Monday, April 9, 2012

I'M ALIVE!

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Three months and 9 days removed from home. Two days to 34. Woah. Who. Am. I?

I’ll start with stating the obvious… Asia is not Africa.

I dreamt of Africa forever before I went. It did not let me down. Asia confuses me. Bangkok is supposed to be chaotic, but it’s not. It’s simple. There are 7-11s on every corner… I always know where I can find shampoo and razors and water. There are ATMs every ten feet, a taxi every 12 feet, and four billion other white people. For all the complaining I did about being the only mzungu around, I have to say – I kinda wish there were a few less here. This is a city where the tourism and the Thai culture are so dependent on each other that they’ve molded into one and it seems impossible to really know what authentic Thai culture is.

I felt bonded to Africans before I met them. And while I’ve made friends with other tourists here, I have yet to connect with a Thai person - other than the woman who gave me a foot massage for 6 bucks the other day – I gave her a $2 tip, she hugged me – honestly, that’s the only connection I’ve had with a local here. This kind of tourism doesn’t interest me at all.

Bangkokian tourists have created their own sub-culture here. (Fair warning, I’m going to get critical and rude…) This is where all of the people who annoy me at home come to feel as though they’ve experienced some crazy travel adventure. They arrive and (I kid you not) have faux dread-lock extensions put in, they get tattoos and piercings and maybe hire a Thai girlfriend and walk away thinking “Woah, that was a very cultural experience.” I’m not sure if this behavior is better than not traveling or not. They make me angry. They know nothing about the Thai people or culture. They come here to be comfortable, drunk, buy cheap clothes, faux ray-bans and pretend that they have a clue about the world.

The paragraph above implies that I know something about the world or that I believe I’m a “better tourist.” I guess it’s true. Or maybe it’s just what I value in comparison to what the Bangkok Tourists value.

For the past few weeks I’ve been doing some heavy thinking about what I’ve learned since I’ve been away from home. The lessons are countless. One day I will try to compose a comprehensive list. But for now, I will say that I have learned that I get the greatest joy out of truly connecting with locals- seeing the underbelly of a place. My time in the village in Uganda and the short time I spent in a village at the base of Kilimanjaro returned the greatest rewards for me. I walk away from Africa feeling like I’ve given it my best shot at connecting in the short three months I was there. I feel gratified, fulfilled – and of course, cannot wait to get back. I’m happy to say that having spent as much time on the continent as I’ve spent, it doesn’t feel so unattainable as it once had. Surely I’ll be back soon.

So here I am in Thailand feeling pretty disconnected to anything Thai (even the food! What is wrong with me!?!?!) I left Bangkok on Monday evening for Phuket, the most touristy destination in Thailand (so I’ve read). Tourists here are different, they come here for holiday – a proper vacation. While it’s not really the way I do anything (I’m no good at sitting on a beach, never have been… I’m always either swimming, surfing, playing Frisbee, or searching for a trapeze to play on…) I like the people here. I’ve also realized that I can rent a scooter (yes, dangerous, blah, blah blah…) and explore this island on my own terms.

Since I left home almost 3.5 months ago, it has been rare for me to feel pure joy – simplicity -the kind I used to get from climbing Baldy. That’s not to say I’m not happy, I’m just constantly processing experiences and trying to make sense of everything that’s happening. Sometimes it feels like I’m on Star Tours at Disneyland and the experiences fly by me like the stars do as my aircraft blows from one planet to the other. I can safely say that riding a scooter on this island, finding the little nooks and crannies, places without tourists, searching for the most secluded spots, finding beautiful blue ocean where it never should be, seeing thunderstorms roll in from the nighttime distance, feeling the air on my face, negotiating the twists and turns and traffic of the island (including driving on the LEFT side of the street!!!!) have provided me the greatest sense of freedom and the greatest peace since I left home. Pure Joy. I may stay here longer than I anticipated, book myself into the cheapest hostel I can find, and rent a scooter for another week. Just cause it makes me so happy… and well, cause I can. (LUCKY ME!!!!)

I am learning to love Asia (Thailand, at least). It hasn’t come instantly like Africa did. But then, I didn’t spend years dreaming about it like I did Africa. I’m proud of myself for giving Asia a chance even though she was off the intended path, and has been a challenge for me.

Because I was unable to obtain a visa for India, I have a LOT of time here (two to three months). I’m looking to spend a month traveling in Thailand (two weeks, already gone… WHERE DID IT GO???), a month living in a hill tribe up north (outside of Chiang Rai) teaching English in a primary school again, and a month traveling in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. At that point, I’ll probably travel down to Indonesia and then on to Australia where I will meet Lyndall (LYNDALL!! I LOVE YOU!!!) and Christie (CHRISTIE!!! I LOVE YOU!!!) and hopefully Janine (PLEEEEEAAASSEEE!!! JANINE!!! MAKE IT TO OZ!!!!) and probably explode with happiness as the four of us make our way around the coolest parts of the country, camping, laughing, and reminiscing along the way. (All of these wonderful women are Peaks Peeps – and My Peeps. I’ve only known them for 3.5 months, but they will certainly be part of my life forever.)

Details and pics on what I did in Bangkok and Phuket to come (again, mostly for me).

Love to you all – hope you had a fantastic Easter! (I completely forgot about it. This is a Buddhist country… Kinda nice!!!)

PS  - Willy Edgar Worm lives on – he got a free trip to Bangkok. He doesn’t bug me, he lives in the same place in my arm. When I get to Australia, I promise to have him checked out. Hoping to come home “worm-free!”

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