Sleepless in Samyan

Dec 27, 2023 | | By Noppawan Tongsook

Photo: Noppawan Tongsook

Samyan | 2,665 words

Translated from Thai by Wichayapat Piromsan

Is it going to rain this evening?

The question pops into my head at the end of the workday. Everyone is looking from their screens out the window, where they find grayness suffusing the sky. The atmosphere is soaked with gloom: we are not sure if it is caused by the approaching dusk or the imminent wet. My co-workers and I go outside. We look up and assess the clouds. But we can’t tell when it is going to rain.

In Bangkok, it usually rains in the evenings. So I always carry an umbrella.

“Where are you going now?” I always ask my co-workers when the workday is over, despite the dark clouds looming above, as if telling us to hurry back home.

“It’s raining soon. Bangkok in the rain is no fun,” warns one of them, and tells me just to head back to my dorm.

I give them a sheepish smile and wave goodbye. That colleague is right. The rain forces everyone to run for cover or head home before the situation exacerbates. What comes after the rain is wearisome: the puddles, the floods, the jam-packed public transportation, the shopping malls occupied-to-every inch with people. Everything is unpleasant.

Each of us holds different views of how life should be lived. Some coworkers just want to head back, wash the remnants of the tiring day off in the shower, and lie down. I think that cuts my day short, and the only thing I have to look forward to is another coming workday. This is why I insist on not heading back home. I don’t want the day to end before I even start living it.

I decide to go read at a cafe in Samyan that’s still open. Office work sucks my soul. But it can be retrieved by a good literary work. My odd assumption holds more water when I think back to the days I studied at Chulalongkorn University. Then, I studied rigorously literature, art, and history, but I never burned myself out to this level.

Since I entered the workforce, I often get stressed and lose my appetite. Daily rushes make me forget to eat. Looking for a meal companion has become a necessity. My close friends keep reminding me not to eat alone after they learned that I once felt lightheaded from not eating enough, and had to call in sick that day.

·   Are you in Bangkok?

·   Yes.

·   Let’s go grab a bite. I don’t have anyone to go with.

·   Sure.

Thaarn’s a close friend. She’s around two years younger than me and a second-year student going on her third at the Faculty of Arts. Our mutual penchant for literature and writing brought us together. We are both from the provinces, and we both live by ourselves in Bangkok: we understand each other more than anyone else.

Thaarn has returned to Bangkok after visiting her hometown during the school break. “Shall we get the crispy pork belly?” is the first thing she can think to ask me.

She means Krua Chula 48, where we often go for dinner. It’s on the way between the uni and our dorms. It’s not cheap, but still affordable enough for students without income like Thaarn and a new grad like me.

At the food joint we share our stories. I work at a start-up company in Block 28, a new property development project in Samyan. I am long-familiar with Samyan, but I can never get used to the area around my office. I miss my life at the university. Both the uni and the office are in the same neighborhood, but to me, each of them has very different vibes.

I often reminisce about my life at the university. And Thaarn always says she misses home.

I used to get sentimental whenever Thaarn said she wanted to go back to Krabi, her hometown. “If you go back, we can no longer grab a bite together.” Thaarn nodded. A regretful look crossed her face, though she insisted that it would be better to be home there.

I realized later that we both just yearn for places we feel we most belong, that nourish us. For me, it is the university, for Thaarn, her hometown.

A day after our conversation, school resumes. Thaarn enrolls in a writing course and is quite dedicated to it. She brings her writing assignment to me and asks if it makes any sense. In her writing, she recounts her life at different stages. I learn from the piece that Thaarn, just like me, used to try to escape from her hometown. She would seek out cram schools in a different province. She studied hard and passed the entrance examination of a high school in Bangkok. Then she got admitted to the university in the heart of the city. Every time Thaarn tried to stay further away from home, she had always succeeded. Now, though, she tries in vain to find a way back home. Except she can’t, because the fight to secure her future detains her in the city.

Her short writing touches my heart.

“It makes so much sense,” I tell her.

I am not sure her lecturer will think her work makes sense or understand Thaarn’s feelings as she has poured them out. But for me, her writing is profound. Because we both are the same: lonely people living in the capital.

Thaarn tries in vain to go home. And for me, it is impossible to travel back in time and be a uni student again.

I start to brood. How long will I be able to enjoy this city? What if this place, where I have tried so hard to earn a spot, is not a place for me?


“Let’s go to the park.”

Another workday is over. But today is different. The sky is cloudless, no sign of rain. The very first thing I crave after work is not a nice dinner or the softness of my bed. An office worker, toiling until she gets dry eyes and carrying around a bottle of eye drops as if it was an essential organ, a stressed-out woman with a perpetual headache: I crave the sight of greenery. After hustling on my keyboard in a fancy cafe near Block 28, I ask Robin, who is sitting with me, to join me on a quest to find a green space nearby.

Robin is from the same province as I am. We’ve been close since we became the only two students from our hometown to leave for Bangkok to attend high school. After we moved here we began finding time to meet, study, and do homework together.

“I want to go for a walk.”

“We can go for a walk in the park.”

“Why the park?”

“I want to see nature.”

“Is there any place else apart from CU Centenary Park?”

I go quiet for a long moment. I search my brain but can’t think of any other parks nearby.

“How about Lumpini Park?”

“That’s one more station away? Too far.”

“I cant think of anywhere. How about Romaneenart Park.”

“Where’s that?”

“SamYod station.”

“That’s three stations away!”

As Robin’s sentence finishes, I realize that a capital city like Bangkok doesn’t give me many options if I insist on sitting among trees, soaked in tranquility. There are no other places close by apart from CU Centenary Park. But Robin never says no to me. If I say I need nature, no matter how disinterested she is, Robin will go with me to the same park every time, and sit there until dusk falls and the sky turns black and is lit up by neon lights.

We look around the park, just taking it in. I have discovered that nature and people help alleviate my work stress. Plopping myself down on the soil and feeling the moisture on the grass, seeing children running around, dogs and cats brought here by their guardians to exercise… I have found another way to retrieve my soul: the sights and sounds of other lives.

It’s the construction nearby that makes me feel small.

“I hate it.”


“That construction site.” I nod to the south of the park. The building of new skyscrapers almost blocks the sky completely. “I hate it.”

Robin laughs. This must be the millionth time I have complained about how the world is changing in a way I don’t like.

After we have enough of the park, we decide to go for dinner at Samtan Mitrtown. There are some seats available in a Japanese restaurant on the ground floor. A mood of melancholy descends on me at the sight of a family having dinner together. For the hundredth time, I start to ponder my life choice. I have lived so far from home since high school, and my friends have had to become like my family.

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Photos: Noppawan Tongsook

I wave goodbye to Robin. Before we part ways, we instruct each other to give updates when we reach our dorms. “Let’s meet soon,” we say.

In the city, everything is within walking distance . Public transportation connects most neighborhoods, making it easy to meet up with friends at short notice. Only when we part ways to go to our respective abodes do I have time to contemplate. The city makes it easier to meet people, but soon enough, we all return to our isolated apartments. At heart, the city makes us even lonelier.


Sometimes, I thank Samyan Mitrtown shopping complex for never going to sleep.

I’m sitting near the bookstore on the second floor. This area is open 24 hours, so I can sit here and draw to wait out the rain without fearing that the mall will close. When I look outside, the rain is coming down, forming luminous lines as it reflects the lights. No one wants to walk in the rain, even with umbrellas. So I only see cars down at the intersection, plus lights from the temple across the street.

·   It’s pouring. Are you back?

It is a message from people from afar. My parents know the weather in Bangkok better than me who lives here. Dad always texts me when it’s about to rain. Despite living such a distance away, he follows the weather of Bangkok closely from a satellite weather map. He is like a weatherman who always notifies me of a storm.

But his warning comes too late this time.

·   I got rained-in at Samyan Mitrtown, waiting for it to stop.

·   It is going to rain for a long time. You should just walk back with the umbrella.

I read the text from my phone and then look outside again. The reflections of lights in the falling raindrops brings to mind meteor showers. Pedestrians are now giving up and unfurling their umbrellas to walk in the rain. But I stay put. I continue the commissioned drawing, even though the deadline is nowhere near. My worries are forming like a rain cloud.

I don’t want to walk in the rain but I don’t want my folks to be worried if I go back to my room even later than this.

When it’s almost 10 pm, and still raining, I check my phone again. There are some texts from Mom and Dad that I don’t want to read yet. But I know they both say the same thing: let me know when you’re back.

It’s normal for me to go back late, but I am afraid of this walk at night.

·   Are you free? Can we have a call?

·   I am busy.

It is so difficult, but I have to do it when going back late: I have to find someone to accompany me. I know no one will be willing to see me off to my door, but for my peace of mind, I need to ask someone to at least acknowledge my existence until I’m back safely. Walking alone on the big, quiet, dimly-lit street is just like hiding in the narrow alleys between dark, soundless, abandoned buildings. Anything can happen to us. There are many stories of criminality: robbery, assault, rape. The worst would be disappearance, without anyone ever knowing what has happened to us.

·   Let’s call.

·   Are you going back to your dorm? One sec.

After being rejected by a few friends, it’s Thaarn who comes through: she never declines my request to “accompany me” back to my dorm. Not once. It could be because Thaarn also lives on Rama IV Road, on the same side as I do, and she knows what it’s like at night: desolated, soundless, eerie.

Thaarn’s cheerful voice from my Bluetooth earbuds has become a sign that my walk back to the dorm has begun. We speak about our daily lives every time we call. Thaarn is always doing her homework while she is on the call. I walk past a giant apartment building and office buildings where all the lights are already off, leaving only the lights from ATMs. Office hours have been over for many hours, there are no office people swarming the streets like during the day. I walk past a dark, small alley and closed shops. I see one open shop, shining its lights far off in the distance.

“Should we grab a bite?”

“Sure”, Thaarn replies.

The lights from a convenience store make me at ease when there’s no other trace of human beings around. I often go into a convenience store, not only to grab some night snacks but also to appear before the store employees, to feel safer.

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Photos: Noppawan Tongsook

The last part of the way to my dorm is a long, straight alleyway called Soi Jomsomboon. I have walked this soi for three to four years, since there was still an empty plot of land enclosed by corrugated iron panels on the left side. Now there’s construction on that plot of land. On my right is a row of townhouses with shops on the lower floors and residential units on the upper floors. I learned at some point that a new condominium building will be put up on the empty plot of land. 

“So many condo buildings.”


“In my area there are like three or four of them. Their lights penetrate my curtains and wake me up at night.”

“That’s too bad.” Thaarn sighs. “It’s like we are forced to be awake with them.”

I think of Samyan Mitrtown on the other side of the street, that mall that never falls asleep, lights on all night. I think of the streets that are always lit by lights from convenience stores. Those lights make me feel safe, and the existence of the malls and shops lengthens the day, giving me more time to actually live after my whole day is occupied by work. But when it is time to fall asleep, the city lights also never go off. Thus, our time to rest is inevitably postponed.

I can all but see what it will be like in Soi Jomsomboon in the future. The silence and the darkness will be no more. People will come out all night. There will be no time to sleep.


That’s the elevator, and it’s the signal for Thaarn that the journey has almost come to an end. I insert and turn the key, and tell Thaarn I have arrived safely. Thaarn says goodbye and hangs up. It’s just me left in my small dorm. I sit on the floor and check the time. It’s almost 11 pm. I text Mom and Dad about my arrival, but it doesn’t get read or replied to. They must be asleep.

My lights go off when it’s time to sleep. The lights left-on are from the condo building. My life only began after work, and has now ended when I arrive at the dorm. This city allows me to live longer after the dusk settles in, but my time for resting is being eaten, bit by bit.

© Noppawan Tongsook

English translation © Wichayapat Piromsan

Commissioning editor: Natcha Sinkeree

About The Author

Noppawan Tongsook

Noppawan Tongsook is a recent graduate of the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University. She is passionate about languages and literature and tries to write everything but never publishes anything. She loves exploring the city and sketching its diverse architecture. Currently she works as a freelance content writer while attempting to be a part-time artist and a full-time happy person.

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