Hello my friends! It’s been a long and hectic three weeks since I last posted—filled with a multitude of endings and perhaps just as many beginnings. Final exams wrapped up at the end of February, I spent the first two weeks of March submitting grades, and I officially moved out of my apartment in Bangkaeo two weeks ago. I’ve been on the road ever since, and I am currently posted up in a café in Chiang Mai after an early morning flight from Bangkok. Man, does it feel good to be back here with nothing planned or scheduled—no TESOL classes to rush off to and no people to meet: I am being guided solely by my desire to experience this amazing city in my own time and on my own terms. It felt great to step off the plane and feel nothing but excitement (and dare I say confidence)—contrasted with the extreme sense of anxiety and unknowing that I experienced the first time around. I’ll only be here for the next four days before I head south, but being back here is monumental for more reasons than one. This week marks five and a half months since I moved to Thailand (don’t ask me how that happened), I’m back in the place where my journey began, and I’m doing it on my own.
Now this may not seem very monumental because, as most of you know, I moved to Thailand alone. In fact, I spent the majority of the last five months alone living and teaching in Bangkaeo—I woke up every morning in a studio apartment with one bed, one set of hangers and one toothbrush; I walked to school alone, I shopped in 7/11 alone, and—more times than not—I ate breakfast and lunch alone. Furthermore, I would be lying to say I never traveled on my own before moving to Thailand.
But here’s the difference: I’ve always had someone waiting for me on the other side (friends, family, my students, coworkers, a TESOL group), and this time… I didn’t. There was no one waiting to greet me when I stepped off the plane, there was no one calling my name as I searched for the airport shuttle, and there were no familiar faces at my hostel. This time, I decided to travel to Chiang Mai just because I wanted to and the fact that my friends weren’t available wasn’t going to be the thing that stopped me. As someone who excels at being independent and free, it feels wonderful to do whatever I want…eat whatever I want (and whenever I want)… wander aimlessly for as long as I want (or, ya know, sip at a cup of coffee for three hours at a time)… and just generally have no responsibilities to anything or anyone. As I sit here in this café after spending the better half of the day wandering Chiang Mai’s old city and exploring a seemingly-endless number of temples, I feel strong and courageous and empowered—perhaps more-so than I have the entire time I’ve been here. The past five and a half months have taught me just how capable I am, and I feel as if I am finally able to put my capability and abilities to use. What an amazing thing that is.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy company and companionship while traveling, however. When I initially began this post just before moving out of my apartment two weeks ago, I had come to the realization that, while I had moved to Thailand on my own, I was no longer alone. Thailand, while initially the most foreign of places, quickly (in the bigger picture) became home. From my peers in my TESOL course to my coworkers, from my Thai family to the people I met while traveling this beautiful country, I have never met so many like-minded, welcoming and all-around friendly people. I was able to surround myself with an abundance of people who were fun and kind-hearted and comforting, and I’ve created a multitude of relationships that promise to last a lifetime. Rarely did I go a day without an invitation to go out to dinner or to go shopping, and the weekends I spent on my own were slim to none. Similarly, I spent my weeks surrounded by smiling, good-natured students, and my coworkers paid me plenty of attention while I created lesson plans at my desk. There were certain days when I felt lonelier than others, sure—particularly when I struggled with the language barrier or when I had an especially rough day in the classroom—but never (bar the first week in Bangkaeo) did I feel as if I was so devastatingly alone. Never did I have a day where I couldn’t turn to someone to vent (whether they were in Thailand or at home), and never did I feel as if I needed to pack up and go home for the sake of feeling lonesome. For that, I have a lot of people to thank:
To Ellen and Tiff—thanks for being the first people I met in Thailand (!!!) and for sticking by my side the entire time—always a Facebook message or LINE chat away. (Ellen, thanks for being the roommate of a lifetime… especially during the initial jetlag stage.) Love, love, love.
To Stef, Cait and Dana—THANK YOU for taking me in after I spent my first week in Bangkaeo crying. I love you all and never would have made it without you.
To Amelia, Serene and Apple—thanks for being my (outrageously fun) Bangkok family. Love you guys.
To Ajarn Jiya and PK—you have the most wonderful family. Thank you for adopting me. Come visit me in America, please!
To each of my coworkers—thank goodness for you people. I wouldn’t have been half the teacher I was without your help.
To my students—thank you for all of your smiles and giggles and your ability to grow and learn. You’ve taught me more than I ever thought possible.
To the Thai teachers and gardeners who greeted me every single morning with a smile and a wai—THANK YOU for that.
To the cashiers at the 7/11 in Bangkaeo—thanks for not judging my snack addiction (at least not openly). (How wonderful it is to go from being greeted as farang in a muttered breath to being acknowledged with Hello, teacher.)
To everyone in my TESOL course—thank you for being wonderful, like-minded humans. I learned so much from each of you.
To my friends and family back home—Thank you for standing by my side, supporting me, offering tips and advice and for loving me through all of the ups and downs. Each of you allows me to push myself, to challenge myself and to grow in ways I never would have imagined, and I am so thankful for that. I have so much love in my heart for all of you.
Five and a half months ago, I moved to Thailand alone, and in three weeks, I will leave Thailand alone. I suppose in the end, we only really, truly have ourselves… but we also owe it to ourselves to cultivate relationships and enrich our lives with friends and love and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We owe it to ourselves to strike out alone, but we also owe it to ourselves to be alone in a healthy and balanced way. We owe it to ourselves to be alone, but we should never have to be devastatingly lonely. We owe it to ourselves to take risks, and we owe it to ourselves to have people to lean on.
I look forward to the next three weeks, filled (primarily) with solo travels, and I also look forward to those I connect with along the way. In three weeks, I’ll leave Thailand alone (and broke), but I will be all the richer. Thank you, Thailand, and everyone I’ve met along the way, for that.