Oscar Wilde once wrote, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” Writer Kelly McKenzie is taking things a step further, diving head first into her own mother’s rather sensational travel diaries. She’s writing a new book about their adventures together, when the two frequently travelled and traversed Asia, sourcing antiques for their Vancouver-based gallery. Retracing their steps from Seoul to Tokyo, Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, Kelly McKenzie is spinning a new tale inspired by a rush of old memories. Giving Culture Stories a little sneak peak, here she shares one of her favourite stories.
If pressed, my personal choice for favourite travelling companion would have to be my now 93-year-old mother. Blessed with a charismatic personality, she thrives on adventure. Better yet, when encountering the inevitable travel hiccups, she refuses to be thwarted.
Never was this more evident than on our 1988 trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
After several successful and exhausting days of thrashing about the humid Thai countryside, sourcing out unique and “sell worthy” items for our Vancouver-based Asian antiques and collectibles shop, the two of us decided to indulge in a day of respite. A three-hour tour to a local orchid farm aboard an air-conditioned coach seemed the perfect ticket.
Everyone was paired up with the exception of a short, sunburned, bespectacled chap who smiled broadly as we chose the coach seats directly across from him. Ole from Oslo. Travelling solo, he confessed a longing to “hang out with some kindred spirits.” It was his first trip outside Europe and he was feeling rather overwhelmed by the cultural differences he’d experienced this far.
Armed with a deep respect for the Thai people that she’d gained over our three previous trips, Mom made it her mission to educate him. Upon discovering that we were staying at the same hotel, she insisted he join us for dinner. He accepted effusively and suggested we meet up first for a restorative dip in the outdoor pool. Beyond limp from the pressing humidity, we eagerly returned to our rooms to change.
When I emerged from the bathroom in my bathing suit, I was surprised to find Mom still in her crinkled cotton dress.
“Damn it, Kel. I’ve left my suit in Bangkok. Do you have an extra?”
No. Just my stalwart standard one piece.
Not one to accept defeat, she had high hopes for the hotel gift shop. I grabbed our towels and agreed to meet her down at the pool deck.
Once there, I morphed into a flabby, chaste beluga. The hotel guests were the antithesis of the modestly dressed locals we’d grown accustomed to. Svelte golden bodies abounded; the majority of the gents in Speedos and the gals in teensy bikini tops and dental floss thongs. Ole had snagged the last three available lounging chairs and positioned them in the sunniest location, far from the doorway. With all eyes upon me as I waddled to my chair, I couldn’t wait to hide out in the mercifully empty pool.
Ole appeared blissfully unaware. “I’ll stay and show your mother where we’re sitting, shall I?”
In that moment, a shocked hush fell over the pool deck.
An ensemble of truly unimaginable ingenuity graced the doorway. With the gift shop failing to stock her size, Mom had made do. Her hair tucked neatly into a puffy plastic shower cap, she’d fashioned a suit out of her serviceable white underwire bra and a pair of the gift shop’s most voluminous men’s trunks. As this confident vision preened its way slowly towards us my insecurities evaporated.
Ole’s reaction was slightly different. Horrified at her abrupt departure from the soothing comfort of kindred spirits, he fled to his room, never to resurface.
Bless you, Mom. You’re one in a million, especially whilst travelling.
All images are courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand