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Throughout Asia, this is a standard greeting called to friends or strangers who are passing by. In the Thai language it's a simple little phrase - bai nai, literally "go which".

I found this question a bit disconcerting at first. I didn't know what an appropriate response was, and the truth seemed rather too personal an admission to tell someone who was, often, a complete stranger. People who don't speak English often feel this way when asked "How are you?", and just as they quickly learn to say "Fine thanks" I soon learned some stock answers that were all people really wanted to hear: bai teeo going out; dern len walking (which I'd previously picked up in Indonesian for the same purposes: jalan jalan); kin khao going to eat (rice); and my favourite, bai toora which loosely translates as I've got some business to attend to.

“Where are you going?” he asks me. His voice has a hint of skepticism.

“Just over that hill there,” I reply, indicating the dusty hill looming in the horizon, “I should make it by sunset.” He eyes strain under the late morning sun, squinting through his gleaming silver eyeglasses. His black suit coat is slung over his shoulder, but he still looks uncomfortable in his bleached white shirt and black pleated trousers. He turns back to me and tries to digest what he sees. Before him stands a vagabond, covered in sweaty, dusty apparel, who has clearly been on the road for a while, yet doesn’t have a sign of fatigue or lifelessness in his body, whose eyes blaze along with the late morning sun.

I can feel him watching me, and I stand silent, waiting.

He notices the roadworn pack hanging from my shoulders. “What’s in your bag there?”

“A few books, a journal. Sort of my travelling library. Actually, I have more in here than it looks.” I take off the pack and pull out a few weary copies of my treasured volumes, dog-eared and endlessly inscribed. “It hardly seems like I’m carrying anything. They’re not much of a burden.”

“What books do you have?”

“Just a few that I’ve come across along the way, like a photograph of someone you love that you keep in your wallet to remind you,” I say, as I hand him a few copies. “I just carry some words to keep me going.”

“Have you been walking long?” he inquires, flipping through the books.

All my life.”

“Do you get tired?”

“It wears on me sometimes. But I keep walking. The pain passes.”

He pauses for a moment. He has been turning over a question in his head. The air undulates subtly as we stand there, facing each other. He stares at the road beneath my feet, at my ragged sneakers painted by the dust from the road, then directly at my eyes.

Why?,” he asks succinctly, without explanation. None is needed.

“This is my journey. This is my life. I walk this road, I will come to that hill over there, and my journey will be done. This is what I can take with me, everything else I leave behind. As long as my heart beats, my feet will move and my eyes will see this beauty that surrounds us. As long as I have breath, my mouth will form the echo of what I see and the world will hear my piece.”

I stop and watch him. He is startled by the sudden passion of my speech, the instant shimmering of my eyes.

“Actually, I’m glad that you stopped me,” I continue, “I’ve wanted someone to talk to for quite some time now.”

His ear caught something that interested him. His eyes look back with an intensity that seemed to be hiding before. “Do you mind if I walk with you for a while?” he says. It is more of a declaration than a request.

“Please do,” I reply, “Walk this road for a ways. There’s quite a lot that I want to say.”

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