Photo (above) provided  by Chi tzufai

Alang was definitely one of a kind. By the time you read this article, I have lost track to  his whereabouts.

I first met him in Bangkok during the summer.  It was a strange night, although no stranger than every other night in the city.

Khao San Rd. is famous for its backpacker nightlife scene. The hippy district’s bustling atmosphere rocked the area, like the Thai noodles being stirred on the sidewalk, while the backpackers were the delicious sauce that gave it the most exotic flavor.

I was squatting by the roadside, stuffing my mouth with Thai noodles as I admired Bangkok’s night scenery. Then, I spotted a dark-skinned man also squatting by the roadside, smoking while holding a large bottle of beer, with a frown on his face. I just observed him, not really caring if he noticed, when suddenly, he turned his head, and our eyes landed on each other. I could only grin sheepishly while nodding my head.   “Are the noodles delicious? I’ve been eating them a lot lately,” he awkwardly asked. “This guy is definitely a backpacker,” I thought, so we started chatting, asking each other what our names were and where we came from. “Taiwan,” I said. “China,” he answered.  It was really nice to speak Chinese with someone in a foreign land.

I asked him why he was frowning, and he laughed awkwardly. He explained that someone stole his backpack at the Chatuchak market during his second day in Bangkok. Moreover, he originally planned to leave Asia to see his girlfriend in Europe, but things soured between them and they broke up. “…And that’s it. When a guy does not feel like going anywhere, he might as well just drink his sorrows away in the street!”

Alone and depressed, he immediately suggested that we check out a famous night market with pork liver soup. I looked at my watch, and saw that it was already 10:00 P.M. On one hand, I was worried about the time. On the other hand, I was also worried about my new friend. He saw the hesitation on my face, and continued to press me. “What’s the hold up? You got other plans? What do you have to lose?”

That night and for the next several days, I made more friends in Bangkok. As Alang and I explored the different streets, districts, and suburbs, I gradually got to know him. His carefree nature carefully masked his sadness and depression.  At day, he was as bright as the sun, while at night, he was gloomy and silent. He would talk about his old job and past experiences, but each story sounded so fantastic, that a part of me wondered if he was making it up. His unrestrained and easy-going personality made him look like an optimistic hero from a Wuxia novel.

On our last day together, we met up for drinks and to say our goodbyes.

“So, where are you heading off to next?”

  “Syria.” He raised his head and stared at me with his eyes sparkling.

“What! No way. Are you serious?”

“I want to fight. Besides, my life is meaningless right now. As long as I live, I might as well fight for justice.”

“You can’t go right now! The border is restricted, not to mention the problems with getting a visa. Don’t be reckless!”

Alang carelessly talked about his plans—how he would enter from Turkey, get in touch with Turkish forces, and proceed to the warzone.

“Don’t be stupid! Think of your loved ones, your family…” I scolded him like the old lady next door.

“Please! I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it! I’ve got it all under control” He sighed, and it was clear that he was not going to talk about it any further. It looked like there really was no convincing him, so I just told him to contact me if he needed something on the way.

As soon as I returned to Taiwan, I received a text from him in Arabic. He said it was a reply from the YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, or People’s Protection Units, a group first formed by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. Since 2014, they have been fighting ISIS alongside other Syrian military forces and asked me to translate it for him. It mostly talked about his date of arrival, where he should meet up with the group, and information pertaining to confirmation with the leadership. After translating it, I once again attempted to convince him to reconsider.

Several days later, he sent me photos of the refugee base at the border, his headquarters, weapons, and sweet refugee children.


photo provided by Chi tzufai

“Don’t worry. I’m doing great! All of us have each other’s backs. Even though I’m the only Asian here and my English isn’t that good, we’re all like brothers through life and death. I’ll never regret this. I’d rather live like a man than a dog. Every day, I feel more alive than ever, but at the same time, that I could die at any time, which honestly makes me feel that I truly exist and that my life has meaning.”

“The road I chose may be bumpy and twisted, but I’ll climb it even on my knees. Cheers to Justice! A few days from now, I’ll go to the frontline with my comrades. If I don’t send you any more photos, light a candle for me.”

Translated by Emanuel La Vina

About the Author

Chi tzufai graduated with a B.A. in Arabic Studies and has been discovering all the wonders of the Arab World.  She also traveled in Australia via Queensland’s government-supported “Best Internship Plan. She speaks English, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese.

Copyright © 2017 Commonwealth Magazine All Rights Reserved

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