play paintball for the Tahiti team and DJ at the Paintball World Cup Asia, where I got a phone call that things had gone downhill with a venture I was involved in down on Phangan and it would be best for me to return to Bangkok – Sarah flew me back up, and by that stage Sarah had moved into my old share house, Baan Falang on the floor above where I used to live, which is how we came to move in together.
Her dad came over in December, and we got to know each other travelling to Cambodia together and exploring Phnom Penh and Siem Reap as well as spending new years down in Koh Tao, where I hope I made something of a good impression on him.
The next few months were spent in Bangkok, where we tried to live as normal of a live as possible while the protests were going on around us. Sarah’s classes were cancelled and it became impossible to visit parts of the city as our local bridge was occupied and taxi’s would refuse to travel to our area. We waited for Sarah to finish her Semester’s studies before booking a flight to New Zealand. We’d planned to celebrate my 30th birthday with family and friends, as well as spending time working at Asylum Paintball, whom I’d been working for remotely since November. Two day’s before we were scheduled to leave the country the Army overthrew the government in a military Coup. TV Stations ceased broadcast, the internet was censored, and the country was put under martial law. We spend the day destroying Sarah’s school books and study notes, which could potentially breach the law – which doesn’t look too favorably on the accurate teaching of history and politics in the Land of Smiles. Since then some of her professors have gone into hiding or exile fearing long prison sentences under laws that are designed to silence dissent. Fearing a repeat of the 2006 occupations of the airports, we booked a hotel by the airport and decided to get out of the city and wait it out in Bang Na. We got on our flight from Thailand to Malaysia, and it felt great to be back in a country where we had a comparatively higher level of freedom of speech before boarding our plane to Auckland. The next three months were a blast, working at Asylum Paintball and watching it grow then touring around New Zealand on my days off to do as much touristy stuff as possible before we headed off to explore the USA.
Fast forward a few months. It’s now September, 2014 and we are driving up to Terrebonne Oregon to visit Sarah’s mum. We spend a few days hanging out there, walking about and generally getting over Jet Lag, before going for a walk to Smith Rock. We try to get to the top, but I’m tired, and struggling with the dryness and heat, so we go back down to the base and decide to hike along the river. We get to a bend in the river and I have to tie my shoelaces.
It’s September 4th, 2014. Exactly one year to the day since we first met in that Bar in Bangkok, but Sarah hasn’t realised this. We are standing right next to the river that’s on the Label of that beer we drank together at Brew Bar in Thonglor on our first date. That’s where we got engaged, one year exactly since we met, at the exact location that caused such a weird conversation in Bangkok – and no, it wasn’t even planned, it just sort of happened spontaneously. Because, here’s the kicker, I did plan to propose to her that day on the summit of Smith Rock, but I hadn’t clicked onto the significance of the date or location at that stage. At least not until we were right by the river, then it all made sense.
We got home and told our family and friends, and started planning our wedding, which was to be in Malta in July, 2015.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Fast forward a little longer and Sarah’s cousin from Australia came to stay and travel around the states for a bit. We’d just dealt with a massive family health crisis, and stress levels had hit their peak, fuck it we thought. Lets get married now.
So off we went to Las Vegas. We hired a car, or at least attempted to – when we got to the hire place our car wasn’t there, so after a, ahem… heated discussion we got the car we’d ordered before relaxing for the night. Sarah had a class in the next morning and it wasn’t until around 1pm the next day that we’d get to hit the road. We decided we’d go the “traditional” Las Vegas route and get married in the Little White Chapel. Yes, that one, the one that all the celebrities got married in. So the night before we got married, I call up and book the wedding and manage to get a time slot where we can get a limo and a wedding – at 10:30pm. This might sound weird for those who have planned something traditional, but seriously – once you’ve gone through all the insane things we’ve experienced travelling organising something like this at the last minute is just normal.
It’s around 1pm on the day of our wedding and our friends are running late, meaning we don’t get to set off until around an hour after we’d plan to leave for the 5 hour drive from San Diego to Las Vegas. As we are driving I have a strange feeling not to stop at the shops in Primm for last minute shopping or anywhere for dinner – I still don’t know why, but that decision pretty much saved the wedding!
We drive through the desert, the sun sets and it’s dark. We’ve still go to get to the Clark County office and fill in our marriage licence paperwork. We get there at around 7pm and go to fill out the paperwork. $60 in cash (they don’t accept credit cards) and we have our licence to get married. Time’s running out and we’ve got to get to our hotel.
We eventually get to the hotel that we’d booked two rooms, The Stratosphere. Only there’s a problem, only one of our bookings is in their system and the prick on the front desk is trying to charge us an extra $175 per night on top of what we’ve already paid in advance to secure a room that we’ve already booked and paid for. I try my best not to lose my shit and get arrested on the night of my wedding and keep it together before we eventually get in front of the manager. I put on my best angry Kiwi face and explain that in all the years I’ve dealed with hotels I’ve never had this type of service, before we eventually get the rooms we’ve paid for – without so much of an apology, in fact we are left with a warning that if our story doesn’t check out we’ll be billed for the rooms. So much for service with a smile.
We rush to our rooms, and get ready. I literally crack open a bottle of beer in the shower for my pre drinks. Luckily we are all ready in time and rush to the front door to wait for the limousine. The driver picks us up, and is an absolute legend, getting us to the Little White Chapel on time. We are met by the staff from the chapel who give us a tour of the venue, and tell us stories about the history of the place before going over our vows. We’d expected the place to be tacky, being in the old part of the Vegas strip and well, being a place that does drive through weddings. Instead they give us an amazing, fun and memorable stress free wedding. As we are taking photos, a few mates from New Zealand who have been holidaying in Vegas turn up and join in without wedding party, they can’t believe what we are doing.
We go through the ceremony, have some laughs and before we know it – we are married. We go back to the hotel and plan some drinks, except a friend of ours, who is on exchange from Thailand and was in the same classroom as Sarah, is under 21, so we can’t drink. We go to a 50s themed diner for some dinner, and the waitresses are singing to us for the wedding. The whole thing is surreal and by the time we are finished we are completely shattered and need some sleep.
We are still planning our family wedding in Malta next year, but now we have a lot of paperwork to fill out. I’m waiting for my paperwork to be sorted out for the states, which should hopefully be sorted in a month or two. It’s been a crazy year and life throws you some real curve balls, but if I hadn’t have gone travelling – I wouldn’t be sitting here married to the most amazing person I’ve ever met, in a country that I never planned to visit, let alone go through the immigration process.