Friday, July 6, 2012

Bangkok Redux


I am in Bangkok again, if only for the moment. It’s a strange sort of layover, I’m here to pick up some things that one can only find cheaply in Asia, like crystals and tee-shirts. For this the best venue is the Weekend Market however, as the name implies, it only happens on the weekends, so for the last three days I have been killing time, going back to old haunts and eating Pad Thai. This is the last leg of the journey and it is here that I have wondered more keenly than any other place if I will indeed loose my mind before I get home.

Fiz teaching ESL in Thailand for a hot second last summer.
I am staying with J, a girl who we met and studied with around this time last year as we prepared for our TEFOL course. It’s a strange sort of full circle come around. I was curious to come back to Bangkok, the impetuous for all of this travel… or should I say the excuse, and see what had happened since we parted ways with the idea of teaching English.

Any doubt that I may have had about not staying in Bangkok and not teaching has been safely and soundly put to bed. We made the right decision. I think, looking around that we would have been beyond miserable here. J’s apartment is nice, clean and white, and sleek and new, in one of those Bangkok high-rise complexes that sees to be sprouting up around the city like weeds, but it feels lifeless, like the dorms in college.

“ I think it’s haunted” J told me the other night, “ I have nightmares here.” Right on cue I had my own nightmare that night and woke up in a sweaty panic only to find that without internet in the apartment and with the panicked need to call home that comes from night terrors I had to run across the street and steal wi-fi from a closed café in the middle of the night. I think she may be right.

If nothing else it’s haunted by loneliness. It seems that, at least according to my friend’s accounts, the only ex-pats in Thailand can fall into three broad categories. Other English teachers, who are transient by nature, always coming and going to other countries or home, leaving those here in a constant state of social flux; well to do business men in their 30’s and 40’s who are sent here by their multi-nationals; and fat old American men who come here to score themselves a pretty young Thai wife, hardly the making of life-long friendships.
This wasn't fun.

Certainly traveling all over creation without any sort of plan has had it’s drawbacks and perhaps, in hindsight turning back sooner would have been the better choice. However I would not trade our myriad adventures across Asia for sterile months in Bangkok teaching ungrateful children.

It’s a good thing to know though and had I not come back through this city I may have always wondered what our life would have been like in Bangkok.

It’s full circle in another way too. Bangkok was the beginning of the trip. By this I don’t mean it was our first stop but rather something a bit more metaphorical. For those long term readers who kept up with us a few years ago on our last trip you will remember that Bangkok was our first stop. For those new readers let me fill you in a bit.

When I graduated college Fiz and I spent three months traveling Thailand and India. I had always wanted to see South East Asia and so to Thailand it was. That first trip here was magic, unencumbered by the accumulated cynicism that comes with too much time on the road we were delighted at almost every turn. The food was bad, the weather was hot, but there were days of joy spent tooling around on a motorbike and seeing ancient ruins. Thailand was a blast and we, like most people who come here for the first time as new back-packers, loved it.

When we decided to teach English abroad we first thought of Istanbul, but after a rainy honeymoon there it was difficult to imagine spending a whole year in that beautiful gloomy city. We remembered the warm weather and the coconut shakes and the little Dr.Fish and thought, hell, why not Bangkok? So it was with the suppose intent of coming and living here that we first embarked upon this trip.

Now I don’t think either of us really expected to teach English for a year, I mean… have you seen our pictures? Not exactly English teacher material, but it gave us somewhere to start and something to tell our concerned family. We had a plan, we assured them, though in reality we both suspected that we would ditch it once we were on the ground.

Ditch it we did, and glad we did now, at least mostly. Bangkok and the ESL experience was not for us.

So it’s kind of suiting to be back here now at the end of this trip, this Round the World adventure. It gives a sense of closure, a bookmark to a period of life which I feel ready to close.

J and I sat on the street eating Tom Ka Gai and talking about our last year. “People get stuck” she said, “ they get stuck in Bangkok.”  I agreed, “ People get stuck traveling” I told her. I have seen many people who just never went home. “ I don’t want to get stuck.” I said.

In the last four years I have traveled far more than many people ever get the chance to and I feel blessed to have had those experiences. I have quit some jobs and turned down others, not signed leases and shied away from community commitments in order to free myself up to be on the road. It has been, for the most part, worth it.

But I am ready now for a change. I recently turned 25 and as I look at where there last 5 years have brought me and think about where I would like to be in the next five I can see that I need to commit to something more than travel, something more permanent than transience.

When you are a student you have to learn in order to do when you start living in the world you have to do in order to learn. I have crossed that line. In order to build the life I want I need to settle myself so that I can do. Do more than just backpack, do more than just always be on the move.

It’s a scary thing for a person like me, to put down roots, and it’s been a hard road to realize that it’s what I want. Travel has always been a love of mine, and I do not intend to forgo it completely, I’m sure I will travel again, but this sort of travel, this open-ended drifting has lost it’s appeal.

 I know now that the dreams I have will not build themselves, I need to start getting my hands dirty. I need to take the risk of staying in the same place, of failing, of picking myself up, I need to risk working on my life.

I guess as long as I was moving, traveling, I felt like I was ‘doing something’. I wonder now if it was nothing more than a glorified procrastination, a childish running away. I have learned however something invaluable. I have learned where I want to be. I want to be home.

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