Category Archives: thailand

where the heart is

The other night I sat in a bungalow having drinks with three groups of good friends—who I met in three different countries—and I realized that I was the only common link between them. I have made so many lasting friends, brought so many people together, had so many adventures, shared space and stories over and over again. It makes the thought of going back to normal life seem almost impossible.

I’m coming up on eight months of travel, and my heart is full of these people that I met, that I love, that I’m always heartbroken to say goodbye to.

I am leaving Asia, actually following through on my original plan of heading back to Europe, and then starting to think about jobs and homes and stability for the fall—even toying with the idea of maybe going back into a classroom.

He tells me that my heart is not in Houston and that I won’t last long there, but I’m not so sure.

I started this trip to find meaning, and so far what I’ve found is that everything worthwhile comes from people. I’ve had mediocre days on gorgeous beaches and hilarious nights in cockroach infested hostels. I’ve found more spirituality in human kindness than in temples or churches and more culture in tiny wooden shacks than in expensive museums.

I’ve found that my heart is with these people, wherever they are. My heart is spread across the globe, and my home can be wherever I drop my backpack for the night.

So maybe my home will end up back where I started, but I’m contradicting myself now: I don’t think that’s a step backward. Even if nothing else has changed, as I look at the people around me, I know that I have.
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practical, emotional

One day on the Camino we talked about the top five qualities we would want in a significant other. Among the usual mix, practical comes up on my list of necessities. To balance me out, I explain.

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I have a standing offer to teach at the perfect school in Houston starting in August. No interview, no recertification, no need to even change grade level or subject area. It would allow me to continue traveling worry-free for the next three months, smooth over the curious yearlong gap in my resume, give me an immediate income, place me back in a city that I love, and give me a meaningful job.

I can’t find any practical negatives, but just thinking about it makes my stomach cringe. I feel like it’s a step backward, to a city far from family, to forgotten friendships, into a profession I wasn’t entirely satisfied with. And I can’t go back to teaching just because it’s the best alternative—kids deserve more than that and I’d rather spend all the rest of my money paying for my own health insurance than use kids like a backup plan. Then there’s the nagging fear that even if I go back and try my hardest, that I won’t be a good enough teacher. I’ve never worked at a school this good, and I’m terrified I’d be exposed as the mediocre teacher I probably am and let everyone down anyway.

I don’t know if I can do it.

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I think I want to go to Myanmar as my last stop in Southeast Asia. I say think, because I’m not even sure if I really want to, or if I just think I’m supposed to want to since this—only a few years after they’ve opened their border to tourists—is the time to do it.

It would mean another stop in Bangkok getting a visa, a fairly expensive flight both in and out of the country, and much more research since there is no well-worn path to follow or many friends to ask. Pairing up with another American girl I met would share the stress, but that would require waiting two extra weeks, with nothing else left I want to see.

Tell me, what is the practical decision here?

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The English boy and I decide to try it, this throwing practicality to the wind and being together despite a six hour time difference. It’s a bigger adjustment than I expect: learning to meet people while having a boyfriend, still planning the day-to-day while also looking at upcoming flights to England, Skyping on terrible internet connections and interpreting messages without tone or facial expressions.

And—most impractically—I miss him every day.

ours

I wrote a long post about what happened, but that’s not what’s important—it never has been.

Yesterday the English boy left for good and my heart aches more than I thought it would.

With him I felt safe at a time when I was afraid of my own shadow, beautiful when I was scraped and scarred, and looked after when I felt ready to give up and throw in my travel towel.

It didn’t occur to me until after he told me he thought continuing this would be impractical, until after we fought, until after the tears came and I started missing his presence, but now I wonder: if what we had wasn’t love—however short and messy and imperfect and improbable—then what is?

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cheers

It was just easier to start calling him my boyfriend—to other travelers, hostel owners, the Thai police—because otherwise he was “this English boy I just happen to be traveling with and splitting everything with and spending all my time with right now,” which is long, and vaguely misleading.

So that happened, which solidified our relationship on the outside, but, with his impending one-way international flight booked for Thursday, it hasn’t really made anything simpler.

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We rent a motorbike to explore Koh Tao and from the start I can feel that the shop owner has it out for us. The next day, he holds my passport hostage for a $150 USD fine, yelling at me when I try to negotiate, and I fall apart. While I (gracelessly) continue my dive training, the English boy sorts it out with a trip to the police station, and while I feel so lucky to have someone like this on my side, my immediate deference to him makes me angry at myself. A month ago I could’ve, would’ve fixed it all myself. I am more comfortable and happier right now than I’ve been my whole trip, but also lazier and more dependent—a tradeoff I’m far from satisfied with.

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I have been ripped off more times than I can count on this trip, which I expected and accept. Except, there are three times that I can pick out when I was especially unhappy with the outcome, and all three were times when I felt that something was wrong from the start, possibly voiced my concern, but then ignored my gut because someone else told me it was okay. I didn’t trust myself, and so those times there was no one to blame but myself, really, and I always blame myself hard.

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I don’t know what happens after Thursday. I’ve sort of tried this before, but I freaked out with us a continent apart, and I’m still ashamed at the silence I left in the wake of such a good friendship.

Plus, the English boy and I are both jealous creatures with strong personalities, and with me returning to solo traveler life and him returning to a solidly stable life, I think there is a high possibility of misunderstanding. We’ve already had far too many face-to-face falling outs, and it doesn’t take long before you forget the details that come with living another sort of lifestyle.

We talk about me coming to visit England this summer, an obviously temporary solution and one that, if I’m being honest, I don’t even know if we’ll follow through with. I keep asking myself: would we have even liked each other if we had met in one of our home countries, under normal circumstances? I don’t know. And a lot can happen in a few months.

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on traveling and relationships, part 2

The farm reminds me of the Camino, both because of its natural beauty and also because of the depth of my relationships formed here. I think the internet has ruined us, as it’s been the long days of disconnection that have caused the best conversations and closest friendships during my travels.

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There are some couples on the farm that are giving me renewed faith in relationships. They perfectly compliment and support each other, but are also independently whole. And even when separated—which they are completely comfortable doing—you can see the unconditional love they have for each other.

This is what I'm waiting for.

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One of my favorite things about traveling is how short interactions with people change. I've stopped worrying about how people perceive me, instead I just always do and say what I want. If I do something embarrassing, I never have to see that person again, if I don't want to… there is such little risk.

The downside is that if you do want to see someone again, it's more difficult to keep them.

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I've used the word love a lot since I left but if I'm being honest, I'm not sure when the last time was where it really would've applied.

the river is everywhere

I watch the former monk spoon-feeding a French baby from his own bowl during silent breakfast and I can’t stop smiling. This slow, calm, giving lifestyle is full of unexpected beauty.

I want to keep this mindfulness that I am cultivating. It is about living in the present, acknowledging the thoughts we have in our mind but sometimes letting them pass. The past, the future—these are things that we should not dwell on when there is so much right in front of us at this very moment.

This morning—my last morning here at the farm—our teacher tells us the goal, and it is everything I want.

“No serious. No angry. No sad. No lonely. No depressed. No confused.”

But even before I board the bus back to Chiang Mai, I feel the hurriedness and worry of city life begin to creep into my thoughts.

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sat nam

“No talking. No reading. No writing. No thinking.” And with that, I am left alone in the forest for 12 hours of Vipassana meditation—on exactly the date of my fifth month away from home.

I am volunteering at an organic farm run by a former Buddhist monk, and so far I’ve found that living a simple life takes a lot of work.

The goal is to always be mindful—live in the present, be conscious of our effect on the earth, gain control of our thoughts and emotions.

I am really bad at all of this… which is why I think this might be really important for me to learn.

So I am eating vegetarian, doing yoga as the sun rises, sleeping under a mosquito net protected by more or less two walls, waking up to a view of gorgeous misty mountains, meditating each night by candlelight, and working on shutting off my brain and giving the worrying a rest.

(Oh, and there’s a little bit of gardening thrown in there somewhere.)

And while at first I was a bit judgmental of the hippie-ness of the other volunteers sharing the farm, now I am finding them some of the most interesting people of my whole trip. They are passionate, informed, self-aware, worldly, giving, and they are always working on improving themselves and everything around them. This is the perfect environment for growth.

When I am volunteering, I usually wear my glasses. This morning during silent breakfast I took them off to clean them on my shirt and everything looked clearer after. I think this farm is doing the same thing for my mind.

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