So I haven’t written a lot lately. I’ll blame it on lack on inspiration.
But I’m in Thailand, constantly experiencing new things, “living the life”, I could write about anything, right? The truth is, traveling doesn’t change who we are and how we react to things. That is built in to us. You could travel all over the world, meet people from all walks of life and do things you never thought you could ever do and at the end of the day you will still be the same person you were before. So when something happens we react how we always would and that is independent of whether we’re in an amazing place or not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bad things that happen to us. They happen, it sucks, you wallow, and you project unhappiness and anger on everything else in your life. I’m not someone who can easily separate things in my life so anything good, anything bad, anything at all is reflected across everything. The past few weeks have been unfortunate in that way. An unfortunate event mixed with culture shock is a surefire recipe for unhappiness if I ever heard of one. But things have definitely been on the up and up and I’m feeling more optimistic than ever about my experience here.
I just finished this book about a guy who gets approached to write a movie based on his memoir. He essentially rewrites his life and comes to the realization that life is a story that is written by you and only you. You are in charge of whether or not the main character does this or does that, feels this or feels that, loves this or hates that. You can make the character adventurous and have them go skydiving or climb Mt. Everest. You can make them shy and hide in the corner at an office party. You can make them a family person and have 10 kids in a house in the suburbs. You can make the character read books, watch movies, go to restaurants, meet people and travel the world because you’re the author and you control the story. But life is that way. Aren’t we the main characters in our own book? As cliché and cheesy and obvious as that may sound, it’s a simple realization that I often forget.
Why did I come to Thailand? To write a piece of the story I want my main character to live. And by coming to Thailand I, quite serendipitously (don’t you love that word?), have found myself in some amazing situations doing things I never would have done if I were in my “comfort zone”:
-I’ve learned muay thai from an ex-fighter who speaks no English and has 75% of his body covered in bamboo tattoos. I’ve been accepted ceremoniously as his student and performed a fight in front of an audience. More miraculously, I didn’t make a complete ass of myself while doing it and have learned that while practice may not make perfect, it gets you close enough.
-I’ve hiked to see an ancient temple glistening under sunlight flooding in from a hole at the top of cave and consequently seen the most beautiful sight I think I’ve ever seen.
-I’ve gotten a license to teach English to non-native speakers. That’s pretty cool!
-I’ve carried the sign for our school in a parade through the city on the King’s birthday (it was a great arm workout, whodda thunk?)
-I’ve tried food I’d never heard of and learned to speak words in a language I thought I’d never learn. I can now say hello, how are you, my name is, what is your name, eat food, would you like to eat food, rice, fried rice, spicy, delicious, it’s windy, and other somewhat useless terminology.
-I’ve rediscovered a truth I already knew but had forgotten about: Christmas, as most holidays, is extremely commercialized. In a country predominantly Buddhist, Thailand sure does love Christmas. Decorations are all over the stores, Christmas music plays over the loudspeakers at the mall (just as excessively and annoyingly as in America), and our school had a whole day devoted to Christmas just the other day when kids dressed as Santa Claus and made up dances to Jingle Bells.
Now I am as close as you can get to an atheist, with some reservations due to the great uncertainty of everything, but I love Christmas an obscene amount. So, I was naturally extremely pleased to see the abundance of Christmas spirit that exists in a country where it bears no religious significance. Yeah, the commercialization of it all is reason enough, but I’m quickly realizing that Thais just love to celebrate things. And when they celebrate, they go all out.
Yesterday every single one of my kids all wore red to school. Not just red, but full on Santa suits (complete with beards), bracelets with jingle bells on them, and red Dorothy-like shoes bought just for the occasion. Our school spent the whole week decorating with colorful tinsel, fake trees, and miniature Santas. Schools in America would never do this. We’re so worried about insulting other religions that we shy away from celebrating anything at all. Yes, Christmas holds religious significance for many, many people but as much as it has become a cultural day/month both in America and around the world, maybe we should take a cue from the Thais and seize the opportunity to celebrate things. I’m not necessarily just talking about Christmas here but in general. Thai people love to dress up to the nines, eat, get together with friends and family, decorate and plan elaborate performances for the littlest things. It makes these things, these events, seem not so little anymore and suddenly you’re not celebrating whatever it was you were supposed to be, you’re celebrating just being together and having fun. Now that’s something I can get behind.
…But back to the list.
-I’ve met amazing people from all over the world that I never would have met if I had stayed home or chosen a different path. Thais, obviously, but Americans and Brits and Australians who came here to do the same thing I am. They’re people I probably never would have met back home, but we have a shared solidarity in the difficult and trying nature of being in a foreign country for a long time. In my experience, yes people came here to travel, to learn about a new culture, to get away from something back home but even more so, I think people came here for reasons they can’t articulate. Maybe we realized that getting out of your comfort zone was in some way going to change something about our lives or coming here was going to open new doors that never would have opened if we had stayed home. I myself am still trying to figure this out and I can only imagine the farang I’m sharing this experience with are too.
-I’ve fallen permanently in love with about 50 kindergarteners who provide me with endless comic relief everyday. Example: Just the other day my kids wanted to sing Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes at the end of the lesson. We were singing and just as we were about to bend down to touch our knees, one kid throws up all over his hands. But he proceeded to continue with the dance like nothing had happened. Was it gross? Sure. Was it hilarious? Absolutely. I thought it was the perfect description of kindergarten: “I’m just having so much fun I have to throw up!”.
That is by no means an exhaustive list but it’s interesting to notice just how many opportunities and experiences emerge with a single decision.
So even in the seemingly never ending rough transition I’ve gone through in Thailand, I’ve come to realize that I can write any story I want for myself. This means I can change things at any time. I can rewrite my story as many times I want until I get it right. Now that’s pretty powerful.